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How to Use Google AdWords [Infographic]

how to use google adwords

In a way, AdWords is a lot like college.

You show up on day one doe-eyed, forced to decide whether you’d rather dominate the books or the beer pong table. (If you’re a savant, perhaps you’re capable of doing both simultaneously.) If you study and learn and adapt and grow, you come out the other end successful – in college, this means a degree; in AdWords, it means obliterating your KPIs and your business goals.

Unfortunately, there’s another path, too. A dark, treacherous, expensive path, littered with bong rips and Nintendo cartridges: the one where you fail to plan and grow sufficiently. In scenarios such as these, both AdWords and higher education have the capacity to turn your bank account into an unmanned fire hose.

And nobody wants to see that happen. I don’t want to see that happen. In fact, I want the exact opposite. I want to be the parent beaming in a sea of other, less stoked parents, as you receive your diploma, not the one moving your Nerf hoop and flat screen TV back into the childhood bedroom where you’ll drift through your twenties in a balding malaise.

To improve your chances of AdWords dominance (and avoid becoming a dropout), we’ve put together this infographic detailing every step between you and PPC success, from goal creation and keyword research to counting bread on the deck of your mega-yacht.

how to use google adwords infographic

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #1: Establish Account Goals

What are you using AdWords for? Lead generation? E-commerce? Brand building? How you structure your account and the features you take advantage of will hinge on your response.

To learn more about establishing realistic goals for your AdWords account, check out these resources:

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #2: Determine Audience

Developing personas is essential. What do your ideal customers do? Where do they do it?  When are they actively searching? On what device?

To learn more about developing customer personas and defining your audience, check out these resources:

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #3: Conduct Keyword Research

By bidding on keywords relevant to your business, you can place your ads in the search results when people are searching for what you offer. Keyword tools can help you discover cost, competition, and volume for search terms at every stage of your sales funnel.

To learn more about conducting keyword research, check out these resources:

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #4: Set Budget & Bids

You’ve determined which keywords to bid on: time for some math! If the average CPC looks too high, get granular: volume will decrease, but so will cost!Make sure to spend most of your AdWords budget on keywords that convert at a high rate! But make room for testing and brand-building, too.

adwords industry benchmarks average cpc

To learn more about setting AdWords budgets and bids, check out these resources:

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #5: Structure Account

The name of the game is relevance, folks! Your account is made up of campaigns, each with distinct goals. Within each campaign you need tightly knit ad groups, each featuring just a handful of keywords and hyper-relevant ads.

To learn more about structuring your AdWords account, check out these resources:

Step #5.5: Quality Score is King

Quality Score is Google’s way of grading your keywords and ads in terms of how relevant they are to users. Small ad groups and highly clickable ads raise your Quality Score, which lowers how much you pay per click while raising your ad rank!

how adwords quality score impacts cpc

To learn more about Quality Score, check out:

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #6: Write Killer Ads

Maximize CTR by ensuring every text ad has a pair of compelling headlines, a call to action, and includes the keyword you’re bidding on. Extensions make your ad bigger and more informative. And remember: Emotional ads get more clicks.

To write Expanded Text Ads that actually convert, check out these resources:

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #7: Design Great Landing Pages

This is where people who have clicked your ads either convert or they don’t! Follow these guidelines for high-performing landing pages:

To learn more about designing great landing pages, check out these resources:

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #8: Implement Conversion Tracking

Place the requisite code on your website and then use either AdWords or Google Analytics to create conversion goals

To learn more about conversion tracking, check out these resources:

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #9: Grow Remarketing Lists

Build your remarketing lists as early as possible. This will allow you to keep your product or service in front of prospects even if they don’t convert on their first site visit.

weird adwords remarketing facts

To learn more about growing your remarketing lists, check out these resources:

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #10: Routine optimization

Test everything! A/B test your ad copy and landing pages. Adjust bids based on keyword performance. Add negative keywords to eliminate unqualified search queries. 

To learn more about account optimization, check out these resources:

How to Use Google AdWords, Step #11: Profit!!!

You did it! Between mimosas on your yacht, keep your PPC strategy on the cutting edge by reading industry blogs (like ours!).

And finally, to learn more about profit…

The Easy Guide to Maximizing Your AdWords ROI


Already enrolled in AdWords? Want to see where you really stand? Get your performance graded FREE! The AdWords Performance Grader is a fast and easy way to see how your account is performing compared to similar advertisers.

wordstream adwords performance grader

About the Author

Allen Finn is a content marketing specialist and the reigning fantasy football champion at WordStream. He enjoys couth menswear, dank eats, and the dulcet tones of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream

Helpful Tips for Doing Search in a Low-Volume Niche

Posted by Jeremy_Gottlieb

SEO — you know, that thing you do whereby everyone and their mother will find your site on the web. Easy, right? “Can you SEO this page for me?” or “We’re about to launch a webinar. Can you SEO-ify it, please?” I’m sure most of you reading this can probably relate to these types of questions and the ensuing pressure from bosses or clients. If you’re lucky, you work in a realm where there’s plenty of search volume to chase, featured snippets to occupy, and answer boxes to solve. But what about those who work in the low-search volume niches typically seen in B2B, or with companies pioneering a new product or service that no one really knows about yet (so they obviously can’t be searching for it)?

This blog post is for you, the digital marketer who toils and struggles to drive search visibility where there hardly is any. Let’s get to work.

Search, as I’ll refer to it here, includes both paid and organic. Neither of these may ultimately be the best channel for your organization, but after reading this post, hopefully you’ll be able to verify whether your search channels are humming along and working harmoniously, while leaving other sources of user acquisition to bear the brunt of the load. Three topics I will cover in this post are SEO, paid search, and CRO, but please keep in mind: these are not the only possible digital marketing actions that can be done for an organization in a low-search volume niche. This is just a glimpse into what may be possible, and hopefully it can spark inspiration for you or your client in ways you’d either forgotten about or hadn’t thought of. Whether you’re just starting out in digital marketing or you’ve been around for a while, I hope this will be able to provide some direction.

1. SEO

Sometimes I think of SEO as a skyscraper, though this may just be because I’m surrounded by them in Distilled’s New York City office (come join us!). In order to reach greater heights via SEO, you need to make sure the foundation of your building is in order. And what I mean by “foundation” is the technical structure of your site. Things that you’d want to check will include:

  • Is the link profile clean?
  • Does the site have strong internal linking?
    • Do pages get created and then fall into a black hole?
  • Can search engines crawl the site?
    • Are there noindex, robots.txt, canonical, or other tags that hide desired content from being ranked?
  • Has the site been hacked?
  • Are there descriptive and unique title tags and meta descriptions?
  • Is tracking set up properly (i.e. Google Analytics)?
  • Does the site appear trustworthy and authoritative?

Targeting transactional queries

Once the foundation is in order, it’s time to begin the keyword research. Establish which queries are most vital to the organization, how much search volume they have, and which ones are most likely to yield conversions, whatever that means to the organization. With your foundation in order, you can take the most important queries and try to match them to existing pages on the site, such as the homepage and key product/services pages. It may turn out that the queries an organization should be targeting don’t have pages available yet. That’s okay — you’ll just need to create them. I generally recommend that shorter-tail queries (two or three words) be targeted by primarily by product or service pages, with longer queries either handled by those very pages or by a Q&A section and/or a blog. This is just one way to handle a hierarchy and avoids a cluttered navigation with hundreds of long-tail queries and content, though it is by no means a rule.

Targeting higher-funnel queries

Once the key queries have been locked down and the content plan created, we can move on to more informational queries. It’s very likely that these more higher-part-of-the-funnel queries will require content that’s less sales-y and will be more informational, making desired conversions (like consultation signups) less likely from this crowd, at least on the first interaction. You’ll need to build strong content that answers the users’ queries and establishes the organization as thought leaders and experts at all levels of a particular niche.

Let’s say, for example, we’re responsible for driving traffic for an organization that allows people to invest in solar energy. Lots of people buy stocks and bonds and real estate, but how many invest in solar energy or power purchase agreements? Transactional-type queries, those most likely to provide us with customers, don’t get searched all that much.

Now, let’s take a look at some longer-tail queries that are tangentially related to our main offering:

These queries clearly have more search volume, but appear to be more informational. “CSR” (in the above example) most often means “corporate social responsibility,” a term frequently aligned with impact investing, where investments not only are expected to produce financial returns, but have a positive social effect as well. From these queries we’d be able to help provide proof to users and search engines that the organization is indeed an expert in the particular realm of solar energy and investing. Our desired audience may come to us with different initial intents, but we can begin to funnel people down the path towards eventually becoming clients.

As will be discussed further in this post, the point here is to drive traffic organically, even if that very traffic is unlikely to convert. With optimizations to the content, we’ll be able to solicit emails and try to drive visitors further into the funnel, but first we just need to make sure that we’re enhancing our visibility and driving more unpaid traffic.

Key tips:

  • Target transactional queries with pages optimized for the ideal conversion
  • Target informational queries and modify pages to push the user deeper into the funnel towards more transactional pages
    • If a blog is perceived as a waste of resources and useless traffic, it’s probably not being fully leveraged

2. Paid search

Oftentimes, organizations will use SEO and paid search for their user acquisition, but will silo the two channels so that they don’t work together. Simply put, this is a mistake. Using paid spend for Google or Bing Adwords in conjunction with an organization’s SEO efforts will assist the company’s bottom line.

Get your tracking right

When beginning a paid campaign, it’s absolutely vital to set up tracking properly from the beginning. Do not miss this step. Without setting up tracking properly, it will be impossible to tie back conversions to paid and organic and see their relationship. If you already have paid attribution set up, double-check to ensure that there’s no double counting from having multiple GA tracking snippets, or if you’re using a landing page generator like Unbounce or HubSpot, that you’ve added in tracking on those platforms. Sometimes when using landing page generator tools (like HubSpot), you might elect to have an in-line thank you section display instead of redirecting someone to an external link. If you use an in-line thank you, the URL will not change and will make tracking more difficult in Google Analytics. This is not impossible to get around (events tracking can do the trick), but is something to keep in mind.

Bid on your money keywords

Without getting too fancy, a very important next step is to identify the transactional, important keywords — the ones that might be costly to buy, but that are worth the spend. Waiting for results from organic search or for the different channels to successfully harmonize may take longer than a boss or C-suite might be willing to wait for, so getting results directly from traditional paid search will require a strong setup from the get-go.

The magic of RLSA

Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) allow organizations to remarket to specific people who have visited a specific page on their site, either by bidding on keywords one typically wouldn’t bid on, or by altering the bid up or down. This doesn’t create new traffic; it only displays to those who have visited your site in the past. The magic of this is that when done properly, you can potentially achieve lower cost-per-clicks and conversions, as the audience seeing these ads is already familiar with your brand.

Let’s use, for example, the strategy of creating content around “what are alternative investments?” or “how to invest responsibly?”. These would be informational-level queries, representing topics people would like to investigate further. While the ideal scenario for our business would be that everyone would automatically want to invest with us, we know this isn’t likely to be the typical case. Instead, we’ll use organic search to earn traffic from less competitive, informational queries, and use RLSA to bid on queries that would ordinarily be too competitive for us, like “investing” or “how to start investing.” By using pixels and remarketing to anyone who visited our “what are alternative investments” page, we know that the person is more familiar with us and we can try to bid on broader queries that may have been either too expensive for us in the first place, or unlikely to generate conversions. In this case, because the user is already familiar with the brand, it can lead to higher click-through and conversion rates.

Much has already been written about RLSA strategies, so for more information you can begin here:

Advanced remarketing

Another option is to create more informational content for queries that are less competitive than some other terms, but that also isn’t as likely to get people to convert when they visit (i.e. most blog content). Let’s say that our blog captures email addresses, either through forms, popups, or some other means. With our captured emails, we’d be able to build an email list and submit it to Adwords, then target people in Google Search, Gmail, and YouTube. We can target existing users (people aligned with a particular email) or people who are similar to the audience and share similar web habits. With this tool, we can expand our potential audience.

If one were to run broad-match search ads against a general population (not one that had been cookied by a site), it would likely get very expensive very quickly and would be likely to have low conversion rates. Using broad match with RLSAs is a smart approach that mitigates the risk of complete budget destruction from people with little intent to convert, while allowing organizations to see what people are searching for; it can be an extremely powerful tool for keyword discovery.

By using broad search and RLSAs, your organization will be able to find out faster what people are actually searching for. Any keywords that cost money but that aren’t relevant or aren’t converting can be added to a negative keyword filter. Ones that are valuable should be added to exact match and, depending on the keyword, may be worthy of having content developed for it so that traffic can be captured without paying for each individual click.

Key tips:

  • Make sure tracking is properly set up
  • Ensure you’re bidding on transactional queries
  • Landing pages MUST have a clear goal and be optimized for one desired conversion
  • RLSAs can be used for keyword discovery and may enable you to bid on more transactional, generally competitive keywords

3. CRO

It’s not uncommon for organizations operating in low-search volume niches to also have fairly long sales cycles. The endgame of what we’re trying to accomplish here is to drive people from an informational mindset to a transactional mindset. We’re operating under the assumption that there are few searches for the service or good we’re trying to provide, so we’re going to get people to our service or good via the backdoor. The way we’ll do this is by guiding people from content that speaks to an informational query to our conversion pages.

To be clear, getting the ultimate conversion on our site might not require sending someone to a product page. It’s totally possible that someone may be interested in our ultimate goal after having landed on a tangentially-related page.

Let’s use the example again of the solar energy investment company. We’ll say that our ultimate goal is to get people to open an account where they actually invest in a power purchase agreement (PPA). Understanding what a PPA is isn’t important, but what should be conveyed is that getting anyone to actually spend money and link a bank account to the site is not a simple task. There’s friction — people need to trust that they won’t be robbed, that their financial information will be protected, and that their money is actually going where they expect it to go. Knowing that there’s friction in the funnel, we’re likely going to need multiple points of engagement with the potential client and will need to provide information and trust signals along the way to answer their questions.

Hunting microconversions

That said, our first goal should be to optimize and provide high-quality landing pages for the person who searches “solar energy investment.” Once we handle that low-hanging fruit, we need to move on to the tangential queries, like “what are the advantages of solar energy?”. Within this page, we should frame the benefits of solar energy and use multiple call-to-actions or banners to persuade someone to learn more about how to invest in solar energy. It’s totally plausible that someone who searches for “what are the advantages of solar energy?” has no interest in investing whatsoever and will leave the page as soon as their question is deemed answered. It’s also possible that they never even make it to the landing page itself because the Google SERP has answered the question for them:

We can’t be scared of this tactic just because Google is stealing content and placing the information within the search results. Featured snippets still have very high click-through rates (meaning users still visit that content) and we don’t know which queries will trigger featured snippets tomorrow or in six months from now. All we can do is create the best content for users’ queries.

For the visitors who are interested in the potential of solar energy investment, there are several ways that we can keep them engaged:

  1. Email capture popups
    1. This can be done via time-elapsed or exit intent versions
  2. Static or sticky call-to-actions (for products, demos, or email capture) either within the content or adjacent to the text in right or left-hand rails

AMP to accelerate traffic growth

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are one of my favorite SERP enhancements that Google has made in the past few years. As a quick reminder, AMP provide cached, streamlined HTML that makes loading pages on mobile crazy-fast. AMP pages also show a little lightning bolt icon in the SERPs; eventually this will condition users that any page without a lightning bolt will be slow. They don’t allow for interstitials or popups, and even have their own area within search results. Google is heavily investing in this space and is incentivizing publishers to do so as well. Creating AMP variations of your organization’s content can be a strong idea for driving more web traffic, but it can come with some potential pitfalls that you should be aware of.


AMP pages require their own Google Analytics tracking and it does not come standard. If you use a CMS or GTM that automatically places GA tracking code within the head, you will not automatically be covered with AMP pages. Make sure you set up tracking properly.

No popups

I just mentioned that email capture popups are a great way to ensure multiple points of engagement with users who otherwise may have just visited a particular site one time. By capturing emails, you can doing remarketing, send product emails, keep people apprised of updates with your organization, and create similar audiences, among other benefits as well. However, once you create AMP and they begin to replace your m. or responsive pages on mobile within the search results, your popups will no longer appear. While you won’t be able to get the true functionality of popups, a suitable workaround is to add email form capture in-line within your AMP content:


When it comes to CRO for pages that receive organic traffic, it’s not the end of the world if a person doesn’t undertake an action; we’re not paying for them. Just by visiting our page, we can cookie them and remarket to them on search and other paid channels like Facebook and Twitter. We’ve extracted value from our visitors and they don’t even know it.

On the other hand, when a visitor arrives via paid search, we need to be doing everything in our power to make sure that the person undertakes a desired action. That desired action could be providing an email in exchange for a download, scheduling a consultation, purchasing a product, or providing other information. It bears repeating, though: if you’re paying for clicks and have not made a concerted effort to design your landing page in such a way that users are most likely to undertake the desired action, you’re wasting money. I do not claim that there is some sort of silver bullet that will work across every single niche and every single audience for every single product. Using a gated landing page for one client may work best for some, while soliciting user information via a form might work best for another. The only way to know is to test and see how users interact.

Key tips:

  • Some ultimate conversions have a lot of friction; don’t shy away from microconversions
  • If you already get traffic and it “doesn’t convert,” think critically about how it would be possible to re-engage with those users or what they might feel comfortable providing you with at their level of interest
  • AMP pages need separate GA tracking and do not allow popups

Tying it all together

Let’s recap this. When an organization cannot bank on a large enough search volume in its particular niche to provide the necessary runway for growth, it needs to think creatively about how to best harmonize organic and paid search channels. Truthfully, all organizations (regardless of the size of the search volume in their niche) should do this, but it’s particularly important in low-search volume niches because without it, growth is likely to be far slower and smaller than it could be.

For the sake of argument, we assume that the product or service doesn’t have much popularity, so we need to expand into informational queries, the topics that one would search before they know that they could use the service or product.

We need to ensure that we quickly and properly identify the transactional queries in our niche, and build pages that fulfill the intent of the user’s query. These pages should almost always have a call-to-action that allows people to take advantage of their interest immediately.

However, we’re looking for growth, so we need to think even bigger. We need to provide content for the people who are searching for queries that demonstrate some sort of interest in our niche, but don’t necessarily know that they want our service or product. We build out those pages, populating them with content and resources that fulfill the user’s query, but also provide calls-to-action that capture emails and/or drive users further into the funnel. People who don’t realize that they want your product or service may not react well to hard sells and high barriers to entry. Asking for an email address can be far more palatable and keep the conversation going.

If using AMP pages to gain more visibility, make sure that you have properly set up Google Analytics first and have added in email form captures at different points within the content, not just at the end — most of your readers won’t make it there. Depending on what our strategy is, we may also want to begin cookie-ing users for remarketing.

When using paid search, as with organic search, we need to make sure that we’re properly targeting the transactional queries we need — the ones where people are most likely to undertake a desired action. By using RLSAs we can also potentially bid on more generic, short-tail queries that might have yielded low conversion rates if we were to have exposed them to the broader Internet community at large, but could prove very successful if we only show them to people who have visited our site or specific pages. In addition to possibly converting at a higher rate than a regular paid search campaign, RLSAs can serve as a great keyword discovery tool without completely decimating your budget.

In the vast majority of cases, traffic for traffic’s sake is useless. If your traffic doesn’t undertake the actions that you want them to, chances are it will be declared useless and investment into content creation may decrease. I’ve seen it happen. Your traffic does not need to convert via buying a product or scheduling a demo the first time they visit, but if you have microconversions (like email capture) set up, you’ll put yourself in a much better position to re-engage with your visitors, find new similar visitors, and drive more conversions.

One last nugget of wisdom from Distilled’s own Head of PPC, Rich Cotton:

The main benefit of one agency running PPC and SEO is communication; aligning marketing messages, sharing data, keeping a consistent user experience, making lines of communication for the client easier. By ensuring that your PPC and SEO teams are working together, PPC can fill gaps in SERP exposure for organic, test new copy, and share important keyword data that PPC still has control of.

Rather than competing, when drawing up attribution models, an integrated approach allows us to share the value driven and work holistically for the benefit of the client, rather than fight to prove that our channel was the more effective one. Your marketing dollars will go where they are most needed, not be argued over by inter-agency politics.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

from Moz Blog

64 Affordable Small Business Marketing Tools

Note: This post and the accompanying infographic were originally published by our friends at Hatchbuck. They are republished here with permission.

Keeping all of your marketing ducks in a row is no easy feat for a small business owner. You most likely run a tight ship and don’t have the personnel or budget resources to shell out for countless expensive marketing tools.

The good news is that there are plenty of affordable and effective tools out there to help you optimize your marketing efforts and compete with the big guys.

We’ve compiled a list of 64 of our favorite small business marketing tools to help you avoid marketing madness. You won’t need all 64, and we’re not comparing apples to apples here. So find a few that work for your business and invest time and energy into maximizing them.

Read more about each of these small business tools for analytics, content marketing, lead generation, SEO, PPC, email marketing and automation, design, project management, and social media below the infographic.

Small business marketing tools infographic 

Now let’s take a closer look at the tools in each category.

Small Business Tools for Analytics

analytics tools for small business

Google Analytics

Chances are you’ve heard of Google Analytics. It allows you to capture and analyze data on your web traffic and visitors. When used effectively, you can greatly increase your site’s user experience and increase conversion rates.


The KISSmetrics platform is perfect for SaaS businesses, allowing you to find out where your prospects are coming from, and mapping their journey on your website from prospect to customer. KISSmetrics gives you the important data you need to optimize your marketing channels, attract more customers, and get them to convert once they reach your website.


CrazyEgg’s heat mapping capabilities will give you insight into what visitors are doing on your website. It tells you where they’re scrolling, clicking, and more importantly, what they’re not clicking. With CrazyEgg, you can optimize your landing pages to make sure you keep visitors engaged and help them down the sales funnel.


Hotjar is an all-in-one analytics and heatmap tool that integrates with tons of tools like WordPress, Instapage and Unbounce. Hotjar’s setup is incredibly easy AND you can record web visits to see where your customers are clicking and focusing on your website.


Intercom is a customer messaging platform that allows you to see where your customers are getting tripped up and to send them targeted messages to solve their problems. The tool gives insight into areas of improvement on both your website and within your platform if you’re a Saas company. By automating customer service and triggering live chat, you can keep customers engaged and prevent costly churn.


Pendo acts as an extension of your product so that you can capture all user behavior, gather feedback, and provide contextual help to your users. It provides robust reporting on page and feature usage to help you improve your product.


GoodData is a business intelligence and data visualization tool. It’s more suited for enterprise businesses, but it’s an incredibly powerful tool that can benefit any business. Rather than using your limited resources building and maintaining BI infrastructure, GoodData lets you focus on turning your information into insight across your business.


ChartMogul is another fantastic business intelligence tool. The platform integrates with many other tools you’re probably using (Zapier, Zendesk, Slack, etc) so you can calculate your key metrics in real time. Say goodbye to Excel spreadsheets!

Small Business Tools for Content Marketing


According to their website, WordPress powers 27% of the internet. And there’s a reason for it. WordPress is the easiest content management system out there (in our humble opinion) and is super reasonably priced. It’s free for personal use, but the best package for small businesses starts at $8.25/month.


Content curation can be incredibly time-consuming when building a social presence. That’s where Feedly comes in to help you search, organize and share relevant content. Feedly also integrates with several project management tools such as Slack and Trello.


Can’t afford to hire a copy editor to review your blogs before you post them? Grammarly can save you from embarrassing errors. Use it in combination with your spell checker, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many typos you avoid. If you spring for the premium version, Grammarly also offers a plagiarism checker.


Content headlines are crucial. They determine whether or not readers click on your content. On top of their cohesive content marketing calendar, CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer tool will give your headlines numeric scores AND suggestions to make them stronger.

small business marketing


BuzzSumo is an excellent tool to help you uncover the trending topics and content that performs across various social media the best. You can also identify influencers (and spy on your competition if that’s what you’re into).


Not only does Contently allow you to schedule and optimize content, but the platform also offers freelancer writers to help your business create full-length articles and blog posts. While Contently is really geared toward more enterprise customers, you can’t make a ‘best of’ list without mentioning the platform.


ClearVoice is a content creation and management platform. The collaboration tool gives you access to freelance writers and editors to create professional content. ClearVoice most likely isn’t the right choice for small businesses just starting out (they require an annual subscription), but it’s a great one to keep in mind when you’re ready to step up your content marketing game.


Video marketing is all the hype this year and is an important piece of the content marketing puzzle. Wistia is our absolute favorite video tool. Like many social and content tools, Wistia offers analytics, automation and a place to host your videos. We love using Wistia to see which videos are performing the best on our site. The call-to-action features is also clutch for sending traffic to your site no matter where your Wistia video is posted on the web.

Small Business Tools for Lead Capture

landing page tools


Their simple lead capture forms are an easy way to serve up irresistible resources to your audience, growing your list. OptinMonster allows you to A/B test your forms to see what’s working and what isn’t so you’ll understand why your visitors are staying and going.


Unbounce is an easy-to-use landing page builder. They have beautiful pre-designed templates that will allow you to get your pages up and running without the help of code or professional web design. Plans start at $49/month, and Unbounce offers a free 30-day trial.


LeadPages offers pre-designed landing page templates, pop-up forms and the ability to send SMS opt-in codes. They boast tons of easy integrations and their Pro Plan starts at $48/month.


Sumo (formerly SumoMe) has an array of helpful lead capture tools, including sophisticated opt-in forms, easy integrations with just about any content management system, Google Analytics integrations and heatmaps. Pricing depends on your website visits but starts with a free package (best for those just getting started).


Instapage is another helpful landing page builder. The platform offers PPC compatibility, many integration and helpful A/B testing capabilities. The basic package starts at $29/month (paid annually).


HelloBar adds a non-intrusive lead capture bar to your website so you can turn website visitors into email subscribers into customers. The tool allows you to promote your social content and easily A/B test your messaging.


Qualaroo allows you to optimize your site by providing targeted website surveys to capture customer insight. With Qualaroo you can target questions to visitors anywhere on your website, in your product or in your conversion funnel. Their startup package starts at $199/month billed annually.


LiveChat does just what the name says. This simple tool allows you to get engage customers on your website, capture visitor information and provide more personalized, immediate customer service. The LiveChat starter package starts at $19/month. This is a great way to capture prospects from your website who might otherwise bounce.

Small Business Tools for SEO & PPC

wordstream software for small businesses


Not only does WordStream have a phenomenal team and company culture, but they’re absolute bosses when it comes to all things PPC and paid advertising. Their free AdWords grader is a surefire way to know where your small business can make improvements.


Yoast is the most popular SEO plugin for WordPress. The tool works easily to optimize your content and landing pages to make sure your site is set up for success. With features like a readability checker and keyword optimizer, Yoast will make sure your content is optimized for the right eyes.

Google AdWords

Google AdWords may seem intimidating to small businesses, but the easy-to-use platform is incredibly important. They offer search, display and video advertising to help you reach your customers where they’re searching. AdWords will require an investment to be successful, but it’s worth it for your business to drive more traffic to your website.


Not only does Moz have an amazing blog (including Whiteboard Fridays, which rocks), they help with SEO optimization, keyword research and backlink research. They also offer local search help to make your business more visible in your area.

Google Trends

Google Trends pulls data from Google Search to show you how often search-terms are entered in different areas of the world. With the help of Google Trends, you can find out what’s trending in your area and among your customer base.


AdEspresso integrates with Hootsuite – with both tools you can manage your social ad campaigns inside the Hootsuite dashboard to make sure your marketing efforts are streamlined.


SpyFu literally allows you to spy on your competitors. The platform allows you to search for any domain and see every place they’ve shown up on Google. You can also see a list of every keyword your competition bought on Adwords, every organic rank, and every ad variation in the last 10 years. Now that’s good detective work.

SEM Rush

SEM Rush is another competitor research tool that can have a huge impact on your business. They offer the ability to compare your domain to your competitors, pull information on your competitors keywords AND help you discover new competitors in your space organically.

Small Business Tools for Email Marketing & Automation


Hatchbuck is an all-in-one CRM and marketing automation tool created specifically for small businesses. Our easy-to-use platform helps you to organize your contacts, automate marketing activities and drive higher response rates and sales through personalized prospect communication every step of the way.

small biz tools for marketing


IFTTT is a powerful automation tool that’s incredibly easy to use. You create or pick ‘Applets’ (formerly ‘recipes’) to automate specific tasks on Facebook, Twitter, and any other business app imaginable. Remember to share the wealth,  IFTTT can also help your non-marketing team members.


Zapier is the easiest way to automate time consuming administrative tasks so you can focus on running your business. The tool allows you to connect your web apps for easier automation that will optimize your processes and keep your small business running smoothly.


If you’re an email marketing guru, Litmus is the tool for you. They offer tools for testing your code and emails across different platforms before sending them out so you’ll never have broken images again. They also have an absolutely rockstar blog with tons of valuable email marketing info.

Email on Acid

If you code your own emails, like we do, it’s an absolute-must to make sure that they look great in every inbox. Email on Acid’s easy tool allows you to test emails across the most popular email clients, apps and devices so you can fix problems before you hit send.


HubSpot offers a full bundle of products for marketing, sales, and customer relationship management that can be used separately or in collaboration. It’s a powerful platform but one that’s much more suited to large and enterprise businesses. Pricing starts at $800/month for only 1,000 contacts and is an additional $50/month for every 1,000 more contacts.


Infusionsoft is an all-in-one CRM and sales/marketing automation tool with a focus on e-commerce. Pricing starts at $199/month plus a one-time onboarding fee starting at $999.


MailChimp is undeniably the most well-known email marketing platform. They have 15 million customers and tons of integrations, but they don’t offer the CRM feature. This tool is perfect for enterprise businesses who can build an integration with their CRM or for those not looking for CRM functionality.

Small Business Tools for Design


Choosing the right images for your blog and social media posts is essential. Many people respond to photos more quickly than to a headline. Pexels is our favorite stock site. They offer millions of free stock photos for commercial use without attribution. Can’t beat free.

affordable design tools


Visual content gets much higher engagement and conversion rates than text only content. Canva helps you create beautiful images and other visual assets. If you’re not ready to create images all on your own yet, Canva is the perfect option for getting started.


Stencil, similar to Canva, allows you to create high quality images for your social media and content marketing posts. The platform has almost a million images to work with, allows you to upload your own fonts AND has a handy Chrome extension that allows you to create images while browsing the web.


99designs is your source for all things design. They have an incredible blog alongside a network of talented design freelancers to help you with anything your small business might need.

Adobe Creative Cloud

Formerly Creative Suite, Adobe Creative Cloud offers all the tools a small business needs to create professional, engaging images to pair with content. There’s a definitely learning curve with Creative Cloud, but once mastered, the possibilities are endless.


Piktochart is a stellar resource for small businesses who don’t have a design guru on staff. The easy-to-use tool allows you to easily create reports and infographics on the fly. They also have simple social media sharing options so you can share your creations once they’re complete. is another chart and infographic design tool. It has less of the bells and whistles of some of the other tools, but you can sign up for free and get the job done. boasts some big name clients including MSN, POLITICO and Fast Company. Their infographic and chart templates are more data-focused and perfect more small businesses with more a data-driven approach. Their business plan will cost you though. It starts at $67/month and is billed annually.

Small Business Tools for Project Management


We (like millions of other businesses) l-o-v-e Slack. The platform helps teams organize projects by bringing communication into one place, sharing and commenting on files, and integrating with other apps to get more done in less time. Not to mention the Giphy feature is loads of fun during team chats. Oh, and it’s free for almost all businesses (unless you need an upgraded account).

Skype For Business

We use Skype for Business here at Hatchbuck mainly for the video conferencing feature. The tool provides high-quality video with up to 250 people at a time and starts at $5/user per month.

content marketing tools for small businesses


Evernote makes it simple to create notes and categorize task into project-specific notebooks. You can even scan in paper docs to make keeping track of project documents a breeze.


Trello gets good reviews from small business owners because of its seamless setup and ease of use. The main interface functions almost like a whiteboard. They offer a free package for small teams and their business accounts start at $10/month.


Basecamp is a killer project management software that will help keep your team organized for any project and to see your entire task list through to completion. Basecamp will also ensure that no assignment is left incomplete


Asana gives you a holistic overview of personal or professional to-dos. It’s a great option for teams and individuals alike. It also has important  integrations that will help you or your team improve workflow.

Google Drive

If you’re just diving into project management, Google Drive is a simple way to share and collaborate on documents, see revision history, and let team members leave & resolve comments. Drive offers a plethora of business tools including documents, spreadsheets, and presentation slides. Plus, it’s free.


Freedcamp’s project management platform is another great option for balancing personal and professional tasks. They have a robust calendar that allows you to see daily or monthly schedules at a glance along with a helpful mobile app.

Small Business Tools for Social Media

small business tools for social media


We know social media can be a major time suck. Lucky for you, Buffer’s incredibly easy scheduling tool, content library and robust analytics make it easier to reach more people while saving you time.


Like Buffer, Hootsuite is an incredibly robust tool that can save you time in your social media efforts. Our favorite features? The amazing reporting and the filters that allow you to monitor mentions of your brand across social. Pricing starts at $15/month for one user (but you’ll need to upgrade for the real deal analytics).


Agorapulse is a cross between a social media monitoring/scheduling tool and a social media CRM. This tool focuses more specifically on Facebook engagement, and pricing starts at $49/month for one user.


Bitly is the most popular link management available. Users can shorten, manage and measure shared links across the web giving greater insight into engagement. Best news? Bitly is free (unless you want branded links and an enterprise account).

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is an all-in-one social CRM, scheduling tool, engagement monitor and collaboration platform. While it’s a more robust tool than most small businesses need, the effectiveness is undeniable. It’ll cost you a pretty penny though. The intro package starts at $99/month per user.


Oktopost is a social media lead generation tool. While social media dashboards like Hootsuite help businesses schedule content, Oktopost is designed to help you make money through your social media efforts.


DrumUp is a newer kid on the block, but effective nonetheless. This scheduling tool allows you to curate content, schedule it AND suggests hashtags for your posts to expand reach and engagement.


Cyfe is a business dashboard. Unlike other social media dashboards, it aggregates data from multiple platforms including social media metrics. The Cyfe platform allows you to see the big picture and assess and evaluate engagement impact and ROI for your social and content marketing.

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream

Ranking Multiple Domains to Own More SERP Real Estate – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Is it better to rank higher in a single position frequently, or to own more of the SERP real estate consistently? The answer may vary. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand presents four questions you should ask to determine whether this strategy could work for you, shares some high-profile success cases, and explores the best ways to go about ranking more than one site at a time.

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about ranking multiple domains so you can own a bunch of the SERP real estate and whether you should do that, how you should do that, and some ways to do that.

I’ll show you an example, because I think that will help kick us off. So you are almost certainly familiar, if you’ve played around in the world of real estate SERPs, with Zillow and Trulia. Zillow started up here in Seattle. They bought Trulia a couple of years ago and have been doing pretty amazingly well. In fact, I was speaking at a real estate conference in New York recently, and my God, I did an example where I was searching for tons of cities plus homes for sale or plus real estate or houses, and Zillow and Trulia, along with a couple others, are in the top five for every single city I checked no matter how big or small. So very, very impressive SEO.

One of the things that a lot of SEOs have seen, not just with Zillow and Trulia, but with a few others like them is that, man, they own multiple listings in the SERPs, and so they kind of dominate the real estate here and get even more clicks as an entity, a combined entity than they would if Zillow had, for example, when they bought Trulia, redirected to Zillow. On Whiteboard Friday and at Moz and a lot of people in the SEO world often recommend that when you buy another domain or when you’re combining entities, that you do actually 301 redirect, because it can help bring up the rankings here.

The reason Zillow did not do that, and I think wisely so, is that they already dominated these SERPs so well that they figured pushing Trulia’s rankings into their own and combining the two entities would, yes, probably move them from number two and three to number one in some places, but they already own number one in a ton of these. Trulia was almost always one or two or three. Why not own all of that? Why not own 66% of the top three consistently, rather than number one a little more frequently? I think that was probably the right move for them.

Questions to ask

As a result, many SEOs asked themselves, “Should I do something similar? Should I buy other domains, or should I start other domains? Should I run multiple sites and try and rank for many different keyword phrases or a few keywords that I care very, very deeply about?” The answer is, well, before you do that, before you make any call, ask yourself these four questions. The answers to them will help you determine whether you should follow in these footsteps.

1. Do I need to dominate multiple results for a keyword or set of keywords MORE than I need better global rankings or a larger set of keywords sending visits?

So first off, do you need to dominate multiple results for a keyword or a small set of keywords more than you need to improve global rankings? Global rankings, I mean like all the keywords that your site could rank for potentially or that you do rank for now or could help you to rank a larger set of keywords that send visits and traffic.

You kind of have to weigh these two things. It’s either: Do I want two out of the top three results to be mine for this one keyword, or do I want these 10 keywords that I’m ranking for to broadly move up in rankings generally?
A lot of the time, this will bias you to go, “Wait a minute, no, the opportunity is not in these few keywords where I could dominate multiple positions. It’s in moving up the global rankings and making my ability to rank for any set of keywords greater.”

Even at Moz today, Moz does very well in the rankings for a lot of terms around SEO. But if, for example, let’s say we were purchased by Search Engine Land or we bought Search Engine Land. If those two entities were combined, and granted, we do rank for many, many similar keywords, but we would probably not keep them separate. We would probably combine them, because the opportunity is still greater in combination than it is in dominating multiple results the way Zillow and Trulia are. This is a pretty rare circumstance.

2. Will I cannibalize link equity opportunities with multiple sites? Can I get enough link equity & authority signals to rank both?

Second, are you going to cannibalize link equity opportunities with multiple sites, and do you have the ability to get enough equity and authority signals to rank both domains or all three or all four or whatever it is?

A challenge that many SEOs encounter is that building links and building up the authority to rank is actually the toughest part of the SEO equation. The keyword targeting and ranking multiple domains, that’s nice to have, but first you’ve got to build up a site that’s got enough link equity. If it is challenging to earn links, maybe the answer is, hey, we should combine all our efforts or we should on work on all our efforts. Remember, even though Zillow owns Trulia, Trulia and Zillow are one entity, the links between them don’t help the other one rank very much. It was already a case, before Zillow bought them, that Trulia and Zillow independently ranked. The two sites offer different experiences and some different listings and all that kind of stuff.

There are reasons why Google keeps them separately and why Zillow and Trulia keep them separately. But that’s going to be really tough. If you’re a smaller business or a smaller website starting out, you’re trying to decide where should you put your link equity efforts, it might lean a little more this way.

3. Should I use my own domain(s), should I buy an existing site that ranks, or should I do barnacle SEO?

Number three. Should you use your own domain if you decide that you need to have multiple domains ranking for a single keyword? A good example of this case scenario is reputation management for your own brand name or for maybe someone who works at your company, some particular product that you make, whatever it is, or you’re very, very focused and you know, “Hey, this one keyword matters more than everything else that we do.”

Okay. Now the question would be: Should you use your own domain or a new domain that you buy and register and start building up? Should you buy an existing domain, something that already ranks, or should you do barnacle SEO? So, that would be basically you’re registering a new domain, you’re building it up from scratch, you’re growing that brand, and you’re trying to build all the signals that you’ll need.

You could buy a competitor that’s already ranking in the search results, that already has equity and ranking ability. Or you could say, “Hey, we see that this Quora question is doing really well. Can we answer that question tremendously well?” Or, “We see that Medium can perform tremendously well here. You know what? We can write great posts on Medium.” “We see that LinkedIn does really well in this sector. Great. We can do some publishing on LinkedIn.” Or, “There’s a list of companies on this page. We can make sure that we’re the number-one listed company on that page.” Okay. That kind of barnacle SEO, we did a Whiteboard Friday about that a few months ago, and you can check that out too.

4. Will my multi-domain strategy cost time/money that would be better spent on boosting my primary site’s marketing? Will those efforts cause brand dilution or sacrifice potential brand equity?

And number four, last but not least, will your multi-site domain strategy cost you time and money that would be better spent on boosting your primary site’s marketing efforts? It is the case that you’re going to sacrifice something if you’re putting effort into a different website versus putting all your marketing efforts into one domain.

Now, one reason that people certainly do this is because they’re trying riskier tactics with the second site. Another reason is because they’ve already dominated the rankings as much as they want, or because they’re trying to build up multiple properties so that they can sell one off. They’re very, very good at link building this space already and growing equity and those sorts of things.

But the other question you have to ask is: Will this cause brand dilution? Or is it going to sacrifice potential brand equity? One of the things that we’ve observed in the SEO world is that rankings alone do not make for revenue. It is absolutely the case that people are choosing which domains to click on and which domains to buy from and convert on based on the brand and their brand familiarity. When you’re building up a second site, you’ve got to be building up a second brand. So that’s an additional cost and effort.

Now, I don’t want to rain on the entire parade here. Like we’ve said in a few of these, there are reasons why you might want to consider multiple domains and reasons why a multi-domain strategy can be effective for some folks. It’s just that I think it might be a little less often and should be undertaken with more care and attention to detail and to all these questions than what some folks might be doing when they buy a bunch of domains and hope that they can just dominate the top 10 right out of the gate.

All right, everyone, look forward to your thoughts on multi-domain strategies, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by

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from Moz Blog

Giving Away the Farm: Proposal Development for New SEO Agencies

Posted by BrianChilds

There’s a huge difference between making money from selling SEO and actually making a living — or making a difference, for that matter. A new marketing agency will quickly discover that surviving on $1,000 contracts is challenging. It takes time to learn the client and their customers, and poorly written contracts can lead to scope creep and dissatisfied clients.

It’s common for agencies to look for ways to streamline operations to assist with scaling their business, but one area you don’t want to streamline is the proposal research process. I actually suggest going in the opposite direction: create proposals that give away the farm.

Details matter, both to you and your prospective client

I know what you’re thinking: Wait a minute! I don’t want to do a bunch of work for free!

I too am really sensitive to the idea that a prospective client may attempt to be exploitative. I think it’s a risk worth taking. Outlining the exact scope of services forces you to do in-depth research on your prospect’s website and business, to describe in detail what you’re going to deliver. Finding tools and processes to scale the research process is great, but don’t skip it. Detailing your findings builds trust, establishes your team as a high-quality service provider, and will likely make you stand out amongst a landscape of standard-language proposals.

Be exceptional. Here’s why I think this is particularly important for the proposal development process.

Avoid scope creep & unrealistic expectations

Just like the entrepreneur that doesn’t want to tell anyone their amazing idea without first obtaining an NDA, new SEO agencies may be inclined to obscure their deliverables in standard proposal language out of fear that their prospect will take their analysis and run. Generic proposal language is sometimes also used to reduce the time and effort involved in getting the contract out the door.

This may result in two unintended outcomes:

  1. Lack of specific deliverables can lead to contract scope creep.
  2. It can make you lazy and you end up walking into a minefield.

Companies that are willing to invest larger sums of money in SEO tend to have higher expectations, and this cuts both ways. Putting in the work to craft a detailed proposal not only shows that you actually care about their business, but it also helps manage the contract’s inevitable growth when you’re successful.

Misalignment of goals or timelines can sour a relationship quickly. Churn in your contracts is inevitable, but it’s much easier to increase your annual revenue by retaining a client for a few more months than trying to go out and find a replacement. Monetizing your work effectively and setting expectations is an excellent way to make sure the relationship is built on firm ground.

Trust is key

Trust is foundational to SEO: building trustworthy sites, creating valuable and trustworthy content, becoming a trusted resource for your community that’s worth linking to. Google rewards this kind of intent.

Trust is an ethos; as an SEO, you’re a trust champion. You can build trust with a prospect by being transparent and providing overwhelming value in your proposal. Tell your clients exactly what they need to do based on what you discover in your research.

This approach also greases the skids a little when approaching the prospect for the first time. Imagine the difference between a first touch with your prospect when you request a chance to discuss research you’ve compiled, versus a call to simply talk about general SEO value. By developing an approach that feels less like a sales process, you can navigate around the psychological tripwires that make people put up barriers or question your trustworthiness.

This is also referred to as “consultative sales.” Some best practices that business owners typically respond well to are:

  • Competitive research. A common question businesses will ask about SEO relates to keywords: What are my competitors ranking for? What keywords have they optimized their homepage for? One thing I like to do is plug the industry leader’s website into Open Site Explorer and show what content is generating the most links. Exporting the Top Pages report from OSE makes for a great leave-behind.
  • Top questions people are asking. Research forum questions that relate to the industry or products your prospect sells. When people ask questions on Yahoo Answers or Quora, they’re often doing so because they can’t find a good answer using search. A couple of screenshots can spark a discussion around how your prospective client’s site can add value to those online discussions.

Yes, by creating a more detailed proposal you do run the risk that your target company will walk away with the analysis. But if you suspect that the company is untrustworthy, then I’d advise walking away before even building the analysis in the first place; just try getting paid on time from an untrustworthy company.

Insights can be worth more

By creating a very transparent, “give away the farm”-type document, SEOs empower themselves to have important discussions prior to signing a contract. Things like:

  • What are the business goals this company wants to focus on?
  • Who are the people they want to attract?
  • What products or pages are they focused on?

You’ll have to understand at least this much to set up appropriate targeting, so all the better to document this stuff beforehand. And remember, having these conversations is also an investment in your prospect’s time — and there’s some psychology around getting your target company to invest in you. It’s called “advancement” of the sale. By getting your prospect to agree to a small, clearly defined commitment, it pulls them further down the sales funnel.

In the case of research, you may choose to ask the client for permission to conduct further research and report on it at a specified time in the future. You can use this as an opportunity to anchor a price for what that research would cost, which frames the scope of service prices later on.

By giving away the farm, you’ll start off the relationship as a trusted advisor. And even if you don’t get the job to do the SEO work itself, it’s possible you can develop a retainer where you help your prospect manage digital marketing generally.

Prepping the farm for sale

It goes without saying, but making money from SEO requires having the right tools for the job. If you’re brand-new to the craft, I suggest practicing by auditing a small site. (Try using the site audit template we provide in the site audit bootcamp.) Get comfortable with the tools, imagine what you would prioritize, and maybe even do some free work for a site to test out how long it takes to complete relatively small tasks.

Imagine you were going to approach that website and suggest changes. Ask yourself:

  • Who are they selling to?
  • What keywords and resources does this target user value?
  • What changes would you make that would improve search rank position for those terms?
  • What would you do first?
  • How long would it take? (In real human time, not starving-artist-who-never-sleeps time.)

Some of the tools that I find most helpful are:

  • Moz Pro Campaigns > Custom Reports. This is an easy one. Create a Moz Pro campaign (campaigns are projects that analyze the SEO performance of a website over time) and then select “Custom Reports” in the top-right of the Campaign interface. Select the modules you want to include — site crawl and keyword rankings against potential competitors are good ones — and then offer to send this report to your prospect for free. It’s a lot harder for a customer to turn something off than it is to turn something on. Give away a custom report and then set up time to talk through the results on a weekly basis.
  • This free service allows you to investigate a number of attributes related to a website, including the marketing software installed. Similar to a WHOIS search, I use this to understand whether the prospect is overloaded with software or if they completely lack any marketing automation. This can be helpful for suggesting tools that will improve their insights immediately. Who better to help them implement those tools or provide a discount than you?
  • Keyword Explorer > Lists. Create a list in Keyword Explorer and look for the prevalence of SERP features. This can tell you a lot about what kinds of content are valuable to their potential visitor. Do images show up a lot? What about videos? These could be opportunities for your customer.
  • MozBar. Use the Page Analysis tab in MozBar to assess some of the website’s most important pages. Check page load speed in the General Attributes section. Also see if they have enticing titles and descriptions.
  • Site crawl. If you don’t have Moz Pro, I recommend downloading Screaming Frog. It can crawl up to 500 pages on a site for free and then allow you to export the results into a .csv file. Look for anything that could be blocking traffic to the site or reducing the chance that pages are getting indexed, such as 4XX series errors or an overly complex robots.txt file. Remedying these can be quick wins that provide a lot of value. If you start a Moz Pro campaign, you can see how these issues are reduced over time.

Want to learn how to add SEO to your existing portfolio of marketing services?

Starting on April 4th, 2017, Moz is offering a 3-day training seminar on How to Add SEO to Your Agency. This class will be every Tuesday for 3 weeks and will cover some of the essentials for successfully bringing SEO into your portfolio.

Sign up for the seminar!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

from Moz Blog

10 Free Copywriting Resources to Catapult Revenue (Or Your Money Back)

You start with a few formulas, and then you tweak – insert a power word here, take advantage of expanded headlines there. Whatever it’s gonna take to hit chart-topping CTRs.

Results all come down to your ad text at that point. That simple string of characters acts as a catalyst, leaping off the page and into a viewer’s brain to motivate, inspire, scare, or forcibly push them through the formidable couch-bound inertia that keeps people from making any changes at all.

free writing resources

But no one teaches this. There’s no Ad Copywriting 101 in college.

Instead, there are an abundance of free resources online that will teach you everything needed to know to instantly improve your AdWords copy. No formal education or expensive tuition required.

Here are 10 of the best free copywriting resources that you can read right now.

1. Gary Halbert: The Boron Letters

learn how to write for free

The first resource is also the weirdest.

Gary Halbert was like the OG internet infomarketer in his day. And he’s got a rap sheet to prove it.

His ads were excellent. The products in his ads? Not so much.

One thing leads to another (as they usually do) and he winds up in jail. Apparently, though, prison is an excellent productivity hack (no free Wi-Fi).

While there, Gary decided to make the most of his incarceration by writing to his son. You know, passing down his fatherly wisdom and all that.

And thus, The Boron Letters came to be.

It’s not always PC. But it is entertaining. Vastly interesting lessons that range from life to business to copywriting.

See, here’s the trick with this copywriting thing. Don’t watch what people say. Watch what they do: The storytelling. The sentence structure (or lack thereof). The conversational tone.

It’s all there inside The Boron Letters. You’ll get distracted while reading it. You’ll question what the hell you’re wasting your time doing. But then you’ll get to the good stuff. And it’ll all be worth it.

The Boron Letters also appear alongside Gary’s other, similarly personal letters on direct-response copywriting. Here’s one example. They were originally packaged as part of a high-dollar subscription thing (you know, those infomarketing guru’s gotta hype something).

But now it’s available for free for all to read. (Gotta love internet piracy.)

2. CopyHackers: The Ultimate Guide to No-Pain Copywriting

Many of these resources are going to look like blog posts. (We are shooting for free here, aren’t we?) But in reality they’re so much more.

The Ultimate Guide to No-Pain Copywriting by the always excellent CopyHackers is a perfect example.

Sure. It’s technically a blog post. But it also clocks in at a 59-minute reading time! So it’s one you’ll want to bookmark, favorite, Someday/Maybe, and come back to reference in the future.

Once again, you can also learn by watching (and not just reading).

Look at that first line:

“Because only rookies write from scratch…”

It’s short and bold. But it also introduces the hook from the get-go. “Rookies”. “Write from Scratch”. Formulas. The entire introduction is a lesson unto itself.

The hook is: zen. The promise of a simpler, easier life.

And then the meat goes through almost every single formula, including old-school class ones, for almost every circumstance imaginable.

Take testimonials for instance.

People are installing ad blockers faster than you can blink. Instead, they choose to rely on recommendations from other individuals (9 out of 10 people trust them more than brand-sponsored messages).

Ideally, testimonials should help potential buyers overcome a specific hurdle.

Think about it. They’re the living, breathing version of your buyer persona. People want to learn how those people ran up against challenges just like they face on a daily basis. And they want to know how they were able to overcome those challenges to reassure the money’s a good investment, the time it takes is minimal, or the stress endured is worthwhile.

About halfway down you’ll find the TEASE testimonial formula, with an example from some handsome young man from 2013.

tease formula for testimonials

And, of course, there’s also more ad-specific formulas so you can see how a formula like PAS can serve as a framework for your AdWords or Facebook ad copy.

3. KlientBoost: The Landing Page Copywriting Blueprint

Ad copy is only as good as its landing page at the end of the day. Which means even if you come up with a great 10-word hook, you gotta stretch that out a bit for the page itself.

The Landing Page Copywriting Blueprint from KlientBoost can help. There’s a gifographic for starters (yay, no reading!). But more importantly it unveils the subtle nuances of copywriting for online ad campaigns.

For example, what has the largest bearing on your campaign conversions?

Simple: The offer.

The reason is because different offers (with different hooks for different levels of commitment) will appeal to different groups of people.

That’s why pushing your salesy Facebook campaign to ice cold traffic fails miserably. You gotta warm those peeps up first with infographics, interest them with eBooks, and build trust with case studies before going in for the kill.

free writing tips

These considerations also dictate other things. For example, long or short landing page?

Shorter is better for interested parties who just want the facts, while longer is preferable for brand new visitors.

Point is: You can’t copy-and-paste a copywriting formula and use it at random (no matter how good or timeless it might be). You have to exercise some judgment, consider the circumstances and context. Then you write.

4. Jon Morrow: His Posts. All of them.

jon morrow

Confession time. Sometimes I cry.

It’s not pretty. A grown, balding man crying. Cringe-worthy. Embarrassing even.

But you can’t blame me. I dare you to read this or this and not tear up a little bit. Go on. Try it.

Half a decade ago, when I was a slave to the man in-house marketer, I would re-write those two posts to internalize the writing. (Because I had a lot of free time. See: Being an employee.)

Hey. If it was good enough for Ben Franklin, it’s good enough for us.

There’s a lot that goes into this copywriting thing.

There’s storytelling arcs from classic movies (we’ll get to that in a bit). Like the “Reluctant Hero” which pops up across Hollywood every quarter or so. There’s the stylistic elements like sentence fragments or line repetition. The twist turns, “open loops,” and unexpected details that force readers to keep, well, reading.

Oh. And did I mention Jon writes with his voice?

Virtuoso. Seriously. Read them.

5. ConversionXL: Quick Course on Effective Website Copywriting

180 degrees in the opposite direction we have ConversionXL’s dry, technical, in-depth Quick Course on Effective Website Copywriting (I mean that as a compliment).

Their point of view, unsurprisingly given the name, is a focus on copy that converts. That gets people to take action and give you their info or whip out a credit card.

ad writing resources

Most of these other resources listed provide tips, tricks, and formulas. All good and helpful. But ConversionXL takes it one step further, presenting a framework or process for actually sitting down (or standing up – sitting is the new smoking apparently) and writing copy.

It kicks off by walking you through how to perform basic research on the customer, product, and competition. This prep work, truthfully, is where the gold lies.

It’s like that old repairman story. Takes them about five minutes to perform a task and bill a couple hundred bucks. The customer is appalled at the total. So the plumber writes out an itemized version, explaining:

  • $0.25 cents for wear and tear on the hammer,
  • And $75.00 for knowing where to hit the pipe.

See. The writing stuff is hard. No doubt. But you have absolutely no idea what to write in the first place without the research. (Even old Ogilvy knew this!)

Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about writing a long-form landing page, writing a blog post like this, or a measly five words in a headline. You gotta do the work before you do the work.

6. Khan Academy: Pixar in a Box

Pixar has won 210 awards and been nominated 211 times.

Not bad, considering they’ve only released 17 feature films.

That’s, like…a bunch of awards for each film (math was never my strong suit).

Sure, their graphics are good. Bleeding edge and all that. But they don’t win all those awards and break box office revenue and WOW moviegoers with graphics alone.

The secret lies in the heart.

Pixar is, above all else, master storytelling. They know how to draw you in with unforgettable yet relatable characters. How to toy with your emotions so you buy into their world.

how to learn storytelling

And thankfully, the Khan Academy is bringing the story behind their stories to life.

Look: We all talk about storytelling. Seth told us years ago. And yet, no one’s tellin’ any stories.

Go read your own blog posts. Go read your landing pages. Go read your advertisements.

The same old boring, “me-too” exposition that solves zero problems and motivates zero people to read, click, or opt-in.

If someone told you about the important reasons for internet security, you would agree. And then continue to ignore them. But if they started out by first talking about how hackers have stolen over one billion dollars from businesses last year alone and another billion people had their identities stolen, your ears might perk up a little bit.

Great ads need hooks. Drama. Foreshadowing. Conflict. Climaxes and even a dénouement to put everything straight after you purchase.

In other words, the same storytelling fundamentals originally put forth by the Greeks and Romans.

7. Jon Morrow Redux: Headline Hacks

Speaking of hooks, let’s jump back to Jon Morrow. Because his Headline Hacks will give you a handful to get started with (in addition to helpful explanations of why each works).

Here’s what you should do after downloading it.

  1. Open up a notebook or Google docs.
  2. Begin copying down – word for word – each section, one at a time. (Remember that whole Ben Franklin bit? There’s also some science about learning stuff better when you rewrite it. For what it’s worth.)
  3. Now repeat that for the next section, making sure to add a helpful note for how each should be used.
  4. So at the end, you should have created a little mini-database that looks something like:

how to write great headlines

Click image to enlarge

And voila! Literally start by just copying and pasting these. Then reworking. Then adding to it as you get better.

No more limp headlines that sabotage your ad campaign CTR’s or landing page conversions.

8. Claude Hopkins: Scientific Advertising

In 1923, ad man Claude Hopkins published Scientific Advertising, which went on to inspire the likes of David Ogilvy and Gary Halbert (ever heard of ‘em?).

scientific advertising

Ogilvy once remarked:

“Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.”

In this book that was written before the Great Depression, Hopkins explains his testing philosophy to (a) maximize results while (b) minimizing the damage a bad ad can inflict.

He also introduces new age concepts that we digital marketers like to take credit for, like split testing ad campaigns and using coupons to track ad performance, customer purchases, and power loyalty or database marketing campaigns.

It’s a little dry. Some tactical elements might be outdated. But the principles are the definition of timeless.

You can purchase it on Amazon. OR you can read it online for free and download the PDF version if you’d like.

9. Steven Pressfield: Writing Wednesdays

The excellent Made to Stick (not free) introduces the idea of “successful plots” that firmly implant themselves into people’s brains.

Think of the Challenge Plot (similar to the Reluctant Hero), where Rocky Balboa goes from dock worker to world champ.

Or the Connection Plot that brings people together from different sides of the tracks, like Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio (he’s so dreamy) in Romeo and Juliet (was there a book version, too?).

best free writing resources

Point is, many of our favorite works from the past few centuries are well worn ideas that still resonate (yet presented in new, refreshing ways).

Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and The War of Art (among many others), dissects many of these plot styles and other writing insights in his Writing Wednesdays column.

His work also reinforces another recurring theme here: watch what he does, not just what he says.

The writing is crisp and clear. Conversational. And he uses modern day examples as a frame of reference to help make intangible concepts concrete for readers.

10. Rachel Aaron: How I Went from Writing 2000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day

how to write fast

Rachel Aaron writes sciences fiction. Or maybe romance? I’m not entirely sure of the difference.

And her post, How I Went from Writing 2000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day was the kernel for an expanded Amazon version, entitled 2K to 10K.

Here’s the deal.

You know writing’s tough. The idea of writing 2,000 words in a single sitting probably sounds like torture to most.

Instead, Rachel retells her experience in upping that word count to over 10,000 in a single day.

Why is this important? And what on Earth does this have to do with ad campaigns?

Writing is everything.

The top-of-funnel content to bring in new search visitors. The eBook for your Facebook lead gen campaign. The long-form landing page that gets them to convert. The 10-part drip email campaign that nurtures and upsells.

You wanna cut it in today’s marketing world? You’re going to have to do some writing.

Penning that five-word headline and eight-word description for your ad campaign isn’t the end of work for the day. It’s just the beginning.

BONUS: WordStream’s Free White Paper Library

free copywriting guides

WordStream’s free learning resource PPC University offers a bunch of free guides to help you write better copy for your ads and landing pages.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Start Reading!

The legendary Ogilvy on Advertising talks about David’s response to someone who works in advertising, yet had not read any books about advertising.

Specifically, he asked:

“Suppose your gallbladder has to be removed this evening. Will you choose a surgeon who has read some books on anatomy and knows where the gallbladder, is or someone who relies on his own intuition?”

Same applies today.

Maybe you didn’t learn ad copywriting in college, but if you look around, there’s an endless amount of free (or extremely inexpensive) resources available that will teach you the ropes.

Grasp the fundamentals, and there’s no reason you’ll have to suffer subpar CTR or conversions anymore.

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream

Your Daily SEO Fix: Link Building & Ranking Zero

Posted by FeliciaCrawford

Last week, we shared a series of four short videos intended to help you accomplish some easy wins using Moz Pro: Your Daily SEO Fix: The Keyword Research Edition. Week Two (that’s this week!) is focused on link building, identifying opportunities to take over SERP features, and doing that all-important competitive research.

This time around, we’re using a mix of Open Site Explorer, Fresh Web Explorer, and Moz Pro. Open Site Explorer has some free capabilities, so if you’d like to follow along…

Open OSE in a new tab!

If you’re a Moz Pro subscriber, crack open your campaigns and settle in. If you’d like to see what all the fuss is about without committing, you can dip your toes in with a free 30-day trial. And now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started!

Fix #1: Link building & brand building via unlinked mentions

“Moz” is an SEO software company, yes, but it’s also Morissey’s nickname and short for “Mozambique.” All three of those things get mentioned around the web a bunch on any given day, but if we want to identify link building opportunities just to our site, it could get confusing quick. Luckily, Jordan’s here to explain how to quickly find unlinked mentions of your site or brand using Open Site Explorer and keep those pesky Smiths references out of your results.

Fix #2: Prioritizing and organizing your link building efforts

Link building requires more than just finding opportunities, of course. April shows how you can prioritize your efforts by identifying the most valuable linking opportunities in Open Site Explorer, then dives into how you can cultivate a continuous stream of fresh related content ripe for a link-back with Fresh Web Explorer.

Fix #3: Ranking in position zero with SERP features in Moz Pro

If you have keywords that aren’t ranking in the first few results pages, don’t despair — there’s hope yet. There are tons of opportunities to rank above the first organic result with the prevalence of SERP features. In this video, Ellie shows how you can identify keywords that need some love, track SERP feature opportunities for them, filter your keywords to show only those that surface certain SERP features, and more.

Fix #4: Gleaning insights from your competitors’ backlink profiles

Remember April from Fix #2? She’s back and ready to show you how to get the skinny on your competitors’ juicy backlink profiles using both your Moz Pro campaign and Open Site Explorer.

One step beyond

That wraps up our latest week of fixes! We’ve got one last round coming at you next Thursday. As always, if you’re curious and want to follow along, you can try it all out firsthand by taking a free trial of Moz Pro. We also offer several SEO bootcamp courses that can get you started on fundamentals if this whole SEO thing is pretty new to you.

If you’re looking for some more meaty info on these topics, I’ve put together a short list of light reading for you:

Thanks for reading along, friends, and we’ll see you again for the last installment of the Daily SEO Fix series next week!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

from Moz Blog

7 Traits That REALLY Define High-Quality Content

Most of your content is DOA: Dead on Arrival (or maybe Donkey on Arrival).

donkeys vs unicorns

Individuals, businesses, and brands are producing a ridiculously enormous amount of content every minute. That means your content is getting lost in the noise.

But wait. Every marketing expert ever agrees that the secret to content marketing success is creating quality content. And you’re creating quality content, right?

So … why are most of your content still failing?

Simple: Your definition of “quality content” is completely wrong.

Most marketers have bought into some fantasy that it’s about attributes rather than statistics. They evaluate content “quality” based on traits like:

  • Length
  • Visual appeal
  • Spelling and grammar
  • Formatting
  • Readability
  • Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness
  • Overall “value”

No, no, no!

Although these content qualities are important in their own way, they don’t actually define quality content!

So what really defines quality content? These seven things.

1. Quality Content Is Defined by Data

Always base your definition of quality content on data. Any other definition will be based on your biased views of your own work.

Data is the only objective way to tell whether your content is a unicorn or a donkey:

  • Unicorn content: This is your best, most magical content, performing among the top 3 percent of all your content. Unicorns rank well in Google (Position 1-3) and drive the most traffic, engagement, and leads.
  • Donkey content: This is your average and below average content. It makes up the remaining 97 percent of your content. But a donkey is still just a donkey – no magic here! Donkeys will never achieve unicorn status.

What’s the difference between high engagement unicorns and low engagement donkeys?

Well, in SEO, it looks like this:

CTR v. Average Position

The unicorns (the top 10 percent) have 6x higher click-through rates (CTR) than donkeys (the bottom 10 percent).

On Facebook, it looks like this:

Post Engagement Rates

The unicorns are 10x more engaging than the donkeys.

If you look at the most popular pages on your blog or website, you’ll see something like this:

Blog Traffic Distribution

For the WordStream blog, 10 percent of our stories generated more than 60 percent of our traffic in 2016.

You’ll also see the difference between high engagement unicorns and low engagement donkeys with search conversion rates:

Top Offers

The top 10 percent of offers convert at least 5x better than donkeys – 11.45 percent or higher vs. 2.35 percent or lower (based on WordStream customer data).

You may have heard of the 80/20 rule (AKA the Pareto principle). It’s been interpreted in marketing to mean that 80 percent of your profits come from 20 percent of your customers or 20 percent of your efforts lead to 80 percent of your results.

Well, here’s a new law you need to know.

The Unicorn Power Law: most of your value comes from a tiny fraction of your content.

Your data will reveal that fraction of your content – the true top quality content.

2. Quality Content Achieves Marketing Objectives

You should define content quality based on how much you get out of it, not how much time and money you put into it.

Imagine you own a baseball team and need to add a hitter to your lineup. Are you going to sign a player based on his height or how handsome he is? Or how well he speaks? Or maybe how many social media followers he has?

NO! You want to score runs!

You would look at things that matter, like statistics – hits, home runs, on-base percentage, etc. You know, how the player actually performed on the field.

Pony meme

Great baseball players come in all shapes and sizes.

The same is true of quality content.

Unicorn content can be long or short, have zero images or 10, and have a couple spelling errors or totally perfect grammarization.

Ultimately, it’s about whether your content achieves its marketing goal, whether that’s generating traffic, rankings, engagement, or conversions.

3. Quality Content Ranks Well in Google

Google uses machine learning as part of its RankBrain algorithm, which is used on every search. One thing all machine learning systems have in common: they reward high engagement.

How does Google measure engagement? I believe it’s through a combination of click-through rate (people are clicking on your content) and dwell time (people are spending time and/or engaging with your content).

CTR Based Organic Rankings

CTR is important for SEO because, for every 3 percent increase or decrease in CTR your experience, your position can go up or down by one spot.

Meanwhile, data reveals how Google is slowly eliminating traffic to pages with low dwell time (the amount of time people spend on your website after clicking on your search result listing). We can’t measure dwell time, but time on site is proportional to dwell time.

Look at WordStream’s top pages before RankBrain:

Organic Page Traffic

Eight of our top 32 pages had below average time on site.

Here are our top pages after RankBrain:

Average Organic Traffic

Now only two pages are donkeys? Wow!

Google SERP positions used to be mainly determined by who had the most/best links and most relevant content. While those remain important ranking factors, now it’s equally important that people engage with your content if you want to rank well.

4. Quality Content Has Remarkable CTR

Before Google used machine learning as an organic search ranking signal, Google used machine learning in AdWords (they also use it for the Google Display Network, Gmail Ads, and YouTube ads).

gmail ads cpc

If your AdWords ad has a higher Quality Score, you pay less and your ad appears more prominently; if your ad has a lower Quality Score, you pay more and your ad impression share is much lower.

What is the most important AdWords Quality Score signal? A remarkable click-through rate.

Facebook and Twitter both copied the AdWords idea. These social advertising platforms also reward high engagement content with much lower costs per engagement and more visibility. Low engagement content is penalized, which makes promoting junk content very expensive.

Google, Facebook, and Twitter incentivize high engagement content. If your content doesn’t make lots of people click, then it isn’t quality content.

5. Quality Content Has Lots of Social Media Engagement

We just briefly covered social media ads, but what about organic engagement on Facebook? Well, Facebook also uses machine learning to reward engagement. It works like this:

Facebook Newsfeed

This is why fake news thrived on Facebook. It was all about engagement.

People clicked on, shared, and commented on the fake news because it validated their existing biases, not because it was “quality content.” Facebook’s algorithms favored content popularity over authority, which helped the stories spread to more peoples’ news feeds.

Obviously, fake news = bad. We’re totally against it. But you can learn from it.

To capture the attention of social media users you need content that triggers an emotional response. Only content that achieves high engagement on social media can truly be called quality.

6. Quality Content Converts

Quality content has higher conversion rates. If you can get people to click, it’s more likely they’ll ultimately convert, whether it’s signing up for a webinar, filling out a registration form, or buying a product or service.

Brand Affinity Dramatically Increases

If you want more people to click, increasing brand affinity is the best way to do it. People who know your brand are more likely to choose you over brands they’ve never heard of. 

7. Quality Content Does Well on Every Channel

Unicorns are the pinnacle of quality content.

Some content might do well on one channel. But unicorns do well on every channel, whether it’s SEO, CRO, PPC, social (paid and organic), or email.

Unicorn Venn Diagram

Unicorn content does well on social media and tends to rank and convert well; content that ranks well in organic search tends to have high engagement on social media and convert well, and so on.

Conversely, content that fails in one channel is likely to fail in another. Content that fails to rank well in organic search won’t have high engagement on social media and it will have a terrible conversion rate.

At the heart of unicorn, content is a truly remarkable, engaging, and inspiring idea. So if you want your marketing – and your company – to be more successful, you need to come up with better ideas.

Unicorn Meme

Promoting a donkey won’t turn it into a unicorn. You’ll only waste time and money.

Instead, focus all your efforts on promoting your powerful and valuable unicorns. Promote your unicorns on every channel when you find them to amplify their impact by 100x or even 1000x and drive even more traffic, engagement, and leads.

What REALLY Defines Quality Content

Quality Content

Content marketing is an unfair game. If you want to win you need to stop relying on your gut (which is really just your opinion and, by nature, biased) and look at unbiased statistics.

Content marketing is about output, not input!

Stop looking at content attributes. Start looking at data to find your truly high-quality content. Start optimizing for engagement and you’ll find huge content wins.

When you find that super rare unicorn content, capitalize on it! Leverage the heck out of it on every channel to maximize your marketing ROI.

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream

Drive More Local Business with New Display Location Extensions in AdWords

Every year, as we spend more time on our devices and on the go, our search intent increasingly becomes more local. Google knows this all too well and it continues to give advertisers new tools to target local users, ad extensions to show location and affiliate locations, and ways to measure in-store visits spurred from our actions on the SERP.

But as we become more connected with our phones, Google knows that even if we’re searching more locally, we’re spending far more time in apps than browsers or search engines.

google adwords display location extensions

Image via Business Insider

Given how relatively little time local audiences spend actively searching in Google for your offerings, Google has just released a way for Google Display Network advertisers to cater their ads to local users across the sites and apps they visit.

Google’s new Display Location Extensions behave similarly to the location extensions we see on the SERP by showing your local business address beneath your ad. Interested users can choose to click the location extension to get driving directions to your local store or click through to your site to learn more.

display location extensions how-to

How to Set Up (or Opt Out of) Display Location Extensions

Location extensions on the Display network are created the same way as location extensions on the search network. First, create a Google My Business account for your business. Once you’ve verified your address, hours, and phone number, link your AdWords account to your Google My Business account.

From there, creating a location extension is as easy as hitting the big red +Extension button within the Ad Extension tab of AdWords. Location extensions can be created at the account, campaign, or ad group level. If you apply a location extension to the account level or to a display campaign, your display ads are eligible to show this information to local users.

However, not all image ad formats will show location extensions. Only text ads, responsive ads, and 300 x 250 image ads will show display location extensions now.

If you don’t care for Google changing how your display ads look, it’s easy to opt out of showing these extensions in your display campaigns. Simply review the ad extensions applied to your display campaigns. If you’ve previously set an extension to run at the account level, you’ll need to change it to run only within selected campaigns to prevent it from showing in your display ads.

Whether you’re a master at Google Display campaigns or you’ve been putting it aside for a while, these new ad formats are extra enticing for local advertisers looking to expand their reach beyond the SERP!

About the author:

Mark is a Senior Data Scientist at WordStream with a background in SEM, SEO, and Statistical Modeling. He was named the 14th Most Influential PPC Expert of 2016 by PPC Hero. You can follow him on TwitterLinkedIn, and Google +.

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream

OK, Google: How Do I Optimize My Site for Voice Search?

“The destiny of Google’s search engine is to become that Star Trek computer, and that’s what we are building.”

 Google Voice Search

This was what Amit Singhal, the head of Google’s search rankings team, famously said about the future of Google’s search technology during a conversation with Guy Kawasaki at SXSW Interactive in 2013. During the past decade, Google has taken several bold steps toward this lofty, ambitious goal, and one of the most exciting advances has been in the field of voice search and natural language processing technology.

Although Google’s voice search doesn’t feature the vocal talents of Majel Roddenberry as the Star Trek computer did in the show’s many long-running incarnations (yet – there’s still time to beat Apple to it, Google), it has become as close to its fictional inspiration as contemporary technology will allow.

Google Voice Search Star Trek computer 

However, there’s far more to Google voice search than mere convenience; it’s changing the way Google handles search queries, how users search for the information we need, and even our attitudes toward search engines in general.

In today’s post, we’ll be delving deep into what makes Google voice search so unique. We’ll be taking a quick look into the history of how Google developed its revolutionary voice search tech, before examining how its development has impacted Google’s wider approach to search. We’ll be looking at how businesses and marketers can develop content, ad campaigns, and strategies with voice search in mind. Finally, we’ll brave our own final frontier and speculate about what Google voice search might look like in the coming years – and the possibilities may not be as fantastical as they may once have seemed.

There’s a lot to cover, so grab a coffee and let’s get right to it.

What Is Google Voice Search?

Google Voice Search is a function that allows users to search the Web using Google through spoken voice commands rather than typing.

Google Voice Search can be used on both desktop and mobile searches. In some instances, users must say a “wake” phrase to tell Google to begin analyzing what the user says, which is “OK, Google.” This can be done either via a hands-free voice command on certain mobile devices and operating systems, or by tapping or clicking on the microphone icon to the right of the main Google search field:

Google Voice Search microphone icon 

Other than how users activate and use voice search commands, there’s very little difference between a spoken voice search and a regular typed search query. Even “near me” searches (more on this shortly) on desktop will be very similar to results for a similar query conducted by voice search on a mobile device.

Users are taken to a typical search engine results page whether they spoke their query or typed it, with a couple of potential exceptions. Users searching for directions to a place using a mobile device may see a different SERP than a desktop user searching for the same information, for example.

By and large, though, voice search queries often return similar – if not virtually identical – results as typed queries. It’s just a lot easier and more convenient to speak your query rather than type it.

A Brief History of Google Voice Search

Like many of Google’s most popular services, Google Voice Search (also known as Search by Voice) was born in Google Labs, the place in which Google engineers can play around with new technologies and ideas, many of which have become popular Google products such as Gmail.

First introduced in 2010, Google Voice Search initially required users to call a phone number from their mobile device, after which they were prompted by a recorded message to “Say Your Search Keywords.” The user would then say whichever keywords they wished to search for, which would then update an open webpage with results for their query, or offer users a link they could click to be taken to a search engine results page for their query. (Sadly for amateur internet historians such as myself, neither the original number nor the types of results pages it generated are available any longer.)

Admittedly, this wasn’t the most elegant solution, but it did pave the way for radical developments in speech recognition technology that Google utilized shortly afterward. In the subsequent years since Google Voice Search was launched, Google began integrating its voice recognition tech into many popular Google products, including Google Maps, its virtual assistant Google Now, and even the core of its underlying search engine tech.

Today, Google Voice Search is fully compatible with dozens of products and applications. More than that, voice search has become an integral part of the Google experience, and has even shaped how Google’s algorithms handle specific types of queries.

Google Voice Search and the Hummingbird Update

A couple of years ago, Google made one of the largest changes to its core algorithm in recent memory. This update was known as Hummingbird, and it changed… well, just about everything.

Google Voice Search semantic search 

One of the biggest elements that changed with the advent of Hummingbird was the emphasis on semantic search, or the implied meaning of search queries.

User intent is one of the most important fundamentals of search, yet for machines, it can be remarkably difficult to infer what users actually want when conducting certain searches. That’s among the many reasons why the Hummingbird update was so important – it signaled a shift in Google’s ability to determine intent behind relatively ambiguous searches and provide users with an even better experience, something Google continued with the development of its RankBrain machine learning system.

Google Voice Search semantic machine learning difficulties 

Image via Read/Write/Web

Let’s take a look at semantic search in action using Google Voice Search.

Say we conduct a voice search for the query “Zoe Saldana”, the actress known for her standout roles in the Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy movies. (Note: these searches were performed using Google Voice Search on an HTC One device running Android v. 6.0 Marshmallow)

Google Voice Search Zoe Saldana 

Now that we’ve established an initial search, we can put Google’s semantic understanding to the test by asking it a series of related queries that would be ambiguous and almost impossible to accurately “answer” by themselves.

Let’s say we want to find out the name of Saldana’s character in Guardians of the Galaxy. After being presented with our initial result, we can ask Google a series of further questions:

Google Voice Search Zoe Saldana's character in Guardians of the Galaxy 

As we can see, Google struggles a little with this query. My original search term was “What was the name of her character in Guardians of the Galaxy?” Rather than provide me with information about Saldana’s character, Gamora, Google serves up a range of character information from the movie, including Saldana’s character as we can see on the right-hand side.

We can keep going – and even branch out into other lines of inquiry relevant to our initial search. This result was for the search query “What planet is Gamora from?” and the results pertain to the original character of Gamora from the Guardians of the Galaxy comic published by Marvel:

Google Voice Search Gamora Guardians of the Galaxy character bio 

While Google manages to keep up with this type of sequential semantic search, it performs much more strongly when handling simple biographical information about real people, as opposed to fictional characters.

Going back to our original search for Zoe Saldana, we can ask Google a series of related questions without specifying who we’re talking about. Google “knows” we’re probably still interested in Zoe Saldana, and so it fills in the blanks in sequential voice searches:

Google Voice Search Zoe Saldana age query 

The result above was served to me for the query “How old is she?” I did not specify I was interested in Zoe Saldana – Google “knows” that’s what I meant in this context, so it changed “she” in my query to “Zoe Saldana” as seen above.

Google also does this for another sequential semantic voice search. The figure below is the result for the query “Where was she born?” Again, Google interpreted my query to mean “Where was Zoe Saldana born?” which is what Google changes the search to after parsing my voice search:

 Google Voice Search Zoe Saldana birthplace query

This is a great example of semantic search in action, and one that suits the use applications of Google Voice Search perfectly. Sure, we could ask each of our subsequent questions in more complete sentences, but Google doesn’t “need” that clarification; it intuitively understands that each question is relevant to the one preceding it, and offers accurate, intelligent results based on very little user input.

It also provides users with a much more natural and intuitive experience, as semantic searches such as those above can be conducted in an almost conversational way, rather than forcing the user to conform to arbitrary conventions dictated by Google.

Google Voice Search, Google Now, and the Future of Search

Google Voice Search has been integral to Google’s virtual assistant, Google Now, for many years. The combination of Google’s powerful search algorithms with its sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) technology is why most people can agree that Google Now is significantly more accurate than Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, or Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistants, despite the latter three being very similar in function.

Google Voice Search Siri vs Google Now vs Cortana 

It can be tempting to think of Google Voice Search as a standalone product that exists in its own silo, but when you look at how Google’ range of products has developed in recent years, we can actually extrapolate what the future of search might look like several years from now.

Take cross-platform conversion tracking in Google Analytics, for example. Google has gone to great lengths to make it easier for advertisers and webmasters to identify both offline conversions and converted sessions that take place across multiple devices, and is even considering adding voice query data to the Google Search Console.

Google Voice Search Google Search Console 

This is because Google knows better than anyone that in today’s multi-device media environment, the days of single-session, single-device conversion pathways are long gone. Similarly, the way we search for information has changed, and a one-size-fits-all approach to optimization is both short-sighted and completely impractical in today’s online environment.

Voice Search Queries on the Rise

As with many of Google’s products, adoption of Google Voice Search has grown steadily since its introduction. Data from Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report shows just how popular Google Voice Search has become in recent years:

Google Voice Search Mary Meeker Internet Trends report voice query trends 

Data via KPCB/Mary Meeker

As you can see, Google Trends data suggests that use of Voice Search and its related commands have increased sevenfold since 2010. Currently, navigational queries and call functions have been the most common uses of Voice Search, but we’re likely to see not only increasingly sophisticated searches being conducted using Voice Search in the near future, but also a much higher volume of spoken search queries in general.

Meeker’s report also states that, as of May 2016, one in every five searches on Android devices is a voice search. In addition, Chinese search engine Baidu’s Andrew Ng speculates that by 2020, approximately 50% of all searches are going to be made via voice recognition technology:

Google Voice Search voice search share volume 

What Are People Using Voice Search For?

We know that voice searches are becoming increasingly popular, but what are people actually using voice search for? The answer depends on a person’s age.

As we can see from the figure below, adults use voice search most often to get directions. This makes sense, as it’s much easier – and safer, and compliant with many local laws – to use hands-free voice search while driving to find out where you need to go.

However, we can also see that there are many other common uses for voice search, including using voice commands to dictate text messages, utilize mobile device call functions, check the time, and play media.

Google Voice Search uses data 

Image via Google

At first glance, this might not be terribly exciting. Use cases of voice search are similar across various age demographics, and there isn’t much in the way of commercial intent when it comes to the above uses of voice search functionality. However, if we take a bird’s eye view of voice search, things start to get a lot more interesting.

For starters, we haven’t even reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to adoption of voice search. Data from VoiceLabs indicates that, in 2017, approximately 24.5 million mobile devices will be shipped worldwide. This will create what VoiceLabs calls a “total device footprint” of 33 million voice-first devices this year alone, suggesting a continued upward trajectory of voice search use:

Google Voice Search mobile device footprint 

Image/data via VoiceLabs

This trend is also reflected in other data. According to San Francisco-based startup MindMeld (formerly known as Expect Labs), many users have only recently begun to use voice search functionality on a regular basis, with almost 42% of users using voice search for the first time within the past six months:

Google Voice Search adoption over time 

Data via MindMeld

Why Is Google Voice Search Becoming More Popular?

There are several reasons for the growth in popularity of voice recognition technology in consumer devices such as Android mobile devices and smart home tech such as Amazon’s Alexa, the primary being the ease of use in comparison to typing.

The average person can type around 40 words per minute, but can speak around 150 words per minute, allowing for greater specificity with less effort. In addition, as we can see in the figure below, almost one in four voice search users conduct spoken searches due to difficulties typing on certain devices:

Google Voice Search reasons for use of voice interfaces 

Image/data via KPCB/Mary Meeker

The second reason for the growing popularity of voice search is its ongoing integration with emerging products and technologies. Sales figures for Amazon’s Alexa units have proven that consumers are ready and eager to embrace the “smart home revolution,” and increasing reliance upon and advances in voice recognition tech are likely to further drive interest in these devices and services.

Voice Tech, Local Search, and ‘Near Me’ Searches

In the figure above, we saw that navigational queries and call functions remained the top uses of Google’s voice recognition technology. Although these use cases may not be that exciting at face value, this actually represents an incredible opportunity for advertisers hoping to drive foot traffic to brick-and-mortar locations.

If you’ve ever used Voice Search to get directions to somewhere, imagine the potential for even greater Voice Search integration with local search listings. We can already literally “ask” Google to help us find stores selling goods we want to buy, as well as check important information such as opening hours, parking availability, and even coupons.

Google Voice Search near me searches 

“Near me” searches are already crucially important for local businesses. Google said that “near me” searches doubled in 2015 alone, and the volume of such queries of this nature has increased 34 times since 2011 – the vast majority of which are conducted from mobile devices.

Voice Search, Natural Language Processing, and People-Based Marketing

One of the biggest changes we’ve seen in search in recent years has been the advent of heavily personalized web browsing. Google pioneered this by combining its various disparate services and products into a single, cohesive user profile system that allows Google to provide users with a more unique, granular, and individualized browsing experience (well, that was the plan, anyway).

This has given rise to (yet another) marketing strategy – people-based marketing, a remarkably powerful technique despite its uniquely awful name. People-based marketing is, as its name suggests, a marketing methodology that allows advertisers to target users based on who they are, rather than purely their behavior. As Google learns more about us, we could see a profound shift toward increasingly personalized marketing based on not only our browsing history and shopping preferences, but even our voices.

How Google Will ‘Learn’ to Recognize Your Voice AND Your Habits

Google Voice Search and similar technologies “learn” to recognize voice commands and keywords through what is known as natural language processing. This means that, over time, Google learns not only the unique characteristics of your voice and the way you speak, but also your behavior, browsing interests, and other personal information.

Google Voice Search natural language processing system flow 

Example flow of a natural language processing system within
a Python environment. Image via Natural Language Toolkit.

Google and Siri can “learn” the patterns unique to the way you speak over time. No two people’s voices are exactly alike, and between colloquialisms, accents, and varying pronunciations of common words, even simple voice search queries can vary quite widely from one user to another.

At the same time, Google is constantly “learning” more about you as a consumer by analyzing your browsing habits, shopping preferences, and other online behavior. This is what allows Google to provide tailored, relevant search results. This is great news for AdWords advertisers, as it allows Google to serve increasingly relevant search results to users based on a constantly growing volume of data unique to individual users.

Amazon’s Alexa is at a slight disadvantage in this regard, as it cannot currently “learn” the cadence and speech patterns of individual voices, as this would make it harder for individuals in larger households to use the device. (At this time, anyone can say Alexa’s “wake” phrase – simple “Alexa”, followed by their query.)

Google Voice Search Amazon Alexa voice commands 

In time, I’m sure Amazon will implement such a feature, but – for now – Google, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana have the edge.

How To Optimize Your Site for Voice Search

So, by now you might be wondering how to go about making your site friendlier to voice searches. The good news is that if you’re utilizing current SEO best practices, there’s very little you need to do differently. The bad news is that if you aren’t utilizing current SEO best practices, you’ve got tons of work to do.

User Intent and Voice Search

If you’ve ever performed a voice search on your mobile device, the chances are pretty good that you were looking for a very specific piece of information: the address or opening hours of a store, the price of a specific product, whether a business offers a specific type of service etc. As such, it’s crucial that you bear user intent in mind when structuring your site and your content, and one of the best ways to do this is by preemptively answering questions.

Google Voice Search answering questions knowledge graph 

This might sound almost painfully simple, but actually ensuring that important information such as your street address and opening hours (if applicable) is readily available on your site should be your first step. Yes, Google is an incredibly sophisticated search engine, but the easier you make it for Google’s spiders to crawl and parse your content, the more likely you are to show up in search results.

Oh, and don’t “hide” crucial information like this in images – make sure it’s available as plain old HTML. Google can and does parse image content to provide search results, but forcing it to do so will almost certainly harm your visibility.

Google Voice Search WordStream business hours knowledge graph  

Next, think about your actual products or services. Sure, you may know your business inside and out, but that doesn’t mean your prospective customers will. They may not even realize that they need your services. What questions do your prospective customers typically have about what you do? What crucial information do your prospects need to make an informed decision about your business? What’s your unique selling proposition, and is it clear from looking at the content on your site? These are all questions that you should anticipate and preemptively answer, and considering user intent from the outset will make this much easier, particularly for owners of larger websites.

Optimizing for Specific Search Engines

Some of you may be wondering whether it’s worth optimizing for – GASP – search engines other than Google.

Google Voice Search Google vs Bing Owlturd Comix 

Image via Owlturd Comix

At face value, this question makes sense. After all, Apple’s Siri uses Bing as its primary search engine (no jokes or wry jabs at Siri’s accuracy, please), so you might be tempted to consider optimizing for Bing rather than Google. However, there are several problems with this line of thought, the first being market share, and the second being the current state of SEO in general.

Google Voice Search global mobile market share Android iOS 

Yes, Apple’s iPhone is remarkably popular. Apple is the most popular smartphone manufacturer in the U.S., and in Q4 of 2016, Apple finally overtook Samsung as the world’s largest smartphone vendor worldwide, according to data from Gartner – yet iOS still accounts for just 31.3% of U.S. smartphone market share, according to data from Kantar. Sales of mobile devices often fluctuate widely, meaning that purposefully optimizing for specific search engines other than Google is likely a waste of your time.

As for the state of SEO? We’re always being told that the relevance and quality of our content is the most important factor we should be optimizing (I refuse to say it). Ultimately, the nuances of how Google, Bing, Baidu, DuckDuckGo, or any other search engine work shouldn’t impact how you structure and optimize your site unless you have a very strong reason to do so.

So what else can you do to help make your site more voice search-friendly?

Use Schema Metadata

We’ve talked about using schema for SEO at length before, and while elaborating much further is beyond the scope of this post, it’s worth reiterating.

Google Voice Search schema item type example 

An example of a schema item type

Schema is what’s known as a markup language that allows webmasters and site owners to provide search engines with additional information about the information on their site – think of it like metadata, or data about data.

Schema allows you to more comprehensively “describe” what the data on your website means. This, in turn, makes it much easier for Google to “understand,” which can boost visibility. It’s also one of the most powerful yet significantly underutilized SEO practices, so by simply implementing schema markup to your site, you’re already putting yourself way ahead of the curve.

Target and Bid On Long-Tail Keywords

One of the most effective strategies you can adopt when optimizing for voice search is to target long-tail keywords.

Google Voice Search longtail keywords 

Image via Hit Tail

Long-tail keywords are search terms and phrases that – as their name implies – are longer than the typical search query. These queries are often quite specific, and best of all, many sites overlook them in favor of shorter, more competitive search queries. In addition, long-tail keywords account for approximately 70% of all search queries, meaning they’re less competitive – but no less important.

Something else to consider when targeting long-tail keywords is how people actually use voice search. Unlike a typed search query, spoken voice searches are usually conversational and reflect how people speak in everyday life. By targeting long-tail, conversational keywords and phrases and answering questions your prospective customers are likely to have, you stand a much better chance of ranking for these queries and appearing prominently in search results.

Bidding on long-tail keywords also presents several opportunities for savvy advertisers beyond potentially improving visibility or impression share. Long-tail keywords are often significantly cheaper and boast much better click-through rates than shorter queries:

Google Voice Search CTR vs position of PPC ads long tail keywords 

Update your Google My Business Listing

We touched on this earlier, but it’s worth repeating – get your Google My Business listing up to date right now.

Google Voice Search Google My Business listing example 

Image via Google

The more current the information in your Google My Business listing is, the more useful – and therefore relevant – your site will be to prospective customers, especially those immensely valuable mobile “near me” searchers. Even information such as whether parking is available can be persuasive, so make sure that your Google My Business listing is as complete and comprehensive as possible.

Google Voice Search Google Maps listing images example 

The inclusion of imagery can also be a powerful technique when improving your Google My Business listing, as these images can be displayed as part of Google Maps searches. If you operate a service-based business such as a restaurant, high-quality imagery of your establishment may just persuade a hesitant customer to stop by your place instead of a competitor.

Optimizing Ad Campaigns for ‘Near Me’ Searches

If you’re advertising your locally focused business using AdWords, there are a couple of additional steps you can take to maximize your visibility in those valuable “near me” searches, whether users opt to use voice search or a regular search.

Utilize AdWords’ Location Extensions

AdWords’ location extension is a powerful way to ensure your ads are being displayed to those highly motivated on-the-go shoppers. Enabling location extensions allows you to have your business’ address, phone number, and directions to your business displayed alongside your ads. This is crucially important if you want to show up in those strongly commercial “near me” searches. Check out this page about AdWords location extensions to find out why these extensions are so powerful and how to use them.

Google Voice Search AdWords location extension example 

Use Google Maps Local Search Ads

Using Local Search Ads in Google Maps is another powerful technique to reach the right people, at the right time, at the right place.

Google Voice Search Google Maps app ad example 

An example of a Local Search Ad in Google Maps on a mobile device.
Note the single purple “Ad” flag next to the paid result above the organic listings.

These inconspicuous ads appear above organic results in Google Maps (across both web/desktop and the Google Maps app), and can help drive more foot traffic to your store or location. Check out our comprehensive guide to Local Search Ads in Google Maps to find out how and when to use Local Search Ads in Google Maps.

Speak, and Ye Shall Find

I know this has been an absolute monster of a post, but hopefully, you’ve begun to think more actively about the potential of voice search and how it will affect your advertising campaigns and marketing initiatives moving forward.

There are still a great many “unknowns” when it comes to the future of voice search. One thing that’s almost certain, however, is that voice search will continue to become more intelligent, responsive, and accurate, as well as more prominent in verticals such as the consumer electronics market. Although this uncertainty is never a welcome risk factor for marketers, it’s also an incredibly exciting time to be into digital.

Perhaps Google’s dream of becoming the Star Trek computer isn’t so far-fetched after all.

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream