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Attack of the giant .jpgs

February 1, 2021
📗 Field Note

You want your site to load as quickly as possible. Site speed is becoming an increasingly important factor in whether your site ranks. And it has a major impact on conversions, too.

A big culprit we’re seeing for slow site speed these days is – oversized images!

  • Your 2,000 x 2,000 pixel Ultra HD author thumbnail
  • Images that aren’t compressed at all, but could be, with no loss of quality
  • A blog image with detail like a Hieronymous Bosch painting. (Actually, this would be cool, let us know if you do this)

These are easy mistakes to make. Fortunately, they’re also easy to correct. Here’s what you can do:

  • Look through your CMS image library. Sort the images by size. Look for images that are larger than around 500kb and see if they really need to be that big. (And note that things like icons should be much, much, smaller).
  • Most CMSes have plugins that ensure images have optimal compression. Or use something like Image Optim before you upload.
  • Talk to your web dev. Ask: What are we doing to compress images? 
  • Talk to your graphic designer. Ask: Can you provide cropped and sized images, if you aren’t already?
  • Build good habits. Whenever you add an image to a post from now on, make sure the dimensions aren’t any bigger than they need to be.

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.

Website content optimization: Traffic metrics

January 20, 2021
📓 Article

In order to optimize a page for search, you need to know how it’s performing right now.

So you log in to Google Analytics and see all these charts and data fields. And maybe your eyes gloss over a little bit. (I’m writing from personal experience.)

There is a wealth of data for you on Google Analytics, but you only need a few key metrics in order to start optimizing your page.

In this blog we’ll look at search performance through the lens of traffic.

This blog will look at two pieces of data:

  • Organic Entrances
  • Total Pageviews

All you need to do this work is the Google Analytics login for your website.

Once you understand how each page is performing, you’ll know which ones need revision. (After you optimize the basics for each page, of course.)

Organic Entrances vs. Total Pageviews

These are two of the most basic metrics you can find in Google Analytics, but together they provide a lot of actionable insight.

Optimized-Content-OrganicEntrances.png

The organic entrance metric shows us how many users are finding your site through organic search. This is, of course, what we’re trying to influence with keyword strategy.

Total pageview metric refers to all users, coming from absolutely anywhere – referrals, internal links, ads, and also organic.

Why do we chart these metrics?

We want to see which pages are performing well in organic, and which ones could use some revisions to perform better.

By looking at the ratio of organic entrances to total pageviews, we get a snapshot for each page. Different scenarios include:

  • High ratio of organic to total pageviews
    Congrats! People are frequently finding this page through organic search.
  • A promising ratio of organic entrances to the total
    The page is decently aligned with keywords. Still, there’s room for improvement.
  • Relatively low ratio of organic to total pageviews
    This page needs help.
  • Extremely low ratio of organic
    This page might never perform well in organic, and that’s fine. Some pages will always be found through internal links on your site. The Pricing page is a great example.

What are we looking for?

There’s no universal target for these metrics. The goal is for a high ratio of organic entrances, but it’s all relative.

Your start-up company’s goal for organic performance is going to be different from an established company like Snowflake because your starting metrics are different from theirs.

What does it tell us for web content optimization?

The ratio of organic to total pageviews will tell us how much a page to revise. Here are some broad guidelines.

  • High ratio of organic to total pageviews
    Be cautious about making big changes. (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.)
  • Relatively high rate of organic entrances to total pageviews
    The page is on the right track, so you might consider optimizing minor aspects of the page – elements like subhead language, page speed, or visual flow.
  • Relatively low rate of organic to total
    Consider optimizing all aspects of the page, from the UX basics to the copywriting.
  • Extremely low rate of organic to total
    Review the function of the page to see if there is actually any organic potential. There might not be, as in the case of Pricing pages. (People don’t really use Google to find your Pricing page, they find it through other pages on your site.) For a page like that, optimizing for organic might be a waste of time.

Conclusion

By comparing organic entrances against total pageviews, you’ll get a sense of how much organic traffic a page is actually seeing.

When you identify pages that need revision – and which ones will benefit the most from it – you can start optimizing pages. There’s almost always room for improvement for any page, but the amount that you’re willing to revise should be determined by what you find in these metrics.

Consider these metrics as a starting point for more data-driven content strategy. You might also study up on different traffic data in Google Analytics data.

And if you’re curious about the full potential for content performance, feel free to schedule a chat with us.

How to pick seed keywords

January 5, 2021
📓 Article

Seed keywords are critical for building an organic search strategy. But it’s important to pick the right seed keywords; otherwise you end up spending much more time on keyword research than you need to.

Good sources for seed keywords

Your site, particularly on your product and solutions pages, and in your marketing materials. Don’t just look in front page copy – blog posts can be helpful, too, and so can testimonials and landing pages.

For example, Dropbox’s site for Dropbox Business uses a bunch of important phrases in its value pillars. Dropbox’s reach is sufficiently broad that something like “team collaboration” may make sense for them to target.

seed-keywords-dropbox.png

Vidyard’s site also includes some useful language in its value pillars. Some of the pillars are too broadly written for a topic strategy, most likely. (This can also be an opportunity to use topic strategy as a way to drive clearer product messaging – what if all of these value pillars contained helpful topics?)

seed-keywords-vidyard.png

Here’s a testimonial from Zoey’s site that has a helpful phrase in it.

zoey-seed-keywords.png

Landing pages, especially those that describe an asset, can be helpful, too. Here’s a Zylo landing page with a ton of helpful phrases on it. The PDF itself is a longer read, but likely to have lots more.

zylo-landing-page-seed-keywords.png

Competitors’ sites are also an important place to look. Braze’s library page has some great topic candidates, and there are additional ones on the front page of a competitor’s site.

braze-seed-keywords-competitors.png

Other important sources include:

  • Sales calls. Use a tool like Gong to check out transcripts and important topics that you can potentially use in your content creation.
  • Everyone else in marketing, particularly product marketing.
  • Customer success and services. You can get lots of value from a good relationship with these teams.
  • Sales enablement and sales, particularly development reps. Check out their call scripts for phrases that are resonating.

Put these in a spreadsheet, ideally something in the cloud so you can very easily collaborate on it.

Picking the right keywords

It’s important not to pick keywords that are too narrow, or too broad. There isn’t a hard and fast rule for this, but in the end, you’re going to focus on 3 - 5 topics at a time.

Can you realistically see your choices occupying one of those slots? Do you think that each of your seed keywords could potentially be a blog topic? If not, probably too narrow. Will people who use your keyword to search be likely to convert once they land on your site? If not, probably too broad.

Let’s imagine you run a company that sells software to help companies assess their customer satisfaction.

  • We would probably include “customer satisfaction measurement” or “survey software”.
  • We probably would not include “how sales reps should use customer satisfaction measurement software”, because it’s too narrow and unlikely to be a blog topic.
  • But “customer satisfaction” is likely too broad. There are lots of reasons that people would be looking for this term that have nothing to do with what we sell.

Head keywords vs. long-tail

Long tail keywords are keyword phrases that are complex and relatively long – for example, “how to measure customer satisfaction for automotive companies” – that also have low volume but very high propensity to convert. Pursuing long-tail keywords can be extremely helpful, particularly for direct-to-consumer companies.

If you go after long-tail keywords, generate them after you’ve completed your final strategy, based on the head keywords you decided to prioritize. Looking through the lens of your overall strategy, long-tail keywords tend to be more of a tactical consideration.

Why invest in organic search?

January 4, 2021
📓 Article

Search continues to be a critical driver of website traffic, and, in turn, leads and new customers. And organic search in particular is a relatively low-cost investment in capturing that traffic, with lots of side benefits. Organic search is a:

  • Critical marketing channel
  • Important way of building trust
  • Durable generator of traffic, leads, and revenue
  • Useful lever for organizing your content strategy and site experience

Organic search is where your customers are

Organic search drives huge amounts of traffic – a typical number that’s thrown around is over 50%, but you can see what’s true for your situation by checking your analytics. Even without optimizing for organic search, most companies see a majority of their traffic – and a large percentage of leads and customers – coming from organic.

So you kind of have to be there, just as you’d be with any other major marketing channel.

But organic search has some advantages that make it a really great place to be, too. There’s a big difference in the value of a random person driving by your billboard on a highway, as compared to someone who sees useful content from you in response to a search for a solution to a problem you can solve. Your audience is trying to unblock themselves. They have problems, and they run a search on Google, using keyword phrases, to find solutions to those problems.

Organic search is heavily targeted toward people who want to become customers, and in our experience, it’s extremely effective at doing that.

Organic search results are a way to build trust

Customers tend to trust organic search results more than they do paid ads. And in our experience, leads who came through organic search end up being much more likely to buy than people who come in through paid channels. There’s something about organic results that seem to do a better job of targeting people who are interested in buying.

Organic search also tends to be a quick way for customers to assess the credibility of multiple companies in a space. If you’ve ever Googled something, you probably focused your clicks on the top few results. That high ranking is an important signal of a company’s standing in the market.

The flipside of this is – if you aren’t ranking for relevant terms in organic search, your competitors might be. And that means your competitors are building trust that they have the resources and product to solve your customers’ problems. Try to avoid scenarios where active users of your product are finding solutions to their follow on problems, on your competitors’ sites.

Rankings in organic search are durable

The minute you stop paying for Google Ads – or any other paid channel – you don’t show up in those listings anymore, which means you aren’t really building an asset, but instead paying for leads.

That can be fine as a short-term strategy, but a lot of B2B companies develop dependency on paid channels, which, when they get turned off, mean that lead volume declines dramatically. Plus, ads are becoming more competitive and take up more space on the front page. This means that clicks from paid ads are going to become more expensive.

But with organic search, you can continue to generate leads and revenue without paying for placement. It’s true that you have to make some content investments to maintain your rank, but you’re probably making these investments, anyway.

Content strategy and site experience can be organized using SEO.

To be successful in organic search, you need a strategy. “Keyword strategy” is often made to sound complicated, but fundamentally it’s pretty simple – find topics (not just keywords, topics) that are relevant to your business, with a worthwhile balance of competition and volume.

A keyword strategy can be a great way to organize some of your content marketing. The exercise of going through brainstorming, organizing, and then prioritizing topic areas is a super helpful exercise for content teams.

And it’s a great reason to prioritize site experience, too.There are just 3 things that we look at in our 5-minute SEO audit. Does the site load fast? Does it look good? Can we tell what it’s about?

Google (and other search engines) are pretty good at prioritizing high-quality content in search results. This means that organic search can be a good organizing principle for your content strategy. The data that’s available is a reasonable proxy for what’s in demand.

By the same token, SEO is responsive to a high-quality site experience. That means that SEO is an important lever for thinking and talking about site performance.

Conclusion

Organic search is an extremely useful channel for marketers, and one that’s not super expensive to get right. Beyond organic search, there are some other considerations, too – owning your audience, getting conversions, and distributing links to your content on other channels.