8 B2B Link-Building Strategies That Never Go Out of Style

There are only a few things I love as much as link building.  Owning a new pair of high-end shoes has to be one of those. Damn, I’ll admit—I even have a tradition of treating myself with a beautiful new pair after a successful business trip or client acquisition.  As a result, my closet is […]

The post 8 B2B Link-Building Strategies That Never Go Out of Style appeared first on CXL.

There are only a few things I love as much as link building

Owning a new pair of high-end shoes has to be one of those. Damn, I’ll admit—I even have a tradition of treating myself with a beautiful new pair after a successful business trip or client acquisition. 

As a result, my closet is full of shoes that I’ve bought and worn only once. Above, you can see one of my fav pairs of those red-soled shoes (you got the brand, right?) that I took for a walk only once—but they’re so beautiful!

High-fashion, much like link building, is driven by trends. What was fashionable yesterday is old news today.

Take this email pitch I received recently. This person asked us to add a barely relevant link to our blog’s category page:

bad outreach email.

Sometime, somewhere, they read that they were following “best practices.” But they’re wasting their time. 

I’ve been in the B2B link-building game for almost five years, and the true value of link building isn’t quick fixes. It’s investing in long-term, scalable strategies that help you acquire high-quality links.

We’ve tested every tactic. Below are my tried-and-true strategies, including the pros and cons of each. If you’ve seen some of them before, it’s because they worked then—and still work now.

1. Guest blogging

Let’s start with an obvious one. Even if you never did it on your own, you probably know someone who wrote a piece or two for someone else’s blog.

Guest blogging entails searching for industry blogs that accept guest contributions, pitching a list of topics, writing content, sending it back to the editor, and finally getting your post live.

This all might look like an easy, stress-free way of acquiring links, but let me use one of the phrases SEOs like the most: ”It depends!”

Why? There are several factors: 

  • Who’s sending the pitch? Is it a well-known author with tons of previously published guest posts? If the answer is “yes,” then the chances that it’s going to be accepted are good. But most of us—myself included—aren’t guest blogging superstars.
  • Are you capable of delivering (or paying for) really good copy? The second most common reason why your pitch might be rejected is the quality of your copy. If you plan to outsource your writing, be prepared to spend $300 to $1,000 per 2,000 words of copy. B2B copywriting almost always requires more skill and time compared to B2C.
  • Have you built a relationship with the editor? In most cases, an established relationship with an editor is a fast track to publication. 

Every situation is unique, but the variables listed above are the most common. If you decide to use a guest blogging strategy, here are some other things to keep in mind. 

Pros of guest blogging

Guest blogging is great! We’ve been using guest blogging to build quite a number of links back to our own site. 

Plus, I often guest blog to showcase my knowledge and share interesting findings with fellow link builders. Being featured on sites like Search Engine Journal (SEJ), Moz, Entrepreneur, and HubSpot is solid social proof.

A more practical value of acquiring links through guest posts is that you control the anchors and pages on which you get links. There’s also a chance for referral traffic and leads.

For instance, my post on Moz about the economics of link building, which included our link-building rates to help readers compare costs, brought me a number of inquiries. Still, those leads weren’t really turning into clients, which leads us to some disadvantages.

Cons of guest blogging

Guest blogging can be an expensive strategy—especially if you’re not a professional writer. You need well-written content, or you’ll end up being associated with lame guest posts, which won’t help you build a brand (or links).

Whether you plan to write the copy internally or hire an experienced B2B copywriter, the cost per 2,000-word post can surpass $500, even if you’re doing the bulk of the work yourself.

Normally, I need a few days to complete an in-depth guest post. After that, I send it to a copywriter who also needs a few days to polish it. It’s a process that can include a lot of back-and-forth.  

Also, keep in mind that well-known blogs won’t allow you to link back to blatantly commercial pages, as those links are “promotional” (i.e. don’t provide value).  In some situations, like with SEJ blog, I couldn’t even link back to my own (informational) content. 

2. Linkable assets

While commercial content is almost always frowned upon, certain types of content are naturally good at acquiring links—“linkable assets.” A linkable asset is a piece of content created specifically to attract links from other relevant sites. 

Quizzes, surveys, calculators, interactive videos, and games are all examples of linkable assets.  For example, SPD Load has a separate landing page with interactive resources, such as different calculators and guides, that people in their target audience might find useful and naturally link to. 

resource hub as a linkable asset.

You don’t need to hire a developer to design your own calculator or quiz; there are plenty of tools, like SurveyAnyplace and LeadQuizzes, that let you create quizzes or surveys from scratch or customize ready-made templates.

If you have the budget, you could go with something more complex. Unique, engaging content usually means more links. Growth Design does an amazing job at this. They’ve taken case studies to the next level with their interactive comic book format.

example of well-designed content to earn links.

Another great example of linkable assets are pages that aggregate industry stats, like this one. They’re easy to link to when you’re looking for data to back up your claims. The downside is that they’re simply a collection of stats that don’t really bring as much value as the initial source.

Personally, I’m a big fan of in-depth content—definitive guides and insightful research. This content can help you build tons of links, if done right.

Brian Dean’s blog, Backlinko, is a perfect example. He publishes only quality, in-depth content, which is why his graph of referring domains keeps growing:

example of strong backlink profile growth.

Even if you’re not as famous as Brian Dean, investing in detailed guides and how-to’s definitely pays off. Last December, my good friends created this guide, which has already earned more than 40 referring domains:

individual webpage that has earned a number of links.

Another hack to cut costs for industry studies? Give a new spin to already-published ones. For example, Reputation Management took a study produced by Forrester Consulting and updated it with new numbers and findings. 

Pros of linkable assets

Other than having a great piece of content that looks good on your website or blog, linkable assets carry other benefits:

  • High-quality content can help you establish authority in your niche. Original research positions you as a credible and linkworthy source. If it’s something truly unique, you can even pitch it to journalists (more on that later).
  • Linkable assets keep users on your site longer, increasing engagement and your chance to earn links, shares, and leads.

Cons of linkable assets

Creating linkable assets can be quite expensive, especially if it requires professional design and development.  Even if resources aren’t a barrier and you’ve created a great piece of content, content—no matter how good—doesn’t build links on its own. 

To illustrate, let’s take the Moz blog. It has hundreds of in-depth posts, but only about 25%—out of more than 1,400—have earned at least 100 referring domains:

example of most-linked content from moz.

Indeed, only two posts have earned more than 1,000 links. One thousand links is a huge number, but 99.9% of posts—on one of the industry’s best-known blogs—don’t reach that level.  

3. Content for round-ups and listicles

The above strategies are based on the following logic:

  • You create something link-worthy.
  • You pitch it to other sites.

This strategy requires a different approach. First, do pre-outreach. Pre-outreach helps you learn exactly what target blogs want to include in their content round-ups.

Create content only after you know what to create. Nothing’s worse than winning zero links with a piece of content you created solely for that purpose.

If you have no idea how to find blogs that publish posts like “XX resources to learn Topic A” or “Weekly Digest of XYZ,” take one of the following approaches:

  1. Use advanced search operators to find sites publishing such content. Here’s a good post on the Ahrefs blog that should help you.
  2. Look at your competitors’ backlink profiles by searching for specific terms in page titles. In the example below, I searched for “news roundup” in titles of referring pages:
how to identify sites that create round-ups of industry content.

Once you have a list of sites that feature content round-ups, it’s time to connect with their editors. The best way to do so is usually through LinkedIn. (I’ve found people are much more responsive there versus email.)

Before connecting with them, promote one of their recent posts on your social media accounts. (Don’t forget to tag them!) For maximum visibility, tag other companies that were featured in their post. 

Here’s a good tweet by Mark Scully that sheds some light on why outreach must be genuine:

While getting these links may seem like low-hanging fruit, keep an eye on the cost per link. There’s no point spending hours to build a few mediocre links.

Pros of round-ups and listicles

For one, there’s always a chance that the sites you’re reaching out to are also actively building links. You could end up building a relationship, not just a link, which could yield more opportunities.

Also, you may not have to create anything mind-blowing to get included in the round-up. Because “medium quality” content doesn’t require a ton of time and resources, you could play the quantity card here and try to secure more links in less time.

The pre-outreach strategy increases the chances of securing links.

Cons of round-ups and listicles

Easily acquired links are easy to acquire for a reason. Sites that are publishing round-ups and listicles probably aren’t the very best sites in your niche. 

Additionally, as the pages you’re building links to have mediocre content, most probably won’t rank well on Google. This is especially true in highly competitive niches.

4. HARO

HARO (Help a Reporter Out) connects bloggers and journalists with expert sources. HARO is a great workaround for businesses that want to be featured in media outlets but aren’t in a position to launch a proper digital PR campaign.

(Confession: I don’t give digital PR too much credit when it comes to link building. The cost per link can go through the roof, and traditional PR campaigns are able to get links only to specific pages, often your homepage.)

Once you set up your HARO account (it’s very straightforward), you can subscribe to journalist queries relevant to your business:

selecting haro categories.

After this, you receive a daily list of topics with a brief summary of the info journalists and blog editors are looking for. To give you some context, here’s a recent HARO email:

example of topics in a haro email.

If you click on any topic, you’ll see a more detailed overview that includes a short summary, contact name and email, niche, media outlet, deadline, and query description:

example of individual haro request.

At first, you’ll be excited to get these daily emails, and you’ll work hard to get featured everywhere. After a week or so, you’ll realize that you’re spending days and nights sending insightful answers into the void. 

It won’t be long before you realize that you should use your limited resources wisely. To get the most from HARO, evaluate opportunities by:

  • Quality of the site where you get featured (e.g., domain rating, monthly traffic, etc.).
  • How long it takes to provide an answer.

My good friend Taru Bhargava from Genbook shared are a few tips to increase your chances of getting your HARO answer considered:

  1. Submit before the deadline.
  2. Make your answer succinct and actionable.
  3. Show domain expertise by quoting personal experiences, backed with data.
  4. Add a two-liner that lets the Editor/reviewer know who you are—a short bio or social media links to help them assess your authority quickly.
  5. Connect with them on LinkedIn and follow up (but don’t harass).

Select only those topics that are really relevant to your experience. For any given answer, you’re likely competing with true experts; editors will pick only the best of the best.

Pros of HARO

For businesses just starting out, HARO might be one of the best sources of links. You get link-building opportunities delivered straight to your inbox. All you need to do is send in a few paragraphs (a lot less than an in-depth blog post). 

You don’t need to do link prospecting, pre-outreach, and other standard link-building tasks. HARO also connects you with sites that are regularly looking for and featuring experts (giving you credibility), as well as media outlets that you couldn’t get into with traditional outreach tactics.

Cons of HARO

HARO can be time-consuming and comes with no success guarantees. Even when you get a link, most point to your homepage, which is okay if you’re just starting out but less valuable if you already have thousands of links.

Those links may not justify the amount of time it takes to write up a good answer. Even then, your answer might get rejected or the site may not link back to you (or offer only no-follow links). 

5. Images 

Other than making your web pages look swell, images have a role in acquiring new links as well.

Simply following well-known practices, however, probably won’t result in many links. The goal, then, is to put a new spin on the strategies below: 

  1. Find your images across the web and ask the website editors to add linked credits. This strategy is especially handy for niches that produce unique visual assets on a daily basis. It’s no secret that some sites use others’ images without adding a source.

    A Google image search or tool such as TinEye can easily find a list of sites that include uncited images on their pages.
tineye search example.

Once you identify such pages, reach out and ask webmasters to add a link back to your page. 

  1. Create infographics and images to improve the linkability of your content. While most link-building experts claim that infographics should be classified as a linkable asset, I see it as an image link-building strategy.

    An infographic can also help you turn a pretty generic piece of content into a good source for links. For instance, here’s a post comparing PPC vs. SEO for startup marketing. While the topic itself isn’t super exciting, the infographics turn it into a great post:
example of using images to increase links to content.
  1. Create images/infographics to exchange for links. Images and infographics can also be used as a link-exchange currency. Some websites will give you a link in exchange for an image that you designed specifically for them.

    Myriad sites use ugly stock photos. Offer blog editors improved, original images in exchange for a link back to your site.  Even if you’re on a shoe-string budget, you can use tools like Canva or Visme to create beautiful visuals without design skills.
canva.

An easy way to persuade blog owners that they should care about images: Check their social media preview snippets on major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

This is probably something they care about, and it doesn’t take tons of time for you to deliver a set of good-looking images to support their social media distribution. On Facebook, you can use the Batch Invalidator to check a list of pages:

facebook batch invalidator.

NewMam Studios has had images they’ve created for clients picked up by prominent outlets like Forbes and Popular Mechanics.

example of image used to earn links on media websites.
A map of North America’s favorite TV shows was featured in Forbes. (Image source)

Pros of images

Most people are visual learners, which encourages website owners to make their pages as visually appealing as possible. More visual content means better image link-building opportunities, too.

If people use your visual content without linking back to you, then it’s a quick way of building links. People are sensitive about copyright infringement and, in most cases, will just agree to link back to you.

That’s a stronger motivation compared to, say, convincing a blog editor to add a link to your content in an existing article.

Cons of images

Some niches just don’t rely much on visual content, which reduces your opportunities for image link building.

If you’re not a professional designer yourself, producing images also requires some additional resources. To do it at scale, you probably need to hire someone full-time to create those visuals. 

Another harsh truth: Links from images are not as valuable as contextual links. You need to balance acquiring links from images with those embedded in text content.

6. Unlinked brand mentions

Some sites will mention your brand because they like it—they might not think about links. You need to find and convert those unlinked brand mentions. 

Some editors leave brand mentions unlinked on purpose, so don’t be surprised if such people ignore your emails. To make the most out of this strategy, follow this step-by-step plan:

  1. Uncover your company’s brand mentions with tools like Google Alerts, Mention, Brand24, and so on. The only downside of literally any brand mention tracker is that only a few of them show historical data. (The rest collect data once you set up your campaign.)

    One solutions that does provide historical mentions is BrandMentions:
historical brand mentions.
  1. Once you have a list of pages mentioning your brand, send an email asking to update the brand mention with a link back to your site. Write to the author of the post rather than the website owner.

    Exclude guest posts from this list—those authors won’t have access to past posts. Also, start the conversation on LinkedIn, then switch to email. Another workaround is to share the post on your social media platform and tag the author. 

If you have tons of unlinked brand mentions, it makes sense to use a tool like Pitchbox. Upload all the uncovered URLs with brand mentions to filter out spammy sites or those with a low Domain Rating:

identifying sites with high domain ratings on pitchbox.

Pitchbox automatically searches for email addresses associated with a particular site:

example of finding emails within pitchbox.

It also allows you to see how well your link-building campaign is moving through stages and helps you track your daily efficiency:

tracking email outreach with pitchbox.

Pros of unlinked brand mentions

A brand mention means that someone already loves what you do. To drive additional benefits, you have to convince them to add a link to that text.

In most cases, your link-building request seems legit. I mean, if they’ve already mentioned you, the chances are high that you actually deserve a link. You don’t need to prepare any special piece of content, either—only a good pitch.

Equally important, you’re building relationships with industry peers who are already familiar with your brand and, as a result, might be interested in working with you on other projects.

Cons of unlinked brand mentions

You need a brand worth mentioning. Unknown brands won’t have many mentions, linked or unlinked. 

You’ll also have to hope that you’re able to contact B2B marketers who understand why links matter, and you may be asked to provide something in return. (As Sujan Patel, co-founder of Right Inbox notes, making any interaction mutually beneficial increases success rates.)

Once again, your link-building target is usually limited to the homepage.

7. Broken link building

This strategy identifies sites that link to inactive (i.e. broken) pages, reaching out to those sites, and suggesting that they link to your content on the same topic. 

This strategy requires really well-written content—no one wants to link to mediocre stuff. Plus, it’s not easy to scale identification of broken pages that still have a lot of links pointing to them.

There’s no point creating solid content to get only a link or two. Remember, only a subset of the potential links will pan out, so a broken page with 100 links may net only 5 for you. 

To speed up the process, check industry blogs for broken links in Ahrefs:

example of broken links in ahrefs.

Among SEJ broken links, I found this URL with more than 100 quality referring domains:

example of broken links within ahref.

Once you’ve found a target page, it’s time to see what kind of content it used to contain. With the help of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, you can easily get an earlier snapshot of the page:

wayback machine example.

Now, go and write a quality, related piece of content to pitch to sites that link to this 404 page. The most time-consuming and difficult-to-predict step is pitching the process itself. Check out this post, which sheds some light on how to structure your email outreach campaign.

Pros of broken link building

When it comes to broken link building, it depends on the type of opportunity you discover. With a little luck, you could dig into a gold mine of link-building opportunities. 

One advantage is that you’re usually building links on established, well-written pages. Moreover, analyzing other sites’ broken pages might help you uncover new ways to build links and scale your strategy. 

Also, you kill two birds with one stone—creating in-depth content and building links back to it.

Cons of broken link building

Ideally, you’d be able to insert existing content in place of the broken link you found. But if that’s not the case, and you need to create a new high-quality piece of content specifically for this purpose (and then scale the process). That requires a solid investment.

Also, sites that link to broken pages aren’t always willing to link back to your site. This is especially true if a broken page is located on a well-known site and your brand doesn’t ring a bell.

8. Relationship-based link building

Each of the seven tactics above are just that—tactics. When it comes to long-term strategy, you need to think about relationship-based link building. This is the always-on, ever-improving part of your link-building work. It may not start a program or meet near-term needs, but it should anchor your efforts.

So what is it? If you’re really into link building, you’ve most probably noticed that it takes a gigantic number of hours to establish a relationship with a new site. And if the process of building one link is so time-consuming, you need to maximize the efficiency by:

  • Connecting with sites that are also actively building links.
  • Getting more than one link from a site (e.g., guest posting regularly, connecting with partner sites).

Start by joining industry groups where people are looking to promote their content. A popular one is the B2B bloggers boost group.

Unlike closed LinkedIn communities, Facebook allows you to see a list of group members. The next step is to connect with them on LinkedIn by sending a message like this:

example of linkedin outreach.

Review your current circles that include partners, clients, and even leads. (I detail this strategy in my email outreach guide.) Those people are much more responsive—they’re familiar with your brand and might already be building links on their own.

You can also scrape SERPs for keywords that have decent competition and volume. Many of the sites that appear in those SERPs are actively building links. For example, if you look through pages that rank for “content strategy,” notice that some pages have a lots of links but not a high domain rating:

identifying sites that are actively building links.

That’s definitely a signal that those sites are in the phase of acquiring links. However, to ensure that they’re building links right now, check their growth of referring domains.

If you see a graph like this, then they’re obviously working hard to acquire links:

example of page earning links.

(At the same time, check that they’re getting those links from quality sites—high “link velocity” from bad websites is a telltale sign of spammy link building.) 

For this strategy to work, you need to find a way to link back to those sites—that’s what they’re looking for. I don’t like any strategy that involves a direct link exchange, which goes against Google’s recommendations.

A better way is to use guest blogging to return links to partners’ pages on a number of sites.

Pros of relationship-based link building

Building relationships alone is well worth your time and effort. Building links while doing so is an added benefit. 

You don’t need to produce tons of content to build up to 100 links per month. You simply need 10–20 partners writing guest posts on industry sites.

Your partners can then connect you with their partners, potential clients, etc. This way, you’re expanding your circles and building a solid community around your brand. This results in more links from relevant, quality sites on well-written posts.

Cons of relationship-based link building

Building relationships isn’t easy. It requires skills. You can’t fake it (though many try).

Another potential deal breaker is that you need to return links to your partners. This means that you need to contribute to other blogs or get them links through other partners. 

Lastly, it’s not scalable beyond your niche. We still struggle to build links in niches beyond our circle of relationships.

Conclusion

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Sometimes, you won’t know what really works for you without spending hours on getting through a how-to stage. You’ll likely settle on a combination of strategies. 

Following well-known link building strategies—without giving them a new spin—won’t bring you thousands of high-quality links. Literally any marketing strategy that can be found on Google is unlikely to drive you past the competition. 

A few final tips:

  1. Track all acquired links. Sites have a tendency to turn them into no-follow links or even remove them completely. We use Pitchbox, but you could give less expensive solutions, like the SE Ranking Backlink monitor tool or Linkody, a try.
  2. If a site looks suspicious, check the top traffic-generating keywords and newly acquired links. I use a combination of Ahrefs and SEMrush. In Ahrefs, I review the newly acquired links; in SEMrush, I look through pages and keywords that bring traffic to the website.
  3. Don’t build links for the sake of links. Build links for the sake of future growth. You don’t need links from sites that aren’t investing in their online visibility. At the end of the day, those links will turn into dead weight. 
  4. Don’t follow strategies that could backfire. Don’t write shitty guest posts that you would never show a potential client/partner. Write less but with a strategic focus to grow your backlink profile and brand.
  5. Search for your own ways of getting things done. The more creative you are, the better results you’ll get. Some companies are sitting on an enormous number of untapped link-building opportunities. Which unrealized opportunities does your site have?

Unlike my shoes, which go out of style after only a few months (that’s just my excuse to buy new ones, but shhh!), I’ve been using these B2B link-building strategies for years.

I can vouch for one thing—they’re not going out of style any time soon.

The post 8 B2B Link-Building Strategies That Never Go Out of Style appeared first on CXL.

On-SERP SEO: The Future of SEO

The SEO game is changing. Long gone are the days when all it took to rank on Page 1 was a good keyword choice and a few backlinks. Google’s search results are becoming so much more than 10 blue links, in part because those links are now richer and more interactive—and sending fewer clicks to […]

The post On-SERP SEO: The Future of SEO appeared first on CXL.

The SEO game is changing. Long gone are the days when all it took to rank on Page 1 was a good keyword choice and a few backlinks.

Google’s search results are becoming so much more than 10 blue links, in part because those links are now richer and more interactive—and sending fewer clicks to sites.

A new concept is replacing the traditional SEO approach. Instead of monitoring and improving organic rankings alone, you need to embrace a more integrated strategy: on-SERP SEO.

You’ll be able to get more business value from each user query, regardless of whether that query generates a click to any website. Here’s how to do it.

What is on-SERP SEO?

On-SERP SEO is a multi-faceted SEO strategy that focuses on occupying as much real estate within each target Google SERP as possible.

It’s also about taking each search query as a whole, instead of optimizing for and monitoring a single position.

Let me explain this via an example. If you search for “pizza” on a mobile device, here’s what you get:

example of features on a mobile search result.
You can see the full SERP here.

Can you see any traditional organic (i.e. blue, clickable) links here? Do you see the point I’m trying to drive home? Organic rankings are no longer enough for organic visibility.

Instead of working on getting listed within organic rankings, you must now consider:

  • Appearing in the featured snippet box (or not, more on that below);
  • Have video show up in the video carousel;
  • Get listed as a related entity (i.e. brand);
  • Ensure your site shows up if a user clicks any of the “related searches”;
  • Have content for the “Interesting finds” section;
  • And, if you own a pizza restaurant, show up as a local business if a user searches nearby.

Each Google SERP is unique and requires an original approach to try and get as much exposure for your brand as possible.

Why is on-SERP SEO such a hot topic?

On-SERP SEO isn’t a new concept, but as Google SERPs become richer and more interactive, focusing only on the standard 10 positions is—and will continue to become—less and less useful. You need your brand to be out there, everywhere, every time a user types in a relevant query.

Things can get even more complicated. For example, ever since Google’s featured snippets got de-duplicated in 2019, there’s no longer a simple answer to a seemingly simple question: Should I rank #1 for my target query?

Google’s featured snippet deduplication means removing a page from organic results once it gets featured. So, if your page was previously ranking first organically and held the featured snippet, it now retains only the featured snippet.

Is that a big deal? You still appear atop Google, right? Well, not all organic listings are created equal. Every featured snippet looks different, and, consequently, there’s no way to know which are more likely to trigger clicks.

In fact, some featured snippets have a much lower click-through rate than top organic positions:

average click-through rate of featured snippets.
Being featured may mean losing over 50% of clicks nowadays. (Image source)

When your page gets featured, you may find yourself wishing you instead ranked among the standard organic results, even if that’s now considered the second position. 

And yet, it remains a tough choice: Do you want your pages to get featured and appear atop all organic results, or would you prefer an organic listing?

This is where the concept of on-SERP SEO comes into play. You should make these decisions on a SERP-by-SERP basis:

What is more clickable?

  1. An information-based featured snippet filled with third-party information (e.g., someone else’s image, links to related topics, etc.) that appears first;
  2. A rich snippet signifying a commercial intent, with every bit clickable and leading to your site.

This may be up for testing, but in this case, I’d take the rich snippet, even though it shows up under the featured snippet:

featured snippet versus rich snippet below.

Next question. What other search elements should you optimize for within this particular search result?

example of various serp features for cat good queries.
All other search elements to optimize for (beyond organic listings): Related questions, popular products, recipes, and search suggestions.

This kind of analysis is what we need to do for each of our core target queries.

How to optimize for on-SERP SEO

Your first step is to identify which content assets and tactics can help you optimize for each query. The exact type of content that’s most useful varies based from one search results page to the next.

So, your first step is to search for your target query in Google—using both desktop and mobile browsers—to identify your best course of action. (If you’re trying to scale this process, think of query syntax, not just queries, something Kevn Indig details here.)

Currently, Google SERPs consist of two groups of elements:

  1. On-SERP elements we can optimize for;
  2. On-SERP elements that change buyer journeys.

1. On-SERP elements we can optimize for

Google has added features to search results that, based on its data, are helpful for searchers. For some SERPs, these features may be images blended into SERPs; for others, they may be news sections, shopping results, etc.

Let’s discuss the most frequent elements that we can optimize for to generate more brand visibility within one search journey.

1.1. Video carousels

Video carousels show up for an overwhelming number of search queries, both on mobile and desktop results. They also take up a good deal of SERP real estate, especially on mobile devices.

On mobile SERPs, Google often generates a clickable timeline of the video, which allows users to click through to a part of the video that covers a specific point:

example of video carousel and specific clickable moments.

When it comes to on-SERP SEO, video carousels are an obvious and easy search element to target. YouTube videos are quite easy to optimize for in Google’s carousels, so I always recommend creating a video version of each and every content asset you create. 

With tools like InVideo, this process is a breeze. It takes literally minutes to turn your text content into a professional-looking video:

  • Select “Article-to-Video” option, and copy-paste your takeaways.
  • Select a template.
  • Once the tool generates your video, edit it to add your own images (e.g., screenshots) and make sure everything looks good.

By default, your video includes subtitles and transitions (good) but also stock photos and background music (not so good). You can change and adjust everything, depending on how much time you want to spend on it.

It’s easy to see where this strategy can be abused, but it’s also easy to imagine its value for a process-driven post with tons of screenshots or GIFs.

invideo screenshot.

1.2. Image results

Images are also popular search elements that sometimes take up the whole above-the-fold part of the screen.

example of search result dominated by images.
Sometimes when you search, all you can see is images on top of organic results.

There’s no specific trick to appearing in this section, apart from implementing basic image SEO and generally making sure you have images on each page of your site.

A cohesive branding strategy for your visuals is a good idea, though. Those images may not warrant a click, but they may help searchers recognize and remember your brand. Make sure all images on your site include your logo and follow a recognizable style. 

1.3. Recipe carousels

Recipe carousels show up for just about any food-related query. 

example of recipe carousel for food query.

If you post recipes on your site, using Recipe schema will help your content get included into in-SERP recipe carousels. All of the recipe plugins listed here support schema, so optimizing for this search element is quite doable.

1.4. Local packs

Local packs dominate search results whenever Google expects users to go and do something locally.

example of local pack results for query.
The local map pack lists the three businesses Google considers most relevant to the query and searcher’s location.

Your site can appear there only if you have a local business that you’ve verified through Google My Business.

1.5. Google Shopping results

Google Shopping results show up within general Google searches, when Google believes there’s a commercial (buying) intent behind a search query. These results normally appear in a special box labeled “Sponsored”:

google shopping results.

To get your products to appear in the box, you need to become part of Google Actions project.

1.6. Interesting finds

“Interesting finds” is a somewhat mysterious search element that appears only on mobile devices.

interesting finds section on mobile results page.

These seem to be random articles on a topic that got traction within an industry. It looks like Google’s attempt to curate great content beyond the traditional ranking factors.

To improve your odds of appearing here, create all kinds of interesting content around your target topic, including history, how-to’s, listicles, etc.

2. On-SERP elements that change buyer journeys

Apart from actual search results, Google has been busy adding search suggestions and interactive sections that, ostensibly, help users more fully research topics.

In reality, these are simply driving people away from clicking search results and prompting them to continue interacting with Google’s search pages.

example of movie search that continues to answer questions on the serp.
These search elements simply trigger more Google searches. Clicking them takes you to more search results instead of taking them to publishers’ sites.

Your task as an optimizer is to try and track down the possible paths users may take after searching for your target query. All of those extra searches should be an additional source of keyword data.

Tools like our featured snippet tool collects Google’s related search suggestions that show up for your important queries and allow you to create content around them:

example of related search data in seo tool.
Find search suggestions that are likely to change your target customers’ searching behavior and optimize your content for them.

You can also get a good glimpse into all kinds of search suggestions using this free browser plugin that creates a nice summary of all search elements underneath each search results page:

related queries via browser plugin.
Search suggestions Google shows for [amazon] search query.

Some of the search sections can be both elements to optimize for and elements triggering more on-SERPs actions. 

For example, “People Also Ask” boxes are incredibly interactive and distracting. (I always spend a lot of time uncovering more and more questions.) Yet they can still send some clicks to pages that answer each individual question, so you want to rank for as many as possible:

people also ask with additional answers on google.
People Also Ask boxes provide additional opportunities for clicks and sources for keyword inspiration.

To increase your chances to rank in a People Also Ask box, embrace a question optimization strategy:

For question research and optimization, you can use a tool like Text Optimizer, which helps you identify popular questions around any search query and then build optimized content around them:

text optimizer tool to find questions people ask on search.
Text Optimizer is the semantic research platform that helps you identify popular niche questions and related concepts to optimize content.

Streamlining and monitoring your on-SERP SEO efforts

At the end of the day, it all comes down to diversifying your content marketing strategy:

  • Where you’d usually write an article, now you need to accompany it with a video and graphics.
  • If previously you’d focus only on tightly related articles to bring leads down the sales funnel, now you need to broaden your topics to educate and inform your target audience.

Buyer journeys are getting more complicated and diverse, so your marketing strategy should, too. It’s mostly good news for a content marketer, as brands need more content and content types than ever before. A content marketer’s job is becoming more integrated and exciting.

It’s harder, however, to measure and report on results. The path between landing on a site and converting has gotten more convoluted and, thus, harder to analyze.

If you’ve struggled to build funnels in Google Analytics, newer tools like Finteza can help. It focuses on monitoring conversion funnels across various channels and devices. You can point the tool to important conversion metrics, and it shows which steps leak traffic or where you could shorten the conversion path.

finteza funnel.
Finteza helps you monitor your site users’ path across the site helping you understand how people are interacting with your content.

You can limit results by traffic source or landing page to better monitor how your on-SERP SEO is paying off.

Conclusion

Google’s richer and more interactive search results require a content marketing and SEO strategy that follows suit. It’s no longer enough to target and monitor organic rankings alone.

You need to evaluate each search result page as a whole. Try to appear in several search sections beyond (yet still including) organic listings. This strategy of optimizing for as many search elements as possible within one SERP is the new normal and the core of on-SERP SEO.

For each SERP, ask:

  • Do I want my page to be featured, or would I rather keep my standard organic listing?
  • Can my images be better branded—explicitly or via subtle but consistent design choices?
  • Which content types or structured markup elements do I need to rank in more search sections?
  • Which topics and search queries does Google associate with my target keyword through related searches, “People Also Ask”, “Interesting finds”, and other sections?

Finally, you’re tasked with monitoring these changes, which is more than just reporting on keyword rankings and organic traffic.

Overall, on-SERP SEO represents both a challenge and added potential—including the potential to boost content quality, brand reputation, loyalty, engagement, and more.

The post On-SERP SEO: The Future of SEO appeared first on CXL.

How to Uncover Hidden Content Decay on Your eCommerce Website (Without Any 3rd Party Tools)

A more precise way for eCommerce companies to periodically monitor for and identify content decay.

Content decay — where web page traffic or keyword rankings reach a peak and begin to decrease over time — is a topic that’s growing in popularity in the digital marketing community.

Tracking content decay particularly matters for eCommerce companies because when it’s happening to your most important or highest-converting pages, it can tie directly to losses in revenue. For example, a change in overall traffic to top-of-funnel pages on your site may have little to no impact on actual sales. But if traffic has dropped way below historical averages for a key conversion page on your site (e.g. product detail page), it can absolutely impact your bottom line.

Looking for content decay periodically is a way to spot when this is happening and make updates to potentially save your company from months of decreased profits.

Some companies are using free tools such as Revive or ClickFlow to monitor content decay, but in our recent testing, we found that these tools can lead you to miss when and where decay is actually happening. In addition, the tools ask for access directly into your Google Analytics account without much concern for security, NDAs, etc. (which may violate your internal IT policies).

In this article, we’ll discuss the inaccuracies we discovered while testing ClickFlow and describe a relatively easy and more accurate process of using Google Analytics and Google Search Console to track and prevent content decay more effectively.

Feel free to use these links to jump ahead to any section and dive in:

Note: We’ve been helping eCommerce companies with their SEO for over a decade. If you’d like us to improve your search traffic, detect and fix content decay, or improve your SEO in any other way, you can start a conversation with us here.

What Is Content Decay?

In general, content decay is when a website or web page has reached a peak in its ability to drive traffic and then begins to drop without recovery. You can look at content decay from an omnichannel perspective (PPC, social media, organic search, backlinks, email list, etc.), but most often, content decay is looked at in search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing. Commonly, content marketers will monitor for content decay as a way to spot opportunities for refreshing old content.

What one is looking for is a negative discrepancy between expected and observed traffic. This means taking into account seasonality and other factors. For example, some of our clients have products that are only popular during Christmas. And others (such as the client case study described below) are more popular in the summer and less so around the holidays. Forgetting to account for seasonal trends is one of the common scenarios where companies think they’re experiencing content decay, when in reality, they aren’t. This can lead to making unnecessary page updates (which in some cases can harm rather than help traffic).

In the Google Analytics report below, we only take seasonality into account. Other factors like high impact Google algorithm updates or pandemics need to be accounted for by other means.

When looking at content decay, we aren’t concerned by the impact of the random daily or weekly short-term fluctuations in traffic. We select a longer time period — such as three months — because it helps us to see when there are clearly underlying (usually unknown) causes of decay.

Why Content Decay Isn’t Always Obvious When It’s Happening (and How to Accurately Track It)

There is a tendency for eCommerce management teams to pay more attention to overall website or blog traffic and less attention to the traffic of individual pages. This presents a problem when you want to spot content decay because while overall site traffic may not be decaying (and might even be increasing), it’s still possible for specific pages that are very important from a conversion or brand-awareness standpoint to be losing ground.

In order to clearly see when content decay is happening, you need to look at things on a page-by-page basis.

Beyond traffic, the other metric to look at when you track content decay is keyword rankings — which can also be an important indicator of decay. For example, even if you’re monitoring for traffic decay on a page by page basis, you might have a page that is showing steady traffic, but if it’s dropping in search rankings for the historically highest converting keyword, there still might be decay worth addressing.

If you were looking at traffic alone, you’d completely miss that.

Our Recent Testing Using ClickFlow’s Content Decay Tool

Recently we did some content decay research for one of our clients, and we tested out one of the popular content decay tools called ClickFlow.

We tried out the tool, and it yielded the following top 5 results (which all turned out to be old blog posts):

ClickFlow URLs showing what they presume to be content decay
5 URL slugs that ClickFlow said were exhibiting “content decay”. For confidentiality, we’ve redacted parts of the URL that identify the client.

To check the accuracy of these results, we used Google Analytics (which is ultimately the process we advocate using — described in detail below) to cross reference them. What we found was that only two out of the five results might actually be examples of content decay, whereas the other three were mostly seeing lower traffic due to seasonality. This means the false positive rate for the top five results was 60% at best.

We accounted for seasonality by viewing the data for each result in year-over-year format. In other words, we compared the data from 2018-2019 to the same time period in 2019-2020. Taking this longer view helped us to see the seasonal trends that were taking place and how they matched up recently compared to the year before.

Note: You’ll notice a fairly significant difference between the number of sessions the first year compared to the second (more recent) year. This is simply due to the data from the first year being close to the date of publication. Because the content is still fairly new, it takes Google time to crawl and position the articles in the SERPs.

Here are the two cases showing potential decay:

2 Cases Where Potential Content Decay Was Validated

Result #2

Case where ClickFlow's content decay tool was potentially accurate

In this first example, seasonality is a factor, but when looking at the same year-long time frame matched up with the previous year, the blue line (the more recent year) dips below the orange line (the previous year) to an extent that indicates some content decay. And because it remains consistent over a period of several months, this is a situation we’d want to look at more closely to find the source of the problem.

Result #4

Case where ClickFlow's content decay tool was potentially accurate

With this result, it’s possible that this post’s traffic began decaying in the month of February (on the right where the blue line dips below the orange line), but because three weeks of data isn’t enough time to know for sure that it’s decay, we’d be careful about jumping to conclusions. The difference is not small, but it’s not too large either, so we’d want to monitor this more and see.

3 Cases Where Seasonality Was Mistaken for Content Decay

Result #1

 Case where ClickFlow's content decay tool failed to account for seasonality

Here you can see a dip in traffic toward the holidays and then a rise after the first of the year, indicating this will likely continue to rise through spring and into the summer. Notice how the subtle decrease in traffic seen on the left side of the graph also indicates a similar trend in the year prior.

It seems the ClickFlow tool mistook the dip in traffic during the holidays as “content decay”, which in fact, doesn’t seem to be the case. Making changes to this blog post to try to “correct” for this would likely be a waste of time or, worse, could potentially hurt rankings. Looking at the traffic year-over-year in GA gives us a much clearer picture of what’s going on.

Result #3

Case where ClickFlow's content decay tool failed to account for seasonality

Here, February of 2018 looks fairly consistent with February of 2019, and overall the traffic follows a very similar trend for both years. Occasional spikes, such as the one in August, can happen for a variety of reasons (e.g., one post happened to do particularly well on Facebook). The ClickFlow tool is likely interpreting the decrease in traffic from that August peak as content decay but comparing with the previous year shows clearly that that’s not true.

Result #5

Case where ClickFlow's content decay tool failed to account for seasonality

Similar to Result #1, there’s a dip in traffic toward the holidays and then a rise after the first of the year that corresponds with the previous year (the blue line rises, falls, then begins to rise again at roughly the same times).

A Summary of the ClickFlow Test

Following this initial analysis, we proceeded to analyze the next five results as well. In the end, ClickFlow yielded a false positive rate of 50% at best, and 80% at worst.

As we saw in the examples above, if you want more accurate information when it comes to content decay, Google Analytics and Search Console can give you a much clearer and more accurate picture. What follows is our explanation of how to do this.

How to Use Google Analytics and Google Search Console to Track Content Decay More Accurately

Looking for Traffic Decay in Google SERPs Using Google Analytics

To start the process in Google Analytics, in the left side bar:

  • Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium > google/organic

Step in using Google Analytics to monitor for content decay

Now you’re filtered down to looking specifically at organic traffic data via Google.

Next step:

  • Go to Secondary Dimension > Landing Page

Step in using Google Analytics to monitor for content decay

This will allow you to look for content decay at the page level. From here, select the time period.

Next step:

  • Go to Date Range > Select Time Period

Step in using Google Analytics to monitor for content decay

In the ClickFlow testing above, we used a long time period because we wanted to include the peaks ClickFlow was detecting in order to fairly assess what the tool was doing. But in general, the best way to do this is to view things on a three month time period year-over-year.

Next steps:

  • Go to Compare to > Previous Year > Apply

Step in using Google Analytics to monitor for content decay

By selecting “Compare to Previous Year,” you can account for the factor of seasonality. Now you’re set to begin sorting the data and viewing the comparisons to see if there is content decay.

  • Go to Sort Type > Absolute Change

Step in using Google Analytics to monitor for content decay

We sort by “absolute change” because it allows you to see the pages with the greatest gains or losses in traffic between the two time periods. It’s the change between the two time periods that helps us understand when decay is happening.

Step in using Google Analytics to monitor for content decay

As another option, you can also sort by transactions (or a conversion goal, if you have one set) which can be particularly useful for an eCommerce business because it allows you to see the pages which have experienced the biggest change (drop) in actual sales as opposed to just traffic.

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay

By using this process, you can take a closer look at the top five or 10 landing pages with the greatest decrease in traffic for the two time periods you’re comparing (in a way that accounts for seasonality). And the sorting function makes it easy to find them.

You can begin to make more educated decisions about what updates need to be made. To do this for keyword rankings, you can follow a similar process in Google Search Console.

Looking for Decay in Keyword Rankings with Google Search Console

Note: Unlike the examples above, the following explanation uses screenshots from our own website domain. Because ClickFlow and Revive only analyze traffic data (not page positions and keyword rankings), we didn’t do this part in our initial analysis for the client profiled above.

Start the process in the left sidebar of Google Search Console:

  • Go to Performance

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay

This will automatically show you search performance results for the last three months. 

“Total clicks” and “Total impressions” will be selected automatically, but you’ll want to deselect them and instead click the check box for “Average position”.

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay

Next step:

  • Go to Date range > Compare > Compare last 3 months year over year > Apply

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay

Next step:

  • Go to the table below and select the Pages tab

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay

From here, you’ll be able to begin looking at the way that average position rankings for specific pages have changed. And just like in Google Analytics, you can begin using the filtering options in the table to sort the data.

Instead of “Absolute Change”, Search Console allows you to use the “Difference” filter for each of the metrics you’re viewing to see how clicks, impressions, and keyword positions for the comparison time frames differ. This is what allows you to spot areas where content decay might be happening from a SERP perspective.

Next Step:

  • Go to Difference > Sort by descending (arrow pointing down)

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay

Descending order allows you to immediately see the pages where the biggest difference in average position has occurred between the two time periods. From here, you want to apply a few filters for further examination.

Next step:

  • Go to Filters > Select Last 3 Months (Previous Year) Position > Select “Greater Than” > Enter “0”

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay

Filtering to show results that are “Greater than 0” allows you to exclude pages that weren’t previously ranking and therefore would not qualify as content decay. From here, you add one additional filter before you begin analyzing the results.

Next step:

  • Go to Filters > Select Difference (under Last 3 months (Previous Year) Clicks) > Select “Smaller Than” > Enter “N”

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay

By filtering to a difference in clicks that is smaller than “-N”, where “N” is a meaningful number of lost clicks between the two time periods, you’re able to narrow down the number of results to a manageable number for manual analysis. “N” should be kept fairly low (5-10) to get an adequate range of results.

Once you reach this point, you can begin inspecting the individual pages to determine whether you need to take action or not.

For example, if we look at our first result (emerging-trends-in-ecommerce-part-3), in 2019 it was ranking around position 28, and in the same three months in 2020 it’s been ranking around position 78.

Step in using Google Search Console to monitor for content decay
The top 5 results where a significant decrease in average position can be seen in the year-over-year comparison.

To surface the most impactful decays, you’d want to switch the metric to “Clicks” only, then sort by “Difference” in ascending order. This will put pages which lost 1000 clicks year-over-year above those which lost only 100, regardless of how bad the average position difference is for the same time comparison.

These would be your top prospects for investigating further for content decay. To do so, you can click on each of the URL’s individually for a closer look.

Putting This into Practice

The beauty of the sorting functionality in both Google Analytics and Google Search Console is that this process doesn’t need to take a lot of time. You can simply do a reverse sort to view the 20-30 pages or keywords that are losing the most traffic, conversions, clicks, or rankings. This is an easy way to see where the most significant decay might be happening.

We recommend going through this process every few months (in some cases, quarterly might be fine as well). In fact, doing so more often than that (e.g. weekly) can be overkill and potentially even harmful, leading you to waste resources making unnecessary changes to otherwise great content.

Tracking content decay is part of what we do in our SEO services. If you’d like to talk with someone on our team to see what actions could be taken to improve SEO for your eCommerce business, you can start a conversation with us here.

The research and insights presented in this article were provided by a long-time friend and consultant at Inflow, Georgi Georgiev. Georgi is an expert in web analytics and runs Web Focus LLC, a boutique online marketing company behind products like Analytics Toolkit.