Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How to Perform a Basic Local Business Competitive Audit

Posted by MiriamEllis

“Why are those folks outranking me in Google’s local pack?”

If you or a client is asking this question, the answer lies in competitive analysis. You’ve got to stack Business A up against Business B to identify the strengths and weaknesses of both competitors, and then make an educated guess as to which factors Google is weighting most in the results for a specific search term.

Today, I’d like to share a real-world example of a random competitive audit, including a chart that depicts which factors I’ve investigated and explanatory tips and tools for how I came up with the numbers and facts. Also included: a downloadable version of the spreadsheet that you can use for your own company or clients. Your goal with this audit is to identify exactly how one player is winning the game so that you can create a to-do list for any company trying to move up in the rankings. Alternatively, some competitive audits can be defensive, identifying a dominant player’s weaknesses so that they can be corrected to ensure continued high rankings.

It’s my hope that seeing this audit in action will help you better answer the question of why “this person is outranking that person,” and that you may share with our community some analytical tips of your own!

The scenario:

localseoaudit.jpg

Search term: Chinese Restaurant San Rafael

Statistics about San Rafael: A large town of approximately 22 square miles in the San Francisco Bay Area with a population of 58,954 and 15+ Chinese restaurants.

Consistency of results: From 20 miles away to 2000+ miles away, Ping’s Chinese Cuisine outranks Yet Wah Restaurant in Google’s local pack for the search term. We don’t look closer than 20 miles, or proximity of the searcher creates too much diversity.

The challenge: Why is Ping’s Chinese Cuisine outranking Yet Wah Restaurant in Google’s Local Pack for the search term?

The comparison chart

*Where there’s a clear winner, it’s noted in bolded, italicized text.

Basic business information

NAP

Ping’s Chinese Cuisine
248 Northgate Dr.
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 492-8808

Yet Wah Restaurant
1238 4th St.
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 460-9883

GMB landing page URL

http://ift.tt/2vUoOkb

http://ift.tt/1dQH9Lw

Local Pack rank

1

2

Organic rank

17

5

Organic rank among business-owned sites
*Remove directories and review platforms from the equation, as they typically shouldn’t be viewed as direct competitors

8

1

Business model eligible for GMB listing at this address?
*Check Google’s Guidelines if unsure: http://ift.tt/1Ag5qvp...

Yes

Yes

Oddities

Note that Ping’s has redirected pingschinesecuisine.com to pingsnorthgate.com. Ping’s also has a www and non-www version of pingsnorthgate.com.

A 2nd website for same business at same location with same phone number: http://ift.tt/2vUi4D5. This website is ranking directly below the authoritative (GMB-linked) website for this business in organic SERP for the search in question.

Business listings

GMB review count

32

38

GMB review rating

4.1

3.8

Most recent GMB review
*Sort GMB reviews by "most recent" filter

1 week ago

1 month ago

Proper GMB categories?

Yes

Yes

Estimated age of GMB listing
*Estimated by date of oldest reviews and photos, but can only be seen as an estimate

At least 2 years old

At least 6 years old

Moz Local score (completeness + accuracy + lack of duplicates)
*Tool: http://ift.tt/1jVt1Fe

49%

75%

Moz Local duplicate findings
*Tool: http://ift.tt/1jVt1Fe

0

1 (Facebook)

Keywords in GMB name

chinese

restaurant

Keywords in GMB website landing page title tag

Nothing at all. Just “home page”

Yes

Spam in GMB title
*Look at GMB photos, Google Streetview, and the website to check for inconsistencies

No

Yes: “restaurant” not in website logo or street level signage

Hours and photos on GMB?

Yes

Yes

Proximity to city centroid
*Look up city by name in Google Maps and see where it places the name of the city on the map. That’s the city “centroid.” Get driving directions from the business to an address located in the centroid.

3.5 miles

410.1 feet

Proximity to nearest competitor
*Zoom in on Google map to surface as many adjacent competitors as possible. Can be a Possum factor in some cases.

1.1 mile

0.2 miles

Within Google Maps boundaries?
*Look up city by name in Google Maps and note the pink border via which Google designates that city’s boundaries

Yes

Yes

Website

Age of domain
*Tool: http://ift.tt/1eS2KGO

March 2013

August 2011

Domain Authority
*Tool: http://ift.tt/29qXBeL

16

8

GMB Landing Page Authority
*Tool: http://ift.tt/29qXBeL

30

21

Links to domain
*Tool: http://ift.tt/1rfsq4g

53

2

DA/PA of most authoritative link earned
*Tool: http://ift.tt/1rfsq4g

72/32

38/16

Evaluation of website content

*This is a first-pass, visual gut check, just reading through the top-level pages of the website to see how they strike you in terms of quality.

Extremely thin, just adequate to identify restaurant. At least has menu on own site. Of the 2 sites, this one has the most total text, by virtue of a sentence on the homepage and menus in real text.

Extremely thin, almost zero text on homepage, menu link goes to another website.

Evaluation of website design

Outdated

Outdated, mostly images

Evaluation of website UX

Can be navigated, but few directives or CTAs

Can be navigated, but few directives or CTAs

Mobile-friendly
*Tool: http://ift.tt/2s7oXje

Basic mobile design, but Google’s mobile-friendly test tool says both www and non-www cannot be reached because it’s unavailable or blocked by robots txt. They have disallowed scripts, photos, Flash, images, and plugins. This needs to be further investigated and resolved. Mobile site URL is http://ift.tt/2x8ijsP. Both this URL and the other domains are failing Google’s test.

Basic mobile design passes Google’s mobile-friendly test

Evaluation of overall onsite SEO
*A first-pass visual look at the page code of top level pages, checking for titles, descriptions, header tags, schema, + the presence of problems like Flash.

Pretty much no optimization

Minimal, indeed, but a little bit of effort made. Some title tags, some schema, some header tags.

HTML NAP on website?

Yes

Yes

Website NAP matches GMB NAP?

No (Northgate One instead of Northgate Drive)

Yes

Total number of wins: Ping’s 7, Yet Wah 9.

Download your own version of my competitive audit spreadsheet by making a copy of the file.

Takeaways from the comparison chart

Yet Wah significantly outranks Ping’s in the organic results, but is being beaten by them in the Local Pack. Looking at the organic factors, we see evidence that, despite the fact that Ping’s has greater DA, greater PA of the GMB landing page, more links, and stronger links, they are not outranking Yet Wah organically. This is something of a surprise that leads us to look at their content and on-page SEO.

While Ping’s has slightly better text content on their website, they have almost done almost zero optimization work, their URLs have canonical issues, and their robots.txt isn’t properly configured. Yet Wah has almost no on-site content, but they have modestly optimized their title tags, implemented H tags and some schema, and their site passes Google’s mobile-friendly test.

So, our theory regarding Yet Wah’s superior organic ranking is that, in this particular case, Yet Wah’s moderate efforts with on-page SEO have managed to beat out Ping’s superior DA/PA/link metrics. Yet Wah’s website is also a couple of years older than Ping’s.

All that being said, Yet Wah’s organic win is failing to translate into a local win for them. How can we explain Ping’s local win? Ping’s has a slightly higher overall review rating, higher DA and GMB landing page PA, more total links, and higher authority links. They also have slightly more text content on their website, even if it’s not optimized.

So, our theory regarding Ping’s superior local rank is that, in this particular case, website authority/links appear to be winning the day for Ping’s. And the basic website text they have could possibly be contributing, despite lack of optimization.

In sum, basic on-page SEO appears to be contributing to Yet Wah’s organic win, while DA/PA/links appear to be contributing to Ping’s local win.

Things that bother me

I chose this competitive scenario at random, because when I took an initial look at the local and organic rankings, they bothered me a little. I would have expected Yet Wah to be first in the local pack if they were first in organic. I see local and organic rankings correlate strongly so much of the time, that this case seemed odd to me.

By the end of the audit, I’ve come up with a working theory, but I’m not 100% satisfied with it. It makes me ask questions like:

  • Is Ping’s better local rank stemming from some hidden factor no one knows about?
  • In this particular case, why is Google appearing to value Ping’s links more that Yet Wah’s on-page SEO in determining local rank? Would I see this same trend across the board if I analyzed 1,000 restaurants? The industry says links are huge in local SEO right now. I guess we’re seeing proof of that here.
  • Why isn’t Google weighting Yet Wah’s superior citation set more than they apparently are? Ping’s citations are in bad shape. I’ve seen citation health play a much greater apparent role in other audits, but something feels weird here.
  • Why isn’t Google “punishing” Yet Wah in the organic results for that second website with duplicate NAP on it? That seems like it should matter.
  • Why isn’t age factoring in more here? My inspection shows that Yet Wah’s domain and GMB listing are significantly older. This could be moving the organic needle for them, but it’s not moving the local one.
  • Could user behavior be making Ping’s the local winner? This is a huge open question at the end of my basic audit.* See below.

*I don’t have access to either restaurant’s Google Analytics, GMB Insights, or Google Search Console accounts, so perhaps that would turn up penalties, traffic patterns, or things like superior clicks-to-call, clicks-for-directions, or clicks-to-website that would make Ping’s local win easier to explain. If one of these restaurants were your client, you’d want to add chart rows for these things based on full access to the brand’s accounts and tools, and whatever data your tools can access about the competitor. For example, using a tool like SimilarWeb, I see that between May and June of this year, YetWah’s traffic rose from an average 150 monthly visits up to a peak of 500, while Ping’s saw a drop from 700 to 350 visits in that same period. Also, in a scenario in which one or both parties have a large or complex link profile, you might want additional rows for link metrics, taken from tools like Moz Pro, Ahrefs, or Majestic.

In this case, Ping’s has 7 total wins in my chart and Yet Wah has 9. The best I can do is look at which factors each business is winning at to try to identify a pattern of what Google is weighting most, both organically and locally. With both restaurants being so basic in their marketing, and with neither one absolutely running away with the game, what we have here is a close race. While I’d love to be able to declare a totally obvious winner, the best I could do as a consultant, in this case, would be to draw up a plan of defense or offense.

If my client were Ping’s:

Ping’s needs to defend its #1 local ranking if it doesn’t want to lose it. Its greatest weaknesses which must be resolved are:

  • The absence of on-page SEO
  • Thin content
  • Robots.txt issues

To remain strong, Ping’s should also work on:

  • Improving citation health
  • Directing the non-www version of their site to the www one
  • A professional site redesign could possibly improve conversions

Ping’s should accomplish these things to defend its current local rank and to try to move up organically.

If my client were Yet Wah:

Yet Wah needs to try to achieve victory over Ping’s in the local packs, as it has done in the organic results. To do that, Yet Wah should:

  • Earn links to the GMB landing page URL and the domain
  • Create strong text content on its high-level pages, including putting a complete dining menu in real text on the website
  • Deal with the second website featuring duplicate NAP

Yet Wah should also:

  • Complete work on its citation health
  • Work hard to get some new 5-star reviews by delighting customers with something special
  • Consider adding the word “Restaurant” to their signage, so that they can’t be reported for spamming the GMB name field.
  • Consider a professional redesign of the website to improve conversions

Yet Wah should accomplish these things in an effort to surpass Ping’s.

And, with either client being mine, I’d then be taking a second pass to further investigate anything problematic that came up in the initial audit, so that I could make further technical or creative suggestions.

Big geo-industry picture analysis

Given that no competitor for this particular search term has been able to beat out Ping’s or Yet Wah in the local pack, and given the minimal efforts these two brands have thus far made, there’s a tremendous chance for any Chinese restaurant in San Rafael to become the dominant player. Any competitor that dedicates itself to running on all cylinders (professional, optimized website with great content, a healthy link profile, a competitive number of high-star reviews, healthy citations, etc.) could definitely surpass all other contestants. This is not a tough market and there are no players who can’t be bested.

My sample case has been, as I’ve said, a close race. You may be facing an audit where there are deeply entrenched dominant players whose statistics far surpass those of a business you’re hoping to assist. But the basic process is the same:

  1. Look at the top-ranking business.
  2. Fill out the chart (adding any other fields you feel are important).
  3. Then discover the strengths of the dominant company, as well as its potential weaknesses.
  4. Contrast these findings with those you’ve charted for the company you’re helping and you’ll be able to form a plan for improvement.

And don’t forget the user proximity factor. Any company’s most adjacent customers will see pack results that vary either slightly or significantly from what a user sees from 20, 50, or 1,000 miles away. In my specific study, it happened to be the third result in the pack that went haywire once a user got 50 miles away, while the top two remained dominant and statically ranked for searchers as far away as the East Coast.

Because of this phenomenon of distance, it’s vital for business owners to be educated about the fact that they are serving two user groups: one that is located in the neighborhood or city of the business, and another that could be anywhere in the country or the world. This doesn’t just matter for destinations like hotels or public amusements. In California (a big state), Internet users on a road trip from Palm Springs may be looking to end their 500-mile drive at a Chinese restaurant in San Rafael, so you can’t just think hyper-locally; you’ve got to see the bigger local picture. And you’ve got to do the analysis to find ways of winning as often as you can with both consumer groups.

You take it from here, auditor!

My local competitive audit chart is a basic one, looking at 30+ factors. What would you add? How would you improve it? Did I miss a GMB duplicate listing, or review spam? What’s working best for your agency in doing local audits these days? Do you use a chart, or just provide a high-level text summary of your internal findings? And, if you have any further theories as to how Ping’s is winning the local pack, I’d love for you to share them in the comments.


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Friday, August 18, 2017

The Perfect Blog Post Length and Publishing Frequency is B?!!$#÷x - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

The perfect blog post length or publishing frequency doesn't actually exist. "Perfect" isn't universal — your content's success depends on tons of personalized factors. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains why the idea of "perfect" is baloney when it comes to your blog, and lists what you should actually be looking for in a successful publishing strategy.

the perfect blog post length and frequency

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're going to chat about blog posts and, more broadly, content length and publishing frequency.

So these are things where a lot of the posts that you might read, for example, if you were to Google "ideal blog post length" or "ideal publishing frequency" will give you data and information that come from these sources of here's the average length of content of the top 10 results in Google across a 5,000-keyword set, and you can see that somewhere between 2,350 and 2,425 words is the ideal length, so that's what you should aim for.

I am going to call a big fat helping if baloney on that. It's not only dead wrong, it's really misleading. In fact, I get frustrated when I see these types of charts used to justify this information, because that's not right at all.

When you see charts/data like this used to provide prescriptive, specific targets for content length, ask:

Any time you see this, if you see a chart or data like this to suggest, hey, this is how long you should make a post because here's the length of the average thing in the top 10, you should ask very careful questions like:

1. What set of keywords does this apply to? Is this a big, broad set of 5,000 keywords, and some of them are navigational and some of them are informational and some of them are transactional and maybe a few of them are ecommerce keywords and a few of them are travel related and a few of them are in some other sector?

Because honestly, what does that mean? That's sort of meaningless, right? Especially if the standard deviation is quite high. If we're talking about like, oh, well many things that actually did rank number one were somewhere between 500 words and 15,000 words. Well, so what does the average tell me? How is that helpful? That's not actually useful or prescriptive information. In fact, it's almost misleading to make that prescriptive.

2. Do the keywords that I care about, the ones that I'm targeting, do they have similar results? Does the chart look the same? If you were to take a sample of let's say 50 keywords that you cared about and you were to get the average content length of the top 10 results, would it resemble that? Would it not? Does it have a high standard deviation? Is there a big delta because some keywords require a lot of content to answer them fully and some keywords require very, very small amounts of content and Google has prioritized accordingly? Is it wise, then, to aim for the average when a much larger article would be much more appreciated and be much more likely to succeed, or a much shorter one would do far better? Why are you aiming for this average if that's the case?

3. Is correlation the same as causation? The answer is hell no. Never has been. Big fat no. Correlation doesn't even necessarily imply causation. In fact, I would say that any time you're looking at an average, especially on this type of stuff, correlation and causation are totally separate. It is not because the number one result is 2,450 words that it happens to rank number one. Google does not work that way. Never has, never will.

INSTEAD of trusting these big, unknown keyword set averages, you should:

A. look at your keywords and your search results and what's working versus not in those specific ones.

B. Be willing to innovate, be willing to say, "Hey, you know what? I see this content today, the number one, number two, number three rankings are in these sorts of averages. But I actually think you can answer this with much shorter content and many searchers would appreciate it." I think these folks, who are currently ranking, are over-content creating, and they don't need to be.

C. You should match your goals and your content goals with searcher goals. That's how you should determine the length that you should put in there. If you are trying to help someone solve a very specific problem and it is an easily answerable question and you're trying to get the featured snippet, you probably don't need thousands of words of content. Likewise, if you are trying to solve a very complex query and you have a ton of resources and information that no one else has access to, you've done some really unique work, this may be way too short for what you're aiming for.

All right. Let's switch over to publishing frequency, where you can probably guess I'm going to give you similar information. A lot of times you'll see, "How often should I publish? Oh, look, people who publish 11 times or more per month, they get way more traffic than people who publish only once a month. Therefore, clearly, I should publish 11 or more times a month."

Why is the cutoff at 11? Does that make any sense to you? Are these visits all valuable to all the companies that were part of whatever survey was in here? Did one blog post account for most of the traffic in the 11 plus, and it's just that the other 10 happened to be posts where they were practicing or trying to get good, and it was just one that kind of shot out of the park there?

See a chart like this? Ask:

1. Who's in the set of sites analyzed? Are they similar to me? Do they target a similar audience? Are they in my actual sector? What's the relative quality of the content? How savvy and targeted are the efforts at earning traffic? Is this guy over here, are we sure that all 11 posts were just as good as the one post this person created? Because if not, I'm comparing apples and oranges.

2. What's the quality of the traffic? What's the value of the traffic? Maybe this person is getting a ton of really valuable traffic, and this person over here is getting very little. You can't tell from a chart like this, especially when it's averaged in this way.

3. What things might matter more than raw frequency?

  • Well, matching your goals to your content schedule. If one of your goals is to build up subscribers, like Whiteboard Friday where people know it and they've heard of it, they have a brand association with it, it's called Whiteboard Friday, it should probably come out once a week on Friday. There's a frequency implied in the content, and that makes sense. But you might have goals that only demand publishing once a quarter or once a month or once a week or once every day. That's okay. But you should tie those together.
  • Consistency, we have found, is almost always more important than raw frequency, especially if you're trying to build up that consistent audience and a subscriber base. So I would focus on that, not how I should publish more often, but I should publish more consistently so that people will get used to my publishing schedule and will look forward to what I have to say, and also so that you can build up a cadence for yourself and your organization.
  • Crafting posts that actually earn attention and amplification and help your conversion funnel goals, whatever those might be, over raw traffic. It's far better if this person got 50 new visits who turned into 5 new paying customers, than this person who published 11 posts and got 1 new paying customer out of all 11. That's a lot more work and expense for a lot less ROI. I'd be careful about that.

*ASIDE:

One aside I would say about publishing frequency. If you're early stage, or if you were trying to build a career in blogging or in publishing, it's great to publish a lot of content. Great writers become great because they write a lot of terrible crap, and then they improve. The same is true with web publishers.

If you look at Whiteboard Friday number one, or a blog post number one from me, you're going to see pretty miserable stuff. But over time, by publishing quite a bit, I got better at it. So if that is your goal, yes, publishing a lot of content, more than you probably need, more than your customers or audience probably needs, is good practice for you, and it will help you get better.

All right, everyone. Hope you've enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We'll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

5 Tips to Help Show ROI from Local SEO

Posted by JoyHawkins

Earlier this year, when I was first writing my advanced local SEO training, I reached out to some users who work for local SEO agencies and asked them what they'd like more training on. The biggest topic I got as a result was related to tracking and reporting value to small business owners.

My clients will often forward me reports from their prior SEO company, expressing that they have no idea what they were getting for their money. Some of the most common complaints I see with these reports are:

  • Too much use of marketing lingo ("Bounce Rate," "CTR," etc.)
  • Way too much data
  • No representation of what impact the work done had on the business itself (did it get them more customers?)

If a small business owner is giving you hundreds or thousands of dollars every month, how do you prove to them they're getting value from it? There's a lot to dig into with this topic — I included a full six pages on it in my training. Today I wanted to share some of the most successful tips that I use with my own clients.


1. Stop sending automated Google Analytics reports

If the goal is to show the customer what they're getting from their investment, you probably won't achieve it by simply sending them an Analytics report each month. Google Analytics is a powerful tool, but it only looks awesome to you because you're a marketer. Over the past year, I've looked at many monthly reports that made my head spin — it's just too much data. The average SMB isn't going to be able to look at those reports and figure out how their bounce rate decreasing somehow means you’re doing a great job at SEO.

2. Make conversions the focus of your report

What does the business owner care about? Hint: it’s not how you increased the ranking for one of their 50 tracked keywords this month. No, what they care about is how much additional business you drove to their business. This should be the focus of the report you send them. Small business call conversions

3. Use dynamic number insertion to track calls

If you’re not already doing this, you're really killing your ability to show value. I don’t have a single SEO or SEM client that isn’t using call tracking. I use Call Tracking Metrics, but CallRail is another one that works well, too. This allows you to see the sources of incoming calls. Unlike slapping a call tracking number on your website, dynamic number insertion won’t mess up NAP consistency.

The bonus here is that you can set up these calls as goals in Google Analytics. Using the Landing Page report, you can see which pages on the site were responsible for getting that call. Instead of saying, "Hey customer, a few months ago I created this awesome page of content for you," you can say "Hey customer, a few months ago, I added this page to your site and as a result, it’s got you 5 more calls."
Conversion goal completion in Google Analytics

4. Estimate revenue

I remember sitting in a session a couple years ago when Dev Basu from Powered by Search told me about this tactic. I had a lightbulb moment, wondering why the heck I didn’t think to do this before.

The concept is simple: Ask the client what the average lifetime value of their customer is. Next, ask them what their average closing ratio is on Internet leads. Take those numbers and, based on the number of conversions, you can calculate their estimated revenue.

Formula: Lifetime Value of a Customer x Closing Ratio (%) x Number of Conversions = Estimated Revenue

Bonus tip: Take this a step further and show them that for every dollar they pay you, you make them $X. Obviously, if the lifetime value of the customer is high, these numbers look a lot better. For example, an attorney could look like this:Example monthly ROI for an attorneyWhereas an insurance agent would look like this:
Example monthly ROI for an insurance agent

5. Show before/after screenshots, not a ranking tracker.

I seriously love ranking trackers. I spend a ton of time every week looking at reports in Bright Local for my clients. However, I really believe ranking trackers are best used for marketers, not business owners. How many times have you had a client call you freaking out because they noticed a drop in ranking for one keyword? I chose to help stop this trend by not including ranking reports in my monthly reporting and have never regretted that decision.

Instead, if I want to highlight a significant ranking increase that happened as a result of SEO, I can do that by showing the business owner a visual — something they will actually understand. This is where I use Bright Local's screenshots; I can see historically how a SERP used to look versus how it looks now.


At the end of the day, to show ROI you need to think like a business owner, not a marketer. If your goals match the goals of the business owner (which is usually to increase calls), make sure that's what you’re conveying in your monthly reporting.


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Monday, August 14, 2017

SEO Above the Funnel: Getting More Traffic When You Can’t Rank Any Higher

Posted by Tom.Capper

Normally, as SEOs, we follow a deceptively simple process. We identify how people are searching for our product, then we build or optimize pages or websites to match searcher intent, we make sure Google can find, understand, and trust it, and we wait for the waves of delicious traffic to roll in.

It’s not always that simple, though. What if we have the right pages, but just can’t rank any higher? What if we’re already satisfying all of the search volume that’s relevant to our product, but the business demands growth? What if there is no search volume relevant to our product?

What would you do, for example, if you were asked to increase organic traffic to the books section on Amazon? Or property search traffic to Rightmove (UK) or Zillow (US)? Or Netflix, before anyone knew that true online streaming services existed?

In this post, I’m going to briefly outline four simple tactics for building your relevant organic traffic by increasing the overall size of the market, rather than by trying to rank higher. And none of them require building a single link, or making any changes to your existing pages.

1. Conquer neighboring territories

This is a business tactic as well as an SEO one, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for reasonably uncompetitive verticals adjacent to your own. You have an advantage in these, because you already have a brand, a strong domain, a website to build upon, and so forth. New startups trying to make headway in these spaces will struggle to compete with a fairly low-effort execution on your part, if you judge it well.

Start by ideating related products. For example, if you’re a property listings site, you might look at:

  • Home insurance
  • Home valuation
  • Flat-sharing listings
  • Area guides

Once you’ve outlined your list (it’s probably longer than my example), you can do your basic keyword research, and take a look at the existing ranking pages. This is a bit like identifying keyword opportunities, except you’re looking at the core landing pages of a whole vertical — look at their Domain Authorities, their branded search volumes, the quality of their landing pages, the extent to which they’ve done basic SEO, and ask whether you could do better.

In the example above, you might find that home insurance is well served by fairly strong financial services or comparison sites, but flat-sharing is a weak vertical dominated by a few fairly young and poorly executed sites. That’s your opportunity.

To minimize your risk, you can start with a minimal viable version — perhaps just a single landing page or a white-labeled product. If it does well, you know it merits further investment.

You’ve already established a trusted brand, with a strong website, which users are already engaging in — if you can extend your services and provide good user experiences in other areas, you can beat other, smaller brands in those spaces.

2. Welcome the intimidated

Depending on your vertical, there may be an untapped opportunity among potential customers who don’t understand or feel comfortable with the product. For example, if you sell laptops, many potential customers may be wary of buying a laptop online or without professional advice. This might cause them not to buy, or to buy a cheaper product to reduce the riskiness.

A “best laptops under £500,” or “lightest laptops,” or “best laptops for gaming” page could encourage people to spend more, or to buy online when they might otherwise have bought in a store. Pages like this can be simple feature comparisons, or semi-editorial, but it’s important that they don’t feel like a sales or up-sell function (even though that’s what the “expert” in the store would be!).

This is even more pertinent the more potentially research intensive the purchase is. For example, Crucial have done amazingly for years with their “system scanner,” linked to prominently on their homepage, which identifies potential upgrades and gives less savvy users confidence in their purchase.

Guaranteed compatible!

If this seems like too much effort, the outdoor retailer Snow and Rock don’t have the best website in the world, but they have taken a simpler approach in linking to buying guides from certain product pages — for example, this guide on how to pick a pair of walking boots.

Can you spot scenarios where users abandon in your funnels because of fear or complexity, or where they shift their spend to offline competitors? If you can make them feel safe and supported, you might be able to change their buying behavior.

3. Whip up some fervor

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have enthusiasts who know your vertical like the back of their hand, but could be incited to treat themselves a little more. I’ve been really impressed recently by a couple of American automotive listings sites doing this really well.

The first is Autotrader.com, who have hired well-known automotive columnist Doug Demuro from Jalopnik.com to produce videos and articles for their enthusiast news section. These articles and videos talk about the nerdy quirks of some of the most obscure and interesting used cars that have been listed on the site, and it’s not uncommon for videos on Doug’s YouTube channel — which mention Autotrader.com and feature cars you could buy on Autotrader.com — to get well into 7-figure viewing counts.

These are essentially adverts for Autotrader.com’s products, but I and hundreds of thousands of others watch them religiously. What’s more, the resulting videos and articles stand to rank for the types of queries that curious enthusiasts may search for, turning informational queries into buying intent, as well as building brand awareness. I actually think Autotrader.com could do even better at this with a little SEO 101 (editorial titles don’t need to be your actual title tag, guys), but it’s already a great tactic.

Another similar site doing this really well is Bringatrailer.com. Their approach is really simple — whenever they get a particularly rare or interesting car listed, they post it on Facebook.

These are super low-effort posts about used cars, but if you take a step back, Bring a Trailer are doing something outrageous. They’re posting links to their product pages on Facebook a dozen or more times a day, and getting 3-figure reaction counts. Some of the lesson here is “have great product pages,” or “exist in an enthusiast-rich vertical,” and I realize that this tactic isn’t strictly SEO. But it is doing a lot of things that we as SEOs try to do (build awareness, search volume, links…), and it’s doing so by successfully matching informational or entertainment intents with transactional pages.

When consumers engage with a brand emotionally or even socially, then you’re more likely to be top-of-mind when they’re ready to purchase — but they’re also more likely to purchase if they’re seeing and thinking about your products, services, and sector in their feed.

4. Tell people your vertical exists

I won’t cover this one in too much detail, because there’s already an excellent Whiteboard Friday on the subject. The key point, however, is that sometimes it’s not just that customers are intimidated by your product. They may never have heard of it. In these cases, you need to appear where they're looking using demographic targeting, carefully researched editorial sections, or branded content.

What about you, though?

How do you go about drumming up demand in your vertical? Tell me all about it in the comments below.


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Friday, August 11, 2017

Google (Almost Certainly) Has an Organic Quality Score (Or Something a Lot Like It) that SEOs Need to Optimize For - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Entertain the idea, for a moment, that Google assigned a quality score to organic search results. Say it was based off of click data and engagement metrics, and that it would function in a similar way to the Google AdWords quality score. How exactly might such a score work, what would it be based off of, and how could you optimize for it?

While there's no hard proof it exists, the organic quality score is a concept that's been pondered by many SEOs over the years. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand examines this theory inside and out, then offers some advice on how one might boost such a score.

Google's Organic Quality Score

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

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're going to chat about organic quality score.

So this is a concept. This is not a real thing that we know Google definitely has. But there's this concept that SEOs have been feeling for a long time, that similar to what Google has in their AdWords program with a paid quality score, where a page has a certain score assigned to it, that on the organic side Google almost definitely has something similar. I'll give you an example of how that might work.

So, for example, if on my site.com I have these three — this is a very simplistic website — but I have these three subfolders: Products, Blog, and About. I might have a page in my products, 14axq.html, and it has certain metrics that Google associates with it through activity that they've seen from browser data, from clickstream data, from search data, and from visit data from the searches and bounces back to the search results, and all these kinds of things, all the engagement and click data that we've been talking about a lot this year on Whiteboard Friday.

So they may have these metrics, pogo stick rate and bounce rate and a deep click rate (the rate with which someone clicks to the site and then goes further in from that page), the time that they spend on the site on average, the direct navigations that people make to it each month through their browsers, the search impressions and search clicks, perhaps a bunch of other statistics, like whether people search directly for this URL, whether they perform branded searches. What rate do unique devices in one area versus another area do this with? Is there a bias based on geography or device type or personalization or all these kinds of things?

But regardless of that, you get this idea that Google has this sort of sense of how the page performs in their search results. That might be very different across different pages and obviously very different across different sites. So maybe this blog post over here on /blog is doing much, much better in all these metrics and has a much higher quality score as a result.

Current SEO theories about organic quality scoring:

Now, when we talk to SEOs, and I spend a lot of time talking to my fellow SEOs about theories around this, a few things emerge. I think most folks are generally of the opinion that if there is something like an organic quality score...

1. It is probably based on this type of data — queries, clicks, engagements, visit data of some kind.

We don't doubt for a minute that Google has much more sophistication than the super-simplified stuff that I'm showing you here. I think Google publicly denies a lot of single types of metric like, "No, we don't use time on site. Time on site could be very variable, and sometimes low time on site is actually a good thing." Fine. But there's something in there, right? They use some more sophisticated format of that.

2. We also are pretty sure that this is applying on three different levels:

This is an observation from experimentation as well as from Google statements which is...

  • Domain-wide, so that would be across one domain, if there are many pages with high quality scores, Google might view that domain differently from a domain with a variety of quality scores on it or one with generally low ones.
  • Same thing for a subdomain. So it could be that a subdomain is looked at differently than the main domain, or that two different subdomains may be viewed differently. If content appears to have high quality scores on this one, but not on this one, Google might generally not pass all the ranking signals or give the same weight to the quality scores over here or to the subdomain over here.
  • Same thing is true with subfolders, although to a lesser extent. In fact, this is kind of in descending order. So you can generally surmise that Google will pass these more across subfolders than they will across subdomains and more across subdomains than across root domains.

3. A higher density of good scores to bad ones can mean a bunch of good things:

  • More rankings in visibility even without other signals. So even if a page is sort of lacking in these other quality signals, if it is in this blog section, this blog section tends to have high quality scores for all the pages, Google might give that page an opportunity to rank well that it wouldn't ordinarily for a page with those ranking signals in another subfolder or on another subdomain or on another website entirely.
  • Some sort of what we might call "benefit of the doubt"-type of boost, even for new pages. So a new page is produced. It doesn't yet have any quality signals associated with it, but it does particularly well.

    As an example, within a few minutes of this Whiteboard Friday being published on Moz's website, which is usually late Thursday night or very early Friday morning, at least Pacific time, I will bet that you can search for "Google organic quality score" or even just "organic quality score" in Google's engine, and this Whiteboard Friday will perform very well. One of the reasons that probably is, is because many other Whiteboard Friday videos, which are in this same subfolder, Google has seen them perform very well in the search results. They have whatever you want to call it — great metrics, a high organic quality score — and because of that, this Whiteboard Friday that you're watching right now, the URL that you see in the bar up above is almost definitely going to be ranking well, possibly in that number one position, even though it's brand new. It hasn't yet earned the quality signals, but Google assumes, it gives it the benefit of the doubt because of where it is.
  • We surmise that there's also more value that gets passed from links, both internal and external, from pages with high quality scores. That is right now a guess, but something we hope to validate more, because we've seen some signs and some testing that that's the case.

3 ways to boost your organic quality score

If this is true — and it's up to you whether you want to believe that it is or not — even if you don't believe it, you've almost certainly seen signs that something like it's going on. I would urge you to do these three things to boost your organic quality score or whatever you believe is causing these same elements.

1. You could add more high-performing pages. So if you know that pages perform well and you know what those look like versus ones that perform poorly, you can make more good ones.

2. You can improve the quality score of existing pages. So if this one is kind of low, you're seeing that these engagement and use metrics, the SERP click-through rate metrics, the bounce rate metrics from organic search visits, all of these don't look so good in comparison to your other stuff, you can boost it, improve the content, improve the navigation, improve the usability and the user experience of the page, the load time, the visuals, whatever you've got there to hold searchers' attention longer, to keep them engaged, and to make sure that you're solving their problem. When you do that, you will get higher quality scores.

3. Remove low-performing pages through a variety of means. You could take a low-performing page and you might say, "Hey, I'm going to redirect that to this other page, which does a better job answering the query anyway." Or, "Hey, I'm going to 404 that page. I don't need it anymore. In fact, no one needs it anymore." Or, "I'm going to no index it. Some people may need it, maybe the ones who are visitors to my website, who need it for some particular direct navigation purpose or internal purpose. But Google doesn't need to see it. Searchers don't need it. I'm going to use the no index, either in the meta robots tag or in the robots.txt file."

One thing that's really interesting to note is we've seen a bunch of case studies, especially since MozCon, when Britney Muller, Moz's Head of SEO, shared the fact that she had done some great testing around removing tens of thousands of low-quality, really low-quality performing pages from Moz's own website and seen our rankings and our traffic for the remainder of our content go up quite significantly, even controlling for seasonality and other things.

That was pretty exciting. When we shared that, we got a bunch of other people from the audience and on Twitter saying, "I did the same thing. When I removed low-performing pages, the rest of my site performed better," which really strongly suggests that there's something like a system in this fashion that works in this way.

So I'd urge you to go look at your metrics, go find pages that are not performing well, see what you can do about improving them or removing them, see what you can do about adding new ones that are high organic quality score, and let me know your thoughts on this in the comments.

We'll look forward to seeing you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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Thursday, August 10, 2017

How to Find Your Competitor’s Backlinks - Next Level

Posted by BrianChilds

Welcome to the newest installment of our educational Next Level series! In our last episode, Brian Childs equipped copywriters with the tools they need to succeed with SEO. Today, he's back to share how to use Open Site Explorer to find linking opportunities based upon your competitors' external inbound links. Read on and level up!


In Moz’s SEO training classes, we discuss how to identify and prioritize sources of backlinks using a mix of tools. One tactic to quickly find high Domain Authority sites that have a history of linking to pages discussing your topic is to study your competitors' backlinks. This process is covered in-depth during the SEO Link Building Bootcamp.

In this article, I’ll show how to create and export a list of your competitor’s backlinks that you can use for targeting activities. This assumes you've already completed keyword research and have identified competitors that rank well in the search results for these queries. Use those competitors for the following analysis.


How to check the backlinks of a site

Step 1: Navigate to Open Site Explorer

Open Site Explorer is a tool used to research the link profile of a website. It will show you the quality of inbound links using metrics like Page Authority, Domain Authority, and Spam Score. You can do a good amount of research with the free version, but to enjoy all its capabilities you'll need full access; you can get that access for free with a 30-day trial of Moz Pro.

Step 2: Enter your competitor’s domain URL

I suggest opening your competitor’s site in a browser window and then copying the URL. This will reduce any spelling errors and the possibility of incorrectly typing the domain name. An example of a common error is incorrectly adding “www” to the URL when that's not how it renders for the site.

Step 3: Navigate to the "Inbound Links" tab

The Inbound Links tab will display all of the pages that link to your competitor’s website. In order to identify sources of links that are delivering link equity, I set the parameters above the list as follows: Target This - Root Domain, Links Source - Only External, and Link Type - Link Equity. This will show all external links providing link equity to any page on your competitor’s site.

Step 4: Export results into .csv

Most reports in Open Site Explorer will allow you to export to .csv. Save these results and then repeat for your other competitors.

Step 5: Compile .csv results from all competitors

Once you have Open Site Explorer exports from the top 5–10 competitors, compile them into one spreadsheet.

Step 6: Sort all results by Page Authority

Page Authority is a 1–100 scale developed by Moz that estimates the likelihood of a page’s ability to rank in a search result, based on our understanding of essential ranking factors. Higher numbers suggest the page is more authoritative and therefore has a higher likelihood of ranking. Higher Page Authority pages also will be delivering more link equity to your competitor’s site. Use Page Authority as your sorting criteria.

Step 7: Review all linking sites for opportunities

Now you have a large list of sites linking to your competitors for keywords you are targeting. Go down the list of high Page Authority links and look for sites or authors that show up regularly. Use your preferred outreach strategy to contact these sites and begin developing a relationship.


Want to learn more SEO processes?

If you like these step-by-step SEO processes, you'll likely enjoy the SEO training classes provided by Moz. These live, instructor-led webinars show you how to use a variety of tools to implement SEO. If you're in need of comprehensive SEO training, you can save 20% by purchasing the 5-class bundle:

Sign up for the Bootcamp Bundle


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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

11 Lessons Learned from Failed Link Building Campaigns

Posted by kerryjones

We’ve created more than 800 content campaigns at Fractl over the years, and we’d be lying if we told you every single one was a hit.

The Internet is a finicky place. You can’t predict with 100% accuracy if your content will perform well. Sometimes what we think is going to do OK ends up being a massive hit. And there have been a few instances where we’d expect a campaign to be a huge success but it went on to garner lackluster results.

While you can’t control the whims of the Internet, you can avoid or include certain things in your content to help your chances of success. Through careful analysis we’ve pinpointed which factors tend to create high-performing content. Similarly, we’ve identified trends among our content that didn’t quite hit the mark.

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In this this post, I’ll share our most valuable lessons we learned from content flops. Bear in mind this advice applies if you’re using content to earn links and press pickups, which is what the majority of the content we create at Fractl aims to do.

1. There’s such a thing as too much data.

For content involving a lot of data, it can be tempting to publish every single data point you collect.

A good example of this is surveying. We’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of not only sharing all of the data we’ve collected in a survey, but also segmenting the data out by demographics — regardless of whether or not all of that data is super compelling. While this can give publishers a large volume of potential angles to choose from, the result is often unfocused content lacking a cohesive narrative.

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Only include the most insightful, interesting data points in your content, even if that means tossing aside most of the data you’ve gathered.

One example of this was a survey we did for a home security client where we asked people about stalker-ish behaviors they’d committed. The juiciest survey data (like 1 in 5 respondents had created a fake social account to spy on someone — yikes!) ended up getting buried because we included every data point from the survey, some of which wasn’t so interesting. Had we trimmed down the content to only the most shocking findings, it probably would have performed far better.

Furthermore, the more data you include, the more time it takes for a publisher to wade through it. As one journalist told us after we sent over an epic amount of data: “Long story short, this will take too much time.”

Consider this: It shouldn’t take a publisher more than 10 seconds of looking at your project to grasp the most meaningful data points. If they can’t quickly understand that, how will their readers?

2. Turning published data into something cool doesn't always yield links.

If you’re going to use data that’s already been reported on, you better have a new spin or finding to present. Journalists don't want to cover the same stats they have already covered.

A great example of this is a project we created about the reasons startups fail. The majority of the data we used came from CB Insights’ startup post mortems list, which had performed really well for them. (As of the time I’m writing this, according to Open Site Explorer it has 197 linking root domains from sites including BBC, Business Insider, Fortune, Vox, CNBC, and Entrepreneur — impressive!)

It worked well once, so it should work again if we repackage it into a new format, right?

We used the startups featured on the CB Insights list, added in a handful of additional startups, and created a sexy-looking interactive node map that grouped together startups according to the primary reasons they went under.

While the content didn’t end up being a failure (we got it picked up by Quartz, woo!), it definitely didn’t live up to the expectations we had for it.

Two problems with this project:

  1. We weren’t saying anything new about the data.
  2. The original data had gotten so much coverage that many relevant publishers had already seen it and/or published it.

But of course, there are exceptions. If you’re using existing data that hasn’t gotten a ton of coverage, but is interesting, then this can be a smart approach. The key is avoiding data that has already been widely reported in the vertical you want to get coverage in.

3. It’s difficult to build links with videos.

Video content can be extremely effective for viral sharing, which is fantastic for brand awareness. But are videos great for earning links? Not so much.

When you think of viral content, videos probably come to mind — which is exactly why you may assume awesome videos can attract a ton of backlinks. The problem is, publishers rarely give proper attribution to videos. Instead of linking to the video’s creator, they just embed the video from YouTube or link to YouTube. While a mention/link to the content creator often happens organically with a piece of static visual content, this is often not the case with videos.

Of course, you can reach out to anyone who embeds your video without linking to you and ask for a link. But this can add a time-consuming extra step to the already time-intensive process of video creation and promotion.

4. Political ideas are tough to pull off.

Most brands don’t want to touch political topics with a ten-foot pole. But to others, creating political content is appealing since it has strong potential to evoke an emotional reaction and get a lot of attention.

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We've had several amazing political ideas fail despite solid executions and promotional efforts. It’s hard for us to say why this is, but our assumption has been publishers don't care about political content that isn't breaking (because it's always breaking). For this reason, we believe it’s nearly impossible to compete with the constant cycle of breaking political news.

5. Don't make content for a specific publisher.

We’ve reached out to publishers to collaborate during content production, assuming that if the publisher feels ownership over the content and it’s created to their specifications, they will definitely publish it.

In general, we’ve found this approach doesn’t work because it tends to be a drain on the publishers (they don't want to take on the extra work of collaborating with you) and it locks you into an end result that may only work for their site and no other publishers.

Remember: Publishers care about getting views and engagement on their site, not link generation for you or your client.

6. Hyperlocal content is a big risk.

If you focus on one city, even with an amazing piece of content featuring newsworthy information, you're limited in how many publishers you can pitch it to. And then, you’re out of luck if none of those local publishers pick it up.

On the flip side, we’ve had a lot of success with content that features multiple cities/states/regions. This allows us to target a range of local and national publishers.

Note: This advice applies to campaigns where links/press mentions are the main goal – I’m not saying to never create content for a certain locality.

7. Always make more than one visual asset.

And one of those assets should always be a simple, static image.

Why?

Many websites have limits to the type of media they can publish. Every publisher is able to publish a static graphic, but not everyone can embed more complex content formats (fortunately, Moz can handle GIFs).

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In most cases, we’ve found publishers prefer the simplest visualizations. One classic example of this is a project where we compared reading levels and IQ across different states based on a analysis of half a million tweets. Our Director of Creative, Ryan Sammy, spent a painstaking amount of time (and money) creating an interactive map of the results.

What did most publishers end up featuring? A screenshot of a Tableau dashboard we had sent as a preview during outreach…

8. Be realistic about newsjacking.

Newsjacking content needs to go live within 24 to 48 hours of the news event to be timely. Can you really produce something in time to newsjack?

We’ve found newsjacking is hard to pull off in an agency setting since you have to account for production timelines and getting client feedback and approval. In-house brands have a more feasible shot at newsjacking if they don’t have to worry about a long internal approval process.

9. Watch out for shiny new tools and content formats.

Just because you are using cool, new technology doesn't automatically make the content interesting. We’ve gotten caught up in the “cool factor” of the format or method only to end up with boring (but pretty) content.

10. Avoid super niche topics.

You greatly increase your risk of no return when you go super niche. The more you drill down a topic, the smaller your potential audience becomes (and potential sites that will link become fewer, too).

There are a ton of people interested in music, there are fewer people interested in rap music, there are even fewer people interested in folk rap music, and finally, there are so few people interested in '90s folk rap. Creating content around '90s folk rap will probably yield few to no links.

Some questions to ask to ensure your topic isn’t too niche:

  • Is there a large volume of published content about this topic? Do a Google search for a few niche keywords to see how many results come up compared to broader top-level topics.
  • If there is a lot of content, does that content get high engagement? Do a search in Buzzsumo for keywords related to the niche topic. Is the top content getting thousands of shares?
  • Are people curious about this topic? Search on BloomBerry to see how many questions people are asking about it.
  • Are there online communities dedicated to the topic? Do a quick search for “niche keyword + forum” to turn up communities.
  • Are there more than 5 publishers that focus exclusively on the niche topic?

11. Don't make content on a topic you can't be credible in.

When we produced a hard-hitting project about murder in the U.S. for a gambling client, the publishers we pitched didn't take it seriously because the client wasn’t an authority on the subject.

From that point on, we stuck to creating more light-hearted content around gambling, partying, and entertainment, which is highly relevant to our client and goes over extremely well with publishers.

It’s OK to create content that is tangentially related to your brand (we do this very often), but the connection between the content topic and your industry should be obvious. Don’t leave publishers wondering, why is this company making this content?”

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Learning from failure is crucial for improvement.

Failure is inevitable, especially when you’re pushing boundaries or experimenting with something new (two things we try to do often at Fractl). The good news is that with failure you tend to have the greatest “a-ha!” moments. This is why having a post-campaign review of what did and didn’t work is so important.

Getting to the heart of why your content is rejected by publishers can be extremely helpful — we collect this information, and it’s invaluable for spotting things we can tweak during content production to increase our success rate. When a publisher tells you “no,” many times they will give a brief explanation why (and if they don’t, you can ask nicely for their feedback). Collect and review all of this publisher feedback and review it every few months. Like us, you may notice trends as to why publishers are passing up your content. Use these insights to correct your course instead of continuing to make the same mistakes.

And one last note for anyone creating content for clients: What should you do when your client’s campaign is a flop? To mitigate the risk to our clients, we replace a campaign if it fails to get any publisher coverage. While we’ve rarely had to do this, putting this assurance in place can give both you and your client peace of mind that a low-performing campaign doesn’t mean their investment has gone to waste.

What have you observed about your content that didn’t perform well? Does your experience contradict or mirror any of the lessons I shared?


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