Supercharge your email marketing with Google AdWords

I have a confession to make.

The odds of my instantly deleting one of the many marketing emails I receive each day are about as good as Tom Brady and the Patriots making the playoffs — meaning it’s pretty likely to happen.

Unfortunately for all you email marketers out there, I’m not alone. According to email marketing service MailChimp, the average email open rate across industries is below 25 percent, with a click rate of 2 to 3 percent. That means that, on average, you’d need to send 100 emails to get two or three people to take any action. All that time and energy spent crafting the perfect email marketing campaign will be wasted if you don’t create a complementary strategy to get more sales from your hard-earned email list.

The good news is that you can use Google AdWords as your complementary strategy by simply leveraging the existing data you have on your email subscribers. Let’s dive into the best ways to make that happen.

Learn the ins and outs of Customer Match in AdWords

Customer Match in AdWords might be the greatest secret weapon for email marketers that Google has to offer. It allows you to target or exclude your existing customers on Google Search, Display and YouTube by simply uploading your customer email list to AdWords. Think of it as another way to nurture your sales leads besides sending them more emails.

The best thing about Customer Match is that it’s not that difficult to get up and running. Here’s what you need to do to get started:

Click on the “Wrench” icon in the top right corner of your AdWords Dashboard.Click on “Audience Manager” under the Shared Library section.Click on “Audience Lists” from the Page Menu on the left.Click on the blue “+” button to create a new audience list.Select “Customer List.”Choose the option to upload a plain text data file or a hashed data file.Choose your new file.Check the box that says “This data was collected and is being shared with Google in compliance with Google’s policies.”Set a membership duration (this should be determined by the types of customers that make up the list).Click “Upload and Create List.”

Please note that these instructions are for the “new” version of the AdWords dashboard. If you’re interested in Customer Match but are still using the “old” version of the AdWords dashboard, see here for more instructions.

Segment your email list

Now that you have a better understanding of Customer Match, let’s take a look at how you might want to slice and dice your email list to more effectively target your sales leads on AdWords.

Take a look at the following email audience segments we use at AdHawk (my company) for a moment:

New and engaged email subscribers who have not become customers.Email subscribers who have not opened an email recently.Email subscribers who are existing customers and would be a good fit for an upgraded product or service.

Each of these email audience segments has an entirely different relationship with our business and needs to be messaged to differently. If you have a similar breakdown of your marketing emails, you can repurpose your email list segmentation for your AdWords campaigns via Customer Match. This will allow you to tailor the messaging of your ads for each segment, and as a result, help to nudge your sales leads farther down your funnel.

Create a different AdWords strategy for each segment of your email list

Once you have your email audience segments in place, it’s time to develop a unique AdWords strategy for each segment.

I’m going to use the three email audience segments noted above as examples. Your approach might be different, and that’s okay. Just make sure you’re not using general ads for every email audience segment you have on your list.

Converting new and engaged email subscribers

When a new lead signs up to learn more about AdHawk, our team goes into “educate” mode. The goal is to get them to see the value of our product and services as quickly as possible so we can move them down the funnel.

Our “Welcome” email flow takes the first steps in educating our leads, and it performs pretty well compared to the industry average. But our secret weapon emerges when we take a list of our “new” sales leads and turn it into a Customer Match campaign in AdWords.

Here’s what a typical flow for this segment looks at AdHawk:

Step 1: Potential customer signs up to learn more about AdHawk.Step 2: After signing up, the potential customer receives the first email in the “Welcome” email flow, with a call to action to book a time with our sales team.Step 3: A Customer Match segment is created for all “new” prospective customers that didn’t take action on the first email in the “Welcome” email flow.

By using a Customer Match segment for all new and engaged AdHawk sales leads, we’re able to bid up on more generic keywords that would be too risky to bid up on for a general search campaign. We’re also able to create Gmail Ads with a similar look and feel to our “Welcome” emails series that prompt a strong customer recall.

Converting unengaged email subscribers

Converting unengaged email subscribers can be a huge pain in the butt. They’ve stopped engaging with your emails, so the worst thing you could do is continue to bash them over the head with more emails.

Here’s the flow we use to re-engage leads that have left us hanging:

Step 1: Potential customer signs up to learn more about AdHawk but does not engage with our emails for 30 days.Step 2: A Customer Match segment is created for all “unengaged” prospective customers.Step 3: A Remarketing campaign is created to target prospective customers that have not converted after 30 days.Step 4: We tailor the Customer Match and Remarketing ads to promote a special offer.

This group is the least likely to convert, so any new business scraped up is a huge win! It’s important to educate these stale leads on what we do and remind them why they signed up in the first place.

Upselling existing customers to a new product or service

Most marketers are so intent on attracting new business that they often forget that there is a wealth of opportunity under their noses. Don’t sleep on marketing to those that have bought something from you in the past! We use our existing customer segment to promote new features or products we feel they will be a good fit for.

Here’s the flow we use to target existing customers:

Step 1: A Customer Match segment is created for our “Existing Customers.”Step 2: We further segment this list by renewal date to ensure that customers see our ads when their contract is up.Step 3: Tailor the ads to promote additional services we offer that our customers are not leveraging.

We’ve structured our flow this way because our product runs on a subscription basis. If you’re selling physical goods that can be repurchased often, break down your segment by the products your customers have shown the most interest in. That way, you can tailor your ads to the specific products you believe would resonate most with them.

Final thoughts

Are you leveraging AdWords as part of your email marketing strategy? If you are, I’d love to learn more about what strategies you have used that have been successful.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

8 simple ways to utilize a blog to improve SEO results

Seemingly every company has a blog these days. Unfortunately, very few organizations fully capitalize on their blog content to maximize SEO results. Here are eight simple ways a blog can improve your website’s organic visibility, traffic and results.

1. Create a compelling name for your blog

It irks me when I go to a company’s website and the name of the blog is… “Blog”! I urge marketers to be creative and more descriptive when naming the blog section of a website. Your blog name is also an optimization opportunity. Ask yourself these questions:

What is the overarching theme of the blog?What would be a compelling description in my industry?Can I incorporate important SEO keywords in the blog’s title or name?Specifically, who am I trying to reach?

Coming up with a descriptive name and optimizing around a theme can lead to incremental organic traffic. For example, office supply retailer Staples has its “Staples Business Advantage blog,” which discusses topics ranging from office productivity to workplace safety. And Berghoff Brewery has its “Berghoff Beer Blog,” which covers topics from beer festivals to food pairings to seasonal beer reviews.

Remember, if you find it difficult to create a name for your blog that includes keywords you are trying to target, then try to at least include those keywords within the page title of the blog. For example, check out the page title for the RENTCafe blog:

2. Reach a specific audience with each post

I recommend that each blog post be written for a specific segment of your target audience. This allows marketers to create content that is optimized for specific customers and contains target keywords related to specific needs and solutions.

For example, if you sell marketing services, you might include a post in your blog about a hot topic in the industry (e.g., ABM marketing) that targets a particular audience you are trying to capture (e.g., B2B marketers).

3. Implement an effective URL structure

An effective URL naming convention is good for marketers and website visitors for several reasons:

It makes results reporting easy

I’ve noticed that some companies do not include “/blog/” in their URL syntax when keeping the blog on their main website domain. This can make it a little more difficult to track the overall progress of the blog within analytics. I recommend that you include /blog/ in your URL structure to improve the ease of blog results reporting.

You can ensure user-friendly URLs

When it comes to creating the URLs for each post, many marketers include every single word in the title of the post in the URL. This can lead to long, hard to read URLs. Tip: Try to make your blog URL descriptive but also short and relevant. Remember to leave out conjunctions such as “and,” “but” and “or” within your URLs. For example:

Longer, non-user-friendly URL:

https://examplesite.com/blog/3-tips-for-sending-your-email-newsletter-at-the-right-time

Shorter, optimized URL:

https://examplesite.com/blog/email-newsletter-tips-sending-right-time/

4. Continually optimize blog content

Recycling is not just good for the environment; it’s also good for SEO!

SEO improvements do not always require new website content. Look for additional opportunities to optimize existing blog posts. Review current content and identify opportunities for additional on-page SEO. Here are some possible optimization techniques for existing blog content:

Add internal links to other relevant pages on the website.Add optimized images (or optimize existing images).Link one post to another related post.Review title tags and meta descriptions to ensure targeted keywords are included.

Leveraging existing blog content can save precious time and resources.

5. Find & fill content gaps

Blogs can be a fast and easy way to create content specifically designed to fill SEO gaps.

Are there high-priority SEO phrases that you are struggling to rank for? Does your website lack content related to these words? If yes, these topics are great candidates for new blog posts.

6. Add optimized images & videos

Images help to create a positive experience and can increase visitor engagement. They also provide incremental SEO value. Remember to include images in your blog post and optimize them with descriptive alt tags (including high-priority keyword phrases where appropriate).

Lights, camera, action! Blog posts also provide a great home for video content. Review your YouTube page. Do you already have video content that could enhance a blog post? Videos keep users engaged and allow marketers to provide additional educational opportunities.

7. Mark it up

Let’s not forget about structured data markup. Structured data markup can be added to your HTML to provide information about a page, classify the page content, and in some cases improve the way your page is represented in SERPs.

I recommend that you include schema markup in your post to ensure that this content is fully optimized. Here is an example of how you can use JSON-LD structured data to mark up a blog post:

<script type="application/ld+json">
{ "@context": "http://schema.org",
"@type": "BlogPosting",
"headline": "Insert Blog Title Here",
"image": "Insert Blog Image URL Here",
"editor": "Insert Editor/Author Name Here",
"genre": "Theme/Blog Category Here",
"wordcount": "Insert Blog Post Word Count Here",
"publisher":
{
"@type": "Organization",
"name": "Insert Company Name Here",
"logo": "Insert Company Logo Image URL Here"
},
"url": "Insert Blog Post URL Here",
"datePublished": "YYYY-MM-DD",
"dateCreated": "YYYY-MM-DD",
"dateModified": "YYYY-MM-DD",
"description": "Insert short description of blog post. Try to keep it around 150-156 characters",
"articleBody": "Insert entire blog post here",
"author": {
"@type": "Person",
"name": "Insert Author Name"
}
}
</script>

8. Capitalize on social media sharing

There are a lot of benefits to sharing blog posts on social media:

    It keeps your social media sites current and relevant.It helps keep your audience engaged.Because social signals are included in the ranking algorithm, it improves SEO results.Social links help to increase referral traffic.

I recommend that you always share the blog post on social channels. Try to share a couple sentences describing a brief summary of the post or an excerpt from the post. Remember to include keywords you are targeting within the social media posting as these social signals can help with rankings.

Summary

Make sure that you are fully realizing the potential SEO benefits of your blog. Create a compelling blog name; create optimized content for specific audiences; optimize your blog URLs; add images and videos; implement schema; and share blog content via social channels.

Remember, a blog is one of the fastest and easiest ways to implement or enhance website content and improve SEO results.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

How to use long-tail keywords to build your short-tail rankings

If you have a relatively new or low-authority website, then you know how difficult it can be to rank for high-volume, short-tail keyword phrases. Heck, any competitive keyword can pose a challenge, even for well-established sites.

I often hear experts talk about going after the low-hanging fruit of keywords. “Forget about the short tail,” they say.

I agree that that going after the low-hanging fruit is a good strategy, but not at the expense of those highly competitive phrases that will drive some great traffic to your site. Rather, it’s that low-hanging fruit that paves the way to ranking for those more competitive phrases.

Very few searches are truly unique

When it comes to search terms, there isn’t a whole lot new under the sun. Google says that 15 percent of all queries they get have never been used before, but that doesn’t mean it’s unique in the true sense of the word. Let’s assume, for example, that neither of the following searches has ever been entered into Google:

how to eat a lemon without cringinghow to eat a lemon without making a face

Are either of these terms really unique? Well, according to Google autocomplete, they are relationally similar to these:

And that tells us that even if my two made-up phrases fall within Google’s 15 percent of “unique” queries, we can see that it’s only the particular query string itself that’s unique, not necessarily the sentiment behind it.

And it’s that intent that gives us a goldmine of optimization opportunities.

Optimize for topics, intents and desires

Search any given topic, and you’ll uncover hundreds, sometimes thousands, of keywords. Those keywords represent different things searchers want to know about that topic. One look at a 100+ keyword list and it’s easy to see why you can’t possibly optimize a single page for every (relevant) keyword on a given topic.

This is where you need to segment keywords into groups, each group representing a similar intent. Good SEO and usability dictate that each intent requires a unique page of content to satisfy the searcher’s needs.

Let’s look at a simple set of short-tail phrases:

20,200 monthly searches, according to Moz

According to keyword volume data from Moz, these two phrases alone garner over 20,000 searches per month. And while they may not be the most competitive keywords you can find, they’re important to this industry — which does make them competitive.

But that set of keywords spawns other keywords with differing intents:

The green group is easily optimized on the same page of our core terms. As for the rest, if you do the quick math, the total monthly search volume represents only about 10 percent of the volume of the main group. But this is a small sample — four groups out of dozen grouped possibilities. Add in the rest of the researched keywords, and you get much closer to the 20K number of the core terms.

Breaking out your short-tail keywords into related groups of long-tail keywords makes for some good keyword targeting, provided you have (or can create) the pages and content for them.

Don’t throw out the short tail

Many people may tell you to ignore the short tail. It’s competitive, too difficult, too costly and so on. And, yes, those are all valid points. But the key is not to focus on the short tail exclusively, but rather to use the long tail to build up relevance for the short tail.

And, in truth, this is a rather simple process. Let me introduce you to a little thing I call “Optimize the Long Tail.”

In my process, you want to optimize not just for some of the long-tail phrases — you want to optimize for all of them. Find all the keywords in a given topic that have similar meanings, group them together, and find or create a page to optimize.

Another quick example: Say you find a few keywords for your product with the following qualifiers: discount, clearance, sale, closeouts, surplus, cheap.

You see a pattern to those? They all have similar meaning, which means they can be optimized together. Simply build a page where you put all your discounted stock for quick sale.

But no discount page would be complete without a link back to your main product page. After all, if the item they want isn’t discounted, they may just go ahead and buy it at full price. So add in your text link to the short-tail optimized page.

And then do it again with other keywords of similar intent. And then again, and then again, and then again.

In fact, you may want to optimize out one entire short-tail topic page before moving on to your next short-tail topic. This might mean five, 10, or even a couple dozen pages, but each page optimized for a similar-intent long-tail group provides a link and power back to the short-tail keyword that you want to rank for.

Patience is key

It’s important that in all of this, you exercise patience and have realistic expectations. Optimizing a dozen long-tail phrases won’t automatically get you traction on the short-tail phrase you really want. You still have to build authority to all the pages. Without authority, you’re just not going to rank for those short-tail phrases, regardless of how well you’ve optimized.

But optimizing out all those long-tail pages is great for authority-building. Get those pages to rank on their own merits, and with each page addition, you’ll be building on top of the existing authority you have.

You still have to market and promote and provide value. (Don’t ever forget to provide value!) That may take years, but eventually you’ll see your efforts pay off.

And the beauty of it is, while you’re optimizing long-tail in order to achieve short-tail, you’ll see the traffic and sales build. Even those less frequently searched long-tail phrases can add up to 50 to 100 percent of the traffic you’ll get from the short-tail phrases. And that’s what makes long-tail a crucial part of your strategy. They may drive less traffic per term, but they’ll drive just as much traffic in total.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

How to increase B2B traffic by 192% in five months

SEO is a long-term strategy.

It takes time to build authority and reputation, and spammy tricks that work for a short time are eventually devalued by the search engines.

However, we’ve found a strategy that’s delivered results relatively quickly and proven particularly effective in the B2B space.

Some of our best projects have seen near double traffic growth:

Not surprisingly, this traffic growth corresponds with our efforts to secure links. Here is a look at the trends for referring domains to the site above (via Ahrefs):

Of course, seeing a case study where links helped grow traffic isn’t earth-shattering. But I want to share the strategies we used to achieve these results so you can experiment with them on your own site.

Our strategy included:

analyzing competitive content.expanding topics to build linkable assets.building targeted pages and resources.identifying opportunities for hyper-relevant, linkable content.

These were the four cornerstones of our process.

To better demonstrate these strategies, I’ll reference a hypothetical example throughout the post. Since our project was in the B2B space, I’m choosing a B2B brand for my example: Absorb LMS, a learning management system for employee training (not a client).

Without further ado, let’s dive into the process we used to grow traffic in the B2B sector by 192 percent in roughly five months.

Analyzing competitor content and pages

We started by examining what was working for our client’s competitors.

There are a wide variety of excellent tools available for competitive analysis — for our project, we used Ahrefs to analyze competitors’ top pages. By analyzing competitors’ top content, we could identify keyword gaps on our client’s site, as well as low-difficulty opportunities.

For our client, we focused on larger (respective to their niche) search volumes first and worked our way down from there, but there is no set search volume that’s appropriate for every strategy. Instead, consider your niche and the potential value of capturing leads from a given search result. If one lead is potentially worth thousands of dollars, you don’t need much volume to justify the value of ranking for that term.

For Absorb, competitor content analysis would involve scrutinizing competitors such as:

TalentLMSLitmosBridgeDoceboGrowth EngineeringDokeos LMSAdministrate

For example, looking at Bridge in Ahrefs, I can see some of their top pages define various eLearning terms:

It appears TalentLMS has similar pages that are performing well, and they are also securing traffic from e-learning subtopics like [authoring tool], [constant learning] and [microlearning].

From just a quick glance at these competitors in Ahrefs, I learned that Absorb could pursue some opportunities creating pages that define prominent e-learning terms or target tangentially related topics.

Since Absorb doesn’t currently have any pages like this in their top 15 pages in Ahrefs, this strategy should be a real consideration.

If Absorb were really a client, I would analyze all their competitors to uncover trends and find as many opportunities and gaps as possible. But for this post, I’m going to move on to the next part of our strategy: building linkable assets.

Expanding topics to create linkable assets

The next step is creating highly linkable assets.

Many B2B brands work within narrow, specific niches; this was the case for our client. It’s certainly possible to secure links within these small online neighborhoods, but you can quickly exhaust all available worthwhile opportunities.

We discovered that broadening our topics gave us the opportunity to promote them to a much larger outreach market. To better understand this topic expansion, let’s consider Absorb LMS.

Absorb’s primary audience and buyers exist within the e-learning niche. However, this is a relatively small outreach market, which can mean limited exposure and links when it comes to content promotion. By expanding, I could target broader topics like:

learning styles and the psychology of learning.employee benefits and retention.business management.career advancement

These topics have larger audiences, which means bigger outreach markets and more visibility, yet they’re still relevant to Absorb’s service and their audience.

A quick comparison of search volumes for the head terms of [learning management system] and [business management] in SEMrush demonstrates the difference in audience sizes:

[learning management system] — 6,600[business management] — 18,100

Broader content topics will have broader appeal and provide more opportunities to secure exposure and links, while still being relevant and providing the opportunity to reach your target audience.

Building targeted pages and resources

We also built strategic pages to target the most important and relevant terms for our client.

While we wanted our linkable assets to have broad appeal, we wanted these pages to answer a very specific question or issue pertinent to the client’s business, and answer it better than any other page on the web.

To create best-in-class pages, we followed content strategy best practices such as:

providing in-depth, long-form coverage of the topic.adding rich media and interactivity via sunk cost differentiators.maintaining a strong and consistent focus on keywords and key phrases.optimizing on-page factors — e.g., URLs, title tags, H1s, page speed, image optimization.

Although these resources had limited outreach markets, they also had lower competition. Because the quality of the content was high, the pages were optimized, and the competition was low, these pages could perform well in search with little promotion.

While the traffic from these pages was small in volume, it was highly qualified traffic. These pages also built credibility and overall brand awareness as our client began to show up consistently for hyper-relevant queries. It’s even possible to passively acquire links to these pages if they are the leading resource in the space.

Ideation for these pages came from a combination of the insights from competitive content analysis and keyword research.

Using my Absorb example, I could revisit competitor top pages to find direction for new page creation. For instance, TalentLMS has a page that ranks number one for [e learning technology]:

The search volume is relatively small (150), but this is a relevant term for Absorb, and ranking here would be beneficial. Furthermore, after looking at TalentLMS’s page, I’m confident Absorb could easily build something better for searchers.

The TalentLMS page is essentially one large block of text:

This is an opportunity for Absorb to create something that is best-in-class and builds authority and visibility in their niche.

Identifying when volume intersects with relevance

The combination of linkable assets with broad appeal and strategic, targeted pages built a strong SEO foundation for our client. However, the major successes came when we could identify opportunities where large search volumes corresponded with hyper-relevant topics.

These situations are less prevalent but can be extremely rewarding if you can find them. Capitalizing on these opportunities means you get the best of both worlds: increased link opportunities and the chance to rank for key terms for your business.

Regarding Absorb LMS, I would again turn to their competitors. For example, Bridge has a page that ranks on page one for the term [scorm] which has a search volume of 5,500:

Again, it appears there is an opportunity for Absorb to build something that could outperform Bridge’s page, which is just a few large chunks of text:

If Absorb built a page focused on SCORM, they could secure both links and highly relevant traffic.

Strategy recap

We achieved phenomenal results for our client with this strategy. Of course, your results will vary depending on a variety of factors (website, competition, goals) but the concepts outlined here could help you grow traffic on your own site, particularly if you operate within a very niche category in the B2B space.

To recap, our strategy involved:

analyzing competitive content: Analyze top-performing pages on competitor sites to identify potential content opportunities.expanding topic groups: Broaden topics when creating linkable assets to extend the reach of those assets and target larger outreach markets.building strategic pages and resources: Create best-in-class pages that target hyper-relevant terms and traffic.identifying opportunities for hyper-relevant, linkable content: Find situations where substantial search volume intersects with highly relevant topics to secure large numbers of links and capture qualified traffic.

Hopefully, you can apply some of these strategies to your own pursuit for better search performance.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

The nitty-gritty paid search account health check: Part 2

Welcome to the second and final post in a two-part series about paid search account audits. If you haven’t read the first post, be sure to check it out here! Without further ado, let’s dive right into the good stuff — the remaining analyses standing between you and a perfectly manicured paid search account.

Keywords and negatives

Keywords are essentially the building block of your search campaigns, so needless to say, there’s always room for an audit. Here are some things to review:

Are there any keywords that are spending money without converting?I look at this in different time frames, including the past 30 days or longer time frames, such as “all time,” because there could be keywords flying under the radar that may not be spending money quickly but that are slowly spending — like a small leak that can do damage over time.Are there any keywords that are below the first page bid?Are there keywords that haven’t really done anything because their bids aren’t competitive enough to obtain exposure?Are all match types present? Or is there a strategy in place pertaining to match type?Are there any keywords that are converting well but that are in lower-than-necessary positions?Are there keywords that are converting but at a suboptimal cost that could be improved by decreasing bids?Are any keywords suffering from low quality score?Are any keywords suffering from low impression share, and if so, what is the root cause?Are there any keywords that aren’t triggering ads? Why?Are any keywords too broad and, if so, are there keywords in the account that could better qualify intent for the same query?Are there any keywords that are too specific to generate traffic? If so, are there broader keywords in the account that could capture the same intended queries?Are any keyword themes or groups missing that could promote the intended product or service?Are search terms mapping as intended? Are there many negatives? Is there an opportunity to improve mapping, impression quality or cost per lead by adding more negatives?

Bid review

An infinite number of factors can be analyzed when reviewing keyword bids. Much of the account success can be attributed to bids.

The main question to ask yourself is this: Is a clear bid strategy defined? Here are a few things to consider:

Do the bids seem to correlate to performance trends?Does the bid strategy correspond to the goals?Are budgets maxed out, to the point that decreasing bids may actually generate more exposure?Do the keyword positions align with performance, or is there room for improvement (e.g., top performers in low positions or low performers in high positions)?Does the bid strategy take into account different conversion types with different values?Are there keywords below the first-page bid?Are there keywords that haven’t received impressions because the bids are too low?.mktoButton{background:#000!important;}

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Budget optimization opportunities

This is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worthwhile to look at budgets to ensure that they are allocated most effectively based upon the ROAS of each campaign.

Another thing to spot-check for: Make sure that keyword impressions aren’t being limited because budget caps are lower than, or close to, keyword bids. I’ve audited accounts in competitive industries where this has been an issue. Likely, keyword bids were increased (manually or via automation) over time after budgets were set. The bids then become close to or above the budget, and the keyword stops showing.

If you can’t afford to increase budgets for your campaigns, but you can’t afford to decrease keyword bids without losing out on valuable impression share, consider grouping similar performing campaigns with similar goals together in shared budgets. It will need to be monitored closely, but it can help to ensure that you can capture that impression share.

Audience performance analysis

There’s so much room for potential with audiences. I love auditing this part of accounts. Because there are so many different ways to slice and dice audience data, I’ll leave you with this list of things to consider:

First and foremost, are audiences being utilized?Are the audiences in play performing better than the campaign average?Could performance benefit from a bid increase or decrease?Could the audiences be further segmented?Are there behaviors on-site that aren’t currently captured with audiences? (Think micro-conversions or indicators of interest or research.)Are audiences being used as strategically as possible? And by that I mean, are audiences being used to connect the dots between the buyer’s journey to support and streamline funnel activity?

Campaign settings

This used to be one of the first things I looked at, but now I typically save it until I’m almost finished; some of the settings are tried and true, while others really depend on the account performance.

For example, I rarely ever recommend any ad rotation other than “rotate evenly” (or “rotate indefinitely” when there were more options). However, my recommendation for ad delivery would depend on whether the account was maxing out its budget each day and whether it was maxing out too early in the day. This might also be paired with automation recommendations around budgeting or bidding, which would also tie back to previous analyses of the Predefined Reports (Dimension reports, in the older UI).

A few things that I look for (aside from device, geography and ad scheduling, which we’ve already reviewed):

Bidding. Review this to ensure that the current method seems to be producing good results, or if testing a different setting could yield better results.Ad rotation. Review this to ensure that ad tests are receiving equal distributions.Ad delivery. Review this to ensure that budget is being utilized most effectively, and also to ensure that nothing is left on the table.Network. Review this to ensure that search and display are separated (I recommend keeping them separated, always). I also review Search Partner performance to ensure that these ads are performing as expected. If Search Partners aren’t enabled and haven’t been in the past, I recommend testing them. Within Bing, certain partners can be excluded; however, Google requires that the entire network is either enabled or disabled.URL parameters and tracking templates. Review this to check if there are messy URLs at the ad or keyword level that can be simplified at the ad group or campaign level.

Settings are somewhat subjective — we all likely have preferences and, again, it also depends on goals and performance — but at the very least, make sure that the campaign settings aren’t just set to the defaults. (Search network with display select, anyone?)

Based upon the answers to these questions, there may be recommendations to alter the structure of the campaigns.

On-page optimization

Once you’ve identified all of the optimizations that could be made within the account, it is time to shift your focus toward improving conversion rates on your landing pages. Improving landing page conversion rates has the potential to positively influence all of your campaigns, so even mild improvements can have a big impact. Here are a few posts about conversion rate optimization and some ideas for landing page tests worth running.

What else do you like to look at when auditing your account? Let us know on Twitter!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

10 ways to generate links with online influencers

You may be thinking that no one wants to share your content, but the opposite is actually true: Because they post so often, online influencers are always looking for interesting content to share. All you have to do it research, create and position the right content opportunities to influencers so they will want to start working with you.

If you’re not sure what angle your organization should take to work with online influencers, consider the following angles: unique content sharing, product promotion, sponsorships and relationship building.

You’ll also want to be sure you are familiar with the FTC Guidelines surrounding influencer disclosures, as well as Google’s guidelines on the issues.

Produce unique content

Producing fresh content that is engaging and interesting to your target audience is what entices industry influencers to share. In addition to “how-to” posts, consider creating studies and long-form content and developing discussions that push industry issues. Because content is so competitive, it’s crucial to take an angle that is different from everyone else’s, whether that is a point of view or a niche topic.

Recent research by Sumo found that only 20 percent of all content is even read, on average — so it’s key to bring your A-game in order to have people actually read it. Here are some ways you can bring in more readers:

1. Publish unique research

Stone Temple Consulting does a good job of this in the search marketing industry. They frequently release unique studies using research that their own team gathered. As a result, they are known as thought leaders in the SEO community, frequently keynoting and authoring books about search.

If something is trending or new in your industry, consider creating a study around it. Poll your email list or readers for survey responses, or run data tests to figure out how new technology works best. Not only does this provide unique value to the readers, you’ll often get more inbound links, because it’s exclusive findings that aren’t found anywhere else.

2. Go niche and in-depth

Anyone can write a blog post about a broad topic, like “How to Start a Blog,” but it takes a unique approach — like “How to Start a Blog in One Hour For Less Than $100” or “How to Start a Product Review Blog in The Pet Industry” — to make it stand out. If you want to be found for common industry terms, figure out how you can “niche down” your content. Go beyond the basics and create multiple pieces of content that can cover different angles in depth.

3. Create controversy

Every industry has controversial or touchy topics. Without being too gauche, consider what you can write about that will let you be the “devil’s advocate” and provide a unique perspective that no one has tackled before. HubSpot recommends writing from an angle that will resonate with your audience and to ensure that you can back up your points with data.

Similarly, if there’s a topic that is dividing industry experts, cover it from an angle that fits for your company. Marketo recommends finding a piece of content that you don’t exactly agree with and write a rebuttal. Having a piece of content as inspiration makes it easier to write and can draw more audience interest.

Offer free products

When done right, offering free products can help to spread your products by word of mouth. Product recommendations have a lot of trust value for online users. According to research by BrightLocal, 84 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Here are some ways you can give away your products to influencers.

4. Provide samples for review

Use a tool like BuzzSumo to find industry influencers in your target market, and reach out to them to see if they’d like to try out the product in exchange for a review. To make your campaigns get more influencers for less cost, try going after the mid-size influencers who aren’t at the top level, with 100,000 followers or more. Instead, target users with 100 to 10,000 followers. They will be more willing to work with you, since they likely aren’t approached as often as the upper-level influencers. In addition, make sure the influencers follow proper FTC guidelines for disclosure.

5. Free products only for the influencer’s audience

In addition to a review, you can also offer to give away products to the audience of the influencers. Once they share their review, they can host a giveaway on the blog post that allows users to enter to win more free products. Here’s an example from the healthy living blog “Peanut Butter Fingers,” which teams up with Chicco to do a car seat review and informational safety post. At the end of the post, they did a sponsored giveaway:

Often, the influencer is responsible for running the content and choosing the winners, and the company will send out the products once the content is over.

6. Run contests to win free products

Another free product option you can do is product giveaways. This harnesses networks of all sizes, as you can give users more entries into the giveaway if they share it to their networks. Make sure you are following all giveaway regulations and policies for applicable social media platforms, and you have a list of giveaway rules on your website. If you want users to share using multiple platforms, use a service like WooBox or Rafflecopter.

Sponsorship

In addition to free posts, you can also spend some of your budget sponsoring or running ads on influencers’ websites. This varies by website, but some influencers offer sidebars, ads, email newsletter mentions or sponsored blog posts. If they don’t have the ideal sponsorship available on their website, it doesn’t hurt to propose an alternative arrangement. Most influencers are open to offers, provided it’s not intrusive and offers value to their audience.

7. Sponsor a post for them to publish

Some websites will take sponsored posts that are written by the sponsor or by a dedicated staff member. Usually, costs are higher if the influencer has to write the content himself or herself. A sponsored post might be something like a walk-through of a product or a new feature. It is paid content, but it showcases value to the audience by covering a topic or service they are interested in. Search Engine Land offers this, calling it “Sponsored Content.

8. Sponsor their blog in general

Many influencers also accept ongoing sponsorships for their website. What this covers varies, but it could include a sidebar ad, mentions on specific pages or blurbs on other online mediums, like social media or email. Creating this type of relationship not only gets you more exposure, it also gives you an in with the influencer to start a conversation around other ways they can share your content.

Build actual relationships

Starting a conversation is key toward long-term influencer outreach success. By building relationships with influencers, you can work together to come up with new and fun ways to share your content and promote your products or services. Besides reaching out online directly, you can also seek to get to know them and support their goals. A collaborative approach will lead to a better relationship.

9. Support their goal by mentioning them in other articles you write

A relationship isn’t one-way. A partnership is one where you are also supportive of the influencer and what they are trying to build with their own website and online platform. When applicable, mention influencers in industry roundups, in quotes or as examples in the content you’re writing. Recommending them to your audience on social media by tagging them can also get their attention and show that you are supportive of their brand as well.

10. Meet up with them at an event

Besides striking up a supportive relationship online, try meeting influencers in person to get the conversation going. Attend industry networking events, conferences or trade shows and look for influencers that could help you promote your content and products. Oftentimes, non-corporate speakers at conferences have their own companies and websites, and blogging conferences (like BlogHer) are full of influencers who are open to partnerships with brands.

By building relationships with influencers in different ways, like product giveaways and reviews, sponsorships, and unique content, you can get your offerings in front of more audiences. This leads to better website traffic and sales. While it may take some experimentation to figure out the best influencers to work with, influencer outreach can be an effective part of any link-building — and more importantly, traffic-generating — campaign.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

The non-developer’s guide to reducing WordPress load times up to 2 seconds (with data)

With Google’s continued focus on user experience and engagement metrics in recent algorithm updates, it’s become even more important for marketers to pay attention to how fast their sites are. Page speed has long been a ranking factor for desktop search results, and it may soon impact mobile rankings as well.

The benefits of improved load times go well beyond their impact on SEO and your site’s organic rankings, however. Consider recent Google data, which shows that “53 percent of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load,” or that “for every second delay in mobile page load, conversions can fall by up to 20 percent.”

So, how do you actually go about speeding up your site? For many non-technical marketers, trying to figure out how to improve page speed can be a daunting task. Which levers should you actually be pulling to generate a result? And how do you get those changes implemented on your site?

I’m not a developer. My company owns and operates a number of different (relatively simple) publishing sites built on WordPress. I set about working to improve load times for these sites without any developer intervention to see what kind of impact could result from some simple tweaks that anyone (even me!) could make. In this post, I’ll walk through each of the optimizations, explain what the impact on our sites was and share actual data around load times, Google Speed scores and more.

Three important points I’ll return to later in the post:

As I said, these are fairly simple sites built in WordPress, so the plugins and solutions here are all WordPress-specific.A more complex site built on a different platform with different functions (e.g., e-commerce sites, more complex publishing sites) will have a lot of additional, more complex concerns and will also respond differently to these tactics than our sites did.Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to page speed; developers may tell you that to achieve a pure “best practice” page load time, you need to redesign your site (which may not be practical for your company at the moment). While that may be the case, there’s likely some combination of the tactics outlined below that you can implement to help improve page speed. Help developers to focus on the right metrics (which we’ll outline below) and work to get better.

All of that said, this post (and understanding some of the basic levers available to improving page speed) should help you better understand the potential for speed improvements on your site.

What are you optimizing for? Choosing the right page speed metrics

Like a lot of SEOs starting out, I focused my efforts on page speed, based on Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool recommendations. It’s straight from Google’s mouth, gives very easy-to-understand metrics (a grade, just like school!) and has useful suggestions for speeding up page load times.

The tool can definitely be helpful, but as you dig into page speed, you may recognize that:

the grading can be a bit wonky. Sometimes you will speed up how quickly your page loads, and your score will drop. Sometimes you’ll do nothing, and the score will move around some. Remember that the holy grail here is to speed up your site for your visitors, so don’t just study for the test!it doesn’t appear likely that Google is using this score as a ranking signal so much as load times in Google Chrome relative to other sites within the search results you’re appearing in, as Search Engine Land contributor Daniel Cristo points out.

That bolded bit above about your speed being factored in relative to your SERP competitors is very important; if you have a simple B2B site, you may look at a successful e-commerce site and say, “Their site is way slower than ours and does great! We should be fine!” But the reality is, that’s not who you’re competing with. You want your site to be as fast as it can be, so you should be comparing it to the sites that are ranking in the most important search results for your site.

So, if we’re not using Google’s PageSpeed Insight tool scores as the be-all and end-all for our optimization efforts, what metrics should we be focusing on?

Search Engine Land columnist Chris Liversidge does a great job of breaking this down in further detail in his excellent post on different page speed events, but effectively my focus was on:

time to first byte (TTFB) — How quickly after a request is made that your server and/or CDN (which we’ll get to in a bit) sends the first byte of data.critical render path/start render — Essentially, when your “above the fold” content is rendered.full page render — When the entire page is loaded.

Again, we want to focus on the user experience on our site, so making sure that the content above the fold is delivered lightning-quick and that the entire page loads quickly are really the main concerns. The TTFB metric (while imperfect) can be helpful in that it lets us know if our load time issue is a result of server problems.

So these are our metrics. How do we know if our pages are even slow, though?

Page speed measurement tools

First, we’ll need a tool to measure them. Fortunately, there are a lot of great free tools for these purposes. I used Web Page Test, which lays these out pretty simply. Here are the results for Search Engine Land, which are quite good for such a visual home page and a large and complex publishing site:

Where tools are concerned, there are a lot of options to measure speed and get suggestions, including:

Pingdom’s free toolGT MetrixKey CDN’s free toolVarvy’s Tool

And others. For our purposes here, I’ll be using data from Web Page Test.

What are our goals? What’s a ‘good’ page speed?

Again, the page load times will vary significantly from niche to niche and SERP to SERP, so our initial goal should simply be “get better.” That said, let’s look at some general best-practice guidelines around target times for these events:

TTFB — Ideally under 200 ms (milliseconds), at least under 500 ms (A Moz study from a few years ago found that many top-ranking sites had a TTFB of 350 ms, while lower-ranked sites were frequently closer to 650 ms.)Start render — Ideally under 1 second, at least kept under 2 seconds.Full-page render — Ideally under 3 seconds, at least kept under 5 seconds. (Google’s John Mueller recommends under 2- to 3-second load times and mentions there that he uses Web Page Test as well.)

Again, if your full page load times are coming in at 15 seconds, and it’s 5 seconds before critical path rendering is complete, don’t just throw up your hands. Start optimizing and work to get those numbers down, even if you may not be able to get them to under a second.

Faster is better!

OK, so what can you actually do to improve page speed?

Let’s say you measure your page speed, and it’s slow; what can you do to make a difference?

The most common suggestions from Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool (and from optimization experts) include:

reducing server response time.enabling compression.leveraging browser caching.eliminate render blocking code above the fold (CSS and JS).minify code.compress and resize images.

I’ll walk through here what optimizations I was able to implement on four different WordPress sites, and the before/after load times resulting from those optimizations. Again, these numbers won’t be true for all sites, and not every best practice will have the same impact on every site. But I think that through this process, you’ll see how some simple, quick optimizations can have a major impact on speed.

Please note that while there are some optimizations you can make with a basic understanding of HTML, there are some inflection points where it’s important to get a technical resource to jump in and figure out the best way to improve your site’s load times.

Step 1: Benchmarking our page speed metrics

First, I took a snapshot of each site’s page speed metrics on the site’s home page and a deeper article page. I did this specifically for the purposes of this post. If you’re looking to optimize your site, you’ll ideally want to look at metrics sitewide, or at least on a sampling of your highest-traffic pages and across a typical page for each template on your site.

Compared with some sites, these numbers aren’t terrible — but for simple content sites built on WordPress without a lot of bells and whistles, there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement.

What we did was implement four different commonly recommended page speed optimizations. Below, we’ll see the impact of each optimization as it was implemented, and then the cumulative impact of all of the optimizations.

So let’s dig into the optimizations.

Step 2: Code clean-up

Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool recommended we “minify” each of the sites’ CSS, JavaScript and HTML. For this, we used a free WordPress plugin called Autoptimize. It took about 20 minutes to set up across the four sites:

After optimizing HTML, JS and CSS and loading the JS and CSS inline, Google’s tool moved minification and “Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content” into the “Optimizations Found” column:

What was the impact?

As you can see, a majority of the pages saw improvement, and some saw significant 20-percent-plus upgrades. But in some cases, there was very little percentage improvement, or even worse performance. There is some variance from test to test, but what you see is that while these improvements will generally improve page speed, their level of impact varies and is dependent on the site.

Please note: This is the free version of the plugin with a “best guess” at ideal settings. Be careful in making changes to your site’s code, and as I’ll mention later in the post, this is a particular area where you may want to look to a developer for guidance.

Step 3: Browser caching

Next, we wanted to leverage browser caching. Typically, you can use WordPress plugins like WP Super Cache or WP Rocket for this purpose, but these sites were hosted on WP Engine, which has some compatibility issues with some of those plugins. So, we simply enabled the WP Engine object caching:

What was the impact?

As you can see, this had a more dramatic impact than our code cleanup efforts, and for two of the sites we saw dramatic performance improvements of 20 to 30 percent, with just two pages seeing an uptick in start render time.

Step 4: Implement a CDN

Again, WP Engine has its own CDN option, so we enabled that, which is also an extremely simple process in WP Engine:

What was the impact?

This is the first implementation where we actually saw a marked drop-off in performance. A few things to note there:

A CDN is implemented to improve page speed for users in different parts of the country, so theoretically its (positive) impact should be more for different test cases in different areas around the world.Again, this was just one test against a small number of sites — other folks have tested the WP Engine CDN and seen better results, so your mileage may vary there.

The important takeaway here is really more that, once again, not every optimization will have the same impact on every site, and occasionally, some efforts will have minimal or no real impact.

Step 5: Image optimization

Finally, we worked on compressing and resizing images on each of the sites. In some cases, the images on the sites had already been compressed, and the biggest culprit was (as you’ll see) the home page for site four. I find that on sites that have been ignoring it, image optimization is frequently the quickest, easiest and highest-impact page speed win.

To do this, we used an image compression plugin called Optimus. We also compressed and resized each of the images on the pages “by hand” to make sure compression didn’t impact quality and that the files were as small as possible:

There are a number of image optimization plugins for WordPress including, but not limited to:

OptimusWP SmushEWWW Image CompressionShort Pixel Image Compression

Whenever you use these kinds of plugins, you do have to be cognizant of potential image quality/rendering issues somewhere on your site if you’re applying them to all of the existing images in your media library. (After some additional testing/recommendations from page speed pros — more on that below — we actually switched over to Short Pixel.)

There are also a number of tools available to compress individual images before you upload them as well, including:

OptimizillaCompressor.ioTiny PNG

And there are many others as well.

What was the impact?

As you can see from a couple of the home pages, compressing images can lead to some of the biggest page load wins. Best of all, compressing images and replacing the uncompressed versions is a task for which you won’t generally need any kind of development help.

Again, though, the level of improvement is dependent upon the site. Sites where images have already been compressed and resized (or just happened to be smaller) will obviously see little to no gain from this particular step.

So, what was the cumulative impact of our efforts?

As you can see, the results here vary from site to site. But we’ve shaved as much as 2 seconds off of load times by following these steps, and in almost every instance, we improved the speed at which visitors are seeing our above-the-fold content.

But some load times actually got a bit worse for all of our efforts, and it seemed that for a simple site, we should be able to beat a lot of these load times. So, what else can you do?

BONUS STEP: Hire a pro!

After getting a significant yield from some of my amateur DIY efforts, I decided to go ahead and hire a developer specializing in page speed optimization. Our specialist worked on driving load times down even further. Specifically, they:

removed or replaced plugins in my WordPress configuration that they identified as slowing the site down.tweaked code, server configuration and configuration of the speed optimization plugins that I had installed.

This process actually cut our (improved) load times in half. This is a great example of how a developer well-versed in page speed best practices can dramatically improve your results.

If you have a development resource internally, communicate your goals (reducing page load times and the speed that a user sees important, above-the-fold elements), and if necessary, share resources to ensure they’re aware of best practices for speeding up a site.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

The PPC challenge of selling manufacturing capability vs. stock products

While running a successful advertising campaign can be complex at the best of times, it presents a special challenge to small industrial manufacturers.

It’s one thing to advertise a widely understood product, such as a running shoe or blender, to a large consumer market. It’s another thing entirely to sell a manufacturing capability that’s only really understood by those in the industry — especially when products look and function differently based on the specifications of the buyer.

This challenge is particularly pronounced in the world of search engine marketing, where industrial manufacturers must adapt to an ad platform (e.g., AdWords) that seems more geared to retailers.

My company, Huff Industrial Marketing, faced this challenge with a manufacturing client. I’m pleased to report that through carefully and patiently running a variety of experiments, based on different approaches and ideas, we’re now seeing good results.

In this column, I’ll share how we did it.

A manufacturer of specialized machine parts

The client is in the business of making specialized machine parts used in a variety of manufacturing processes. Because each part is custom in size, type, material and so forth, what this client is really offering is the capability of making these specialized products. In other words, they don’t make “stock” products sold off the shelf.

This immediately created a conundrum with the PPC advertising campaign — namely, how in the heck do you advertise a manufacturing capability to buyers in dozens of industries?

Eventually, we came up with a solution that encompassed three critical PPC elements: keywords, messaging and landing pages.

Element #1: Keywords

Almost immediately, we knew that keywords were going to be a problem. One challenge is that terminology used in manufacturing is often specialized and used as “jargon” inside a company or industry niche — but may not be fully understood or used by buyers across the myriad industries or markets that exist.

Consequently, searches on these terms often return irrelevant results.

For example, when I conducted a search on a specialized type of manufacturing wheel, it returned results for car wheel rims and bike wheels — which wasn’t at all what I wanted (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Google keyword search result

Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to be something that Google’s machine learning could correct.

So, what to do? When we went too broad with our keywords, the ads ended up displaying with irrelevant search results. (Of course, we worked to mitigate this with negative keywords.) If we went too narrow, then search volumes were too low.

Eventually, what saved us was monitoring search queries for both organic search and PPC. Based on the data, we realized we had to stop thinking in terms of “capabilities” and start thinking in terms of “end products” — even when those end products weren’t standard.

Then, we marketed each end “product” individually through separate campaigns and ad groups.

As an aside, the client, too, was surprised at the terms buyers were using to source specific types of products. It’s been a real eye-opener for everyone on the team and has led to the client looking at new ways of marketing custom items they’ve been manufacturing for years.

Element #2: Ad messaging

We also took a closer look at our ad messaging — in particular, the calls to action.

If you’ve looked at PPC ads generated by industrial manufacturers, you’ll know it’s not unusual for these ads to include calls to action like “Free RFQ” or “Get a free quote!” in the ad body or sitelinks.

Figure 2: RFQ in ads

Initially, we followed the lead of other manufacturers and included similar calls to action in the ads. We realized very quickly they weren’t converting. When we thought about it more deeply, we realized that this kind of messaging didn’t make sense.

Why? Because at this point in the sales process, the client’s potential customers weren’t ready to embark on a lengthy quote process. They simply wanted an answer to the question, “Can you make this thing?”

It was a classic case of: “Don’t ask your prospects to marry you on the first date!”

In other words, prospects needed to talk to someone. So, we revised the ad copy — and landing pages — accordingly.

Element #3: Landing pages

Once we identified the issue with the call to action, we knew we needed to revise the landing pages. Instead of a call to action to fill out the RFQ form, we replaced it with a much shorter form that allowed potential customers to ask their “can you make this?” question (Figure 3):

Figure 3: Landing page form

At the same time, we reworked the landing page to remove any unnecessary navigation and competing calls to action.

This task was made significantly less onerous with the help of our web developer, who was able to reconfigure the client’s code and add simple “click to remove” options. This allowed us to remove the main nav, footers and so on by simply checking a box.

With this capability, we didn’t have to rely on a third-party landing page service, which saved the client money and also kept the landing pages on the client’s domain.

To top things off, the development team added the script for Google’s phone call conversion tracking, where Google dynamically changes the phone number on the landing page, allowing for tracking of desktop calls.

Result: Relevant traffic and good conversions

With these changes in place, we were quite pleased to see four “in-the-ballpark” form inquiries and four phone calls in the first five business days. Inquiries have continued to stream in at a good pace.

In conclusion…

What can industrial manufacturers take away from this experience? Three things:

    Focus on your business and sales process versus what other manufacturers are doing. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of “everyone else is doing it so it must be working.” Nope! Study your data and then experiment with different approaches until you see the results you want.Rethink what you’re selling. For many small industrial manufacturers, what is being sold is a capability — often to create highly specialized parts that go into bigger systems. Monitor organic and PPC search queries to see what terms potential buyers are using to find you — and let those queries be your keyword guide.Don’t give up! It’s very easy to become frustrated with AdWords (believe me!) when you’re spending money and seeing little, if any, return. Continually read the AdWords help files to understand how things work, find a good developer who can help you with tricky things like coding and tagging, and experiment. With patience, you will find a combination that works for you.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

3 ways to improve link equity distribution and capture missed opportunities

There’s a lot of talk about link building in the SEO community, and the process can be time-consuming and tedious. As the web demands higher and higher standards for the quality of content, link building is more difficult than ever.

However, few SEOs are discussing how to better utilize what they already have. There seems to be an obsession with constantly building more and more links without first understanding how that equity is currently interacting with the website. Yes, more links may help your website rank better, but your efforts may be in vain if you’re only recouping a small portion of the equity. Much of that work dedicated to link-building efforts would then be wasted.

For many websites, there is a big opportunity to improve upon the link equity that has already been established. The best part about all of this is that these issues can be addressed internally, as opposed to link building which typically requires third-party involvement. Here are some of my favorite ways to reclaim lost link value.

1. Redirect old URL paths

On client websites, I often see discontinued product pages that haven’t been redirected or entire iterations of old websites where almost all of the URLs are returning 404 errors. Leaving these pages broken leaves too much unused link equity on the table.

Finding old URL paths and 301 redirecting them can lead to huge wins in search engine visibility. In one fell swoop, you can reactivate the value of hundreds or even thousands of links that are pointing toward your domain.

So the question becomes, how can you surface these old URLs?

There are a few different methods I use, depending on the resources I have at hand. Occasionally, I’ve had clients who just went through a migration that moved their old website to a staging site. If this is the case, you should be able to configure Screaming Frog to crawl the staging environment (you may need to ignore robots.txt and crawl nofollow links). After the crawl is complete, simply export the data to a spreadsheet and use Find/Replace to swap out the staging domain with the root domain, and you should have a comprehensive list of old URL paths.

However, what if you don’t have access to any resources that list old URLs? For these situations, I use a combination of Ahrefs, Google Analytics and Google Search Console (credit to Dan Shure’s article on redirect chains, which helped me refine this process).

First, using Ahrefs, I’ll enter my domain, and then click the “Best Pages By Links” report.

From there, I export the entire report into an Excel file. It’s important that you export all of the URLs Ahrefs gives you, not just the ones it identifies as 404 errors. Ahrefs will only provide the initial status code the URL returns, which can be misleading. Often, I’ll see situations where Ahrefs identifies the status code as a 301, but the URL actually redirects to a 404.

Once I have my Excel file, I run the URLs through Screaming Frog using “List Mode” and export the 404 errors it finds into a master Excel document.

Next, I go to Google Analytics and navigate to the “Landing Pages” report. I’ll typically set the date ranges for as far back as the account tracks, but this varies for each situation. I’ll export all of the data it gives me to a spreadsheet and then add the domain name in front of the relative URL path using Excel’s CONCATENATE function.

I once again run this list through Screaming Frog and add the 404 errors it finds to the master document.

Finally, I log in to Google Search Console, open up the “Crawl Errors” report, and navigate to the “Not Found” tab. I export these URLs and confirm that they do, in fact, return 404 status codes by using Screaming Frog. I add these 404 pages to the master document.

Now there’s one master spreadsheet that contains all of the potential broken URLs in one place. De-dupe this list and run Screaming Frog in “List Mode” and export the URLs that return 404 status codes.

To help prioritize which URLs to redirect first, I connect Screaming Frog to the Ahrefs API, which will allow the crawler to gather the link metrics associated with each page. I sort that list by number of linking root domains and assign priority to the redirections that way.

After I have the final list of 404 errors, it’s simply a matter of identifying the destination pages on the client website each URL should redirect to. To scale this effort, I often use a combination of MergeWords and the OpenList Chrome extension.

2. Analyze the .htaccess file

When evaluating how your website distributes link equity, it’s important to understand how your global redirects are working as well. This is where the .htaccess file comes into play. In this file, you can see the syntax that instructs your website how to handle redirect rules.

When using a tool like Ahrefs, if I’m seeing common redirect patterns, this is a good sign that these rules are defined in the .htaccess file.

Often, I’ll see that the .htaccess file is causing 302 redirects that should be 301, pushing unnecessary redirects (causing redirect chains), or missing redirect rules that should be there. For instance, a common mistake I see are files that 302 redirect HTTP URLs to HTTPS instead of 301.

Each situation is entirely different, but here are some of the .htaccess rules I commonly look for:

“HTTP” to “HTTPS” rulesNon-WWW to WWW rulesURL capitalization rulesTrailing slash rules

There are many opportunities to better control the directives of the .htaccess file. If you’re noticing similar patterns of improperly configured redirects, it may be worth pulling this file and talking to your developers about how these issues can be fixed.

3. Fix internal 301 redirects

Now that you’ve accumulated as much link equity as possible from external sources, it’s time to ensure that your website is passing it efficiently internally. If your website has a bunch of internal 301 redirects, there’s a chance that your deeper pages may not be receiving as much link equity as they possibly could be. While Google claims there is no link equity lost in 3xx redirects, why leave this up to chance? I would rather be 100 percent sure that internal links are passing their full value throughout the website.

To identify these, I run Screaming Frog in “Spider Mode” on the domain being analyzed. Screaming Frog will crawl the website and gather instances of 301 redirects in the “Redirection (3xx)” report. If you want to determine the order of importance, sort this report by “Inlinks.” You will now see the pages that are internally 301 redirecting the most.

Often, these are instances of internal redirects in key areas such as the primary/secondary navigation, footer or sidebar links. This is great because with one change, you can eliminate a large quantity of these internal 301 redirects. While you’ll want to fix as many as possible, I recommend you start there.

Final thoughts

One thing I’ve learned during my time as an SEO is that webmasters are fantastic at diluting equity. Changes such as website migrations and previous URL redirects all have a large impact on link equity.

While in an ideal world link equity would be kept in mind during these implementations, that is often not the case. The above steps should serve as a good starting point to getting some of yours back.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

SEO 101: Which URL versions to add to Google Search Console

Google Search Console serves as an excellent (not to mention free) source of technical data about your website’s organic visibility and performance. To maximize its usefulness, it’s important to properly set up your website in Search Console by adding all versions of your domain as properties that you manage.

Let’s assume the domain name of the website is https://example.com/.

The first step here is to add the following to Google Search Console as a new property:

     example.com

Make sure to verify the domain name, preferably using the a TXT record or CNAME record in the DNS.

Google Search Console “Add a property” form

Next, add the www version as a property (even if it redirects to the non-www version):

     www.example.com

In this case, both URLs above redirect to the HTTPS version of the website (learn how to move your website to HTTPS). That means that these variations will also need to be added as two separate properties in Google Search Console:

     https://example.com/
     https://www.example.com/

Note that you must specifically include “https://” when adding these two properties, which you did not have to do with the HTTP version. If no protocol is defined when adding a property to Google Search Console, it defaults to the HTTP-protocol.

At this point, the following URLs have been added to Google Search Console as properties, even if the HTTP versions do not serve any content and redirect fully to the HTTPS versions:

     http://example.com/
     http://www.example.com/
     https://example.com/
     https://www.example.com/

To summarize, for any website on its own domain and being served only from the HTTP-protocol, at a bare minimum, two versions of your domain need to be present in Google Search Console. For any website on its own domain and being served from the HTTPS protocol, at a bare minimum, four versions of your domain need to be present in Google Search Console.

Getting more data from Google Search Console

If the website has any subdomains, or language/country/content or otherwise specific subdirectories, it will be beneficial to add these properties separately in Google Search Console. Doing so will allow you to get more data, set geographic targets or define specific site maps. (Note that this also includes subdomains that are not meant for indexing, such as staging servers, or have no data available, such as an admin login subdomain.)

Let’s assume the website has two additional subdomains (blog and news), two language subdirectories (DE and EN), two content-specific subdirectories (product and amp) and a staging subdomain all on the HTTPS-protocol variation. This means that, in addition to the URLs above, the following additional URLs also need to be added as new properties in Google Search Console:

     https://blog.example.com/
     https://news.example.com/
     https://example.com/de/
     https://example.com/en/
     https://example.com/amp/
     https://example.com/product/
     https://staging.example.com/

To be safe, it is best to also add the following as new properties in Google Search Console:

     http://blog.example.com/
     http://news.example.com/
     http://example.com/de/
     http://example.com/en/
     http://example.com/amp/
     http://example.com/product/
     http://staging.example.com/

And to be extra, extra safe, the following (www versions) can also be added as new properties to Google Search Console:

     https://www.example.com/de/
     https://www.example.com/en/
     https://www.example.com/amp/
     https://www.example.com/product/

And

     http://www.example.com/de/
     http://www.example.com/en/
     http://www.example.com/amp/
     http://www.example.com/product/

Now, Google Search Console can provide additional specific and detailed search-related data, such as Search Analytics data, for each subdomain and subdirectory.

Making the data more useful

If all the URL variations mentioned above are added as properties, there are now 24 separate properties in Google Search Console, each one providing specific and valuable insights on how Google “sees” the website. So it may be hard to know which property to check for ranking data in Google Search Console Search Analytics. Luckily, Google added a new feature called “property sets” last year.

Google Search Console “Add a property set” screen

Property sets combine the data from several properties and present the data in a unified view. To create a property set, go to the Google Search Console and click “Create a set.” Next, give the set a name and add previously verified Google Search Console properties to the set.

There are various property sets you may find useful in terms of data segmentation; below are my suggestions for grouping properties together.

All data property set

To get one source for all ranking data in Google Search Console for the website, add all 24 properties to one property set (highly recommended):

     http://example.com/
     http://www.example.com/
     https://example.com/
     https://www.example.com/
     https://blog.example.com/
     https://news.example.com/
     https://example.com/de/
     https://example.com/en/
     https://example.com/amp/
     https://example.com/product/
     https://www.example.com/de/
     https://www.example.com/en/
     https://www.example.com/amp/
     https://www.example.com/product/
     https://staging.example.com/
     http://blog.example.com/
     http://news.example.com/
     http://example.com/de/
     http://example.com/en/
     http://example.com/amp/
     http://example.com/product/
     http://www.example.com/de/
     http://www.example.com/en/
     http://www.example.com/amp/
     http://www.example.com/product/
     http://staging.example.com/

English language data

To narrow the ranking data in Google Search Console for the English part of the website, group the following into another property set:

     https://example.com/en/
     https://www.example.com/en/
     http://example.com/en/
     http://www.example.com/en/

German language data

To narrow the ranking data in Google Search Console for the German part of the website, group the following into another property set:

     https://example.com/de/
     https://www.example.com/de/
     http://example.com/de/
     http://www.example.com/de/

News/blog data

To narrow the ranking data in Google Search Console for the news/blog part of the website, group the following into a property set:

     https://blog.example.com/
     http://blog.example.com/
     https://news.example.com/
     http://news.example.com/

Product page data

To narrow the ranking data in Google Search Console for just the product part of the website, group the following into a property set:

     https://example.com/product/
     https://www.example.com/product/
     http://example.com/product/
     http://www.example.com/product/

Keep track of staging URLs

To make sure none of the staging URLs are indexed, add the following to another property set:

     https://staging.example.com/
     http://staging.example.com/

Continue creating new property sets in Google Search Console if it makes sense for your business. Keep in mind that property sets do not show data retroactively — they only start collecting data from the moment they are created, and it can take several days before the first data becomes available for the user. Thus, creating a property set sooner rather than later is in the site owner’s best interest.

Just a start…

A great Google Search Console setup is just the first step towards maximizing your SEO efforts. It is an important one, though.

The sample data provided by Google can help improve your rankings, help Googlebot better understand the website and provide invaluable and otherwise unavailable insights into your organic visibility and performance. It is also possible to download sample data through an API, integrate the data with internal data and bring your SEO to the next level.

Adding the right properties to Google Search Console is a priority because you never know when your business may need the data. And it’s free — so what are you waiting for?

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.