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Building out a B2B marketing department

February 25, 2021
📗 Field Note

Are you the first marketing hire, and trying to get all of your programs running? Here’s a quick sketch of how to start.

  • The first two people you need are product marketing and demand gen. If you have a demand gen background, hire a product marketer. If you have a product marketing background, hire demand gen. Both of these people will need to stretch into (or hire contractors for) adjacent areas. Your PMM will need to do a lot of writing, and your demand gen person will need to do some marketing ops and analytics.
  • Next, figure out messaging and positioning and, depending on the company, some basic field enablement. A reasonable guess at messaging and positioning will make your content and demand gen programs much more effective and useful over the long term.
  • Then, you’ll need a topic strategy. Here’s how to get from positioning and messaging to content. A topic strategy is your decision about what small number of topics you want your brand to be experts in. It will lay the groundwork for your content marketing.
  • By the way, we’ve put together a rigorous, but simple, process for figuring out your keyword strategy. SEO should not solely determine your topic strategy. But you can use your keyword strategy to get started with your topic strategy.
  • Next is to start producing content. Distributing your content will be a key part of this. Distribution means getting your website into a place you feel comfortable with, but it also means spinning up demand gen and community engagement experiments. Here’s more about how to do that.

Simple, right? Of course not, but we’re always happy to brainstorm about specifics, use the chat button if you’d like to set up a time.

How to serve language-specific sites

February 22, 2021
📗 Field Note

If you’re publishing copies of your sites in multiple languages, you have several options for how to organize the site for your users. But you should probably use folders. For example, https://ercule.co/jp. Here’s why:

  • Having all pages on the same domain usually corresponds to easier maintenance and deployment. And if you have separate domains, you’ll often end up with separate Wordpress installs, for example, to back each one. And that means inconsistency and poor user experience.
  • Keeping everything on your main site means that all backlinks point to the same domain. That means everything on your site benefits from better link equity.
  • Having all your sites on the same domains means that cookies can be shared across sites. For example, a visitor to ercule.co who switches to ercule.co/fr can still be retargeted and can be easily tracked with the same analytics trackers.

There are some alternatives, but we don’t recommend them.

  • A different top-level domain, e.g. site.de. These domains can be hard to acquire in every relevant country, and their authority profiles have to be built up separately in Google.
  • A different subdomain, e.g. de.site.com. While there is some debate, in our experience backlink equity is not transferred as well across subdomains.
  • A URL parameter, e.g. site.com?lang=de. Google explicitly recommends against this.
  • Automatically serving different versions of the site to different users. This is very, very hard to do reliably and is also not recommended by Google.

You can see Google’s advice here, which has a little more detail but is very similar to what we said above. A couple of last notes:

  • Don’t forget to use an appropriate hreflang tag on each page.
  • You can use the International Targeting report in Google Search Console to troubleshoot.

Website content optimization: Basic elements

January 28, 2021
📓 Article

So you want to improve your Google ranking. You know that SEO is a ‘thing’ that you need to ‘do’ or ‘improve’ or something, in order to achieve your search performance goals.

But it feels really abstract. Maybe you don’t yet have (or necessarily want) a ton of technical knowledge, but you want to boost your website’s presence.

This blog post is for you. (Of course, if you’re looking for a more detailed approach, we’ve got you too.)

In this blog we’ll walk you through the most basic (and important) details to track: Page title

  • URL
  • Meta description
  • Page speed

To implement the tips in this post, all you really need is a web browser.

How search engines approach your site

Instead of bogging you down with details about algorithms and code, let’s start with a little thought experiment…

How do you pick out a book at a bookstore? Here’s how I do it.

  • I pick out a title that seems to be what I’m looking for.
  • I read the blurb on the back to get a description.
  • I flip through it, to see if it looks worth my time. Was it put together in a professional, readable way? Is there a typo on page 1? Do the chapters look relevant?

That’s a (simplified) way of thinking about Google’s approach to each page on your website.

In many ways, Google approximates human thought patterns when ranking content.

Basics to optimize for search engines

Google looks for some basic things before others. There are all sorts of ways to collect UX data on your pages, but here are the big ones you should attend to first.

Page Title

If you optimize only one detail on your page, make it this one. Search engines weigh page title heavily when assessing relevance, and more importantly, so do your users!

How to optimize it Make sure your keyword is in the title.

For example… Let’s say a construction contractor searches the phrase ‘preliminary notice vs notice of intent’ in Google. This Levelset page ranks #1:

Levelset-SEO-Screenshot.png

The keyword phrase is in the title, with some other useful context (“Construction Notices 101”). That same keyword is present in a few other key fields, too.

URL

This is the next important feature of your page, for two reasons…

  • For Google: the search engine looks here to gauge relevance – it helps to verify that the title of the page is actually the substance of the page.
  • For humans: when people share links with each other, a clearly worded URL allows someone to figure out what the page is about right away.

How to optimize it

  • Make the URL as similar as possible to the title (including target keywords).
  • Keep it within 50-60 total characters.
  • Cut out stop words (small in-between words like Or, But, If, And, etc…) to fit within character specs, without compromising readability.
  • Minimize slashes in the URL as much as possible.

For example… if you’re a developer, and you search the phrase ‘headless CMS SEO,’ Google will show you this post from our friends at GraphCMS:

GraphCMS-SEO-Screenshot.png

Notice that the URL has the keywords, so Google can see them. The phrasing is not exactly the same as in the title, but it works because it’s still a readable phrase. If a friend sends me this link, I can glance at the URL and understand what the page has to show me.

Meta Description

Meta description is designed to be the copy that will appear underneath your listing on a search results page. Recently, however, Google hasn’t been using it much (or at all) – when search results come up now, Google often presents different text from your site.

In theory, Google is selecting whatever content on your site it deems most clickable. So, we recommend writing meta descriptions that have more click appeal than anything else on your site. There’s no surefire way that Google will use it, but it’s worth optimizing in case it does.

How to optimize it

  • Keep it within 150-160 characters.
  • Write the clearest possible summation of the page content and its value proposition.
  • Include target keywords.

Here’s a great example from the legal A.I. wizards over at Casetext. This product page shows all the fundamentals we’re talking about…

CaseText-SEO-Screenshot.png

The keyword ‘secondary sources’ is consistent in title, URL, and meta description. The meta description itself is concise, clear ad copy, complete with a call to action: “Download the guide…”

Page Speed

When we talk about page speed, we’re talking about the speed at which the page will load on your user’s screen(s).

Why do we chart this? We want the page to be fast so it ranks better in search. Google considers speed to be a UX feature. (We do too.)

Think of page speed as a general health metric.

Note: Google only looks at mobile speed, not desktop.

What are we looking for? Generally, any score under 20 can (and should) be improved. Slow pages can still rank okay, but you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Again, this is relative, and most business sites are actually pretty slow, especially for mobile.

What does it tell us for optimization? Low page speed can be a tough one to act on. Sometimes, there is a relatively painless way to improve your speed. For example, image file size is a common culprit – and one that’s easily fixed. Go ahead and resize those bulky image files. It will help.

But just as often, the slowness of a page is usually related to third-party code that businesses need for various sales and marketing trackers, such as:

  • Facebook ads
  • Hubspot
  • Marketo
  • Drift
  • Hotjar

The pile-up of third-party code can build quickly and grow excessive. Most companies struggle to implement workarounds, and eliminating the code is out of the question.

Occasionally, a slow loading page points to more structural concerns, such as a misconfiguration or other significant technical issue in the way your CMS is set up.

If you’re in that situation, here’s what we recommend:

If yours is better, then you’re probably doing alright (even if both are slow).

Conclusion

There are a few really basic things you can do right now to improve keyword performance for pages on your website.

Make sure the keyword is in the most important fields:

  • Title
  • URL
  • Meta description

Then check the load speed for each page (and maybe a few of your top competitors’ pages). Google might have some immediate recommendations for quick fixes that will improve your load time – and thus your overall UX (which helps search ranking).

And if you’re interested in taking the next step to optimize your content library, you can always reach out to us with questions.

Website content optimization: Page metrics

January 24, 2021
📓 Article

Which of your pages are performing at full potential?

We already looked at traffic data to see how pages are performing in search – but the end goal is to win with real, live human beings.

So, how do people respond to each page? Are they in love with it? Are they running away as soon as they arrive?

In other words, how is the User Experience (UX)? Let’s look at some metrics that speak to what users are actually doing with pages on your site.

When we understand how users interact with a page, we can start optimizing for their engagement. Start by looking at two key metrics in Google Analytics:

  • Average Time on Page
  • Bounce Rate

The two go hand-in-hand. Combined, they give a sense of how users are judging the quality and relevance of your pages.

(Google search crawlers use these metrics when ranking pages, too.)

Average Time On Page

This measures exactly what you think it does: how long each visitor is spending on this page.

Optimized-Content-TimeOnPage.png

Why do we chart this metric?

It guides our UX optimization. Do people find this page engaging? Well, if they only spend 1.33 seconds on the page, then the answer is probably No.

Note: if you have a really small data set (i.e. not many page visits) then the Average Time on Page data can be misleading. If you only had four users last month, one outlier can warp the overall metrics. But if you had 40,000 users then one outlier won’t have a huge effect.

What are we looking for?

There is no universal target range here, but the higher the better. One minute or higher is a healthy sign – still, there’s room for improvement. Anything over 10 minutes probably indicates a data or optimization error.

What does it tell us for optimization?

If the time on page metric is around 30 seconds or less, then people probably aren’t finding what they’re looking for on this page.

All content, no matter how old or poorly performing, has potential to be revised or repurposed and become active again. A page with low time metrics might be improved a number of ways, such as…

  • Revising the page layout
  • Simplifying the nav bar
  • Breaking up text on the page to make it more readable
  • Adding visuals

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate shows us how frequently visitors leave a page without ever engaging with it.

Optimized-Content-BounceRate.png

Why do we chart this metric?

As with the Time on Page data, we use bounce rate to gauge UX performance and user intent. Are people finding what they were looking for when they typed the search terms into Google? Or are they going back to Google because your page didn’t answer their question?

What are we looking for?

The lowest percentage possible. It’s all relative, again, but a bounce rate of 50-80% is generally okay. It’s extremely rare to see anything under 20% (and anything under 10% is almost certainly an error).

What does it tell us for optimization?

A high bounce rate tells us that people aren’t finding what they’re looking for on this page. This could point to a few common issues:

  • The content might be mismatched with the search terms. For example: Users are searching the term ‘apple pie recipe’ and your page is a history of the apple pie recipe tradition in North America. Solution: Put a link on the page that will bring users to a more relevant piece on your site (ie. an actual apple pie recipe). Make sure the link is easy for visitors to notice.

  • The content might be relevant, but the presentation is off. For example (continuing with our apple pie recipe search): You’ve got an apple pie recipe on the page but it’s at the very bottom, and the title of the page is ‘A Story About My Mom’s Famous Apple Pie’.

Solution: Rewrite the copy and title so that visitors know that the recipe they’re looking for is here. Consider moving the recipe itself to the top of the page.

Bounce rate and time on page are imperfect metrics

Both metrics has its own quirks – at least in the way that Google charts them. It’s good to take these quirks into consideration. (Google is the product of mortal, fallible humans after all.)

Average Time on Page: Google won’t chart every visit

Google can track the time for all visitors except those who bounce. It’s a quirk of their method: they can only track someone’s time on page if they visit two or more pages on your site.

So, if your bounce rate is 60%, that means that Google is only providing Time on Page data for 40% of that page’s visitors. It’s still a useful metric, but not exactly ideal data analysis.

Bounce rate: ‘engagement’ is an imprecise notion

Bounce rate is tracking the rate of engagement on a page – but what does that mean, exactly?

The most basic answer is: clicking on stuff. If you want to track meaningful engagement, you’ll need to define the type of ‘stuff’ that you want people to click and use.

Google has its own one-size-fits all definitions… and it sporadically revises criteria for an engagement ‘event.’

For example: If a chat screen pops up and a user clicks to minimize it, Google might classify that as an event. If a user clicks ‘Play’ on a video player – that often constitutes an event, even if they leave your site entirely, two seconds later.

What do you consider engagement for your own site? Probably something a little more substantial – like actually chatting in a chat window, or clicking on a Free Trial button or browsing other pages.

The good news: you can tailor the way that bounce rate is counted within Google Analytics. It will give you an option to classify less desirable clicks as non-interactive events.

Conclusion

To start getting a sense for page performance, chart its bounce rate and average time on page. Average Time on Page tells you how long a page keeps people’s attention. Bounce rate tells you how often visitors land on your website and realize that it’s not a good fit for them.

Together, these metrics can give you sense for the overall strength of a page’s User Experience. Tracking it for all of your pages will allow you to see which ones need the most revision. With these insights in mind, you can begin revising the elements of a page as needed.

Optimizing for time on page might be as simple as adding more subheads to a blog post, or as fundamental as adjusting the site’s nav bar. Optimizing for bounce rate might be a matter of adding useful links to the top of a page, or rewriting a post entirely.

By tracking these metrics for all pages on a regular basis, you’re treating your website as a dynamic point of customer engagement. Because, ideally, that’s what it is.

When you’re ready to get more mileage out of your existing content, you can always run ideas by the Ercule crew.