Restaurant Local SEO: The Google Characteristics of America’s Top-Ranked Eateries

Posted by MiriamEllis

“A good chef has to be a manager, a businessman and a great cook. To marry all three together is sometimes difficult.”
– Wolfgang Puck

I like this quote. It makes me hear phones ringing at your local search marketing agency, with aspiring chefs and restaurateurs on the other end of the line, ready to bring experts aboard in the “sometimes difficult” quest for online visibility.

Is your team ready for these clients? How comfortable do you feel talking restaurant Local SEO when such calls come in? When was the last time you took a broad survey of what’s really ranking in this specialized industry?

Allow me to be your prep cook today, and I’ll dice up “best restaurant” local packs for major cities in all 50 US states. We’ll julienne Google Posts usage, rough chop DA, make chiffonade of reviews, owner responses, categories, and a host of other ingredients to determine which characteristics are shared by establishments winning this most superlative of local search phrases.

The finished dish should make us conversant with what it takes these days to be deemed “best” by diners and by Google, empowering your agency to answer those phones with all the breezy confidence of Julia Child.

Methodology

I looked at the 3 businesses in the local pack for “best restaurants (city)” in a major city in each of the 50 states, examining 11 elements for each entry, yielding 4,950 data points. I set aside the food processor for this one and did everything manually. I wanted to avoid the influence of proximity, so I didn’t search for any city in which I was physically located. The results, then, are what a traveler would see when searching for top restaurants in destination cities.

Restaurant results

Now, let’s look at each of the 11 data points together and see what we learn. Take a seat at the table!

Categories prove no barrier to entry

Which restaurant categories make up the dominant percentage of local pack entries for our search?

You might think that a business trying to rank locally for “best restaurants” would want to choose just “restaurant” as their primary Google category as a close match. Or, you might think that since we’re looking at best restaurants, something like “fine dining restaurants” or the historically popular “French restaurants” might top the charts.

Instead, what we’ve discovered is that restaurants of every category can make it into the top 3. Fifty-one percent of the ranking restaurants hailed from highly diverse categories, including Pacific Northwest Restaurant, Pacific Rim Restaurant, Organic, Southern, Polish, Lebanese, Eclectic and just about every imaginable designation. American Restaurant is winning out in bulk with 26 percent of the take, and an additional 7 percent for New American Restaurant. I find this an interesting commentary on the nation’s present gustatory aesthetic as it may indicate a shift away from what might be deemed fancy fare to familiar, homier plates.

Overall, though, we see the celebrated American “melting pot” perfectly represented when searchers seek the best restaurant in any given city. Your client’s food niche, however specialized, should prove no barrier to entry in the local packs.

High prices don’t automatically equal “best”

Do Google’s picks for “best restaurants” share a pricing structure?

It will cost you more than $1000 per head to dine at Urasawa, the nation’s most expensive eatery, and one study estimates that the average cost of a restaurant meal in the US is $12.75. When we look at the price attribute on Google listings, we find that the designation “best” is most common for establishments with charges that fall somewhere in between the economical and the extravagant.

Fifty-eight percent of the top ranked restaurants for our search have the $$ designation and another 25 percent have the $$$. We don’t know Google’s exact monetary value behind these symbols, but for context, a Taco Bell with its $1–$2 entrees would typically be marked as $, while the fabled French Laundry gets $$$$ with its $400–$500 plates. In our study, the cheapest and the costliest restaurants make up only a small percentage of what gets deemed “best.”

There isn’t much information out there about Google’s pricing designations, but it’s generally believed that they stem at least in part from the attribute questions Google sends to searchers. So, this element of your clients’ listings is likely to be influenced by subjective public sentiment. For instance, Californians’ conceptions of priciness may be quite different from North Dakotans’. Nevertheless, on the national average, mid-priced restaurants are most likely to be deemed “best.”

Of anecdotal interest: The only locale in which all 3 top-ranked restaurants were designated at $$$$ was NYC, while in Trenton, NJ, the #1 spot in the local pack belongs to Rozmaryn, serving Polish cuisine at $ prices. It’s interesting to consider how regional economics may contribute to expectations, and your smartest restaurant clients will carefully study what their local market can bear. Meanwhile, 7 of the 150 restaurants we surveyed had no pricing information at all, indicating that Google’s lack of adequate information about this element doesn’t bar an establishment from ranking.

Less than 5 stars is no reason to despair

Is perfection a prerequisite for “best”?

Negative reviews are the stuff of indigestion for restaurateurs, and I’m sincerely hoping this study will provide some welcome relief. The average star rating of the 150 “best” restaurants we surveyed is 4.5. Read that again: 4.5. And the number of perfect 5-star joints in our study? Exactly zero. Time for your agency to spend a moment doing deep breathing with clients.

The highest rating for any restaurant in our data set is 4.8, and only three establishments rated so highly. The lowest is sitting at 4.1. Every other business falls somewhere in-between. These ratings stem from customer reviews, and the 4.5 average proves that perfection is simply not necessary to be “best.”

Breaking down a single dining spot with 73 reviews, a 4.6 star rating was achieved with fifty-six 5-star reviews, four 4-star reviews, three 3-star reviews, two 2-star reviews, and three 1-star reviews. 23 percent of diners in this small review set had a less-than-ideal experience, but the restaurant is still achieving top rankings. Practically speaking for your clients, the odd night when the pho was gummy and the paella was burnt can be tossed onto the compost heap of forgivable mistakes.

Review counts matter, but differ significantly

How many reviews do the best restaurants have?

It’s folk wisdom that any business looking to win local rankings needs to compete on native Google review counts. I agree with that, but was struck by the great variation in review counts across the nation and within given packs. Consider:

  • The greatest number of reviews in our study was earned by Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, TN, coming in at a whopping 4,537!
  • Meanwhile, Park Heights Restaurant in Tupelo, MS is managing a 3-pack ranking with just 72 reviews, the lowest in our data set.
  • 35 percent of “best”-ranked restaurants have between 100–499 reviews and another 31 percent have between 500–999 reviews. Taken together that’s 66 percent of contenders having yet to break 1,000 reviews.
  • A restaurant with less than 100 reviews has only a 1 percent chance of ranking for this type of search.

Anecdotally, I don’t know how much data you would have to analyze to be able to find a truly reliable pattern regarding winning review counts. Consider the city of Dallas, where the #1 spot has 3,365 review, but spots #2 and #3 each have just over 300. Compare that to Tallahassee, where a business with 590 reviews is coming in at #1 above a competitor with twice that many. Everybody ranking in Boise has well over 1,000 reviews, but nobody in Bangor is even breaking into the 200s.

The takeaways from this data point is that the national average review count is 893 for our “best” search, but that there is no average magic threshold you can tell a restaurant client they need to cross to get into the pack. Totals vary so much from city to city that your best plan of action is to study the client’s market and strongly urge full review management without making any promise that hitting 1,000 reviews will ensure them beating out that mysterious competitor who is sweeping up with just 400 pieces of consumer sentiment. Remember, no local ranking factor stands in isolation.

Best restaurants aren’t best at owner responses

How many of America’s top chophouses have replied to reviews in the last 60 days?

With a hat tip to Jason Brown at the Local Search Forum for this example of a memorable owner response to a negative review, I’m sorry to say I have some disappointing news. Only 29 percent of the restaurants ranked best in all 50 states had responded to their reviews in the 60 days leading up to my study. There were tributes of lavish praise, cries for understanding, and seething remarks from diners, but less than one-third of owners appeared to be paying the slightest bit of attention.

On the one hand, this indicates that review responsiveness is not a prerequisite for ranking for our desirable search term, but let’s go a step further. In my view, whatever time restaurant owners may be gaining back via unresponsiveness is utterly offset by what they stand to lose if they make a habit of overlooking complaints. Review neglect has been cited as a possible cause of business closure. As my friends David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal always say:“Your brand is its reviews” and mastering the customer service ecosystem is your surest way to build a restaurant brand that lasts.

For your clients, I would look at any local pack with neglected reviews as representative of a weakness. Algorithmically, your client’s active management of the owner response function could become a strength others lack. But I’ll even go beyond that: Restaurants ignoring how large segments of customer service have moved onto the web are showing a deficit of commitment to the long haul. It’s true that some eateries are famous for thriving despite offhand treatment of patrons, but in the average city, a superior commitment to responsiveness could increase many restaurants’ repeat business, revenue and rankings.

Critic reviews nice but not essential

I’ve always wanted to investigate critic reviews for restaurants, as Google gives them a great deal of screen space in the listings:

How many times were critic reviews cited in the Google listings of America’s best restaurants and how does an establishment earn this type of publicity?

With 57 appearances, Lonely Planet is the leading source of professional reviews for our search term, with Zagat and 10Best making strong showings, too. It’s worth noting that 70/150 businesses I investigated surfaced no critic reviews at all. They’re clearly not a requirement for being considered “best”, but most restaurants will benefit from the press. Unfortunately, there are few options for prompting a professional review. To wit:

Lonely Planet — Founded in 1972, Lonely Planet is a travel guide publisher headquartered in Australia. Critic reviews like this one are written for their website and guidebooks simultaneously. You can submit a business for review consideration via this form, but the company makes no guarantees about inclusion.

Zagat — Founded in 1979, Zagat began as a vehicle for aggregating diner reviews. It was purchased by Google in 2011 and sold off to The Infatuation in 2018. Restaurants can’t request Zagat reviews. Instead, the company conducts its own surveys and selects businesses to be rated and reviewed, like this.

10Best — Owned by USA Today Travel Media Group, 10Best employs local writers/travelers to review restaurants and other destinations. Restaurants cannot request a review.

The Infatuation — Founded in 2009 and headquartered in NY, The Infatuation employs diner-writers to create reviews like this one based on multiple anonymous dining experiences that are then published via their app. The also have a SMS-based restaurant recommendation system. They do not accept request from restaurants hoping to be reviewed.

AFAR — Founded in 2009, AFAR is a travel publication with a website, magazine, and app which publishes reviews like this one. There is no form for requesting a review.

Michelin — Founded as a tire company in 1889 in France, Michelin’s subsidiary ViaMichelin is a digital mapping service that houses the reviews Google is pulling. In my study, Chicago, NYC and San Francisco were the only three cities that yielded Michelin reviews like this one and one article states that only 165 US restaurants have qualified for a coveted star rating. The company offers this guide to dining establishments.

As you can see, the surest way to earn a professional review is to become notable enough on the dining scene to gain the unsolicited notice of a critic. 

Google Posts hardly get a seat at best restaurant tables

How many picks for best restaurants are using the Google Posts microblogging feature?

As it turns out, only a meager 16 percent of America’s “best” restaurants in my survey have made any use of Google Posts. In fact, most of the usage I saw wasn’t even current. I had to click the “view previous posts on Google” link to surface past efforts. This statistic is much worse than what Ben Fisher found when he took a broader look at Google Posts utilization and found that 42 percent of local businesses had at least experimented with the feature at some point.

For whatever reason, the eateries in my study are largely neglecting this influential feature, and this knowledge could encompass a competitive advantage for your restaurant clients.

Do you have a restaurateur who is trying to move up the ranks? There is some evidence that devoting a few minutes a week to this form of microblogging could help them get a leg up on lazier competitors.

Google Posts are a natural match for restaurants because they always have something to tout, some appetizing food shot to share, some new menu item to celebrate. As the local SEO on the job, you should be recommending an embrace of this element for its valuable screen real estate in the Google Business Profile, local finder, and maybe even in local packs.

Waiter, there’s some Q&A in my soup

What is the average number of questions top restaurants are receiving on their Google Business Profiles?

Commander’s Palace in New Orleans is absolutely stealing the show in my survey with 56 questions asked via the Q&A feature of the Google Business Profile. Only four restaurants had zero questions. The average number of questions across the board was eight.

As I began looking at the data, I decided not to re-do this earlier study of mine to find out how many questions were actually receiving responses from owners, because I was winding up with the same story. Time and again, answers were being left up to the public, resulting in consumer relations like these:

Takeaway: As I mentioned in a previous post, Greg Gifford found that 40 percent of his clients’ Google Questions were leads. To leave those leads up to the vagaries of the public, including a variety of wags and jokesters, is to leave money on the table. If a potential guest is asking about dietary restrictions, dress codes, gift cards, average prices, parking availability, or ADA compliance, can your restaurant clients really afford to allow a public “maybe” to be the only answer given?

I’d suggest that a dedication to answering questions promptly could increase bookings, cumulatively build the kind of reputation that builds rankings, and possibly even directly impact rankings as a result of being a signal of activity.

A moderate PA & DA gets you into the game

What is the average Page Authority and Domain Authority of restaurants ranking as “best’?

Looking at both the landing page that Google listings are pointing to and the overall authority of each restaurant’s domain, I found that:

  • The average PA is 36, with a high of 56 and a low of zero being represented by one restaurant with no website link and one restaurant appearing to have no website at all.
  • The average DA is 41, with a high of 88, one business lacking a website link while actually having a DA of 56 and another one having no apparent website at all. The lowest linked DA I saw was 6.
  • PA/DA do not = rankings. Within the 50 local packs I surveyed, 32 of them exhibited the #1 restaurant having a lower DA than the establishments sitting at #2 or #3. In one extreme case, a restaurant with a DA of 7 was outranking a website with a DA of 32, and there were the two businesses with the missing website link or missing website. But, for the most part, knowing the range of PA/DA in a pack you are targeting will help you create a baseline for competing.

While pack DA/PA differs significantly from city to city, the average numbers we’ve discovered shouldn’t be out-of-reach for established businesses. If your client’s restaurant is brand new, it’s going to take some serious work to get up market averages, of course.

Local Search Ranking Factors 2019 found that DA was the 9th most important local pack ranking signal, with PA sitting at factor #20. Once you’ve established a range of DA/PA for a local SERP you are trying to move a client up into, your best bet for making improvements will include improving content so that it earns links and powering up your outreach for local links and linktations.

Google’s Local Finder “web results” show where to focus management

Which websites does Google trust enough to cite as references for restaurants?

As it turns out, that trust is limited to a handful of sources:

As the above pie chart shows:

  • The restaurant’s website was listed as a reference for 99 percent of the candidates in our survey. More proof that you still need a website in 2019, for the very good reason that it feeds data to Google.
  • Yelp is highly trusted at 76 percent and TripAdvisor is going strong at 43 percent. Your client is likely already aware of the need to manage their reviews on these two platforms. Be sure you’re also checking them for basic data accuracy.
  • OpenTable and Facebook are each getting a small slice of Google trust, too.

Not shown in the above chart are 13 restaurants that had a web reference from a one-off source, like the Des Moines Register or Dallas Eater. A few very famous establishments, like Brennan’s in New Orleans, surfaced their Wikipedia page, although they didn’t do so consistently. I noticed Wikipedia pages appearing one day as a reference and then disappearing the next day. I was left wondering why.

For me, the core takeaway from this factor is that if Google is highlighting your client’s listing on a given platform as a trusted web result, your agency should go over those pages with a fine-toothed comb, checking for accuracy, activity, and completeness. These are citations Google is telling you are of vital importance.

A few other random ingredients

As I was undertaking this study, there were a few things I noted down but didn’t formally analyze, so consider this as mixed tapas:

  • Menu implementation is all over the place. While many restaurants are linking directly to their own website via Google’s offered menu link, some are using other services like Single Platform, and far too many have no menu link at all.
  • Reservation platforms like Open Table are making a strong showing, but many restaurants are drawing a blank on this Google listing field, too. Many, but far from all, of the restaurants designated “best” feature Google’s “reserve a table” function which stems from partnerships with platforms like Open Table and RESY.
  • Order links are pointing to multiple sources including DoorDash, Postmates, GrubHub, Seamless, and in some cases, the restaurant’s own website (smart!). But, in many cases, no use is being made of this function.
  • Photos were present for every single best-ranked restaurant. Their quality varied, but they are clearly a “given” in this industry.
  • Independently-owned restaurants are the clear winners for my search term. With the notable exception of an Olive Garden branch in Parkersburg, WV, and a Cracker Barrel in Bismarck, ND, the top competitors were either single-location or small multi-location brands. For the most part, neither Google nor the dining public associate large chains with “best”.
  • Honorable mentions go to Bida Manda Laotian Bar & Grill for what looks like a gorgeous and unusual restaurant ranking #1 in Raleigh, NC and to Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen of Tupelo, MS for the most memorable name in my data set. You can get a lot of creative inspiration from just spending time with restaurant data.

A final garnish to our understanding of this data

I want to note two things as we near the end of our study:

  1. Local rankings emerge from the dynamic scenario of Google’s opinionated algorithms + public opinion and behavior. Doing Local SEO for restaurants means managing a ton of different ingredients: website SEO, link building, review management, GBP signals, etc. We can’t offer clients a generic “formula” for winning across the board. This study has helped us understand national averages so that we can walk into the restaurant space feeling conversant with the industry. In practice, we’ll need to discover the true competitors in each market to shape our strategy for each unique client. And that brings us to some good news.
  2. As I mentioned at the outset of this survey, I specifically avoided proximity as an influence by searching as a traveler to other destinations would. I investigated one local pack for each major city I “visited”. The glad tidings are that, for many of your restaurant clients, there is going to be more than one chance to rank for a search like “best restaurants (city)”. Unless the eatery is in a very small town, Google is going to whip up a variety of local packs based on the searcher’s location. So, that’s something hopeful to share.

What have we learned about restaurant local SEO?

A brief TL;DR you can share easily with your clients:

  • While the US shows a predictable leaning towards American restaurants, any category can be a contender. So, be bold!
  • Mid-priced restaurants are considered “best” to a greater degree than the cheapest or most expensive options. Price for your market.
  • While you’ll likely need at least 100 native Google reviews to break into these packs, well over half of competitors have yet to break the 1,000 mark.
  • An average 71 percent of competitors are revealing a glaring weakness by neglecting to respond to reviews – so get in there and start embracing customer service to distinguish your restaurant!
  • A little over half of your competitors have earned critic reviews. If you don’t yet have any, there’s little you can do to earn them beyond becoming well enough known for anonymous professional reviewers to visit you. In the meantime, don’t sweat it.
  • About three-quarters of your competitors are completely ignoring Google Posts; gain the advantage by getting active.
  • Potential guests are asking nearly every competitor questions, and so many restaurants are leaving leads on the table by allowing random people to answer. Embrace fast responses to Q&A to stand out from the crowd.
  • With few exceptions, devotion to authentic link earning efforts can build up your PA/DA to competitive levels.
  • Pay attention to any platform Google is citing as a resource to be sure the information published there is a complete and accurate.
  • The current management of other Google Business Profile features like Menus, Reservations and Ordering paints a veritable smorgasbord of providers and a picture of prevalent neglect. If you need to improve visibility, explore every profile field that Google is giving you.

A question for you: Do you market restaurants? Would you be willing to share a cool local SEO tactic with our community? We’d love to hear about your special sauce in the comments below.

Wishing you bon appétit for working in the restaurant local SEO space, with delicious wins ahead!

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We Surveyed 1,400 Searchers About Google – Here’s What We Learned

Posted by LilyRayNYC

Google’s search results have seen a whirlwind of major changes in the past two years. Nearly every type of modern-day search queries produce a combination of rich results beyond the standard blue links — Featured Snippets, People Also Ask boxes, Knowledge Panels, maps, images, or other enhancements. It is now even possible to browse flights, hotels, jobs, events, and other searches that were previously only available via external websites, directly on Google.

As search marketers, we are keenly aware that both Google’s evolving landscape and the rise in new, rich results impact our bottom-line — more SERP enhancements and growth in “position 0” means less organic traffic for everyone else. Last year, Rand Fishkin posted a remarkable Whiteboard Friday pointing out the unsettling trend that has emerged from the updates to Google’s interface: there are fewer organic links to external websites as traffic flows to Google-owned assets within the SERP.

We often hear about how the digital marketing community feels about changes to Google’s interface, but it is less common to hear the opinions of the average searcher who is less technically-savvy. At Path Interactive, we conducted a survey of 1,400 respondents to better understand how they search, how they feel about Google’s search results, and the quality of information the search engine provides.

A note about our respondents

72 percent of respondents were based in the U.S., 8 percent in India, and 10 percent in Europe or the U.K. 67.8 percent considered themselves somewhat technically-savvy or not technically-savvy at all. 71.3 percent were under the age of 40.

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How Often Do Searchers Use Google to Find Things?

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the vast majority of respondents — 77 percent — use Google 3+ times a day to search for things online. The frequency of Google usage is also inversely correlated with age; 80 percent of 13–21-year-olds use Google more than three times per day, while only 60 percent of respondents over 60 searches with the same frequency.

77 percent of searchers use Google 3+ times a day to search for things online.
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How often do searchers click ads vs. organic results?

As many previous studies have shown, the vast majority of searchers prefer clicking on organic results to clicking on advertisements. 72 percent of respondents stated that they either click only on organic results, or on organic results the majority of the time. Age also plays a role in one’s decision to click on a paid or organic result: Searchers ages 60+ are 200 percent more likely than 18–21-year-olds not to discriminate between a paid and organic listing. Instead, they click on whichever result-type best answers their question.

72 percent of respondents stated that they either click only on organic results, or on organic results the majority of the time.
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Interactions with organic results

The vast majority of respondents remain on the first page of Google to find an answer to their query. 75 percent of respondents either click on the first one or two results, scan page one looking for the most relevant answer to their query, or visit multiple results from page one. 17 percent of respondents stated part of their search behavior includes looking for content from websites or brands that they trust. Only 7 percent of respondents indicated that they browse past the first results page to see as many results as possible.

According to these results, younger users are more likely to click on the first 1–2 results on page one, while older users are more likely to explore additional results, browsing farther down on the first page — or even onto the second and third pages — to find the information they’re looking for.

This trend raises some interesting questions about user behavior: are older searchers more skeptical, and therefore likely to look for a larger variety of answers to their questions? Are younger users more concerned with getting answers quickly, and more likely to settle for the first result they see? Is this tied to the rise in featured snippets? Will this search behavior become the “new normal” as teens grow older, or do younger searchers change their habits over time? If it is the future, will this trend make it even more difficult for organic results that don’t rank in the top three positions to sustain traffic over time?

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How do users feel about featured snippets and the Knowledge Panel?

When it comes to how users feel about featured snippets, the majority of searchers say that their behavior depends on what is displayed in the snippet. Marketers who are concerned that snippets steal traffic away from organic results might be pleased to learn that a relatively low number of respondents — only 22.1 percent — indicate that they generally read the snippet and consider their question answered without clicking the blue link.

Only 22.1 percent of respondents indicate that they generally read the snippet and consider their question answered without clicking the blue link.
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However, this data suggests another potentially alarming trend as it relates to featured snippet interactions and age: the youngest searchers (13–18) are 220 percent more likely than the oldest searchers (70–100) to consider their question answered without clicking on the snippet (or any) result. Conversely, the older respondents (60–100) are 170 percent more likely to continue searching, depending on the answer in the snippet. This again points to younger searchers seeming to prioritize getting a response quickly, while older users are more likely to spend time evaluating a variety of results.

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When it comes to the trustworthiness of featured snippets, most users are on the fence: 44.5 percent of users consider the information “semi-trustworthy,” and continue searching for answers to their questions. However, age once again plays a role in the results. Young searchers (13–30) are 40 percent more likely than older searchers (50+) to trust the information contained in featured snippets. Additionally, the youngest category of searchers (13–18) is 53 percent more likely than average to trust featured snippets.

Young searchers (13–30) are 40 percent more likely than older searchers (50+) to trust the information contained in featured snippets.
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The same outcome is true for Knowledge Panel results — the majority of users (55.3 percent) scan this information but continue searching through the other results. However, 36.8 percent of searchers consider the information contained in the Knowledge Panel sufficient to answer their questions, and this represents a decent amount of search traffic that previously flowed to paid and organic results before the existence of the Knowledge Panel.

The majority of users (55.3%) scan Knowledge Panel information but continue searching through the other results.
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As with previous questions, younger users are significantly more likely to consider read the information in the Knowledge Panel and consider their search complete. Young respondents (13–21) are 102 percent more likely to consider the Knowledge Panel a complete answer to their question than older respondents (50+), who generally continue their search after seeing the Knowledge Panel.

Weather forecasts, things to do, jobs, flights, and other Google SERP features

Google has rolled out many new result types that allow searchers to get the answer to their question directly within the search results. This alarms many search marketers, who worry that these results cannibalize traffic that previously flowed to organic results and have caused an increase in “no click searches.” So, how does the average searcher feel about these enhancements to the SERP?

We asked searchers about two types of results: results that directly answer search queries using a proprietary Google widget (such as weather forecasts or “Things to Do”), as well as results that allow for interaction on Google, but include an organic link back to a corresponding website (such as recipes and flight results).

48.1% still uses these features but still continues to search
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42.7% uses these features but will often continue browsing for more info.
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According to the data, the majority of respondents use these features but continue browsing the other search results. It is interesting to note that one-third of respondents usually ignore result types such as job listings, events, and flights, and instead skip over to the regular blue links. Older searchers (50+) are 63 percent more likely to ignore these results types and continue their search than younger searchers (13–30).

Incorrect information in SERP features

Our next question was whether searchers have found incorrect information in any of the aforementioned result types. Given Google’s increased focus on content quality and E-A-T, we thought it would be interesting to see the general sentiment around the accuracy of these search features.

49.2% have, on occasion, noticed info that is incorrect
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A combined 58.2 percent of searchers state they have either occasionally or frequently seen incorrect information in rich results on Google. This fact is certainly on Google’s radar: just last month, Google published a whitepaper on how it combats disinformation, and the recent major updates to its algorithm reflect Google’s critical recent quest to promote accurate, trustworthy content in all of its results.

How do users feel about Google?

We wanted to know how users feel about Google in general, especially given all the recent changes to Google’s search results. 68 percent of respondents stated that they feel the quality of Google’s results have improved over time, and the majority of respondents don’t have specific complaints about Google.

Among those respondents who do have issues with Google, the most common complaints involve Google showing too many ads, prioritizing content from large corporations, making it harder for small businesses to compete; and showing too many Google-owned assets within the results.

The majority of respondents agree: search has gotten better.
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24.8% of respondents don't have any complaints. 24.1% would like to see less ads.
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We also opened up the survey to allow respondents to leave feedback about how they feel about Google and the quality of its results. The vast majority of responses related to user privacy, the unsettling feeling of sharing private information with the search engine, and disliking that search queries are used in retargeting campaigns. Several respondents were concerned about the political and philosophical implications of Google deciding what content should or should not be prominently featured in its results. Some complaints had to do with the limited options to apply filters and perform advanced searches in both standard results, as well as on Google Images.

Searchers are still skeptical of Google, but there’s some cause for concern among younger users

Should businesses and marketers be worried that Google’s increasingly rich results will slowly steal away our precious traffic for good, and increase the number of no-click results? The results from our Google Usage survey indicate that, at least for now, there’s no need to panic: Searchers are still prone to gravitating toward the regular blue links, both organic and paid. They are largely skeptical about taking all of the information included in rich results at face value.

However, there is data to support that younger searchers are more likely to implicitly trust the information provided in rich results, and less likely to visit deeper pages of the search results during their search journeys. This should be an interesting trend for marketers to pay attention to over time — one that raises many philosophical questions about the role that information from Google should play in our lives.

With its recent push for E-A-T compliance, it’s clear that Google is already grappling with the moral responsibility of providing information that can majorly impact the happiness, safety, and well-being of its users. But what happens when important information doesn’t meet the ranking criteria laid out by Google’s algorithm? What happens when society’s understanding of certain topics and ideas changes over time? Does Google’s algorithm create an echo chamber and limit the ability for users to share and discover diverse viewpoints? What happens when the information Google shares is blatantly wrong, or even worse, dangerous?

While it is important that Google maintains the highest quality standards for displaying credible and trustworthy information, freedom of speech and diversity of ideas must also remain of utmost importance, as future generations become increasingly trusting of the information they discover in the search results.

And now, you tell us: how do you feel about Google’s changing landscape?

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The One-Hour Guide to SEO: Link Building – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

The final episode in our six-part One-Hour Guide to SEO series deals with a topic that’s a perennial favorite among SEOs: link building. Today, learn why links are important to both SEO and to Google, how Google likely measures the value of links, and a few key ways to begin earning your own.

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. We are back with our final part in the One-Hour Guide to SEO, and this week talking about why links matter to search engines, how you can earn links, and things to consider when doing link building.

Why are links important to SEO?

So we’ve discussed sort of how search engines rank pages based on the value they provide to users. We’ve talked about how they consider keyword use and relevant topics and content on the page. But search engines also have this tool of being able to look at all of the links across the web and how they link to other pages, how they point between pages.



So it turns out that Google had this insight early on that what other people say about you is more important, at least to them, than what you say about yourself. So you may say, “I am the best resource on the web for learning about web marketing.” But it turns out Google is not going to believe you unless many other sources, that they also trust, say the same thing. Google’s big innovation, back in 1997 and 1998, when Sergey Brin and Larry Page came out with their search engine, Google, was PageRank, this idea that by looking at all the links that point to all the pages on the internet and then sort of doing this recursive process of seeing which are the most important and most linked to pages, they could give each page on the web a weight, an amount of PageRank.

Then those pages that had a lot of PageRank, because many people linked to them or many powerful people linked to them, would then pass more weight on when they linked. That understanding of the web is still in place today. It’s still a way that Google thinks about links. They’ve almost certainly moved on from the very simplistic PageRank formula that came out in the late ’90s, but that thinking underlies everything they’re doing.

How does Google measure the value of links?

Today, Google measures the value of links in many very sophisticated ways, which I’m not going to try and get into, and they’re not public about most of these anyway. But there is a lot of intelligence that we have about how they think about links, including things like more important, more authoritative, more well-linked-to pages are going to pass more weight when they link.

A.) More important, authoritative, well-linked-to pages pass more weight when they link

That’s true of both individual URLs, an individual page, and websites, a whole website. So for example, if a page on The New York Times links to yoursite.com, that is almost certainly going to be vastly more powerful and influential in moving your rankings or moving your ability to rank in the future than if randstinysite.info — which I haven’t yet registered, but I’ll get on that — links to yoursite.com.

This weighting, this understanding of there are powerful and important and authoritative websites, and then there are less powerful and important and authoritative websites, and it tends to be the case that more powerful ones tend to provide more ranking value is why so many SEOs and marketers use metrics like Moz’s domain authority or some of the metrics from Moz’s competitors out in the software space to try and intuit how powerful, how influential will this link be if this domain points to me.

B.) Diversity of domains, rate of link growth, and editorial nature of links ALL matter

So the different kinds of domains and the rate of link growth and the editorial nature of those links all matter. So, for example, if I get many new links from many new websites that have never linked to me before and they are editorially given, meaning I haven’t spammed to place them, I haven’t paid to place them, they were granted to me because of interesting things that I did or because those sites wanted to editorially endorse my work or my resources, and I do that over time in greater quantities and at a greater rate of acceleration than my competitors, I am likely to outrank them for the words and phrases related to those topics, assuming that all the other smart SEO things that we’ve talked about in this One-Hour Guide have also been done.

C.) HTML-readable links that don’t have rel=”nofollow” and contain relevant anchor text on indexable pages pass link benefit

HTML readable links, meaning as a simple text browser browses the web or a simple bot, like Googlebot, which can be much more complex as we talked about in the technical SEO thing, but not necessarily all the time, those HTML readable links that don’t have the rel=”nofollow” parameter, which is something that you can append to links to say I don’t editorially endorse this, and many, many websites do.

If you post a link to Twitter or to Facebook or to LinkedIn or to YouTube, they’re going to carry this rel=”nofollow,”saying I, YouTube, don’t editorially endorse this website that this random user has uploaded a video about. Okay. Well, it’s hard to get a link from YouTube. And it contains relevant anchor text on an indexable page, one that Google can actually browse and see, that is going to provide the maximum link benefit.

So a href=”https://yoursite.com” great tool for audience intelligence, that would be the ideal link for my new startup, for example, which is SparkToro, because we do audience intelligence and someone saying we’re a tool is perfect. This is a link that Google can read, and it provides this information about what we do.

It says great tool for audience intelligence. Awesome. That is powerful anchor text that will help us rank for those words and phrases. There are loads more. There are things like which pages linked to and which pages linked from. There are spam characteristics and trustworthiness of the sources. Alt attributes, when they’re used in image tags, serve as the anchor text for the link, if the image is a link.

There’s the relationship, the topical relationship of the linking page and linking site. There’s text surrounding the link, which I think some tools out there offer you information about. There’s location on the page. All of this stuff is used by Google and hundreds more factors to weight links. The important part for us, when we think about links, is generally speaking if you cover your bases here, it’s indexable, carries good anchor text, it’s from diverse domains, it’s at a good pace, it is editorially given in nature, and it’s from important, authoritative, and well linked to sites, you’re going to be golden 99% of the time.

Are links still important to Google?

Many folks I think ask wisely, “Are links still that important to Google? It seems like the search engine has grown in its understanding of the web and its capacities.” Well, there is some pretty solid evidence that links are still very powerful. I think the two most compelling to me are, one, the correlation of link metrics over time. 

So like Google, Moz itself produces an index of the web. It is billions and billions of pages. I think it’s actually trillions of pages, trillions of links across hundreds of billions of pages. Moz produces metrics like number of linking root domains to any given domain on the web or any given page on the web.

Moz has a metric called Domain Authority or DA, which sort of tries to best replicate or best correlate to Google’s own rankings. So metrics like these, over time, have been shockingly stable. If it were the case someday that Google demoted the value of links in their ranking systems, basically said links are not worth that much, you would expect to see a rapid drop.

But from 2007 to 2019, we’ve never really seen that. It’s fluctuated. Mostly it fluctuates based on the size of the link index. So for many years Ahrefs and Majestic were bigger link indices than Moz. They had better link data, and their metrics were better correlated.

Now Moz, since 2018, is much bigger and has higher correlation than they do. So the various tools are sort of warring with each other, trying to get better and better for their customers. You can see those correlations with Google pretty high, pretty standard, especially for a system that supposedly contains hundreds, if not thousands of elements.

When you see a correlation of 0.25 or 0.3 with one number, linking root domains or page authority or something like that, that’s pretty surprising. The second one is that many SEOs will observe this, and I think this is why so many SEO firms and companies pitch their clients this way, which is the number of new, high quality, editorially given linking root domains, linking domains, so The New York Times linked to me, and now The Washington Post linked to me and now wired.com linked to me, these high-quality, different domains, that correlates very nicely with ranking positions.

So if you are ranking number 12 for a keyword phrase and suddenly that page generates many new links from high-quality sources, you can expect to see rapid movement up toward page one, position one, two, or three, and this is very frequent.

How do I get links?

Obviously, this is not alone, but very common. So I think the next reasonable question to ask is, “Okay, Rand, you’ve convinced me. Links are important. How do I get some?” Glad you asked. There are an infinite number of ways to earn new links, and I will not be able to represent them here. But professional SEOs and professional web marketers often use tactics that fall under a few buckets, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list, but can give you some starting points.

1. Content & outreach

The first one is content and outreach. Essentially, the marketer finds a resource that they could produce, that is relevant to their business, what they provide for customers, data that they have, interesting insights that they have, and they produce that resource knowing that there are people and publications out there that are likely to want to link to it once it exists.

Then they let those people and publications know. This is essentially how press and PR work. This is how a lot of content building and link outreach work. You produce the content itself, the resource, whatever it is, the tool, the dataset, the report, and then you message the people and publications who are likely to want to cover it or link to it or talk about it. That process is tried-and-true. It has worked very well for many, many marketers. 

2. Link reclamation

Second is link reclamation. So this is essentially the process of saying, “Gosh, there are websites out there that used to link to me, that stopped linking.” The link broke. The link points to a 404, a page that no longer loads on my website.

The link was supposed to be a link, but they didn’t include the link. They said SparkToro, but they forgot to actually point to the SparkToro website. I should drop them a line. Maybe I’ll tweet at them, at the reporter who wrote about it and be like, “Hey, you forgot the link.” Those types of link reclamation processes can be very effective as well.

They’re often some of the easiest, lowest hanging fruit in the link building world. 

3. Directories, resource pages, groups, events, etc.

Directories, resource pages, groups, events, things that you can join and participate in, both online or online and offline, so long as they have a website, often link to your site. The process is simply joining or submitting or sponsoring or what have you.

Most of the time, for example, when I get invited to speak at an event, they will take my biography, a short, three-sentence blurb, that includes a link to my website and what I do, and they will put it on their site. So pitching to speak at events is a way to get included in these groups. I started Moz with my mom, Gillian Muessig, and Moz has forever been a woman-owned business, and so there are women-owned business directories.

I don’t think we actually did this, but we could easily go, “Hey, you should include Moz as a woman-owned business.We should be part of your directory here in Seattle.” Great, that’s a group we could absolutely join and get links from. 

4. Competitors’ links

So this is basically the practice you almost certainly will need to use tools to do this. There are some free ways to do it.

The simple, free way to do it is to say, “I have competitor 1 brand name and competitor 2 brand name.I’m going to search for the combination of those two in Google, and I’m going to look for places that have written about and linked to both of them and see if I can also replicate the tactics that got them coverage.” The slightly more sophisticated way is to go use a tool. Moz’s Link Explorer does this.

So do tools from people like Majestic and Ahrefs. I’m not sure if SEMrush does. But basically you can plug in, “Here’s me. Here’s my competitors. Tell me who links to them and does not link to me.” Moz’s tool calls this the Link Intersect function. But you don’t even need the link intersect function.

You just plug in a competitor’s domain and look at here are all the links that point to them, and then you start to replicate their tactics. There are hundreds more and many, many resources on Moz’s website and other great websites about SEO out there that talk about many of these tactics, and you can certainly invest in those. Or you could conceivably hire someone who knows what they’re doing to go do this for you. Links are still powerful. 

Okay. Thank you so much. I want to say a huge amount of appreciation to Moz and to Tyler, who’s behind the camera — he’s waving right now, you can’t see it, but he looks adorable waving — and to everyone who has helped make this possible, including Cyrus Shepard and Britney Muller and many others.

Hopefully, this one-hour segment on SEO can help you upgrade your skills dramatically. Hopefully, you’ll send it to some other folks who might need to upgrade their understanding and their skills around the practice. And I’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

In case you missed them:

Check out the other episodes in the series so far:

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4 Unconventional Ways to Become a Better SEO

Posted by meagar8

Let’s get real for a moment: As much as we hear about positive team cultures and healthy work environments in the digital marketing space, many of us encounter workplace scenarios that are far from the ideal. Some of us might even be part of a team where we feel discouraged to share new ideas or alternative solutions because we know it will be shot down without discussion. Even worse, there are some who feel afraid to ask questions or seek help because their workplace culture doesn’t provide a safe place for learning.

These types of situations, and many others like it, are present in far too many work environments. But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way? 

Over the last ten years as a team manager at various agencies, I’ve been working hard to foster a work environment where my employees feel empowered to share their thoughts and can safely learn from their mistakes. Through my experiences, I have found a few strategies to combat negative culture and replace it with a culture of vulnerability and creativity.

Below, I offer four simple steps you can follow that will transform your work environment into one that encourages new ideas, allows for feedback and positive change, and ultimately makes you and your team better digital marketers.

Vulnerability leads to creativity

I first learned about the impact of vulnerability after watching a viral TED talk by Dr. Brene Brown. She defined vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” She also described vulnerability as “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.” From this, I learned that to create a culture of vulnerability is to create a culture of creativity. And isn’t creativity at the heart of what we SEOs do?

A culture of vulnerability encourages us to take risks, learn from mistakes, share insights, and deliver top results to our clients. In the fast-paced world of digital marketing, we simply cannot achieve top results with the tactics of yesterday. We also can’t sit around and wait for the next Moz Blog or marketing conference, either. Our best course of action is to take risks, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and share insights with others. We have to learn from those with more experience than us and share what we know to those with less experience. In other words, we have to be vulnerable.

Below is a list of four ways you can help create a culture of vulnerability. Whether you are a manager or not, you can impact your team’s culture.

1. Get a second pair of eyes on your next project

Are you finishing up an exciting project for your client? Did you just spend hours of research and implementation to optimize the perfect page? Perfect! Now go ask someone to critique it!

As simple as it sounds, this can make a huge difference in fostering a culture of creativity. It’s also extremely difficult to do.

Large or small, every project or task we complete should be the best your team can provide. All too often, however, team members work in silos and complete these projects without asking for or receiving constructive feedback from their teammates before sending it to the client. This leaves our clients and projects only receiving the best one person can provide rather than the best of an entire team.

We all work with diverse team members that carry varying levels of experience and responsibilities. I bet someone on your team will have something to add to your project that you didn’t already think of. Receiving their feedback means every project that you finish or task that you complete is the best your team has to offer your clients.

Keep in mind, though, that asking for constructive feedback is more than just having someone conduct a “standard QA.” In my experience, a “standard QA” means someone barely looked over what you sent and gave you the thumbs up. Having someone look over your work and provide feedback is only helpful when done correctly.

Say you’ve just completed writing and editing content to a page and you’ve mustered up the courage to have someone QA your work. Rather than sending it over, saying “hey can you review this and make sure I did everything right,” instead try to send detailed instructions like this:

“Here is a <LINK> to a page I just edited. Can you take 15 minutes to review it? Specifically, can you review the Title Tag and Description? This is something the client said is important to them and I want to make sure I get it right.”

In many cases, you don’t need your manager to organize this for you. You can set this up yourself and it doesn’t have to be a big thing. Before you finish a project or task this week, work with a team member and ask them for help by simply asking them to QA your work. Worried about taking up too much of their time? Offer to swap tasks. Say you’ll QA some of their work if they QA yours.

Insider tip

You will have greater success and consistency if you make QA a mandatory part of your process for larger projects. Any large project like migrating a site to https or conducting a full SEO audit should have a QA process baked into it.

Six months ago I was tasked to present one of our 200+ point site audits to a high profile client. The presentation was already created with over 100 slides of technical fixes and recommendations. I’m normally pretty comfortable presenting to clients, but I was nervous about presenting such technical details to THIS particular client.

Lucky for me, my team already had a process in place for an in-depth QA for projects like this. My six team members got in a room and I presented to them as if they were the client. Yes, that’s right, I ROLE PLAYED! It was unbearably uncomfortable at first. Knowing that each of my team members (who I respect a whole lot) are sitting right in front of me and making notes on every little mistake I make.

After an agonizing 60 minutes of me presenting to my team, I finished and was now ready for the feedback. I just knew the first thing out of their mouths would be something like “do you even know what SEO stands for?” But it wasn’t. Because my team had plenty of practice providing feedback like this in the past, they were respectful and even more so, helpful. They gave me tips on how to better explain canonicalization, helped me alter some visualization, and gave me positive feedback that ultimately left me confident in presenting to the client later that week.

When teams consistently ask and receive feedback, they not only improve their quality of work, but they also create a culture where team members aren’t afraid to ask for help. A culture where someone is afraid to ask for help is a toxic one and can erode team spirit. This will ultimately decrease the overall quality of your team’s work. On the other hand, a culture where team members feel safe to ask for help will only increase the quality of service and make for a safe and fun team working experience.

2. Hold a half-day all hands brainstorm meeting

Building strategies for websites or solving issues can often be the most engaging work that an SEO can do. Yes that’s right, solving issues is fun and I am not ashamed to admit it. As fun as it is to do this by yourself, it can be even more rewarding and infinitely more useful when a team does it together.

Twice a year my team holds a half-day strategy brainstorm meeting. Each analyst brings a client or issues they are struggling to resolve its website performance, client communication, strategy development, etc. During the meeting, each team member has one hour or more to talk about their client/issue and solicit help from the team. Together, the team dives deep into client specifics to help answer questions and solve issues.

Getting the most out of this meeting requires a bit of prep both from the manager and the team.

Here is a high-level overview of what I do.

Before the Meeting

Each Analyst is given a Client/Issue Brief to fill out describing the issue in detail. We have Analysts answer the following 5 questions:

  1. What is the core issue you are trying to solve?
  2. What have you already looked into or tried?
  3. What haven’t you tried that you think might help?
  4. What other context can you provide that will help in solving this issue?

After all client briefs are filled out and about 1-2 days prior to the half day strategy meeting I will share all the completed briefs to the team so they can familiarize themselves with the issues and come prepared to the meeting with ideas.

Day of the Meeting

Each Analyst will have up to an hour to discuss their issue with the team. Afterwards, the team will deep dive into solving it. During the 60 minute span, ideas will be discussed, Analysts will put on their nerd hats and dive deep into Analytics or code to solve issues. All members of the team are working toward a single goal and that is to solve the issue.

Once the issues is solved the Analyst who first outlined the issue will readback the solutions or ideas to solving the issue. It may not take the full 60 minutes to get to a solution. Whether it takes the entire time or not after one issue is solved another team member announces their issue and the team goes at it again.

Helpful tips

  • Depending on the size of your team, you may need to split up into smaller groups. I recommend 3-5.
  • You may be tempted to take longer than an hour but in my experience, this doesn’t work. The pressure of solving an issue in a limited amount of time can help spark creativity.

This meeting is one of the most effective ways my team practices vulnerability allowing the creativity flow freely. The structure is such that each team member has a way to provide and receive feedback. My experience has been that each analyst is open to new ideas and earnestly listens to understand the ways they can improve and grow as an analyst. And with this team effort, our clients are benefitting from the collective knowledge of the team rather than a single individual.

3. Solicit characteristic feedback from your team

This step is not for the faint of heart. If you had a hard time asking for someone to QA your work or presenting a site audit in front of your team, then you may find this one to be the toughest to carry out.

Once a year I hold a special meeting with my team. The purpose of the meeting is to provide a safe place where my employees can provide feedback about me with their fellow teammates. In this meeting, the team meets without me and anonymously fills out a worksheet telling me what I should start doing, stop doing, and keep doing.

Why would I subject myself to this, you ask?

How could I not! Being a great SEO is more than just being great at SEO. Wait, what?!? Yes, you read that right. None of us work in silos. We are part of a team, interact with clients, have expectations from bosses, etc. In other words, the work we do isn’t only technical audits or site edits. It also involves how we communicate and interact with those around us.

This special meeting is meant to focus more on our characteristics and behaviors, over our tactics and SEO chops, ensuring that we are well rounded in our skills and open to all types of feedback to improve ourselves.

How to run a keep/stop/start meeting in 4 steps:

Step 1: Have the team meet together for an hour. After giving initial instructions you will leave the room so that it is just your directs together for 45 minutes.

Step 2: The team writes the behaviors they want you to start doing, stop doing, and keep doing. They do this together on a whiteboard or digitally with one person as a scribe.

Step 3: When identifying the behaviors, the team doesn’t need to be unanimous but they do need to mostly agree. Conversely, the team should not just list them all independently and then paste them together to make a long list.

Step 4: After 45 minutes, you re-enter the room and over the next 15 minutes the team tells you about what they have discussed

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • When receiving the feedback from the team you only have two responses you can give, “thank you” or ask a clarifying question.
  • The feedback needs to be about you and not the business.
  • Do this more than once. The team will get better at giving feedback over time.

Here is an example of what my team wrote during my first time running this exercise.

Let’s break down why this meeting is so important.

  1. With me not in the room, the team can discuss openly without holding back.
  2. Having team members work together and come to a consensus before writing down a piece of feedback ensures feedback isn’t from a single team member but rather the whole team.
  3. By leaving the team to do it without me, I show as a manager I trust them and value their feedback.
  4. When I come back to the room, I listen and ask for clarification but don’t argue which helps set an example of receiving feedback from others
  5. The best part? I now have feedback that helps me be a better manager. By implementing some of the feedback, I reinforce the idea that I value my team’s feedback and I am willing to change and grow.

This isn’t just for managers. Team members can do this themselves. You can ask your manager to go through this exercise with you, and if you are brave enough, you can have you teammates do this for you as well.

4. Hold a team meeting to discuss what you have learned recently

Up to this point, we have primarily focused on how you can ask for feedback to help grow a culture of creativity. In this final section, we’ll focus more on how you can share what you have learned to help maintain a culture of creativity.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: I show up at work, catch up on industry news, review my client performance, plug away at my to-do list, check on tests I am running and make adjustments, and so on and so forth.

What are we missing in our normal routines? Collaboration. A theme you may have noticed in this post is that we need to work together to produce our best work. What you read in industry news or what you see in client performance should all be shared with team members.

To do this, my team put together a meeting where we can share our findings. Every 2 weeks, my team meets together for an hour and a half to discuss prepared answers to the following four questions.

Question 1: What is something interesting you have read or discovered in the industry?

This could be as simple as sharing a blog post or going more in depth on some research or a test you have done for a client. The purpose is to show that everyone on the team contributes to how we do SEO and helps contribute knowledge to the team.

Question 2: What are you excited about that you are working on right now?

Who doesn’t love geeking out over a fun site audit, or that content analysis that you have been spending weeks to build? This is that moment to share what you love about your job.

Question 3: What are you working to resolve?

Okay, okay, I know. This is the only section in this meeting that talks about issues you might be struggling to solve. But it is so critical!

Question 4: What have you solved?

Brag, brag, brag! Every analyst has an opportunity to share what they have solve. Issues they overcame. How they out-thought Google and beat down the competition.

In conclusion

Creativity is at the heart of what SEOs do. In order to grow in our roles, we need to continue to expand our minds so we can provide stellar performance for our clients. To do this requires us to receive and give out help with others. Only then will we thrive in a culture that allows us to be safely vulnerable and actively creative.

I would love to hear how your team creates a culture of creativity. Comment below your ideas!

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How Do I Improve My Domain Authority (DA)?

Posted by Dr-Pete

The Short Version: Don’t obsess over Domain Authority (DA) for its own sake. Domain Authority shines at comparing your overall authority (your aggregate link equity, for the most part) to other sites and determining where you can compete. Attract real links that drive traffic, and you’ll improve both your Domain Authority and your rankings.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, over a rock, or really anywhere rock-adjacent, you may know that Moz has recently invested a lot of time, research, and money in a new-and-improved Domain Authority. People who use Domain Authority (DA) naturally want to improve their score, and this is a question that I admit we’ve avoided at times, because like any metric, DA can be abused if taken out of context or viewed in isolation.

I set out to write a how-to post, but what follows can only be described as a belligerent FAQ …

Why do you want to increase DA?

This may sound like a strange question coming from an employee of the company that created Domain Authority, but it’s the most important question I can ask you. What’s your end-goal? Domain Authority is designed to be an indicator of success (more on that in a moment), but it doesn’t drive success. DA is not used by Google and will have no direct impact on your rankings. Increasing your DA solely to increase your DA is pointless vanity.

So, I don’t want a high DA?

I understand your confusion. If I had to over-simplify Domain Authority, I would say that DA is an indicator of your aggregate link equity. Yes, all else being equal, a high DA is better than a low DA, and it’s ok to strive for a higher DA, but high DA itself should not be your end-goal.

So, DA is useless, then?

No, but like any metric, you can’t use it recklessly or out of context. Our Domain Authority resource page dives into more detail, but the short answer is that DA is very good at helping you understand your relative competitiveness. Smart SEO isn’t about throwing resources at vanity keywords, but about understanding where you realistically have a chance at competing. Knowing that your DA is 48 is useless in a vacuum. Knowing that your DA is 48 and the sites competing on a query you’re targeting have DAs from 30-45 can be extremely useful. Likewise, knowing that your would-be competitors have DAs of 80+ could save you a lot of wasted time and money.

But Google says DA isn’t real!

This topic is a blog post (or eleven) in and of itself, but I’m going to reduce it to a couple points. First, Google’s official statements tend to define terms very narrowly. What Google has said is that they don’t use a domain-level authority metric for rankings. Ok, let’s take that at face value. Do you believe that a new page on a low-authority domain (let’s say DA = 25) has an equal chance of ranking as a high-authority domain (DA = 75)? Of course not, because every domain benefits from its aggregate internal link equity, which is driven by the links to individual pages. Whether you measure that aggregate effect in a single metric or not, it still exists.

Let me ask another question. How do you measure the competitiveness of a new page, that has no Page Authority (or PageRank or whatever metrics Google uses)? This question is a big part of why Domain Authority exists — to help you understand your ability to compete on terms you haven’t targeted and for content you haven’t even written yet.


Seriously, give me some tips!

I’ll assume you’ve read all of my warnings and taken them seriously. You want to improve your Domain Authority because it’s the best authority metric you have, and authority is generally a good thing. There are no magical secrets to improving the factors that drive DA, but here are the main points:

1. Get more high-authority links

Shocking, I know, but that’s the long and short of it. Links from high-authority sites and pages still carry significant ranking power, and they drive both Domain Authority and Page Authority. Even if you choose to ignore DA, you know high-authority links are a good thing to have. Getting them is the topic of thousands of posts and more than a couple of full-length novels (well, ok, books — but there’s probably a novel and feature film in the works).

2. Get fewer spammy links

Our new DA score does a much better job of discounting bad links, as Google clearly tries to do. Note that “bad” doesn’t mean low-authority links. It’s perfectly natural to have some links from low-authority domains and pages, and in many cases it’s both relevant and useful to searchers. Moz’s Spam Score is pretty complex, but as humans we intuitively know when we’re chasing low-quality, low-relevance links. Stop doing that.

3. Get more traffic-driving links

Our new DA score also factors in whether links come from legitimate sites with real traffic, because that’s a strong signal of usefulness. Whether or not you use DA regularly, you know that attracting links that drive traffic is a good thing that indicates relevance to searches and drives bottom-line results. It’s also a good reason to stop chasing every link you can at all costs. What’s the point of a link that no one will see, that drives no traffic, and that is likely discounted by both our authority metrics and Google.


You can’t fake real authority

Like any metric based on signals outside of our control, it’s theoretically possible to manipulate Domain Authority. The question is: why? If you’re using DA to sell DA 10 links for $1, DA 20 links for $2, and DA 30 links for $3, please, for the love of all that is holy, stop (and yes, I’ve seen that almost verbatim in multiple email pitches). If you’re buying those links, please spend that money on something more useful, like sandwiches.

Do the work and build the kind of real authority that moves the needle both for Moz metrics and Google. It’s harder in the short-term, but the dividends will pay off for years. Use Domain Authority to understand where you can compete today, cost-effectively, and maximize your investments. Don’t let it become just another vanity metric.

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12 Steps to Lightning Page Speed

Posted by WallStreetOasis.com

At Wall Street Oasis, we’ve noticed that every time we focus on improving our page speed, Google sends us more organic traffic. In 2018, our company’s website reached over 80 percent of our traffic from organic search. That’s 24.5 million visits. Needless to say, we are very tuned in to how we can continue to improve our user experience and keep Google happy.

We thought this article would be a great way to highlight the specific steps we take to keep our page speed lightning fast and organic traffic healthy. While this article is somewhat technical (page speed is an important and complex subject) we hope it provides website owners and developers with a framework on how to try and improve their page speed.

Quick technical background: Our website is built on top of the Drupal CMS and we are running on a server with a LAMP stack (plus Varnish and memcache). If you are not using MySQL, however, the steps and principles in this article are still relevant for other databases or a reverse proxy.

Ready? Let’s dig in.

5 Steps to speed up the backend

Before we jump into specific steps that can help you speed up your backend, it might help to review what we mean by “backend”. You can think of the backend of everything that goes into storing data, including the database itself and the servers — basically anything that helps make the website function that you don’t visually interact with. For more information on the difference between the backend vs. frontend, you read this article

Step 1: Make sure you have a Reverse Proxy configured

This is an important first step. For Wall Street Oasis (WSO), we use a reverse proxy called Varnish. It is by far the most critical and fastest layer of cache and serves the majority of the anonymous traffic (visitors logged out). Varnish caches the whole page in memory, so returning it to the visitor is lightning fast.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_proxy

Step 2: Extend the TTL of that cache

If you have a large database of content (specifically in the 10,000+ URL range) that doesn’t change very frequently, to drive the hit-rate higher on the Varnish caching layer, you can extend the time to live (TTL basically means how long before you flush the object out of the cache).

For WSO, we went all the way up to two weeks (since we were over 300,000 discussions). At any given time, only a few thousand of those forum URLs are active, so it makes sense to heavily cache the other pages. The downside to this is that when you make any sitewide, template or design changes, you have to wait two weeks for it to arrive across all URLs.

Step 3: Warm up the cache

In order to keep our cache “warm,” we have a specific process that hits all the URLs in our sitemap. This increases the likelihood of a page being in the cache when a user or Google bot visits those same pages (i.e. our hit rate improves). It also keeps Varnish full of more objects, ready to be accessed quickly.

As you can see from the chart below, the ratio of “cache hits” (green) to total hits (blue+green) is over 93 percent.

Step 4: Tune your database and focus on the slowest queries

On WSO, we use a MySQL database. Make sure you enable the slow queries report and check it at least every quarter. Check the slowest queries using EXPLAIN. Add indexes where needed and rewrite queries that can be optimized.

On WSO, we use a MySQL database. To tune MySQL, you can use the following scripts: https://github.com/major/MySQLTuner-perl and https://github.com/mattiabasone/tuning-primer

Step 5: HTTP headers

Use HTTP2 server push to send resources to the page before they are requested. Just make sure you test which ones should be pushed, first. JavaScript was a good option for us. You can read more about it here.

Here is an example of server push from our Investment Banking Interview Questions URL:

</files/advagg_js/js__rh8tGyQUC6fPazMoP4YI4X0Fze99Pspus1iL4Am3Nr4__k2v047sfief4SoufV5rlyaT9V0CevRW-VsgHZa2KUGc__TDoTqiqOgPXBrBhVJKZ4CapJRLlJ1LTahU_1ivB9XtQ.js>; rel=preload; as=script,</files/advagg_js/js__TLh0q7OGWS6tv88FccFskwgFrZI9p53uJYwc6wv-a3o__kueGth7dEBcGqUVEib_yvaCzx99rTtEVqb1UaLaylA4__TDoTqiqOgPXBrBhVJKZ4CapJRLlJ1LTahU_1ivB9XtQ.js>; rel=preload; as=script,</files/advagg_js/js__sMVR1us69-sSXhuhQWNXRyjueOEy4FQRK7nr6zzAswY__O9Dxl50YCBWD3WksvdK42k5GXABvKifJooNDTlCQgDw__TDoTqiqOgPXBrBhVJKZ4CapJRLlJ1LTahU_1ivB9XtQ.js>; rel=preload; as=script,

Be sure you’re using the correct format. If it is a script: <url>; rel=preload; as=script,

If it is a CSS file: <url>; rel=preload; as=style,

7 Steps to speed up the frontend

The following steps are to help speed up your frontend application. The front-end is the part of a website or application that the user directly interacts with. For example, this includes fonts, drop-down menus, buttons, transitions, sliders, forms, etc.

Step 1: Modify the placement of your JavaScript

Modifying the placement of your JavaScript is probably one of the hardest changes because you will need to continually test to make sure it doesn’t break the functionality of your site. 

I’ve noticed that every time I remove JavaScript, I see page speed improve. I suggest removing as much Javascript as you can. You can minify the necessary JavaScript you do need. You can also combine your JavaScript files but use multiple bundles.

Always try to move JavaScript to the bottom of the page or inline. You can also defer or use the async attribute where possible to guarantee you are not rendering blocking. You can read more about moving JavaScript here.

Step 2: Optimize your images

Use WebP for images when possible (Cloudflare, a CDN, does this for you automatically — I’ll touch more on Cloudflare below). It’s an image formatting that uses both Lossy compression and lossless compression.

    Always use images with the correct size. For example, if you have an image that is displayed in a 2” x 2 ” square on your site, don’t use a large 10” x 10” image. If you have an image that is bigger than is needed, you are transferring more data through the network and the browser has to resize the image for you

    Use lazy load to avoid/delay downloading images that are further down the page and not on the visible part of the screen.

    Step 3: Optimize your CSS

    You want to make sure your CSS is inline. Online tools like this one can help you find the critical CSS to be inlined and will solve the render blocking. Bonus: you’ll keep the cache benefit of having separate files.

    Make sure to minify your CSS files (we use AdVagg since we are on the Drupal CMS, but there are many options for this depending on your site).  

    Try using less CSS. For instance, if you have certain CSS classes that are only used on your homepage, don’t include them on other pages. 

    Always combine the CSS files but use multiple bundles. You can read more about this step here.

    Move your media queries to specific files so the browser doesn’t have to load them before rendering the page. For example: <link href=”frontpage-sm.css” rel=”stylesheet” media=”(min-width: 767px)”>

    If you’d like more info on how to optimize your CSS, check out Patrick Sexton’s interesting post.

    Step 4: Lighten your web fonts (they can be HEAVY)

    This is where your developers may get in an argument with your designers if you’re not careful. Everyone wants to look at a beautifully designed website, but if you’re not careful about how you bring this design live, it can cause major unintended speed issues. Here are some tips on how to put your fonts on a diet:

    • Use inline svg for icon fonts (like font awesome). This way you’ll reduce the critical chain path and will avoid empty content when the page is first loaded.
    • Use fontello to generate the font files. This way, you can include only the glyphs you actually use which leads to smaller files and faster page speed.
    • If you are going to use web fonts, check if you need all the glyphs defined in the font file. If you don’t need Japanese or Arabic characters, for example, see if there is a version with only the characters you need.
    • Use Unicode range to select the glyphs you need.
    • Use woff2 when possible as it is already compressed.
    • This article is a great resource on web font optimization.

    Here is the difference we measured when using optimized fonts:

    After reducing our font files from 131kb to 41kb and removing one external resource (useproof), the fully loaded time on our test page dropped all the way from 5.1 to 2.8 seconds. That’s a 44 percent improvement and is sure to make Google smile (see below).

    Here’s the 44 percent improvement.

    Step 5: Move external resources

    When possible, move external resources to your server so you can control expire headers (this will instruct the browsers to cache the resource for longer). For example, we moved our Facebook Pixel to our server and cached it for 14 days. This means you’ll be responsible to check updates from time to time, but it can improve your page speed score.

    For example, on our Private Equity Interview Questions page it is possible to see how the fbevents.js file is being loaded from our server and the cache control http header is set to 14 days (1209600 seconds)

    cache-control: public, max-age=1209600

    Step 6: Use a content delivery network (CDN)

    What’s a CDN? Click here to learn more.

    I recommend using Cloudflare as it makes a lot of tasks much easier and faster than if you were to try and do them on your own server. Here is what we specifically did on Cloudflare’s configuration:

    Speed

    • Auto-minify, check all
    • Under Polish
    • Enable Brotoli
    • Enable Mirage
    • Choose Lossy
    • Check WebP

    Network

    • Enable HTTP/2 – You can read more about this topic here
    • No browsers currently support HTTP/2 over an unencrypted connection. For practical purposes, this means that your website must be served over HTTPS to take advantage of HTTP/2. Cloudflare has a free and easy way to enable HTTPS. Check it out here.

    Crypto

    • Under SSL
      • Choose Flexible
    • Under TLS 1.3
      • Choose Enable+0RTT – More about this topic here.

    Step 7: Use service workers

    Service workers give the site owner and developers some interesting options (like push notifications), but in terms of performance, we’re most excited about how these workers can help us build a smarter caching system.

    To learn how to to get service workers up and running on your site, visit this page.

    With resources (images, CSS, javascript, fonts, etc) being cached by a service worker, returning visitors will often be served much faster than if there was no worker at all.

    Testing, tools, and takeaways

    For each change you make to try and improve speed, you can use the following tools to monitor the impact of the change and make sure you are on the right path:

    We know there is a lot to digest and a lot of resources linked above, but if you are tight on time, you can just start with Step 1 from both the Backend and Front-End sections. These 2 steps alone can make a major difference on their own.

    Good luck and let me know if you have any questions in the comments. I’ll make sure João Guilherme, my Head of Technology, is on to answer any questions for the community at least once a day for the first week this is published.

    Happy Tuning!

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