All posts by Tereza Litsa

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Image optimization 101: How to rank higher in image search

SEO is not only about optimizing written content.

The increasing dominance of visual content online has brought with it new opportunities for increasing a site’s search traffic by optimizing videos and images.

Optimizing your images gives your website an additional chance to be found via image search, and a good logo or some eye-catching graphics can be just as effective at attracting visitors to your website as your written content.

But even if you’re highly familiar with optimizing written content for search, you may not know where to begin with optimizing images. What factors do you need to bear in mind? Does keyword usage still apply?

In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about optimizing for image search.

N.B.: This is an updated version of a guide by Dave Davies that we originally published in 2013: Image Optimization: How to Rank on Image Search

Image size

The size of your images can have a big impact on your overall site speed (which is an important search ranking factor), and big, heavy images are one of the biggest culprits for slowing down websites – particularly on mobile.

However, because you also want your images to look good and be eye-catching, especially if they’re the first part of your website that people see in image search, you also don’t want to sacrifice quality. Thus, finding a balance is necessary.

Matt Owen’s article on how to optimize your page images to increase site speed gives some useful pointers here, particularly with regard to not uploading images which are larger than the user will ever see, as this will just slow down your site with no benefit to you or the user.

Which file types are going to be most helpful here? GIF, JPEG and PNG are the three main image file types, which make up 96% of the Internet’s image traffic.

PNG offers a good combination of compression ratio and image quality, and as such is usually your best bet. JPEG can have a compression rate of up to 10x more than the other two formats, but is a lossy format – meaning that it reduces the quality of your images as it compresses them, so consider whether this is a sacrifice you need to make.

Saving your image as a GIF won’t result in a loss of image quality, but it can sometimes reduce color detail, making GIFs most suited to animated images, logos and any other small, simple images.

Google’s PageSpeed Insights offer some more guidelines on how to optimize your images for maximum site speed. 

Image name

The name of your image file can help search engines discover your content in context. This is where keywords enter the picture (as well as in the alt attributes, which we’ll cover below).

If you’re uploading a photo of nature photography, a relevant filename like nature_photography.png has a better chance of ranking well in search than than DSC_1977.png. If it’s possible to be even more specific, such as Hong-Kong-botanical-gardens.png, then that’s even better for SEO.

If you don’t enter a separate title for your image upon upload, the filename will also serve as the image title, which makes it all the more important to be clear and accurate with your filename.

For more on how to optimize your image title text and alt text, read on to the next section.

Alt attributes

Alt attributes are the text alternatives to your image which will appear if your image fails to load, or if the user is accessing your site with an assistive device such as a screenreader. Because web crawlers don’t have eyes, they’re also what search engines “see” instead of an image, making them important for both accessibility and SEO.

As such, the alt text and title text tag fields are the best place to put any keywords relevant to your image, BUT: do not keyword-stuff! This is a poor practice in image SEO just as in text-based SEO, and will do the screenreader users accessing your website no favors.

Title text

The title text is effectively the name of your image, and as such serves a very similar purpose to your image filename. The main difference is that it needs to be human readable as well as machine readable – so use spaces to separate the words in your image, not underscores or dashes (or nothing at all).

There are certain circumstances in which title text is all you need to substitute for your image – if the title text alone describes the image, you don’t always need alt text.

For example, if the image is a headshot of a person, their name alone is sufficient for title text – as it tells both people and search engines what the image is of – and no additional details are necessary in the alt text. Alt attributes are important, but you don’t need to go overboard!

Alt text

This is the field that describes what your image depicts. Alt text can help search engines work out not just the content of an image but the topic of the surrounding text – so it’s important to get it right.

If possible, at least one image on your page should contain your focus keyword, but it’s important not to shoehorn it in. Image alt text should be clear, descriptive, and written in natural language. Imagine it as if you were telling someone who couldn’t see the image what it was about. Which key details would you highlight?

Some guides will place a recommended length on alt text, such as 80 or 150 characters, but in truth the alt text should be as long as it needs to be in order to get the image content across. Try to be succinct, but don’t sacrifice necessary details for the sake of length.

Here is an example of an article graphic (courtesy of Shutterstock) that we uploaded for a recent article, ‘Beyond Google Analytics: 10 SEO analytics and reporting tools‘. The WordPress backend clearly indicates where to input title and alt text:

The alt text we input for this image is as follows: Image of a person typing on a laptop with paper and pens by the side, and a variety of different analytics icons sketched above it, such as graphs, charts and a clipboard.

Page URL and domain authority

The URL of the page that the images are hosted on can affect the image search traffic. If an image is hosted on an optimized page URL on a page which contains quality and relevant content, your chances of image SEO success will be much higher.

Along with the page URL, the page’s domain authority that also can affect an image’s performance in Google Image Search. If a domain already has a reputation for offering quality and relevant content, your image will do better in search. Image SEO is no different to text-based SEO in this regard.

Surrounding content around images

Image optimization doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As such, the copy that surrounds an image on your page is also important for SEO. The relevance of the content, its quality, and the keywords that are used can all affect how the image ranks in search.

The most important copy is the text that immediately surrounds the image. This might be an introductory sentence which precedes the image (for example, “Below is a graph showing the results of a survey carried out among 500 marketers…”) and/or a caption below it which gives some additional context.

Search engines like Google will use this copy to determine how well the image matches the topic of the page. For example, if the focus of the content is on plumbing, an image of a tree has decreased chances of ranking high for the keyword “plumbing examples” (and is likely to confuse your users to boot).

In addition to this, Google’s image recognition AI has become much more sophisticated in recent years, to the point where it can often identify whether the image subject matches up with the rest of your content.

Stock photography

There has been a long discussion over the years on whether using stock photography has a negative effect on your ranking. Google’s Matt Cutts went on the record back in 2013 to state that stock photos do not harm your search rankings, and therefore there is no difference in using them instead of original photos, SEO-wise.

However, there are a couple of caveats to this. One is that stock images are by their nature generic, and so the visual experience of your website will be a lot more generic as a result, particularly if you use a lot of them. This will also not help your image stand out in search results, and a stock image is unlikely to grab the user’s attention – unless of course you’re a stock photography vendor.

The second thing to bear in mind is that there will be countless other copies of the same image as yours out there on other people’s websites. As Dave Davies pointed out in the 2013 version of this guide, “Google doesn’t want to rank multiple copies of the same image any more than they want to rank multiple copies of the same content. If you’re using the same image that’s been found on a hundred other sites before you, why should yours rank?”

For example, if you’re writing about your company’s business culture, you can either pick a stock photo of happy people in an office environment, or simply upload a high-quality photo of your own office with your team members during a meeting. The latter is personal, relevant and interesting, and gives users a sense of what your company is really like.

Content quality is also important in images as it is in text. Matt Cutts pondered in 2013 whether original images might be used as a future quality signal to indicate a trustworthy website, leading to a higher search ranking:

“Who knows – maybe original image sites might be higher quality, whereas a site that just repeats the same stock photos over and over again might not be nearly as high quality.”

While we don’t have concrete confirmation as to whether Google went on to use this as a quality signal in image search, the impression on the user is worth taking into account.

Image engagement and popularity

Search engines value content with high engagement. This means that if you have a high-quality, relevant and original image that starts becoming popular among users, you have more chances of seeing it higher on search results. As with any text post, the popularity of your content can help it reach higher on the SERPs.

The principles of link-building also apply to image search: the more people link to your image, the higher the chances of increased search traffic coming from it. This can also be facilitated by the use of sharing buttons alongside your images. Once your image gets shared on many sites, its popularity will contribute to its success in search.

The popularity of an image can derive from clicks to your site, embeds and shares on other pages, or even social shares. All of them make the image more popular, while also indicating its relevance to the topic it describes. This ultimately makes search engines pay more attention to it.

Overview

In summary, here’s how you can optimize your images to rank higher in search results:

  • Try to reduce the weight of your images, but not to the detriment of quality
  • Pick a relevant filename
  • Use alt attributes to describe your content as accurately as possible
  • Pay attention to the content that’s surrounding your images
  • Try to use original graphics or photography
  • Aim for engaging images that will encourage sharing
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Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

As we reach the fourth quarter of 2017, it’s time to start thinking about the year ahead and what to expect from SEO in 2018.

There are number of search industry trends that we’ve seen the very beginnings of this year and last, which will come into greater prominence in 2018.

Here are seven you should be keeping an eye on in order to stay ahead of the curve.

Voice search and digital assistants 

Voice search technology presents a big opportunity for changing the way we communicate and process information. The rise of digital assistants has presented a growing market that can change the way search queries are performed. According to Google, 1 out of 5 searches already come from voice queries.

This changes the search market and we’re expecting to see an even bigger shift towards voice search in 2018. When it comes to setting up an SEO strategy, the rise of voice search brings out the need to focus on more long-tail search keywords and a natural language that matches the user’s conversational tone.

As accuracy improves in digital assistants, there will be more people using voice search from their mobile devices, seeking for quick and relevant answers. It becomes important to research the voice user intent will provide more accurate results, helping the algorithms provide the best answer.

Moreover, voice search is expected to grow even more with its integration in smart home hubs, helping companies access new data, while users enjoy a seamless experience through everyday devices. As digital assistants go beyond smartphone devices, there is a great opportunity both for SEO and content, taking advantage of a growing market that connects the brand with a user in a unique but still relevant and useful way.

Link building

Link building is not expected to disappear in 2018, but it will be more important than ever to create a strategy that seeks out quality links. There’s no need to aim for new links if they don’t add value and help you build an authority in your target niche.

This doesn’t always mean that the best backlinks come from the most popular sites, but it’s still crucial to seek coverage from sites that are relevant to your industry. Referral traffic can still contribute to your site’s organic search rankings, while it is also useful to start thinking of link building as a long-term process.

A successful SEO strategy in 2018 will move towards relationship building, helping a brand develop powerful contacts and links that will be beneficial in a longer term.

A challenge for 2018 will be dealing with guest blogs and how to involve them as an integral part of a link building strategy without hurting a brand’s reputation. Back in May Google warned publishers who rely too much on guest posting for link building that there will be a closer look at guest blogs in an attempt to control spammy and questionable links.

This brings out the need for a more diversified link building strategy, aiming for a complete backlink profile, rather than single links that can bring successful results.

User experience 

User experience for SEO will become even more important in 2018. Google has made it clear that the focus is on the user and this should make more sites deliver a smooth UX for their visitors.

A good user experience increases the chances of people engaging with the pages that they visit. This helps search engines discover which pages are more useful for people, favoring them over others.

The first step is to monitor a site’s speed, its readability and its navigation structure to examine how these can be improved through the right changes. A closer look at your visitors’ browsing habits can offer helpful insights. For example, if the visits coming directly from search last just 30 seconds, then this probably means that the content or the user experience is hurting your site’s conversions.

Moreover, as more people consume content from their mobile devices, there is a growing need to provide an excellent user experience across all devices.

As SEO heads towards more relevant and personalized experiences, UX will be key to maintaining search traffic by creating an engaged audience. It’s not enough anymore to see a rise in search traffic if it’s not converting or bringing the desired engagement to create a loyal audience.

Featured snippets and Quick Answers 

Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

The popularity of featured snippets has increased the competition among companies trying to appear in “position 0” in the SERP. Gaining a featured snippet in search requires catering to a specific combination of factors, which has opened up SEO beyond the traditional race to the top of Google.

According to Stone Temple Consulting, almost 30% of the test Google search queries show Featured Snippets. This brings out the need for a strategy on how to optimize a site’s content to meet Google’s standards for Featured Snippets.

Lists, tables and graphs tend to be popular, while it’s also useful to create content in a Q&A format, making it easier for Google to extract the right content to show up as a featured snippet.

An interesting angle to focus on during the next year is the optimization of featured snippets for voice search. The combination of two growing trends in the search market can create a great opportunity for more companies to show up at the top of the SERPs. This will involve considering the changes in the search queries, focusing more on longer keywords and natural language.

A similar way to reach the top of the SERPs is to create content that serves as a Quick Answer. Google’s Answer Box is an enhanced type of featured snippet that aims to answer a question in a more appealing way.

It usually follows a “how” or “what” structure and is Google’s attempt to use search intent to organize the search results in a more useful way. It has been observed that the results that show up in an Answer Box can see a CTR of 32.3%.

This will bring out the need for more companies to learn more about search intent and how they can optimize their content to show up in an Answer Box. Thus, a carefully crafted Answer Box strategy can increase both a site’s authority, but also a brand’s conversion.

Mobile-first index

2018 is more than likely to be the year that brands realize the potential of putting mobile first, rather than catering to mobile as an afterthought. This is particularly true if Google decides to make 2018 the year it finally deploys its mobile-first index.

But even if it doesn’t, brands and businesses need to put mobile first anyway: a recent study by BrightEdge found that, 57% of web traffic comes from mobile devices. More than this, there is a significant difference between the way that keywords rank on mobile and the way they rank on desktop – so mobile-first content is needed in order to have the best chance of being visible in mobile search.

Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

As mobile searches are all about context, brands should provide the best possible results for every question, while local SEO is going to become even more popular. Mobile users will seek for more content while they are on the go, which means that brands will face a big opportunity of marketing their business at a local context.

Mobile optimization for local users, along with the rise of voice search, can provide an excellent way to create a successful SEO strategy in 2018 by facilitating the search experience through personalized and relevant answers.

Site speed is critical for search engines and your page’s performance at the SERPs and Accelerated Mobile Pages can make a page load up to four times faster than a standard mobile page. According to Chartbeat, AMP load in a second and they also see a 35% improvement in engagement time.

Google’s focus on AMP has made more publishers consider their use, currently counting more than 2 billion Accelerated Mobile Pages.

The demand is expected to grow in 2018, helping companies improve their engagement and the overall user experience through fast and responsive mobile pages. Brands that want to keep up with the changes in mobile search has to keep up with the trend and experiment whether they need AMP or any other fixes to improve their site speed.

The rise of visual search

Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

Visual search is an exciting area and the combination of technological innovation and user experience can take searching to the next level.

As the internet becomes more visually-focused, there is a great opportunity to explore the power of visual search. Major tech companies including Bing, Pinterest and Google have already invested in developing powerful visual search engines in a bid to capitalize on this new trend.

An SEO strategy in 2018 needs to consider the way we consume visual content and how search engines now go beyond text to explore the changing habits of search. Rich visuals now become more engaging and the use of neuroscience and innovation bring out an interesting and competitive market.

As the competition increases, more companies seem to acknowledge the potential of a successful visual search, while brands need to focus even more on optimizing their visual content for SEO purposes.

AI and machine learning

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already changing the way that search results are ranked. Machine learning can also facilitate the way searches take place, helping users find contextualized results.

This will lead to a more personalized experience, while the rise of voice search and digital assistants can offer the ideal ground to develop artificial intelligence and reward successful SEO strategies that keep up with the trends.

Google’s RankBrain, or else Google’s deep learning algorithm, is also expected to affect the search landscape. Catering to RankBrain often seems like an intimidating prospect to SEOs, and the term “Artificial Intelligence Optimization” has been bandied about a fair amount.

But as Dan Taylor explained in a comprehensive look at RankBrain and SEO, there is no set way to optimize for RankBrain, although certain search practices are now more relevant than ever.

We can expect more changes to come in 2018 where AI and machine learning are concerned, and Google’s determination to develop in this area indicate that there are many more innovations on the horizon.

Improving SEO in 2018

As it seems, 2018 will be an interesting year for SEO. Traditional SEO techniques are still effective, but a number of trends are in the works that could significantly alter the practice of optimizing for search.

What is useful to understand while we proceed towards is 2018 is that SEO is already changing, and the ranking in the first organic spot is not the ultimate goal anymore. As search engines evolve, there are multiple opportunities to increase your search traffic without necessarily focusing on organic SERPs.

The rise of featured snippets, PPC, voice search and local SEO can often yield better results than an organic ranking. That’s why it’s useful to keep up with the latest trends and discover how your brand can maintain a successful SEO strategy for the year ahead by blending established and growing trends.

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Ten steps to successful SEO for startups

SEO can help a growing startup establish its presence and meet business goals. Here’s how to get started with search engine optimization and which areas to focus on.

It’s a common challenge for early-stage and growing startups to find the resources and the time to focus on many different activities that can take their business to the next level. It’s also easy to feel lost among all the tasks, being unable to decide where to start.

SEO is sometimes ignored as an activity when it comes to setting priorities, but it can be very useful in:

  • establishing your startup’s authority
  • reaching a wider audience
  • building traffic and brand awareness
  • improving engagement
  • generating interest in your business

This is an overview of how startups or new businesses can get started with SEO by following a series of steps that can help them improve their online presence and find a new audience.

Set your goals

One of the most important steps when starting with SEO is to align it with your wider goals. It’s useful to set initial goals for what you want to achieve with your content to explore how to involve SEO in the process.

These goals have to be measurable and clear to help you decide on specific ways to achieve them. For example:

  • Double the number of visitors to the site in the next quarter
  • Increase blog traffic by 30% in the next three months
  • Generate interest from 20 new prospects in the next month
  • Increase sales by 20% until the end of the year

The next step is to examine how content fits each goal and what that means for SEO.

For example, if your first goal is doubling the number of visitors in the next quarter, it’s important to build awareness through different channels in order to increase the traffic back to the site. This can be achieved by creating more targeted content, which can also be optimized for search engines.

Keyword research

Once your goals are set, it’s useful to explore how SEO can help the wider business.

Keyword research can help you discover new content opportunities, while it can also improve your existing content.

The focus on the right audience and the right content brings an understanding of the content that they’re more likely to consume. That’s when the keyword research can become more useful to provide you with content ideas and new opportunities to rise in the top of search.

You can start by creating an “ideal list” of the keywords you want to target. Chances are that this list will consist of many popular keywords, which means that it will probably be harder to reach the top of the search results as a new startup. The next step is to use a tool to perform the actual keyword research and find new opportunities for keywords to target.

Long tail keywords may offer more chances to show up higher in the search results, while you can also perform manual searches on your own to test the first pages of the keywords you want to target. This will allow you to understand how SEO can work for your target audience and what types of pages ranked higher in SERPs.

A keyword research can also be the start of your content planning, by producing more keyword-focused content in an authentic yet strategic way that can position your business higher in search results.

Analyze your existing content

An important next step is to create an overview of your existing content – any blog posts, or general pieces of copy you’ve created to promote your business. This allows you to spot any content gaps or pieces of content that need to be updated or even removed.

A content inventory allows you to organize every piece of content that exists on your site. This makes it easier to create a content audit for SEO purposes, to explore how your content currently performs and how you can improve it.

A content audit can be a spreadsheet that features all your published content and it can include:

  • Page URL
  • Page title
  • Meta description
  • Wordcount
  • Type of content
  • Condition of content – Evergreen, out of date, re-used, off-topic, etc.

If you still haven’t written meta descriptions or set the conditions of each piece of content, then these can be filled gradually, as you start organizing your SEO strategy. Still, they can be very useful in having them all together in one spreadsheet, even when you fill them later on.

Check for errors

There are many possible errors that can affect your content’s SEO. That’s why it’s a good idea to spot and fix any issues, including:

Duplicate content

There’s a danger that duplicate content will cannibalize the keywords you want to target in search. Duplicate content can be a problem on your own site, but also with any guest posts that you submit to other websites for backlinks – make sure that they don’t resemble your original piece of content too heavily. We’ll talk more about backlinks later on in this post.

Broken images

It’s easy to have a broken image on your site, especially if you’re sharing it from an external source. That’s why it’s useful to check your pages for missing images, improving the first impressions of your content.

404 error pages

A page that’s no longer working can affect your site’s rankings in search engines, but also user experience and the engagement. If you recently migrated content or changed any URLs, you may need to check for any 404 error pages that you’re not aware of.

In fact, you can even turn them into a content marketing asset or add a fun element to them. For more on this, see Stuart Shaw’s excellent guide, ‘How to create the perfect 404 page‘.

Broken links

As with broken images, broken links can harm your site’s reputation, but also the user experience. A broken link can affect your page’s ranking. Luckily it’s easy to discover broken links and fix them with tools such as Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider and Moz Pro.

Optimize content 

There are many ways to optimize your content for search engines. The so-called on-site SEO can be improved with a number of fixes:

URL structure

The structure of your URL can affect both your page’s ranking, but also the user experience. Thus, it’s a good idea to create clear and readable URLs, both for humans, but also for search engines. For example, this url www.example.com/seo-best-practices is better than this one www.example.com/index.php?id_sezione=360&sid=4j3898enno0223bns983201djis03

Title

The title of each page should be clear, concise and descriptive. It can improve both the traffic on your page, but also the ranking provided that the rest of the text matches the title’s expectations.

Formatting

A focus on the formatting of your page can facilitate the crawling for search engines, while it also enhances the readability for your readers. For example, the headings can make the scanning of the content easier, creating a smoother experience and a clear structure.

Meta tags

Meta tags are the HTML elements that search engines and visitors find your content. It’s what they can see in a search engine and thus, it’s important to add value in a limited number of characters. The title and the description should perfectly describe the topic; here are some examples to help you create better meta descriptions.

Internal linking

The addition of internal links – links from your own domain – to your content can be very effective for SEO. It’s a strategic way to inform search engines about the topics you want to serve as an authority, making it easier to showcase all the pages you’ve created for them. It also helps you rank higher on the keywords you are targeting, while facilitating the reading experience for the engaged readers who want to read more.

SEO for images

Ten steps to successful SEO for startups

Search engine optimization goes beyond text. Visual content also requires optimization in order to be indexed by search engines.

The title has to be descriptive rather than generic, such as image32.jpg, while it’s also useful to add an alt-tag to help Google spot your images. Moreover, the size also contributes to your page’s user experience, so it’s better to keep it as small as possible.

Excessive use of generic stock photographs can undermine the authenticity of your content, so where possible, try to source your own, or use screenshots and other informative images instead.

Optimizing images for search also increases the chances for users to discover your content, as many people will come across a picture via image search and visit the original web page to find out its context.

Think about featured snippets 

Ten steps to successful SEO for startups

Google’s featured snippets, also known as “position zero” on the SERP, can be a great opportunity to get one over your competitors in search results.

Anyone can grab a featured snippet spot if you know how to optimize for it, which makes them a huge source of potential visibility for a startup trying to get its name out there.

The first thing to bear in mind is that your content should provide an answer to a specific question in a clear and descriptive way. The formatting, the word count and even the way you present the content can increase the chances of seeing your content appear as a featured snippet.

For more on this, check out our guides on featured snippets:

Involving PR, influencers, and backlinks

You can improve your SEO not only through on-site optimization, but also through external sources (known as off-page SEO). A startup that is just growing needs all the available coverage it can find for its services and its content. The combination of PR, influencers and backlinks can be very successful to an improved SEO strategy.

Public relations can help a startup build relationships with the right people in the industry. The combination of knowing your target audience and asking for professional help to expand your reach can increase the brand awareness and the interest in your business. This can boost your SEO by becoming an authority in your field, without spending time on networking all by yourself.

Moreover, influencer marketing can be very powerful and it can even be a manual activity, finding the best influencers for your niche and develop a genuine connection with them. As influencers have a big impact on affecting decisions, they can be the right people to help your startup grow. A startup should think like a person, not a business, that’s why it’s useful to put people to the front and start having conversations either online or offline during events and conferences.

Another useful way to build your authority and help SEO is to focus on gaining backlinks, or else links from external sources. If your business and your content are interesting enough to grab other sites’ attention, then this means that a larger audience will also be able to find you. Backlinks seem to be among the top three Google ranking factors, which means that it’s crucial to build a strategy on how to create interesting content and then how to promote it to the right sources.

Further Reading

Mobile optimization and UX

It’s critical nowadays to optimize your site for mobile devices. Google has already acknowledged the importance of mobile as a ranking signal and as more people consume content through their mobile devices, it becomes an even bigger priority to optimize your content.

While optimizing for mobile might seem like an expense you can do without in the early days of your startup, it’s also a vital component of being a competitive business, as well as getting your message out to the largest number of people.

Even a few simple things, like paying attention to image size and improving your site speed, will greatly boost your site’s performance on mobile and make it easier to implement full-on mobile optimization further down the line.

Use our mobile-friendly site checklist to make sure you hit the key points when optimizing your site for mobile.

Measuring SEO

A common question for anyone getting started with SEO is how to measure its success. A growing startup is interested in using SEO to:

  • build authority
  • increase traffic
  • improve engagement
  • expand reach

There are many ways to measure all these, but the most common metrics to focus on are:

Traffic

Organic traffic can tell the number of users who visited your page through search results. This can be a good indication whether SEO has placed your content high up the rankings, or whether it’s interesting enough to make visitors search for it further in the results.

In either way, it’s a great sign that you’re on the right track to create a solid SEO strategy with the right content and an understanding of what your audience likes.

Engagement

Engagement can be measured by the time users spend on the site, the bounce rate, or even the shares and the number of comments. All these can tell whether your content, the user experience, or the relevance match the readers’ expectations, offering a great start of what can be improved on each page.

Ranking

Your content’s ranking on search results will gradually show your progress while improving SEO. Moreover, a keyword performance can indicate whether your content was successful enough to target specific keywords and how it performs compared to the competitors.

Conversions

Conversions aren’t just about making sales – the term “conversion” can refer to any action you want users to perform after visiting your site, such as subscribing to a newsletter.

Domain authority and number of links

The actual number of links that you’ve gained from other sources leading back to your site serves as a great metric to show the interest towards your content. As the number of links increases, especially if they come from sources of high quality and relevance, so does your domain authority.

Domain authority is a measure of the “weight” your site carries in search, and as it improves, so do the chances of seeing your content higher up the search results.

There are many free tools you can use to measure your SEO performance, including:

  • Google Analytics for traffic, engagement, conversion
  • Google Search Console for keyword and page ranking
  • Google PageSpeed Insights for your page’s performance
  • Keywordtool.io / Google Keyword Planner (Adwords) for keyword ranking
  • Copyscape for duplicate content
  • MozBar for on-page metrics

Plus, check out our list of 15 Chrome extensions to aid in your SEO efforts.

Overview

SEO can help your startup grow in the crucial early stages of your business. While you don’t need to get hugely technical with SEO at this stage, following some simple steps will aid in discovery of your new brand, and help you to gain a foothold in your chosen niche.

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5 tips to create a data-driven content marketing strategy

Content marketing has become the secret weapon in a successful marketing strategy, with brands using different types of content to add value and grab their audience’s attention.

It has become more important than ever to market with intent, using content and SEO to raise awareness, engage and convert.

Conversion, in particular, is one of the biggest challenges for content marketing, but according to Curata, 74% of companies believe that their content marketing strategy helps them increase the quality and quantity of their leads.

The rise of IoT and our constant connectivity to the online world through smartphones, wearables and social media have brought a wealth of new data. This serves as a great opportunity for marketers to understand what a modern consumer wants and how to include these findings in a content marketing strategy.

Content marketing cannot be successful without data, as marketers risk guessing, rather than actually knowing, the habits of their target audience.

A data-driven content marketing strategy can be more efficient, helping marketers save time and money by focusing on the right content that will bring them closer to their goals.

Here are five ways that data can improve a content marketing strategy.

Understanding your target audience

One of the main reasons to invest in a data-driven content marketing strategy is to gain the best possible understanding of the target audience.

A solid content marketing strategy can bring the audience closer to the brand. This can only happen through a framework that takes into consideration the audience’s habits, preferences, and needs.

An analysis of the available data can help marketers draft more relevant personas, which helps in tailoring content to the target audience.

Data can provide useful answers to questions such as:

  • the customers’ reaction to the existing content
  • their favorite types of content
  • their preferred methods of communications
  • the channels they are using
  • their browsing habits

This should be the start of an effective content marketing strategy, setting up the groundwork for a data-driven approach that relies on insights, rather than assumptions about the target audience.

Content discovery

The process of coming up with content ideas can be challenging, especially in small teams. A closer look at the available data can help marketers create content that fits their goals.

Data can be part of the content discovery process in the following ways:

Keyword research

Keyword research is not only useful in SEO, but it can also offer useful content suggestions, tailored to the target audience and their search habits. For example, keyword analysis can help marketers come up with new content ideas, going beyond the most popular terms and targeting topics that can still be successful, without being predictable.

Content performance

An analysis of the existing content’s performance can offer useful insights, from the most popular posts to the audience’s browsing habits. This data can help marketers create more effective content, adjusting if needed the length of it, the formatting, the visual assets, or even the user experience if there seems to be a high bounce rate.

Competitor analysis

Another useful aspect that can help in the process of content discovery is to monitor what your competitors are writing about. It might be a good idea to monitor your competitors’ most popular topics, the types of content they are using, the ideas they are expanding into, or even the creative aspect of their content marketing strategy. This can give you a good indication of their most successful aspects, while you can also explore the areas that you could cover.

Monitoring latest trends

It’s extremely useful to monitor the latest trends that are relevant in your content’s context. A closer look at Google Trends, Facebook, and Twitter’s trending topics, or even the latest headlines can help you get inspired on new content topics. Moreover, an analysis of the latest trends, the audience’s response, and their metrics in terms of virality can offer a useful perspective on the content that people prefer to share.

Content delivery

It’s essential for marketers to deliver content to their audience via their preferred format and channels. This requires an analysis of several key areas:

  • length of content
  • type of content (blog, video, image, presentation, podcast, etc)
  • formatting
  • desktop vs mobile
  • relevance
  • value
  • quantity over quality

There are many questions that need to be answered when drafting a content marketing strategy, but luckily the use of data can provide the answers to all these questions.

A closer look at Google Analytics or other similar platforms can offer useful insights.

These increase the chances for the content to become part of the customer journey, by helping prospects move along the funnel, from awareness to an actual purchase.

Moreover, another interesting trend is the rise of real-time data that can help marketers become more responsive to their content. Social networks are usually the most useful platforms to serve real-time content during an event or an important announcement. In that case, data can offer the right direction for the content, from the sentiment to the actual performance of the campaign.

Analyzing distribution

An effective content marketing strategy needs to equally focus on the creation and the distribution of the content.

A focus on data can help marketers decide on the channels they should use for the promotion of their content. This depends on the target audience and campaign goals, and data can tell whether the focus should be on:

  • earned media (PR, mentions)
  • paid media (social and search advertising)
  • owned media (site, blog, social content)
  • shared media (referrals, word of mouth, influencers)

Content distribution becomes more challenging with the abundance of the available channels and the new opportunities for promotion. Not all of them are effective though for every type of content. That’s how data can become extremely useful to analyse the existing results, but also how the new content can explore new paths for promotion.

5 tips to create a data-driven content marketing strategy

Image: Smart Insights

Measuring success

According to CMI’s report, the most popular tool that marketers use for content marketing is their analytics platform (79%). This indicates the need to measure the content’s performance while justifying the KPI of their content marketing strategy.

The focus on analytics tools doesn’t necessarily mean that all marketers are still able to tell whether their content marketing strategy is successful. In fact, according to Curata, only 30% of leading marketers are confident enough that their content marketing has an impact at the bottom of the sales funnel.

As more data become available, marketers can take advantage of all the insights to understand their content’s performance and how it brings them closer to KPIs.

5 tips to create a data-driven content marketing strategy

Image: Beth Kanter

The most useful metrics to track your content performance include:

  • blog visits
  • time on page
  • bounce rate
  • number of comments
  • number of shares
  • number of mentions
  • inbound links
  • press coverage
  • number of generated leads
  • number of conversions

The need to pay attention to these when measuring a content marketing strategy brings out the importance for modern marketers to blend their creative with their analytical side. As we gain the capacity to collect and analyze increasing quantities of data, marketing is becoming increasingly analytical – but creativity is still crucial, and is what sets humans apart from bots in the marketing industry.

Overview

Many marketers are eager to dive into data in order to create a successful content marketing strategy. The more data we process, the better the insights we can glean about our target audience.

A data-driven content marketing strategy starts with an analysis of the existing data, but it’s also important to proceed with actionable steps.

The most effective marketing strategies translate data into their customers’ needs, creating successful content that speaks to their needs, but also your company’s goals.

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7 more tips to improve your content creation

The rise of content marketing has made content creation a key focus for businesses, and the issue of how to improve their content and its performance is at the forefront of many marketers’ minds.

At the Summit on Content Marketing earlier this summer, I gave a presentation on “15 ways to improve your content writing”. In Part 1 of this article, we covered eight of those tips, including creative brainstorming, grabbing the reader’s attention, content length, layout and formatting.

Here are seven more ways that you can improve your content creation and see better performance from your content marketing.

Pick the best headline

A headline is probably the first thing that someone notices about your content. Whether people discover your content in search results, social media, or a homepage,  a title contributes to their decision to click on the link.

What are the elements of a great title?

  • Clarity: Your headline should be clear and descriptive. Any confusion can only keep the readers away from it.
  • Brevity: A headline doesn’t have to be long to offer the right context. From an SEO perspective, a title doesn’t have to be more than 60 characters. Thus, you only have up to 60 characters to offer the right preview to your topic. That’s even half the limit to what Twitter allows you!
  • Relevance: Not everyone is aiming for relevance when crafting a title and this may be part of an attempt to entice people to click on a post. “Clickbait” techniques are usually not helpful in a long term basis, especially if your actual content has nothing to do with the headline. Be as relevant as possible.
  • Emotional appeal: How does emotional appeal affect the click rate on a headline? We are all human beings and this makes us susceptible to powerful language that offers an emotional appeal.

You don’t have to create an exaggerated headline to convey the right emotional element, but you can still think of how words can facilitate a reader’s decision towards your content.

My favorite tool to analyze the possible performance of different headlines is CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. This is a free tool that grades your headlines, while it also offers useful tips on how to improve them.

Its analysis of word balance and the use of words gives the user insights into the science of an effective headline, and it has been a useful ally for me when thinking of my next topic.

Aim for simplicity

It’s good to aim for simplicity in your content writing, as this will make your content accessible to a wider audience and improve its ease of readability and parsing. There’s no need to use overly complicated words to make a point.

Here are some examples on how to simplify your writing:

in order to –> to

ways by which –> which

despite the fact –> although

leverage –> use

Proper spelling and grammar, of course, are still important in any type of content.

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

Avoid passive voice

Your copy gets stronger when focusing on the subject. Passive voice can create a distance between your message and the readers, while an active voice is direct and clear. It can engage and motivate your readers, making your copy interesting and stronger.

Avoid using unnecessary adverbs

Adverbs don’t always contribute to the clarity of your content. It’s better to use them only when they make sense. Think of removing the ones you’ve already used, and test whether your copy can still stand out without them.

Write what comes naturally

There’s no need to shoehorn in buzzwords to impress your audience. It’s common in marketing content to think that jargon enhances your message, but in fact, it only makes your content seem trite and predictable. Think like your readers, and create content that they’ll enjoy reading.

Be consistent with verb tenses 

Longer sentences can end up confusing your readers. There are also more chances to mess up the tenses that you’re using. Pay attention to each sentence, and you’ll find the consistency of the tenses that will improve your copy.

Don’t ignore SEO

Search traffic can be a powerful ally in your bid to increase your audience through content writing. While it might seem like a lot of extra work to think about SEO as you’re creating content, it actually fits fairly naturally into the content creation process.

Here are some things to bear in mind:

Title

The title helps search engines understand what your content is about. There needs to be a combination of relevance and brevity. It has to be useful, both for readers, but also for search crawlers.

Keywords

Keywords can be very useful as part of your text, provided that they are added naturally in the right context. There’s no need to overuse a keyword simply to make sure that a crawler discovers your topic (an old tactic known as ‘keyword stuffing’). In fact, this may lead to negative results.

Headings

As we covered in the previous part of this article, headings are a key part of clear content structure and formatting. They’re also important to SEO, as they give search engine crawlers an idea of what you’re covering.

A good rule of thumb can be to add your focus keyword at least once in a heading, as this makes it easier for search engines to understand the main topic.

Meta description

A meta description is a short summary of a topic. It’s the text that shows up right after the title in search results. This makes it the second most important part after your headline, and it may affect whether users click on your page.

For an SEO-focused guide on how to write good meta descriptions, check out ‘How to write meta descriptions for SEO (with good and bad examples)‘.

7 more tips to improve your content creation

Improve readability

Readability refers to the level of comprehension for your text. This encompasses things like language, the writing style, the use of sentences, or even the words that you choose.

In a more scientific explanation, the measurement of readability takes into account: the speed of perception, the visibility, the effort required for reading speed, the eye movements and the fatigue in reading.

How can you increase the readability of your content?

  • Pay attention to the font. Pick a clean and simple font and make sure that the size makes your text legible without further effort. 
  • Allow enough space for your content. Whether it’s the number of paragraphs you’re using or the line height, they all contribute to the concept of readability
  • Use simple writing, avoid jargon or complicated words. It’s tempting to use an improved vocabulary, but it’s also important to ensure that the content is still understood by your audience.
  • Avoid long sentences. Aim for clear and simple structure. As with the use of words, simplicity is appreciated. Moreover, it also reduces the chances of getting your readers tired while reading.

Think of social optimization

7 more tips to improve your content creation

A good indication of content success is its performance on social media, the number of likes, shares, or comments it receives.

The chances of social success can be improved by working on social optimization. Social optimization is the process that reminds you the importance of social media in a content’s journey. If you want to reach a wider audience, then you need to make sure that your content is as optimized as possible for social media.

Here are 5 quick tips on how to focus on social optimization:

Think of the headline

As with SEO optimization, your headline will determine whether social users find your content interesting enough to click on. However, beware of employing clickbait techniques such as withholding key information from the headline in order to attract clicks – it may see your content penalized by social platforms, and your readers won’t thank you either.

Pay attention to the images you’re adding 

Use a featured image that’s large enough to be shared on all social networks. Every social platform has its own dimensions, so a large image will still be clear and eye-catching regardless of the platform. Moreover, an image may be the first thing that someone notices about your social post.

Adjust the description

As with SEO, the description helps readers get an overview of your post. Optimizing both for search engines and social media requires the right balance between keyword optimization and personal appeal. Be creative and spend some time devising the best way to describe your content in just a couple of sentences.

Add sharing buttons

It may sound obvious nowadays that we need to include sharing buttons in our content. However, it’s still a good reminder when we’re thinking of social optimization to consider that readers will be more likely to to share our content if we make it easier for them to do so. Make sure you’re including the sharing buttons in the right place on your page.

Encourage likes and shares

Except for the default sharing buttons, there are many plugins and tools that encourage readers to show their social approval for a post. For example, a Facebook like button can be more appealing than a “share to Facebook” button, as it involves a faster process to show your social approval.

Think like a user

This is a combination of blending user experience with psychology, in an attempt to produce the right content for the right audience.

Google Analytics can help you monitor your readers’ habits. From the length of their visits to the most popular posts, or even the pages with the highest bounce rate, you can start understanding which pieces of content are most effective.

What made these pages more effective? Was it the value, the language, or even the images that you used? How about the content that wasn’t effective?

This is where user experience can offer very interesting insights.

You don’t need technical knowledge to understand how user experience affects your content.

For example, here are three quick ways to test whether your content has a user-centric design:

Mobile optimization

As smartphones dominate our lives, content tends to get more consumed in mobile devices. Not everyone creates content with mobile users in mind, and this may be a good opportunity to start thinking of it.

Responsiveness

Your content and your pages have to be responsive enough to allow readers to use them as much as possible. An error or a non-functional plugin may lead to a missed opportunity of converting a new reader. Usability, accessibility and page performance are three key areas for your readers and the way they see your content.

Conversion rates

The user experience has to be smooth enough to help readers move through your pages. This increases the chance of turning them into loyal readers and even customers. A combination of design and content strategy can improve your content appeal to your new readers.

The user experience honeycomb by Peter Morville shows us seven facets of a good user experience. A good user experience then has to be useful, desirable, accessible, credible, findable, usable, and valuable.

7 more tips to improve your content creation

Using free tools

There are so many tools out there to help improve our writing, and luckily many of them are free, so here are a few to try out.

  • Hemingway: Hemingway App helps you improve the clarity in your text by identifying long, complex sentences and common errors. It makes your writing bold and clear by suggesting the parts of text you need to improve.
  • Grammarly: Grammarly is another useful tool to instantly check for more than two hundred types of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. I find very handy the Chrome plugin when creating online content, as it may even turn out useful when adding additional spaces or unknown words.
  • Buzzsumo: Buzzsumo helps you analyse what content performs best for any topic or competitor. It’s one of my favourite tools to test the “virality” (if that’s the proper term in that case) of my content, as it offers an insight on the most shared posts. For example, I can search for my name as an author, or the most popular posts in the sites that I’m writing on, and I can get a great overview of the content that got the highest number of shares on social media.
  • Readable: Readable is one of the apps that help you monitor your content’s readability score, along with keyword density, sentiment analysis. Time to cut out the noise.
  • CoSchedule’s Headline Analyser: This is my favourite tool to explore the art of an effective headline. You even get a score for the suggested headlines you’re adding. It’s useful when you’re trying to understand the overall headline quality and its ability to result in social shares, increased traffic, and SEO value.
  • Writefull: Writefull is an app that gives feedback on your writing by checking your text against databases of correct language. Did you use the right phrase? Should you change it? You may be surprised with the results.
  • StayFocusd: StayFocusd is a productivity extension for Google Chrome that helps you stay focused on work by restricting the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites. Yes, this mainly refers to social media and it’s a very useful plugin for every writer.

Overview

7 more tips to improve your content creation

You don’t have to be a professional writer to create online content. What’s important is to set clear goals for the reasons you’re creating content, while considering your target audience.

Improve your content by focusing on:

  • the writing process
  • different content types you can create
  • the length of your content
  • its structure and
  • formatting
  • headline
  • the language you’re using
  • along with SEO
  • readability
  • social optimization
  • user experience

It’s all about understanding how content works and what opportunities it can unlock for your business.

After all, if the goal is to create content that your readers will love, you’re the only person who knows the best way to achieve it.

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on how to improve your content creation. For a recap of Part 1, read ‘8 tips for improving your content creation‘.

For the full presentation on ’15 ways to improve your content writing’ from the Summit on Content Marketing, check out the slides on SlideShare.

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8 tips for improving your content creation

The rise of content marketing has brought content creation to the forefront for all businesses. This makes it more important than ever to explore the best ways to create effective content.

The definition of effective content for every business may be different, but in general, it still has to bring you closer to your goals.

That’s why effective content has to resonate with your target readers.

Earlier this summer, I gave a presentation entitled “15 ways to improve your content writing” at the Summit on Content Marketing. Here are the first eight of those tips.

Set a writing process

A structured writing process can help you save time and become more productive. As there’s an increasing need for content nowadays, it’s important to find the best process that can help you focus on content creation.

For example, it might be helpful to dedicate a set block of time on your calendar for content writing, putting aside all distractions.

If you start to get stuck, it may be a good idea to stay away from the copy for a while and either take a break or have someone else read it for a fresh perspective.

Creative brainstorming

It’s not always easy to come up with a new content idea, and this can sometimes require some creative brainstorming moments with other team members.

Keeping a content calendar or notebook can help you organize all your ideas, ranked from best to worst – any of these can offer a new perspective on your content goals.

If you’re still struggling for content ideas, take a look at our 21 quick ways to find inspiration for creating content to help you with your next great post.

Grab the reader’s attention

Although the widely-reported ‘fact’ that we now have an attention span of 8 seconds has been called into question, internet users are more discerning with their time than ever before. There is a huge abundance of content available online, and your content needs to be able to grab the user’s attention, and hold it, in order to succeed.

In the digital world, there is any number of competing demands on the user’s attention. Our attention shifts from one task to another as we open new tabs or check multiple screens. Why should the user keep reading – or watching, or listening to – your content? You need to hook their attention and keep it there. 

Explore different types of content

One way to convince users to pay more attention to your content marketing is to mix up your formats. The last few years have seen an explosion in the types of content available to create and host online, with each one serving a different purpose.

Images 

Images are the most popular type of visual content. They offer a powerful impact on a message and they certainly create a memorable experience. It is easier for the human brain to actually process an image and this increases the chances for your copy to be remembered.

As 65% of people are visual learners, there is more chance your readers will notice your content if you pair it with the relevant images.

Infographics

Information graphics, or infographics, are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly.  The use of graphics enhances our ability to see patterns and trends, which makes complex information more appealing and shareable.

Readers tend to spend more time processing an infographic, compared with a written text, and that’s what makes them engaging, especially when they are added as part of a blog post. They’re also more shareable than other types of content. In fact, infographics are shared and liked three times more than any other visual content.

This makes them a very useful addition to the promotion of your content, and it’s no surprise that marketers are using them more and more in their content marketing strategy.

Video

Video content has taken the lead as the most popular visual type of content over the last two years, a trend which has been boosted by social media. According to Cisco, videos will make up 80% of all internet traffic by 2019. This highlights how video content is going to become even more important. Even if we don’t use it as our primary form of content, it is still a powerful medium to support our message. 

For example, we can use a short video to:

– share tips and “how-to” ideas

– build trust

– increase engagement

– add value

Live video is another emerging trend, and it offers an immediacy that online users seem to enjoy quite a lot. Marketers and business owners have placed video among their top priorities for 2017 in an attempt to create more appealing and effective content.

Remember, it’s not always necessary to hire a video producer to create short and entertaining videos that offer value to your audience.

GIFs

A GIF, which stands for Graphics Interchange Format, is a type of an animated image that was developed more than 30 years ago. It may not be new, but it’s a popular form of media with online users, as a quick way to share visual content that straddles the line between an image and a video.

According to Giphy, there are currently around 150 million original GIFs out there online. They can be more powerful than an image, but they are also smaller in size than a video. Although GIFs are usually funny and informal, they can still fit with your content strategy, provided that you know how to use them in the right context of course.

For example, how about using a GIF to explain a process in a “how-to” post? Or how about using a funny movie quote in an attempt to show your casual side while trying to show a more personal approach?

GIFs can help you to:

– show your brand’s personality

– divide large chunks of text

– explain a process

– tell a story

What all of these types have in common is the creative way to present content, reaching people who like consuming content in different ways.

For example, if you want to explain a complicated concept, you can use an infographic to make the process easier for your audience. You can still create a blog post, and integrate the infographic with the rest of the written content.

This increases the chances for your audience to stay engaged and enjoy what you have to offer.

Decide on the ideal length for your content

Content marketers often wonder whether long-form content is dead in the era of ‘bite-sized’ content. It may seem logical to assume that readers prefer shorter content, but this isn’t always the case.

According to Orbit Media Studios, blog content is actually getting longer year by year. In 2016 the average blog post length was 1054 words – up from 887 words in 2015.

8 tips for improving your content creation

This means that readers still value long-form content – provided that it’s interesting of course.

Of course, length alone won’t guarantee the success of your content.

However, the length of your content can indicate the depth of the topic you’re covering. If the goal of your copy is to increase awareness, build trust and offer value, then the length may be a key part of your success.

You just need to find a balance between quantity and quality.

Aim for clear structure

Your readers will appreciate a piece of content that is clear and organized. There’s no need to suffocate your writing with big chunks of sentences.

Another point to consider is how people consume content through different devices. Not everyone accesses your content through the same screen, which means that your content has to be optimized for all devices.

This includes its layout. What seems like a small paragraph on a desktop may turn out to be a really big paragraph on a mobile device. And that’s a good reason to test your content on all devices before you publish it.

8 tips for improving your content creation

Moreover, you can organize your thoughts using bullet points, which has the dual benefit of being direct and practical, while also being more clearly readable, helping readers to focus on the most important aspects of your message.

Bullet points can be useful at the end of a piece of text as an overview of what you’ve covered. This is a quick way to allow readers to get back to the things they need to remember from what they’ve just read.

Beware, though – too many bullet points can produce the exact opposite result.

Spend time on formatting your content

How does formatting differ from structure? This has to do more with the way you present your actual content, rather than the way you organize the sentences. However, they are both important in their own way, with the ultimate goal being to convince readers to spend more time on your content.

For example, if you want to make your content more appealing, then you need to add images throughout the text. It’s usually suggested we add the images in a way that they separate the longer paragraphs. If you want to make a point through a series of paragraphs, then break those up with an image that supplements your content, giving the readers’ eyes a break.

When it comes to formatting, one of the most important tips is to pay attention to headings.

8 tips for improving your content creation

Headings allow you to divide your content into logical sections, each one headed up by a catchy title. Spend a decent amount of time thinking up each heading – and don’t be afraid to use plenty of them.

Ranging in terms of importance (and font size), headings span from H1 to H6. You can use a range of different header sizes if you want to label certain sections of your content with subheadings, or you can stick with just a couple throughout.

It’s also useful to keep in mind that headings contribute to SEO and the way search engines discover your content. As crawlers, the magic bots that search for content, access your writing, headings make your content structure easier to parse, and help to highlight the important bits.

Thus, if your headings are relevant and interesting, you’re also going to help your content rank well in search.

Set a goal for your content

8 tips for improving your content creation

Before you dive into content writing, it’s useful to set a goal of what you want to achieve with your content.

There are many ways to use your content. Not every post should serve the same goal and in fact, it’s useful to have a variety of content with different purposes.

For example, your latest post can promote your new product, but it’s probably not a good idea to do that with a series of ten posts in a row.

Readers don’t like overt promotion via content, but you can still create valuable content that happens to also be promotional. Just ensure that your content serves a genuine purpose beyond promoting whatever you want to draw attention to. Ask yourself: What would I, as the reader, be able to learn from this?

While setting a goal for your content, make sure you’re not turning your content into an automatic machine of business jargon. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of the outcome more than the actual process before it. If you’re only thinking of the goal and not the copy, then you risk losing your unique brand voice and your readers along with it.

Set a goal, then start writing, leave the goal aside and focus on your content. Once your post is published and you’re tracking metrics, you can return to the initial goal and see whether you’ve come close to achieving it.

This is Part 1 of a two-part series on improving your content creation process. Read Part 2: 7 more tips to improve your content creation

PPC 102: Seven tips to improve your paid search campaigns

Once you’ve got the basics of PPC down, how can you improve on those efforts further? Here are seven tips to take your campaign to the next level.

We recently gave eight tips to help beginner search marketers get their first campaigns off the ground, with our article ‘PPC 101: Eight tips to get started‘. This is the sequel to that course, PPC 102, with seven more tips to help you improve on what you’re already doing.

You don’t have to be a PPC expert to create a successful campaign with strong ROI. All you need is the time to understand how PPC works and to improve your efforts in a series of small but effective steps.

Set up conversion tracking

It’s really important to be able to measure your PPC efforts and this can be achieved by setting up the tracking pixels on your pages. Right before you start with PPC ads, you can add a conversion code to your site to be more prepared for the analysis of your campaigns.

This will allow you to understand which ads work better for your audience, bringing you closer to conversions. It can be extremely useful for PPC beginners to learn what counts as an effective PPC ad and whether their first attempts can bring them closer to ROI.

Conversion pixels make analysis of your campaigns more specific by offering the right insights on the ads that make leads and sales easier.

Focus on quality keywords

Keyword research is among the first steps to take when planning a PPC campaign. The end result of this can be a long list of keywords to explore, but do you really need to test them all? It’s tempting to try all of them until you find the most successful ones for your business, but it’s usually more effective to focus on the most important ones for your goals.

Quality keywords are not the same for every business or even every campaign, and this depends on what you want to achieve. These may not even be the most popular, but they will probably have more chances of converting than the rest.

Focus on what you define as quality keywords, even this is quite a limited pool. This will save you both time and budget.

Learn more about your audience

As we mentioned in PPC 101, it’s important to find your audience before you set up a PPC campaign. This tip is helping you take the understanding to the next level. Once you do find the ideal audience for your ads, it’s good to spend the right time to learn as many things as possible about them.

It might be useful to develop personas that help you understand your audience’s habits to be able to create more effective ads that lead to higher conversion rates.

Once you understand your audience, it’s time to analyse how they function in all the stages of your funnel. Where does your target audience sit as part of your sales cycle? How does that affect your ads and your set goals?

For example, it’s different targeting new prospect leads comparing to past customers you want to retarget and this can be reflected in your planning for your next PPC ads.

Set a landing page that matches your ads

Every PPC ad should lead to a relevant landing page to ensure that the audience is exposed to the right details after clicking on an ad. This may include more information about the product, answering questions, offering options for the next steps and most of all, speaking the same language as the ad.

It’s not just about creating effective PPC copy for your ad – it’s equally important to maintain consistency between the ad and the landing page your audience visits. This increases the chances for more conversions, as users can feel that the message resonates throughout all the pages.

Focus on the image of your ad

A successful PPC ad consists of compelling copy, but also an appealing and relevant image. As the internet becomes more visual year by year and people become accustomed to visual content, an image can significantly aid the effectiveness of your search ads.

Pick carefully the image you’ll use in every ad, aiming for:

  • visual appeal
  • relevance
  • high quality

It would be ideal if an image could create an association with a product or a company, as this could increase the chances for a long-term experience.

Be careful though, as the image still has to be relevant to the ad. Visual appeal on its own cannot increase conversions if the image is irrelevant to the ad.

Optimize your ads for mobile

As more and more users increase the time they spend on mobile devices, they are exposed to more advertising on mobile. We often talk and think of mobile optimization in terms of optimizing mobile websites, but optimizing your mobile ads is just as important.

According to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report 2017, internet advertising saw a growth of 22% the last year, with mobile advertising contributing significantly to this increase.

This serves as a good reminder of why all PPC campaigns should be mobile-optimized to target a growing audience.

The process of mobile optimization for a PPC ad includes paying special attention to:

  • ad copy
  • ad image
  • habits of mobile users
  • landing page

Once your campaign is underway, an analysis of the conversions can tell whether mobile users found the ad interesting enough to click on it. 

Explore PPC ads holistically

PPC advertising can be very useful by itself, but it’s still more effective to consider as a component part of your entire digital marketing strategy.

It’s not just about launching a successful PPC campaign to reach the desired results, as these will still be aligned with your broader marketing and sales goals.

For example, a PPC campaign can lead to more improved results when it’s aligned with SEO strategy, social media marketing and email marketing.

A multi-channel approach is more popular among marketers these days, as it is more reflective the way people consume content and sees ads through multiple channels and devices.

The acquired data from a holistic approach to your marketing allows you to see how other channels interact with your PPC ads. It also helps you to understand your audience and create even more effective PPC ads in the next campaign.

Overview

Here are some tips to keep in mind when improving your PPC campaign:

  • Install a conversion pixel before you start your campaign
  • Only focus on quality keywords
  • Learn as much as possible about your audience
  • Make sure your landing page matches the expectations that your PPC ad sets
  • Pick the right visual for your ad
  • Create mobile optimized PPC ads
  • Think of PPC holistically.
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Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report 2017, one of the most-anticipated annual events in the world of digital, was released a few weeks ago. 

The 355-slide report covers the major shifts we are currently seeing in the internet and the digital economy, and is considered something of a barometer for the state of digital across the globe, as well as a forecast for what is likely to come.

Some notable sections have focused on the rise of interactive gaming in all its forms and what that means for digital, the evolution of customer support in social media, and the state of the internet in China and India.

Meeker also focused a 69-page section on developments in online advertising and commerce, examining the pervading trends and what they mean for the industry. Here are some key highlights.

The rise of mobile advertising

The growth of online advertising is increasingly made up of growth in mobile advertising. An increase of 22% year-on-year indicates that the future of advertising is mobile.

This is a good reminder for marketers and advertisers of the need for mobile-friendly content, be that articles or ads, as the rise of the mobile audience along with the increasing spend on mobile advertising brings new opportunities for success.

Moreover, it also highlights the importance of creating mobile-friendly pages, taking into account all the factors that may affect a site’s speed or performance.

Google and Facebook dominate advertising growth

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

A closer look at the changes of advertising year-on-year shows a monopoly in advertising growth between Google and Facebook. Google saw a year-on-year increase of 20% from 2015 to 2016, while Facebook saw even greater success, with a year-on-year increase of 62%.

These two combined are responsible for 85% of advertising growth–and this percentage is expected to increase even more in future years.

These are useful figures for marketers exploring the best platforms in which to invest their advertising budget, and a good reminder of how Google and Facebook ads can lead to successful results.

Facebook has invested heavily over the past year in improving its advertising platform to make it more appealing, and its numerous advertising options have won many marketers over. Moreover, its focus on the growing trend of visual content (images and videos), along customized advertising options, has offered new creative avenues for advertising.

As for Google, its focus on mobile growth and understanding of how advertising should evolve has brought new options for marketers seeking the best ways to promote their products through the most relevant search results.

The challenge of measuring ROI

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

The measurement of social ROI seems to remain a big challenge for marketers. Despite the evolution of social marketing and advertising, it remains a major challenge for marketers to effectively measure the success of their efforts.

When surveyed about the metrics they focus on when defining social ROI, 56% of advertisers picked engagement as their main measurement, while 21% chose conversion and revenue and 15% picked amplification and brand awareness. (Source: SimplyMeasured State of Social Marketing Annual Report)

The diverse goals marketers have for their social media rely on different metrics, which is why it’s still challenging to decide on the best ROI. Although engagement still remains marketers’ means of tracking success, conversion or brand awareness cannot be overlooked.

New ways to target and measure ads

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

The rise of online advertising and its constant evolution can be attributed to the creative and effective ways that all online platforms help advertisers reach their goals.

There has been an interesting improvement in targeting and measurement across all of the popular platforms in the last year, which may serve as proof that the advertising competition among platforms can lead to more options for marketers.

  • Product listing ads (Google): Google’s idea to highlight product listing ads was successful, with a stable increase in clicks over the past few years. This has allowed the company to capitalize on its new concept, while ecommerce companies have found an enhanced source of revenue through targeted listing.
  • Targeted pins (Pinterest): Pinterest decided to become serious about advertising and it officially became on of the favourite platforms for ecommerce companies to promote their products. Pinterest was well known for being a popular platform for product discovery, as users tended to pin the products they liked. This changed the last year, as it has also become a platform of purchases, doubling the number of people who base their purchasing decisions on the pins they come across.
  • Goal-based bidding ads (Snapchat): Snapchat created a new type of ad, with its unique mobile platform focusing on engagement. Goal-based bidding ads were aiming to make users spend more time on the creative ads, grabbing their attention in the most engaging ways. For example, users may swipe through the ad to play a game, which makes a clever way to appeal to them without relying on traditional advertising methods.

Right ad at the right place at the right time

One of the most successful ways for Google and other platforms to increase their revenue was the focus on the users and their input on each platform.

Google now counts a $679B market capitalisation with its focus on user-typed input, words that help ads become more targeted.

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

Snapchat already counts a $25B market capitalization in just two years and this can be attributed to its focus on user-uploaded input, the images that make ads more relevant for their audience.

The analysis of data and the idea of having users be the central focus of the platform to create more targeted ads is expected to grow advertising options even further. From a user’s point of view, this increases the chances to make the ads more relevant and less annoying, which is still important in an online world full of irrelevant noise.

The future of voice search

Voice search was a major feature of last year’s Internet Trends Report, and the 2017 Report builds on this. Since 2016, voice has increasingly entered into the consciousness of search experts and marketers, but we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what it can do.

The rise of mobile has made voice searches more popular in turn, and it’s interesting to note that 20% of mobile queries are made via voice. This indicates that voice search is becoming increasingly a part of our everyday habits.

Moreover, it has been observed that almost 70% of requests in Google Assistant are carried out in natural language, which serves as a good reminder on the way that voice can replace typing on several occasions.

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

Moreover, voice recognition has shown great signs of improvement in recent years, with Google’s machine learning reaching an accuracy rate of 95%.

There is a big challenge ahead for voice search providers to equal the accuracy of text-based searches, in order to convince people to trust voice functions even more.

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

Smart home hubs with in-built voice assistants have also seen great growth in the last year. A closer look at Amazon Echo’s installed base over the last two years indicates that consumers are exploring how voice can become an integral part of their daily lives.

It is expected that the applications of voice will expand even more in years to come, with communication, shopping and entertainment being key areas of growth.

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and ad trends to watch out for

Overview

As advertising giants search for new ways to maintain their growth, marketers should keep seeking the best methods to reach their target audience.

The variety of ad platforms nowadays brings an opportunity for more creative advertising and it’s important to consider how the use of data, the domination of mobile and new types of advertising can lead to the most effective results.

Measuring ROI on these new forms of advertising is still a challenge, but the fact that most of the industry is aware of this issue brings us closer to a time where this problem will be solved.

PPC 101: Eight tips to get started

PPC can deliver effective results for a business, but it can also seem overwhelming when you’re just getting started. How can you use it to increase ROI?

PPC (Pay-Per-Click) marketing, or paid search marketing, offers a great opportunity for every business to promote its services and extend its reach. Whether you’re targeting an existing audience or a new one, PPC campaigns can increase conversions, provided that they’re crafted properly.

If you’re considering investing in PPC, here are eight tips to keep in mind.

Start small

If you’re just getting started with PPC ads, then it may be a good idea to test a small campaign first. Your first campaign doesn’t have to be perfect, but it can serve as a great experiment to see what works and what can be improved.

This can be a great test without worrying yet about conversion and clicks. The initial goal is to improve your PPC marketing skills until you’re comfortable enough to invest in a bigger budget.

Focus on a specific audience, start with a small budget and see what you can learn from the initial results.

Set a goal for your PPC campaign

It’s useful to set a goal when planning a PPC campaign. Whether it’s brand awareness, lead generation, or engagement, a clear goal can help you focus on the right ways to achieve it.

For example, a campaign focusing on lead generation requires very specific metrics afterwards to analyse its effectiveness. Did you manage to reach your set goal with your PPC campaign?

Was there a shift in the focus during the campaign? How can you ensure that you increase the effectiveness of your next campaign?

Analyze keywords

Another good way to start is by analyzing the keywords your competitors are bidding on. How are they performing? Which keywords could work better for your campaign?

It may be a good idea to test several keywords until you find the best ones to focus on. Sometimes the ones that convert better are the least expected ones, so make sure you perform research before you start a campaign.

Keywords that combine high search volume with low competition are ideal. For a great primer on how to get started with researching keywords, don’t miss Nikolay Stoyanov’s Complete guide to keyword research for SEO.

Find your audience

The success of your PPC campaign depends on the relevance of the audience you choose to target.

It’s important to find the right audience to promote a product, or a service. There’s no need to spend your budget in the wrong audience. If you’ve just started with PPC it may be preferred to focus on an audience who already knows you. This increases the chances to increase conversion, as it lifts the barrier of brand recognition as an initial step.

Once you get the perfect understanding of the demographics you want to target, you can maximize the chances of developing a successful PPC campaign.

A/B test your campaign

A/B testing can occur in all stages of your PPC campaign.

From the copy, the title and the image, to the landing page and the target audience, there are many ways to discover how to create a successful campaign.

A/B testing allows you to understand what makes an effective PPC campaign and it may even offer you insights you didn’t expect.

Make sure that every test has a clear goal and try to avoid different split tests at once, as this may not help you measure their effectiveness.

Focus on the language of your PPC copy

How does copywriting affect your PPC campaign? The language you’re using may impact the results of your campaign.

You copy should be:

  • clear
  • descriptive
  • relevant
  • persuasive

Moreover, emotional appeal can also affect your PPC copy. It’s easier to increase conversions once you understand what makes people click on an ad. Going beyond the relevance of the message, it also has to offer the trigger for users to be interested enough to click on it.

Sophie Turton gave some interesting pointers on how to do this at last month’s Brighton SEO conference – read our writeup of her presentation to learn how to apply psychology to your PPC campaigns.

Be careful with budget

A bigger budget doesn’t necessarily increase the chances of success for your PPC campaign. Thus, there’s no need to immediately blow your entire budget on PPC ads, especially if you’ve just started.

Start with a small budget and test the performance of your campaign. Once you’re getting used to PPC marketing, it’s time to proceed to the next step.

This has to do with the art of balancing budget and ROI. PPC conversions don’t necessarily depend on a large budget. Instead, the understanding your audience and crafting relevant copy are what will increase the chances of success.

Even if you do have a large budget for your first campaign, use it wisely. Focus on conversion, and pick the best options for your audience.

Optimize your landing page

The landing page for your PPC campaign should be as optimized as possible. This is the page that people visit once they click on your ads. Thus, it has to be as relevant and valuable as possible.

If you want to ensure that your campaign is effective enough to increase conversions, then you need to ensure that your landing page reflects your goals.

Is your landing page appealing?

Does it facilitate the user experience?

Is the loading speed tested?

Last but not least, is the call-to-action clear?

Overview

If you’re interested in investing in PPC ads, then it’s time to discover how to create the right ad, for the right audience.

All the tips above can help you analyse your campaign’s performance in the most efficient way. Approaching your campaigns with a “test and learn” mindset will offer you valuable insights, turning you into a PPC expert before too long.

To sum up:

  • Start with a small campaign
  • Focus on the audience that you know
  • Keep the budget low to begin with
  • A/B test your campaign
  • Pay attention to your copy
  • Optimize your landing page

The psychology of language for paid search

The success of your PPC campaigns may depend on the language that you’re using. Here’s how to improve it.

Sophie Turton, Head of Content and PR at Bozboz, delivered an interesting presentation in Brighton SEO, offering useful tips on how to improve your language when creating PPC copy.

According to Sophie Turton,  people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it – that’s what makes a powerful message more effective. Here are her tips on how to use psychology to improve your PPC copy.

The serial position effect

People are more likely to recall the first and last pieces of information they see, otherwise known as the serial position effect. This makes it even more important to craft your PPC copy carefully.

Keywords can help you highlight the focus of your copy, so it’s a good idea to experiment until you find the best ones to use. However, there’s no need to focus too much on their use, as they still can’t guarantee that the language’s effectiveness.

The best way to speak your audience’s language is to try to solve a problem. It has been observed that successful PPC copy tries to find a solution to a problem.

The success lies in the fact that there is an understanding of the target audience, which is proved by providing information that they want to know.

Emotional triggers

Emotions can influence and even determine our decisions. That’s why they can be used to improve PPC copy and make it resonate with consumers.

Once again, it’s vital to understand the target audience to deliver a powerful message. By focusing on the customers’ end game with the right emotional trigger, you’re increasing the chances of conversion.

What’s most important is to remember that your copy should not be about “you”, but rather about “them”. As you’re writing about your target audience, your copy needs to reflect this.

Direct and relevant copy can benefit from the right emotional appeal, and there seems to be a connection between this appeal and your customers.

According to Perry Marshall’s ‘Swiss army knife’ method, there is a relationship between your customers and the elements in their lives.

This relationship can be organised in five steps:

  • identify your customers
  • identify a thing your customers love
  • a thing they hate
  • their best friend
  • their worst enemy

Once you’ve managed to understand all the above, then the emotional triggers can become even more effective.

Social proof

One of the most effective psychological tricks when creating copy is to involve the power of social proof.

According to Revoo, 70% of consumers place peer recommendations over professionally written content. This means that people have more chances to be influenced by their friends, or even other consumers, rather than a brand.

A good way to use social proof is to include Google Reviews in Adwords. This increases the chances of building trust between the consumers and the product and it may even bring them closer to a purchase.

Moreover, it can be even more effective to back up the claim of social proof and this can be achieved by using review extensions.

Loss aversion

Another popular psychological tip is to focus on the scarcity effect.

According to neuroscience, scarcity can increase the demand for an object, as people seem to have an aversion to loss.

A sense of urgency can increase an ad’s effectiveness – this also plays into the FOMO (‘Fear of Missing Out’) effect.

In fact, it has been observed that ads that use a sense of urgency have up to 32% increase in CTR when a countdown timer is added.

Illusionary truth effect

According to the illusionary truth effect, there is a tendency to believe information to be correct after a repeated exposure to it.

This means that repetition can improve credibility and trust. An appealing call-to-action can make your message easily recognizable. By increasing the memorable experience, you are also increasing the chances for people to return to your message and your products.

A careful consideration of the language in PPC copy can help people remember your advertising and thus, pay more attention to it.

Dare to be different

It’s not surprising that people tend to remember the unusual over the common.

Creative use of language in your PPC copy can improve your message, helping people focus on it.

This can be achieved by:

  • thinking outside the box
  • using clever language
  • staying current with trending topics
  • telling a story
  • using humor
  • being creative with keywords

Takeaway

The language you’re using in your PPC copy can significantly increase the chances of people paying attention to it.

A closer look at psychology and the way it affects people’s perspective can help your PPC copy stand out.

If you want to start testing with the most popular psychological tricks today, start with these:

  • Ask “why”
  • Prioritize the headline
  • Experiment with keywords
  • Don’t underestimate FOMO
  • Make sure the end destination reflects the initial promise
  • Use data to support your offering (but don’t be verbose)
  • Be smart and sassy
  • Play to emotion and the love of the self
  • Always go back to the “why”.