A balanced approach to data-driven SEO

We have nearly unlimited access to information and data. For search marketers, this can be a blessing or a curse. It’s very easy to get sucked into the never-ending pool of data — but this rarely, if ever, benefits our work. So how do we protect ourselves from information overload?

Futurologist Alvin Toffler predicted in 1970 that the rapidly increasing amounts of information produced would eventually cause people problems. More than a few times, I’ve found myself overwhelmed and overloaded with information, and my guess is that you have also experienced this phenomenon.

If you take your SEO seriously, then you understand the necessity of tracking your efforts — after all, data is at the core of good SEO.

Management thinker Peter Drucker is often credited as saying, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” While I agree completely with the statement, it seems as though some SEOs have resorted to just measuring everything, which is simply not practical. If we are going to be effective, we must have focus and be clear on what we want to track and why we want to track it.

Knowledge vs. information

One of the main causes for information overload, in my opinion, is that SEOs and marketers have confused information and knowledge. It’s as if we believe that if we get more information, we will eventually uncover some knowledge. According to a March 2017 report from the CMO Council, “Empowering the Data-Driven Customer Strategy”:

In the past five years, 42 percent of marketers have installed more than 10 individual solutions across marketing, data, analytics or customer engagement technologies, and 9 percent have brought on more than 20 individual tools or solutions.

While this sounds like marketers are tracking more users at a deeper level, this next stat from the same report paints a different picture:

In that same five-year period, 44 percent of marketers have indicated they have spent more than 25 percent of their marketing budgets to replace existing technologies.

While most are collecting increasing amounts of information, the “turnover” of martech solutions suggests that they have yet to find the knowledge they are really seeking.

So, what’s the difference between knowledge and information?

In this case, information is the data itself — the “facts” in raw form. Knowledge, on the other hand, is derived through carefully analyzing this data to really understand what is happening within your accounts.

Collecting data, for the most part, is free. You install some JavaScript tracking code and sit back and wait. Information on its own provides little value. The real value lies in collecting the right data, then analyzing it with an intent to transform it into knowledge.

The SEO implications

The job of a search professional is to increase the visibility of a brand or website in search and to attract qualified visitors that have the potential to engage. The art and science of SEO can be very complicated. But a quote I recently heard from author and life coach Tony Robbins made me pause and rethink a number of my approaches: “Complexity is the enemy of execution.”

When we bury ourselves in data and overcomplicate our processes, we end up compromising our execution.

What’s the solution?

Now, I am not saying to “dumb down” your approach or ignore your data. What I am advocating for is more focus on what actually matters. Every campaign has its unique challenges and circumstances. In order to uncover actionable knowledge that you can use to improve your campaign’s effectiveness, you must have a clear goal.

Your goals will dictate what you track, how you track and why you track. Use your goals as a guidepost to keep you focused. By having this focus, you will be able to do the work that matters.

Now, it will be tempting to veer off-course and peek at all the other data you may be collecting. And if you must, then set up a limited amount of time to do so. But be careful that you don’t get sucked into the information overload trap.

Here are a few more tips to ensure you keep your head above all the data:

Spend your time collecting and analyzing data that is on a need-to-know basis rather than a nice-to-know basis.Focus on quality of information collected, rather than quantity.Don’t multitask. Single-tasking keeps your mind focused on what is most important.

The digital age has given us access to insights our predecessors could not comprehend in their wildest dreams. As search professionals, we are continually interacting with significant amounts of data that can quickly overwhelm us. If we are going to be able to drive results and add value, we must learn how to overcome information overload and focus on what really matters.

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

The importance of targeting branded searches

Search experts understand the importance of targeting non-branded search terms: Optimizing for high-volume, non-branded terms can drive a significant amount of traffic to your brand’s site.

While targeting non-branded search terms plays an essential role in your overall search strategy, many brands still underestimate and neglect the power of branded search terms. By relying on the strength of a brand and integrating branded search tactics with current non-branded search strategies, your business can discover more qualified leads — and, as a result, increase conversions.

The role of branded search in consumer behavior

For many established companies, their branded terms make up a majority of their keyword profile. If people are searching for your brand or products by name, they’re likely deeper within the sales funnel. In fact, Google has found that branded keywords have over two times higher conversion rates when compared to non-branded terms. So why would brands shy away from increasing or stepping up their branded search efforts?

Let’s flip the script and put you in the customer’s shoes. Say you’re searching for a fitness tracker your brother would love this holiday season. When you begin your gift hunt, are you more likely to search for “best fitness tracker for men,” or for “best Fitbit for men”?

Data from Google AdWords Keyword Planner

Due to the Fitbit’s brand awareness efforts, the product is iconic enough that consumers search for it more often than non-branded terms. Search engines like Google, Bing and Amazon recognize the strength of the brand — SERP layouts and competitive pricing reflect this.

Brands working to improve their conversions need to work the entire marketing funnel. For brands or products well-known enough for branded search terms to be relevant to audiences, it’s important to know how audiences discover your products so you can target these branded search terms. Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table for competitors and review sites to take for themselves.

Integrating branded search tactics into marketing strategy

With a strong brand, and thus stronger branded search terms, bread-and-butter search tactics will have some incredible advantages. These advantages span both paid search and organic search tactics, affecting every aspect of search from the page rankings, search boxes, knowledge panel, and even map results. With branded search, search engines will recognize your main site, if optimized for best practices, as the most relevant site for searching by potential customers.

Organic search

Your home page and (if applicable) product category pages should rank the best for high-traffic branded search terms. Your title tags and meta descriptions should clearly display these branded search terms and relevant context that encourages searchers to make the decision to click. Once they do, the site should match the promise the SERP listing made with this copy.

Your goal should always be to dominate the first page and to obtain the highest positions with optimal branded search efforts. Brands should not only focus on their branded terms at the user’s research and consideration phases of the funnel, but also the post-purchase phase.

In the research phase, searchers will find strong, relevant brands first and foremost. Consider that they will also be looking for reviews, pricing and where to buy the product. This information should be available to users prior to their converting.

But the job isn’t done after converting. Post-purchase, many users will search for more information about the product using branded terms — installation instructions, how-to guides, proper cleaning and maintenance techniques, general product help and more — and these searches should lead to your website.

All of the brand-related terms throughout the sales funnel have heightened search term relevance to affect consideration, conversion and continued use.

Paid search

If you plan to own as much real estate on the SERPs as possible, paid search is an essential tactic to earn qualified leads. Even if you have obtained the top ranking in organic search results, research suggests that having an ad can produce incremental clicks. With little competition, it’s pretty easy (and cheap) to own these paid search spaces.

With branded search ads, you should be making use of ad extensions. These will provide more information to searchers, which can make your ad stand out and entice users to click. Certain extensions — such as sitelink, location or price extensions — can also increase your listing’s SERP real estate, particularly on mobile.

Keep in mind that Google factors ad extensions into its Ad Rank calculation, so proper use of extensions can give you an edge over competitors who may be running conquest campaigns on your brand name.

Other branded search considerations

Beyond the basics of SERPs with organic and paid search listings, you should be taking advantage of additional branded search real estate options that should be taken advantage of, including:

Organic sitelinks, the links that are displayed under the top organic search result. They’re important since they occupy a lot of SERP real estate and can function as an outline of your site, helping users to navigate to your other top pages. Google determines whether it will provide sitelinks or not, so you don’t have direct control over this — but you can help Google out by submitting an XML sitemap and having your site set up with a logical hierarchy.

Apple shows six organic sitelinks for a branded search. Note the site search box, too.

You want to make sure map results are showing up for you if your brand or business has physical locations. To do this, you need to ensure that you’ve set up Google My Business listings with the correct NAP (name, address and phone) information.If your site has an internal search function, you then have a solid chance of a search box showing up on Google. If it doesn’t display within the SERPs, you can utilize structured data markup per Google’s guidelines.The Knowledge Graph helps users discover business information quickly and easily. Google will pull this information automatically from trustworthy sites like Wikipedia or WebMD. With the right mix of search tactics, you can obtain a Knowledge Graph result for your brand. Make sure that you have all social channels, a solid description, reviews and accurate information correctly displaying in the eye-catching Knowledge Graph.

Final thoughts

Branded searches are imperative and shouldn’t be overlooked. Many assume that search queries involving your brand will naturally lead to your website, but that’s simply not the case. Without optimizing your paid and organic search efforts to capture branded searches throughout the entire purchase cycle, you’ll be missing out on tons of potential new traffic and conversions. Owning as much real estate as possible for your brand is crucial, especially during high-traffic seasonality.

Oftentimes, branded search terms can be the last channel touch point for consumers who are about ready to convert on one of your products or services. By incorporating branded search into your overall digital marketing strategy, you can quickly accelerate your brand, helping it stand out on the SERPs and provide a better experience to audiences.

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

Links: To speed or not to speed

When we first started as an agency, our link builders were evenly split into two camps: One would send out a flurry of emails to all sorts of sites and deal with them if they responded. The other would spend a significant amount of time doing due diligence prior to outreach so that anyone who did respond had already been vetted.

I always thought it was a good idea to let each new link builder find his own way, so I didn’t usually express a strong opinion about this divide. I could see the points of view of both sides, too. Why bother doing a lot of work up front if the webmaster wasn’t even going to respond? Why disappoint webmasters who did respond when you couldn’t work with them?

On the whole, I have grown to favor the prior due diligence approach as opposed to casting a wide net. I’m firmly of the opinion that some link-building tasks absolutely do not benefit from being sped up.

However, I do think other areas of link building can be made faster and more efficient. It’s not always a bad tradeoff to invest a little bit less manual effort in one area to free up more time and energy for higher-priority tasks.

Today, I discuss several major link-building tasks in terms of whether they can (and should) be “sped up” — through automation, outsourcing or just spending less time on them.

Content creation

Useful, relevant content is what drives most link-building efforts, so content creation is a task that often falls to link builders (especially when pursuing guest posting opportunities). Creating content is very labor-intensive, though, so it’s understandable that link builders might look for ways to spend less time on it.

Can you speed it up? Yes. However, you can end up with some real garbage if you try to take shortcuts to create good content. I once experimented with outsourcing some content, and let me tell you, I got what I paid for (very little)! It was the most generic nonsense ever, and I had to correct a ton of typos and grammatical errors.

I’m not saying don’t outsource here; I’m saying don’t think that fantastic content usually happens quickly.

Should you speed it up? No! See above. I think that anyone can create decent content (for the most part), but not everyone can create great content that stands on its own. If you’re going to outsource, understand that great content usually doesn’t come fast or cheap.

Discovery of potential linking partners

Identifying websites from which you want to pursue links is an activity that involves a fair amount of research. There are programs that can automate parts of this process, however.

Can you speed it up? Yes. Discovery software can generate a massive list of potential linking partners much more quickly than if you were to do this task manually.

Should you speed it up? I’m 50/50 on this, actually. I was strongly against automating discovery in the past, but after using a tool that spat out a list of potential partner sites based on my criteria, I definitely understand its usefulness and efficiency. Sometimes, programs like these find something you didn’t see in your research. Just make sure you manually review your list of link prospects before reaching out.

Contact info gathering

Finding a potential linking partner is great, but not if you can’t figure out how to contact them. Link builders often need to spend time scouring a site to figure out who exactly to reach out to.

Can you speed it up? Definitely. With the way we review sites, it’s not usually a big deal to obtain contact info. However, if I had a big list of sites that I had vetted, it would be great to get the contact info quickly.

Should you speed it up? Yes, if you have a tool that does it. Just be aware that you may end up getting old email addresses or ones that aren’t the ones you want (like the IT director instead of the marketing director).

Due diligence

Performing due diligence work on a potential link partner requires time and effort. You need to make sure the website is relevant, authoritative, legitimate, free from penalties and adheres to whatever guidelines your client may have about linking partners.

Can you speed it up? Absolutely not. No no no no no. I verify that my link team has checked all the guidelines for each client, as well as our in-house guidelines, before we build the link. They’re good, but I catch a lot that they’ve missed. They do the same with me.

Due diligence for us is more than just metrics checking. We have clients who say, “No mommy blogs!” or will only accept links from sites hosted in certain countries, so it’s difficult to automate this well.

Should you speed it up? No. If you want great links, I would never speed up in this area. If you just want some crappy links for whatever reason, go for it.

Outreach

Reaching out to potential linking partners involves crafting emails (or private messages on social media platforms), which can often be quite time-consuming.

Can you speed it up? Yes — but I believe you should do so only if you have vetted the sites beforehand. You can speed it up no matter what, of course, but then you’re going to get replies from sites that aren’t the right fit if you haven’t done some upfront analysis.

Should you speed it up? I’m split on this one. As mentioned above, I think you can speed up outreach if you have vetted the sites beforehand. However, I prefer a more personalized approach, and that can’t really be sped up. I’d rather spend more time writing an email that gets opened and encourages a response.

Recently, a webmaster responded to me and said that while she couldn’t give me a link, I’d written the best email she’d seen in a long time, and she wished me luck. I uttered a small curse, but it really made me feel good about doing so much work on the initial outreach.

Social broadcasting

Promoting your content through social media channels can often lead to traffic — and links. This is a task that can be automated, at least to some extent.

Can you speed it up? Of course. You can use different tools to broadcast whenever you want to broadcast. If you need to reach people in different time zones, it’s probably easier to make that more automated. If you’re just doing social broadcasting for a small site with one new article, though, I’d do that manually.

Should you speed it up? As long as you don’t overdo it and bombard people with your content, I think it’s fine. My main concern is that if you do use automation for this, you run the very serious risk of inadvertently tweeting something inappropriate. I’ve seen many brands get crucified on social when there’s a mass shooting or earthquake, and they’re blasting you with info on how you need to buy those shoes right now or they’ll be gone.

The bottom line

People want new techniques or ways to make link building more efficient. Sometimes that just isn’t doable. Building good links is one of the most labor-intensive processes in SEO, and that’s one reason why it’s so frequently outsourced.

However, if you take shortcuts when you shouldn’t, you’ll probably end up spending extra time either removing those links or disavowing them — so I’d rather slow down and really intensively and manually evaluate a site before trying to get a link there.

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

It's time to change your SEO reports!

You’d think that after a year or so of these posts, I’d run out of things to be on the soapbox about, right? Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, since they give me material to write about), there are still tons of mistakes and missteps out there in SEO land — and lots of marketers who need help.

This time around, I’m talking about SEO reports. I’ve taught several intensive Local SEO training courses at conferences all over the world, and monthly reports always come up. Marketers never seem to be really satisfied with what they’re providing to clients, and clients never seem to be really satisfied with the report they’re given every month.

The big problem is that most of us live in our little Local SEO bubbles and don’t fully consider how a layperson thinks about SEO. We live, eat, breathe and bleed SEO — some of you out there even name your pets after algorithm updates. No one ever stops to think about how to effectively communicate with someone who has absolutely no idea how SEO works.

Most of our customers have put zero thought into how Google works, much less how to optimize to show up better in search results. They simply know that if they have more visibility in searches, they get more business. The rest is a big, scary black box.

When we give them reports filled with all the zippy SEO and digital marketing jargon, they get glassy-eyed. When they see chart after chart of data that means nothing to them, they completely zone out. As long as sales aren’t tanking, then they can assume that your service is beneficial — but they’re not sure, and they’re definitely not advocates.

If you want to keep a client for the long term, you’ve got to create reports that show real value to the client, not to your marketing mind. You could deliver a stellar report that shows ridiculous growth in ranking and organic traffic — a report that you’d use as an example in future sales presentations — but if that client doesn’t understand the lingo or the data, the report is useless.

It’s even worse when you onboard a new client who’s been brainwashed by reports filled with useless or misleading data in the past. They’ll expect the same junk report, and you’ll spend significant time over the first few months easing them into your new reporting system.

Instead, if we all stop the madness, life would be much easier for all of us. Our clients would be happy, and we’d have an easier time keeping clients around for a longer period of time. So let’s look at a few of the important points about reports:

Stop talking about links

Clients want to know how their money is spent — they want to know what you actually do for what they’re spending. I can’t tell you how many monthly SEO reports simply list out the monotonous tasks that were performed the month before. How does this help a client prove ROI?

In the same vein, listing links is pointless. Sure, it shows you got some links for the client, but again, that doesn’t really prove value in what you’re doing. The vast majority of clients don’t really understand how links work or why they’re important — so you don’t really need to include them in your report.

Stop with the overload of data

We all get it, you’re a whiz at Google Analytics, and you can throw a ton of charts at your clients. But what does it all mean? You might even have a contact at the client’s business who really loves the data, but when the owner checks in, it’s glazed eyes and questions about why they’re spending thousands on something that they don’t understand.

If you have a client who wants all the data, give it to them. If another client doesn’t care, then change your report! You don’t have to give the same report template to every customer.

Stop with the dashboards already!

For some reason, lots of marketers have jumped on the dashboard train. Don’t get me wrong, I think dashboards are awesome tools — for internal teams. When you make a dashboard available to a client, they’ve got 24/7 access to look at what’s going on. We’ve all had to defend a sudden traffic drop or ranking drop — when a client has a dashboard, those questions come at you constantly. Plus, most dashboards are overloaded with data, so it’s even more confusing for a client who doesn’t get all the minute details.

Stop with the ranking reports, too!

Rank trackers are great tools — again, only for internal teams. You absolutely need to keep an eye on search visibility and any changes that happen.

But here’s the kicker: Including rankings in your report doesn’t mean squat. Rankings don’t tie into the client’s bottom line. I could get a new client ranked #1 for hundreds of keywords in less than a week — of course, they’d all be highly obscure long-tail phrases that no human would actually search, but boy, would that look exciting on an SEO report!

It’s all about the bottom line

If we boil it down to the simplest concept, our job as Local SEOs isn’t to get our clients to rank better in local searches, it’s to make our clients more money. Period. If you want to truly prove the value of your services to your clients, you have to tie your reports directly to their bottom line.

Ideally, your SEO efforts will result in better visibility in local searches, which in turn leads to more traffic, which in turn results in more leads, which hopefully amounts to more sales.

Realistically, your SEO report only needs to be a single page. You need to show how organic traffic improves over time, and you need to show how leads (and especially leads from organic traffic) improve over time. In most cases, that’s it.

However, if a client needs something else specific to really see bottom-line benefits, don’t be afraid to set up a custom report! You might have a client that only really cares about the number of inbound calls received in a month, while another might only care about the number of repeat customers. One size doesn’t fit all, and your ability to create a custom report that truly shows the value of your services will go a long way toward locking in a long-term relationship with that client.

As marketers, we’ll be much more successful if we don’t think like marketers when we’re dealing with our clients.

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

Four brand-building activities that lay the foundation for SEO

At Google’s inception, one innovation differentiated it as a search engine: It used information gained from off-site sources to inform its estimation of the relevance, importance and quality of pages in its index. Originally, this source of off-site information was the network of links found by crawling the web.

Nearly two decades later, in 2017, with countless other rich data sources at its disposal, Google uses a more diverse and sophisticated set of data to determine just how big a deal you really are in the marketplace. In my experience over the past 10 years working in SEO, Google has always been pretty good at making this determination, and the signals have become harder and harder to fake over time.

At this point, the most efficient and sustainable path to making your company look like it is a significant player in the marketplace is to become a significant player in the marketplace. What does that mean for SEO folks? It means it’s time to stop thinking about how to build links and instead focus on how to build your brand online.

Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive — but if you’re doing any kind of activity with link-building as a primary objective, I would be skeptical of that activity if you don’t believe it also has the ability to boost the strength of your brand in some way, independent of the SEO impact of the links you’re getting.

With that in mind, I present the four major pillars of digital brand growth. If you can achieve wins in each of these four areas, you will be making rapid progress toward the kind of brand growth that creates positive SEO signals, while boosting the perception of your brand in the hearts and minds of your prospective audience:

1. Improving the product

Have you done user testing on your website? Have you watched people try to perform a specific action on all devices and media available? Have you tested all the major elements of the conversion funnel? Do you know how well people like using your website versus your biggest competitor’s? Do your pages load in under two seconds?

Not many companies can answer “yes” to all these questions. Testing needs to be a standard part of the development process. The more you believe you don’t have time or resources to test, the more badly you probably need it — especially if your site architecture is a mishmash of “urgent” mandates from upper management. The bottom line is that if your site design is based on hunches and intuition, your success is being left to chance.

Make time to test, improve and repeat. If you make a fast site that people love using, your chances of success go way up.

2. Creating valuable resources

What topic can you make your site the best resource for? Ideally, it would be something that is unique in some way and at least somewhat challenging for others to replicate. Here are some starter ideas:

A tool/calculator/selection guide that solves a common problem.A searchable archive of a unique data source you have access to.An educational resource that makes a complex topic easy to understand.An interview with an expert or influencer in your field.A tutorial that teaches people how to do something for themselves.

The more evergreen staying power your resource has, the more it can pay dividends for years to come!

3. Increasing repeat visitors

If I had to identify one defining characteristic of successful online brands, it would be the ability to convert first-time visitors into repeat users. If you have that, then you can build a brand. Without repeat visitors, you may be able to find a niche that produces positive ROI, but you can forget about being an online powerhouse.

Some ideas for encouraging repeat visitors include:

Giving people really good reasons (value) to sign up for regular emails from you.Offering a loyalty plan or discounts for repeat customers.Personalization/being able to give good recommendations.Building on-site community features where users can interact with you and each other.Finding ways to reward especially active members of the community.Adding high-value content on a regular basis and creating channels where people can be notified when new offerings are available.

The bottom line is, you need to find a way to create value on an ongoing basis — and make sure people know about it.

4. Being newsworthy

I’ve never heard anyone claim that you should have low-level employees write half-hearted blogs and then post them to your social media in order to build your brand. Yet that might be the most common content marketing “plan” being used today. There’s too much content out there to waste time creating stuff you don’t care about. And if you don’t care about it, why on earth should anyone else?

Start your thought process with “What can we do that would be truly valuable and remarkable?” instead of “How can we get some links?” You just might get a different result — including more and better links.

It’s okay and often even helpful to be controversial, but if you do so without a purpose that is in alignment with your brand and core audience, the attention you get may not be worth what you end up paying for it.

Here are some positive ways of being newsworthy:

Solve a challenge no one else has been able to solve.Run an original study that brings real insight to a common question in your field.Create something that inspires strong emotion in people.Create something that is massively funny or entertaining. (Be careful here, as you want to make sure that this still adds value to your brand.)Create something that shatters people’s expectations — surprise them in a good way.Make a significant contribution to your community.Create a valuable resource (see section 2) that has mass appeal.

The stronger the alignment between your brand and your newsworthy activities, the more it will benefit you.

Final thoughts

If you continuously improve your site, create valuable resources, get people to come back and do newsworthy things, your online brand will grow and thrive. It’s easy to say, but not as easy to do.

Being mediocre is easy. Being outstanding requires planned action, disciplined follow-through and the willingness to test and try different things until you get it right.

Am I saying SEO is dead? No! Structuring your campaigns for maximum SEO impact is still a hugely important part of the campaign planning process and can dramatically improve the results you get. Organic search is a major traffic channel, and it needs to have people who are looking out for it. That’s not going to change. But if you’re going to be a market leader in 2017, SEO has to be the cart and not the horse. Your brand is the horse, and the stronger it gets, the bigger you can build your cart.

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

My 12 most important SEO metrics to monitor

As a digital marketer, you can measure the success of your work in several ways. One of those ways is by examining key SEO metrics.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools that provide you with easy-to-read reports so you can check those metrics. Two of the best utilities, Google Search Console and Google Analytics, are not only offered for free, but most of the metrics you need to focus on can be gathered from either one of those tools.

But which metrics are the most important to track? Here are 12 that stand out from the pack.

1. Organic traffic

Organic traffic is defined as traffic you earn from appearing in the search engine results pages (SERPs) without paying for placement.

That’s the essence of SEO, after all. You want your site to rank for keywords related to your niche.

It’s important to track your overall organic traffic so that you can see how many people are visiting your site as a result of your SEO strategy.

By landing page

Overall organic traffic is sitewide. You also need to track organic traffic by landing page. Why? Because that’s how you can determine where you need improvement.

If you find that some pages are ranking on page 1 while others are on page 7, you know that you need to direct your SEO efforts towards those pages that are ranking poorly.

Additionally, if you’re using different SEO strategies for different pages, you’ll get an idea of which strategies work best when you compare rankings.

By location

It’s important to track where your organic traffic comes from. This is especially true if your SEO efforts are meant to target specific geographic locations or if you’re planning to expand your business into new markets.

First, you should track organic traffic by country. You might be surprised to learn that you have a strong fan base overseas. If that’s the case, then you may want to consider updating your marketing strategy to include expansion into these markets. (Time for some international SEO!)

Alternatively, if you’re seeing heavy organic traffic from countries that aren’t profitable for your business, you may want to figure out why that is. It’s possible that you may need to adjust your SEO strategy to focus more on your target countries.

Even if the vast majority of your organic traffic comes from within the US, it’s possible that your product or service appeals to people in some states more than others. The only way you can know that is by tracking organic traffic by state.

If you find that people in certain states like your brand better than people in other states, you can divert more marketing resources into those states so that you can improve sales. If states that are important to your business aren’t performing well, that may be a sign that you need to tweak your website experience to better target this audience segment.

Drilling down even further, it might be the case that your brand appeals to people in metropolitan areas. That’s why it’s good to examine organic traffic by city.

Again, allocate your resources where you’re likely to get the best ROI.

2. Organic bounce rate

The bounce rate tells you how many people “bounced” away from your site after only viewing one page. It’s measured as a percentage of visitors, with a lower number being better.

If you see that you have a high bounce rate, that may mean you need to do some on-site work to keep people around. For example, you could show links to related posts or other items of interest in the right-hand sidebar.

By landing page

It’s also a good idea to inspect the bounce rate by landing page. That way, you can see which landing pages tend to turn away visitors and which ones keep them hanging around for more.

If a landing page has a high bounce rate, that could indicate that the content on the page didn’t match the keyword the visitor plugged into the search engine. (It could also mean the person quickly found what they needed and left, so be careful here.)

3. Organic conversion rate

Remember: Organic traffic only gets people to your website — it doesn’t mean you’ve made the sale. That’s why you need to measure the conversion rate as well.

You’ll want to check your aggregate conversion rate for organic traffic. That way, you’ll get an idea of how well you’re appealing overall to people who arrive at your site from the search results. However, you’ll also want to drill down into various segments to see what factors are impacting conversion rates.

By landing page

You may wish to measure conversion rate by landing page. Why? Because conversions are usually won or lost on the page itself. If you find that one page has a much higher conversion rate than another, then that could mean one doesn’t have an effective marketing message.

By location

By tracking organic conversions by geographic location, you might find that your messaging appeals to people in specific areas. If you do find that your message resonates with people in one or more locations, follow basic principles of Business 101 and push more marketing dollars into those regions.

By device

It’s almost impossible to capture a healthy market share unless you appeal to a mobile audience. To check how well your site appeals to people on mobile devices, you need to check the conversion rate by device for organic traffic.

If you find that your conversions for desktop users are unusually higher than conversions for smartphone or tablet users, then your site probably isn’t optimized for a mobile audience. Run some tests and contact your development team to improve the mobile experience.

By browser

Your job would be a lot easier if there were only one browser and everybody used it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

That’s why you need to check conversion rate by browser for organic traffic.

If you find that people on one browser convert much higher than people on other types of browsers, that usually means that your site is user-hostile to people using those other browsers. Contact your development team and ask them to ensure that the site works across all popular browsers.

I recently worked with a client and found their site didn’t work on Samsung Galaxy phones. When we fixed it, they started making an extra $50,000 a month.

4. Top exit pages for organic traffic

Exit pages are the last pages that people visit before they leave your site. It’s important that you track the top exit pages. Why? Because those pages are probably your “problem children.”

They’re pages that cause people to lose interest in your site and go elsewhere. See what you can do to improve those pages so that visitors hang around for a little longer.

5. Breakdown of organic traffic from Bing and Google

Although Google is the most popular search engine, it’s not the only search engine. Many of your customers use Bing, too.

That’s why you should examine your organic traffic breakdown between those two search engines.

If you find that you’re not pulling in the expected traffic you think you should from one search engine or the other, it’s probably a great idea to update your SEO strategy.

I often see that people do not focus enough on Bing when looking at this report.

6. Keywords ranked in Google

You may wish to use a keyword tracking tool like SEMrush to determine the total number of keywords for which your site ranks in Google. Once you know what keywords your site is ranking for, there are numerous ways you can use that data to inform your SEO strategy.

Take note of which keywords you want to rank for but aren’t yet — these are the keywords you may want to focus on in your SEO campaigns.

It’s also a good idea to capitalize on your existing success. If you find that your site ranks in the top 10 for some high-converting keywords, continue using those keywords in your content marketing campaigns to ensure that you stay there. Your top-ranking keywords are likely bringing you the most traffic, so make sure that the landing pages associated with those keywords are relevant to keep your bounce rate low.

7. Local visibility

If your business has one or more physical locations that local customers can visit directly, it’s very important that you keep track of your local visibility.

Specifically, is your site appearing in the local 3-pack for keywords related to your niche? Is it appearing when people type the name of your town or city plus the name of your industry? If not, it’s time to work on some local SEO.

8. Click-through rate (CTR)

Google Search Console offers a Search Analytics report that shows the average percentage of people who click on one of your links after seeing it in the search results. That percentage is called the click-through rate (CTR). It’s a stat you should pay attention to because it tells you more than just how well your pages rank in the SERPs. It also tells you how much the content appeals to people.

If people like what they see of your content in the search results, they’ll click the link. If not, they’ll move on to another result.

By landing page

Examining CTR by landing page will show you your money-makers from an SEO perspective. Those are the pages that get the most attention from the search results.

You should also look at the pages with the lowest CTRs and optimize them.

By top keywords

Another stat to check is the CTR of your top search terms in Google Search Console. If you see that a term is getting you a lot of clicks, you should determine which pages are ranking for those keywords and ensure that your page content accurately reflects searcher intent. It might be a good idea to test conversion optimization elements on these pages, too.

On the flip side, if you observe a low CTR for a valuable search term, you should look at the page(s) optimized for that term and find out why. It might be that the title or description associated with the page isn’t relevant or enticing.

9. Pages indexed in Google Search Console

One thing is certain: Nobody is going to find a webpage in the search results if it isn’t indexed. That’s why you need to pay attention to the number of pages on your website that have been indexed.

If you find that it takes an unusually long time for your pages to get indexed, you can always submit them manually using the Crawl>Fetch as Google option in the Search Console.

You should also take note of how many pages are indexed relative to how many pages have been submitted. Again, if you find that a small percentage of your submitted pages are indexed, you might need to manually request indexing via the Search Console.

10. Pages crawled per day

The Google Search Console will also show you how many pages have been crawled every day for the last 90 days.

If you have thousands of pages, and only a small percentage of them are getting crawled, that could point to a problem with your crawl budget. Google won’t crawl your entire site if it looks like its bot will consume too many of your system resources in doing so.

11. Duplicate titles and descriptions

You can also use Google Search Console to check the number of duplicate titles and descriptions on your site. As a rule of thumb, duplicate content is a no-no. When multiple pages have the same title tags and meta descriptions, that tells search engines that all those pages are about the same topic; this can dilute your topical authority and limit your ability to rank well for those terms.

If you find that you’ve got duplicate content on your site, it’s a good idea to update it so that it’s unique or block it.

12. Crawl errors

Google Search Console also provides you with crawl errors. Although the default report shows sitewide errors, you can also use a filter to view errors by segment. Any crawl errors you find should be addressed right away.

Follow your SEO metrics closely

I find it fascinating how many SEO metrics there really are. And the ones I mentioned here are just the start.

The longer I work in digital marketing, the more I learn. I encourage you to really dive deep into your analytics and get good at determining which data is most helpful for measuring SEO success.

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

SEO SWOT Analysis: Focus your efforts in areas that deliver results

When it comes to SEO, it can be hard to know where to start — and it is easy to waste a lot of time and effort on activities that are going to deliver little in the way of returns. This is not a new problem, and it is as true with traditional marketing tactics as it is with modern digital tactics.

Fortunately, there are business and marketing methodologies that exist to simplify marketing planning. And one of our favorites at Bowler Hat is the SWOT Analysis. In this post, I am going to detail how you can use the time-proven SWOT Analysis to focus your efforts and improve your SEO.

SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

A SWOT analysis covers four key areas: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This is a true back-to-basics approach you can use to understand where you currently are in regard to optimizing your website and improving your SEO.

This is achieved through a simple grid system that has four panels, two rows and two columns.

Figure 1.0 – SWOT chart

The top row outlines strengths and weaknesses, which are usually internal to the business. The bottom row has the opportunities and threats, which are typically from external sources.

The first column, with strengths and opportunities, details factors that should be helpful in achieving your objective. The second column has the weaknesses and threats which are harmful to achieving your objective.

In an ideal world, your SEO SWOT will build on your digital marketing strategy so you will have all your strategic ducks in a row, and SOSTAC is your friend here.

SEO SWOT Analysis

To use a SWOT analysis for SEO, we have to look at a business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from an SEO perspective. To help you put this into play, let us consider the following fictional business: Bob’s Widgets.

Bob’s Widgets

Bob’s Widgets has a WordPress website and is a true widget industry expert. Bob’s Widgets can serve users from their local store in Birmingham, UK, but the big win is targeting people looking to buy widgets online.

Bob does not show up in the local results when users search with a local intent. And while Bob is publishing some useful, informative content on a weekly basis, this content does not rank on the first page and receives very little traffic from search engines. Some competitor content does rank on the first page, but it is simply not in the same class as the content published by Bob and his team.

Bob’s Widgets currently has some SEO software that is reporting some technical issues, but currently, there is no plan in place to improve organic search results. The site is also not well-optimized beyond the home page and major service pages. There is currently no SEO plugin in place for the WordPress CMS, and the SEO software is reporting some duplicate content.

Bob has identified the important commercial keywords and currently ranks around the bottom of page 2 for these terms. Bob’s two main competitors rank around the top 5, with competition from Wikipedia, Amazon and eBay filling out the remaining spaces.

There is some search content around the problems that Bob’s Widgets solve, and often these searches show SERP features like featured snippets and “people also ask” results.

Bob’s Widgets has been going for nearly 15 years, yet far newer companies are starting to show up on the front page of results. Comparing these businesses, we see that although newer, they have more authority metrics than Bob’s Widgets. It appears they are actively engaged in improving their SEO.

The website does generate some inquiries, but Bob has no idea what sources of traffic are working currently.

Strengths

Industry expertise.Expert content.

Weaknesses

Low domain authority metrics.Poor rankings for primary commercial keywords.Site not well-optimized.Some duplicate content.No SEO plugin or technical optimization.No local results for local queries for Bob’s Widgets.Very basic analytics setup with no conversion tracking.

Opportunities

Rank in the top five results for commercial search terms by building links and authority.Improve the ranking of existing useful and informational content.Continue to publish useful content.Target featured snippets and “people also ask” results.Build links to useful content pieces to build authority.

Threats

The gap between the major competitors is growing.Newer and less experienced competitors are overtaking Bob’s Widgets in organic.The gap in authority between Bob’s Widgets and competitors is growing.

This would all be detailed in your SWOT chart as follows:

Figure 2.0 – SWOT chart for SEO opportunities

With this knowledge in place, we can now work on putting a plan together.

SEO action plan

This simple analysis helps provide an action plan of what our focus areas are and helps define the key elements of the SEO strategy for Bob’s Widgets going forward.

In the example above, Bob is publishing content and has an OK site. We just need to get the basic optimization dialed in:

Install an SEO plugin.Take care of the on-page optimization.Resolve technical SEO issues reported by the SEO tool.Conduct a local SEO campaign.Devise a link-building strategy to build authority.Revise content to target featured snippets.Continue to publish content and invest in the SEO and content marketing strategy.

When we are looking at SEO action plans at Bowler Hat, we tend to put these into a spreadsheet with a few other figures to allow us to prioritize our work. Typically, we want to consider difficulty, time and benefit to order the tasks. Clearly, some of these jobs above will not set the world on fire but should be resolved to create a solid platform. It makes sense to get these out of the way first and then focus on the long-term tasks.

SEO SWOT questions

The following questions will help you put this into action for your business — if you can’t answer some of these questions, then this also highlights more weaknesses.

SEO Strengths

Strengths are an internal factor and are typically the easiest thing to detail, so we start here.

What keywords do you rank well for currently?What content ranks well currently?What are your digital assets?What is your very best asset?What makes you better than your competitors?What drives the most organic traffic?What are your best links?What previous SEO had the best results?

SEO Weaknesses

Weaknesses are again internal, and determining weaknesses is not so easy. You will have to be honest. Smart competitors will target your weaknesses, so you must identify them as opportunities for improving your SEO.

Which areas need improvement?What do your competitors do better than you (businesswise)?Where are your competitors stronger than you (SEO-wise)?How far are you behind the competition? In what areas?What content is currently driving little to no traffic?Which SEO tactics have previously failed to deliver?Do you have the requisite SEO skills in-house?Do you have the budget required to reach your SEO objectives?

SEO Opportunities

Your SEO opportunities are born out of the strengths and weaknesses. Strengths are areas to build upon. Weaknesses are areas to be explored.

What content could be built that would have a significant impact?What aspects of the site could be optimized to improve results?What areas of the site that perform well could be expanded to perform even better?What weaknesses could be easily resolved?What link sources have we yet to tap into?Are there any changes to the search engine results we can leverage?

SEO Threats

Threats are the hardest element and need to be based on an understanding of your own weaknesses and your competitors’ strengths. This also needs a critical appraisal of how search engine results are changing in ways that could impact your business.

Which competitors are strong where you are weak?Are newer, less experienced competitors improving their SEO?Is the gap between you and your competitors growing?Are search engine results changing in a way that could impact your business? (More ads, new SERP features, etc.)Are any new startups aggressively gathering market share?

Maximizing your SEO results

Often, the most difficult element of an SEO campaign is knowing where to focus your efforts. By utilizing a SWOT Analysis, you can quickly and easily direct your efforts where they will have the most impact.

I would love to hear from any of you that have put a SWOT to work to focus your SEO efforts!

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

The changing SERP: Understanding and adapting to dynamic search results

Consumer search behaviors are changing rapidly. According to a recent report from BrightEdge (disclaimer: my employer), 57 percent of searches now begin with a mobile device, and last year Google revealed that voice search has increased to about 20 percent of all Google mobile search queries.

And of course, Google is constantly adjusting their SERP layout in order to better align with a searcher’s context and expectations. Consumers now expect to see rich content in SERPs that includes not just standard text listings, but video, images, local map results, featured snippets and more. The standard organic listings themselves also sometimes feature rich snippets, which enhance the listing by presenting information in a way that is easy to scan and often visually appealing.

Paid search ads have changed as well — in 2015, Google doubled the size of its highly visual product listing ads (PLAs), and last year they announced that up to four search ads could appear for “highly commercial queries,” whereas previously the maximum had been three. Even if you aren’t involved in paid search, it’s important to keep track of any changes that impact the overall SERP layout and design, as these changes may affect the way users engage with organic listings.

These seismic shifts in the industry have a profound impact on SEO. Although my company has observed that the overall share of organic traffic for websites remains the same as it was in 2014 (51 percent of all incoming traffic, on average), this stability didn’t come easily — and it will become harder to defend this level of organic traffic contribution. Marketers now need to consider how content is evaluated and displayed on a variety of devices so they can attract more clicks from the right search user at the right time.

How have these shifts impacted SEO?

The shift from the classic “10 blue links” SERP of the old days to the more dynamic and visually appealing SERPs of today has had a huge impact on how SEO practitioners do their jobs. In the old days, you would create text content for a webpage with the aim of having it rank well in the SERP for your chosen keyword. Now, you must take into account how different content types will rank in different sections of the SERP on different devices and for users in different locations. Ideally, you will also consider how to present or mark up this content so that you can make the most of your listings with visual enhancements like rich snippets.

For example, let’s say that you manage a website for a business that sells cameras, and on that site is a page about SLR cameras. Many years ago, when the SERP showed just 10 blue links, you would seek to maximize organic search performance by creating high-quality, authoritative text content about SLR cameras. If you were really advanced, you would optimize this one piece of content across three devices (desktop, mobile and tablet) — three permutations in total.

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Keep up with all the developments in SEO and beyond!

Fast forward to today. You still have your camera website and your webpage about SLR cameras. However, terms related to SLR cameras now bring up a variety of different result types, depending on the keyword variation. You decide that in addition to your existing text content about SLR cameras, you want to create other types of content to capture different areas of the SERP: high-quality product images (for image results), a video about SLR cameras (for video results), information on your local storefront (for the local 3-pack), and a question-and-answer section (for a featured snippet).

Each of these four content elements, in addition to your standard text content, could win a spot on SERP for the same keywords you were targeting and ranking for years ago. Suddenly, you need to deal with five content types across three devices — 15 permutations in total. That’s a lot more content to produce, optimize and track in order to maximize organic search performance.

Add to this the fact that ads are getting larger and more numerous — thereby reducing above-the-fold visibility for organic listings — and you can see how SEO has become an increasingly challenging endeavor over the years.

How can SEOs better focus their efforts?

Unless you work at a large company with unlimited resources, you’re going to have to make some tough choices about where to focus your SEO and content marketing efforts.

One way to inform this decision is to examine what content type is most likely to win the top spot on the SERP for your most important target keywords. For instance, “sports apparel” will likely to have local 3-pack above organic web listings, while “hawaii vacation” has more PPC results occupying top SERP positions.

This type of visual parsing is going to be a key way for search marketers to sustain and improve their organic search performance because Google is never going to show a one-size-fits-all SERP anymore. Marketers will need to analyze the ranking position of every content element on SERPs for their target keywords. They will also need to understand intent signals to see if a keyword produces SERPs with local results — or with any organic listings above the fold at all.

Conclusion

Search engine optimization has grown more challenging and complex over the years, and marketers must now look beyond pure ranking position on the SERP if they want to succeed. By closely examining SERPs to discover the types of content present, where each content type is displayed/positioned, and how much real estate each content piece occupies on the SERP for the keywords they want to be known for, marketers can better manage their SEO and content development efforts by focusing on areas that will have the greatest impact on organic search visibility.

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

Looking to get out of the SEO business? Good!

It’s not your imagination — there’s no denying that SEO has become increasingly difficult over the last few years.

A recent thread on WebmasterWorld highlighted this fact when a poster lamented the challenges he has faced adapting to changes in the SEO industry, and he said that he was considering leaving the industry entirely. This prompted Barry Schwartz to share a poll collecting feedback on the topic from a wider pool, and I was initially quite surprised to see that a large percentage of respondents shared the same concern as the original poster.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. I can definitely understand the frustration. You build a business based on what you think the rules are, and almost immediately, they seem to change.

Isn’t that the nature of every industry, though? Amazon, Uber and Netflix all shook their respective industries in seismic ways. And as that happened, we heard the same cries that things are getting too difficult, that things just aren’t fair, and that people can’t make the same kind of money doing work the same way they used to.

But is that really such a bad thing?

How change can lead to improvements

Change is good for every industry, especially when it forces everyone to up their game. I’ve been in the digital marketing industry since long before Google dominated search, and I’ve seen a lot of changes to our industry during that time — some good and some bad.

I’ve watched search engines rank web pages based on nothing more than crude and easily gameable signals, like meta tags, keyword density and title tags. Later, I watched a clunky algorithm evolve from basic and easy to manipulate into something highly refined and effective. Along the way, I’ve watched many tactics come and go — and wave after wave of SEO practitioners enter, then retreat, from the industry, moving on to what they saw as greener pastures.

Maybe you’re brand-new to the industry, so you don’t have much to compare it to. Or maybe, like me and some of the other veterans of the industry, you’ve experienced every iteration of search engine optimization firsthand and have weathered the storms.

For example, I remember when link building was as simple as just getting more keyword-rich anchor text links than your competitors, which predictably resulted in the SEO equivalent of a nuclear arms race. Marketers took every opportunity to create links in any way they could.

I wasn’t immune to this thinking. In fact, at one point, I had built a massive network consisting of hundreds of websites that published a constant stream of user-generated, spun content, all with the sole purpose of linking to the other websites I owned. This network added no real value and existed solely for the purpose of manipulating organic ranking.

I had managed to fly under the radar with this tactic for many years, but eventually, Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithms destroyed it by penalizing websites that published low-quality content and/or participated in manipulative linking schemes. This destroyed both sides of the manipulative linking equation.

The fallout was brutal for many SEO practitioners and even worse for their clients, who often didn’t know what tactics were being used on their behalf. Websites that had previously benefited from these tactics now suffered aggressive penalties and were often removed from the search results entirely. Often, link-based penalties lasted for years, even after fixing the issues, which predictably destroyed many businesses.

Today, we’re living in an entirely different world. While they’re still being sold, the cheap and easy tactics of the past no longer work. This means that as SEO professionals, we have to work significantly harder than ever before. I know that might sound like a bad thing, but I believe it can help the industry.

Much like the housing collapse of 2008, which forced a lot of below-average realtors out of the real estate industry, this newest evolution of the SEO industry will hopefully purge many of the SEO practitioners who are still trying to peddle ineffective and/or dangerous tactics.

As the algorithms become more effective at differentiating artificial attempts to manipulate ranking from legitimate ranking signals, and they get better at understanding or even predicting what a searcher needs, we will see a lot of people — people who didn’t belong here in the first place — finally leave the industry. This means only the truly passionate will stick around.

SEO isn’t dead, but your tactics might be

There will be a lot more of “the sky is falling” and “SEO is dead” nonsense proclaimed by those who rely on tricks and are incapable of delivering any real value. But those of you who have been in the game for awhile have heard it all before. In fact, we see this collective panic play out nearly every time there is a major update, going as far back as the infamous “Florida” update of 2003.

After Panda, we heard a lot of SEOs asking, “How can we possibly compete when we have to hire real writers to write well-written and longer articles?” While some could no longer compete when churning out a bunch of 350-word, poorly written articles each month no longer moved the needle, those who focused on producing lots of unique, thoroughly researched and well-written content reaped massive rewards.

Penguin created a similar situation when it destroyed manipulative link building. Once tactics like guest posting at scale, directory submissions and paid links were effectively eliminated, many stopped offering link-building services entirely because earning real links takes a lot of work.

Today, we’re approaching a similar situation — the next evolution, if you will — as artificial intelligence is playing an increasingly larger role in Google’s algorithm. SEO practitioners who have relied on clever tricks will be forced to either adapt or exit the industry, while those who focus on producing quality content and earning legitimate links will become the new standard.

Does that mean some SEO practitioners will be forced out of the industry? Absolutely. It also means that some SEO agencies will go out of business. And I’m completely fine with all of that because it means that the industry as a whole will be pushed to a higher standard, benefiting professionals in the industry, search engines, searchers, and most importantly, our clients.

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

When SEO isn't your SEO problem

If you’ve been doing SEO for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly experienced your fair share of failures. And in many cases, frustratingly, the SEO program itself was not the issue. While I’ve discussed meta topics such as management challenges, getting executive buy-in, and the need for flexibility in the past, I haven’t directly addressed the question, “What do you do if SEO isn’t your SEO problem?”

As search marketers, we work our tails off analyzing data, search results, client websites and more, with the goal of providing recommendations that will move the needle. Unfortunately, the best recommendations in the world don’t matter if they aren’t implemented — and therein lies one of the biggest challenges of SEO.

Let’s look at a few common obstacles that can hinder an SEO program’s progress and discuss how we can overcome them.

Just following up

We’ve all been there: You’ve sent one, two, three emails and still have heard nothing back. How can you possibly get anything done if the client won’t even answer your emails?

It’s not a simple solution. People are busy; they have other priorities, and it’s our job to ensure our clients understand the importance and value of the program.

If a contact goes silent, there are a few options we can try.

Pick up the phone

Your clients are busy people, and many of them probably receive dozens or even hundreds of emails per day. That’s a lot of messages to sort through! While it can be frustrating to not receive a response, it’s possible your contact has more important emails to get through.

Pick up the phone. It’s so simple, yet we often forgot to do it. In the age of technology, everyone is emailing and texting. Talking to someone can go a long way.

Use an email tracker

If your emails aren’t being responded to, maybe you are sending them at the wrong time of day. Even worse, maybe they aren’t even getting to your client’s inbox.

Tools like Yesware and Bananatag show you when a person opens your email, allowing you to see if your emails are being read — and giving you an opportunity to follow up quickly. Did your client just open the email? Send another one while it’s top of mind, or give them a quick call.

Go to the next person

Sometimes, the only option is to go a level up. I only like to use this as a last resort — we certainly don’t want to make anyone look bad, but at the end of the day, the program’s success is tied to our ability to make things happen.

I disagree with you

As a marketing consultant, you typically end up working directly with an organization’s internal marketing team — a marketing team with experienced professionals, brand knowledge and more often than not, a whole lot of opinions.

For agencies, the key to program success is getting buy-in from key decision-makers. The person in charge needs to ensure that their team approves and implements what you are recommending. However, in some cases, the boss will rely on his or her team to make those decisions. And that’s OK. A sign of a good leader is trusting one’s team.

Unfortunately, the team may not always agree with what you are recommending. Perhaps they’ve done it a different way in the past or don’t think it’s worth the effort. How do we change their minds?

Lay out your strategy

It’s no secret that there’s a lack of education in the SEO world, both inside and out. The result? More work on the front end. Instead of just providing a recommendation, make sure you discuss the why. What is the overall goal, and how is this suggestion going to help them get there?

Pick your battles

We provide a lot of recommendations. In many cases, we make recommendations that aren’t going to move the needle significantly but are best practices that will make the site better. Sure, we’d like these implemented — but sometimes it’s okay if they aren’t. We have to pick our battles.

Let’s take ALT text, for example. A few weeks ago, I had a client who disagreed with an ALT text recommendation my team had made. The client wanted to use something else, so they decided they weren’t going to implement our suggestion. And that’s OK — overall, it wasn’t a high-priority task.

In all likelihood, you won’t be able to implement every SEO recommendation you put forth — so be sure to save your fights for the ones that are really going to matter.

Run a test

For efforts that may require additional time and resources, it can be hard to get buy-in. Suggest running a test.

A few months ago, we provided recommendations to improve a client’s product pages. Unfortunately, the client didn’t want to spend the time and effort making the changes. Our suggestion? There’s a new product page launching, so why don’t we try the proposed improvements on that page and see how it performs?

The new page outperformed all the others — and as a result, the team is now ready to go back and revisit the rest of the product section.

Like most things in life, we want reassurances. If we can prove that our recommendations will get results, it makes it much easier to push for others down the line.

We don’t have time

Time. Precious time. How often have you uttered the phrase, “There’s not enough time in the day?” You aren’t alone.

We only have so many hours in our work week, so we have to prioritize the things that matter to us. Unfortunately, SEO isn’t always the top item on your client’s list of things that have to get done. How can we overcome this hurdle?

Agency implementation

We learned a long time ago that if we wanted things done, we needed to do them ourselves. While agency implementation takes time (and trust from the client), it ensures your recommendations are applied and the program can move forward.

Prioritize recommendations

There’s a thing I like to call “deliverable overload.” A client falls behind, but we continue to send out deliverables. Instead of working through them from start to finish, the client gets overloaded and is unsure where to begin.

Make it easier. When a client starts getting behind, the first thing I do is make a list of outstanding deliverables and prioritize them based on what’s going to have the biggest impact on the site and/or what can be done quickly. That makes it easier for the client to sort through our recommendations and start working on them.

Make your case with data

It’s extremely frustrating to have to put together a bad report for your client — especially when you know that the reason for the poor performance is that nothing was actually done.

If you aren’t making any headway, and if you aren’t able to implement the recommendations yourself, start pulling data. What metrics are important to the client? Show them how those metrics are (or are not) being impacted, and explain how your proposed changes can help.

Final thoughts

As search marketers, our jobs are hard. On top of doing great SEO work, we are managing different personalities, dealing with internal company issues and trying to manage our own day. But if we can proactively address the issues above, we can remove some of the biggest impediments to our SEO program’s success.

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