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In Search [Episode 13]: How Small Brands Can Win the Keyword War!




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The In Search SEO Podcast Poll Question of the Week!




Poll Question Episode 13


What has the bigger long-term bang... an essential landing page or a piece of really popular content?! Let us know so that we can feature you on the next episode of In Search! 





Summary of Episode 13: The In Search SEO Podcast

 



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This week the owner of ClickGiant SEO agency, Jerry Cahalan, comes on board to discuss keyword and content strategy for small and mid-sized brands:

  • What can these brands do to win the keyword war? Where should their focus be? 
  • How can small & mid-sized brands ensure their keyword research produces relevant content? 
  • How do you best measure your progress here? 



How Often is Google Changing Featured Snippet URLs



Before discussing keyword research and content insights with Jerry Cahalan, our hosts jumped into some new Featured Snippet data! Mordy recently did a study looking at how often Google swaps out the URLs it uses within Featured Snippets. According to the data, over a 30-day period, Google uses two different URLs within a given Featured Snippet (1.7 to be exact). Similarly, over a 90-day period, Google uses 2.4 URLs on average.

Meaning, Google is generally deciding between two URLs for a Featured Snippet. Just two! So if you’re one of those two, that’s great! If not, the data means that it’s going to be hard to break into the Featured Snippet position.

Combine the number of Featured Snippet URLs Google uses with the number of URL swaps Google makes and you get something interesting indeed! Google, on average, makes just two URL swaps within a 30-day period. In real terms, this means Google starts with one URL, moves to a second URL and then places the original URL back in the Featured Snippet. Based on this, it looks as if Google is testing one URL and then goes back to its 1st or favored URL. This means if you see you’re being pulled in and out of the Featured Snippet each month you’re in consideration but may have to shore things up to be #1.

More data is certainly needed to confirm this notion of a dominant and alternate Featured Snippet URL... which is why we did a study on just that! Look for our Featured Snippet market share study in the coming weeks! 




What Small Brands Can Do to Win Keywords on the SERP: A Conversation with Jerry Cahalan [6:00 - 37:05]



[This is a general summary of the interview and not a word for word transcript. You can listen to the podcast for the full interview.]

Mordy: Let’s get into it by talking what a small or mid-sized brand can do from a keyword research and keyword strategy perspective - in order to compete with the big players on the SERP. It’s going to be hard to rank above some of the big names in a given industry. They have teams of people and as we’ve talked about on this show a few times now, they have reputation… they have people looking for them by brand name, but more importantly, they have site authority which Google is falling more in love with as the days in 2019 go on. It's hard for small brands to compete with multinational brands on the SERP! Imagine trying to compete for the keyword buy new laptop with sites like Amazon, Best Buy, etc. It’s going to be very hard….

Jerry: Yes, it is a tall order to rank for buy new laptop, but it can be done. You mention authority, and after you acquire actual quality links that you earned, the next step is traffic. Traffic to your site is what Google loves the most and is what creates that authority. And traffic begets more traffic. It’s like the chicken and the egg.

And this is why we talk about the importance of keyword optimization and keyword research. To get the best traffic you have to be in the top 5 and for that you need to do keyword research.

Now there are many tools out there for keyword research…

M: Like Rank Ranger’s Keyword research tool.

J: Yes, exactly. You can also use a Google AdWords account and use Google’s keyword tool. Just be aware that competition is referring to ad bidding and not organic.

M: And the search volume is bucketed as well.

J: Yeah, but you can get a good idea of what phrases are the good ones. And I mentioned competition because I don’t want people to be scared if it shows high competition. That can be referring to ad competition. Ideally, you want to be looking for high volume, low competition phrases in your industry. And if that is too hard, then even low volume, low competition is good. You have to keep searching until you find phrases that you feel that you have a chance for and that typically means longer tail phrases. So if you put 800 words to this exact phrase you’re more likely to get a look from Google and some rankings.

Here’s an example, let’s take your keyword buy new laptop. Now that keyword is too competitive so you might try instead the phrase the three best laptops in 2019. And if that’s too competitive you can try the seven reasons why the macbook air is the best laptop to buy in 2019. Another great keyword idea is comparison keywords. What’s better, this product or this one? What’s the pros and cons of these products? So this can be Microsoft Service vs. Dell XPS and other top laptops to buy in 2019.

And my final thought is that if you have to keep researching then keep going. This is a couple of hours of doing research and a couple of hours of outlining some content and then adjusting. And if we had to have the article called, "7 things to know about the Macbook Air keyboard shortcuts”, then that’s what we would do.

M: Another upside to longer tail keywords is that there’s less of a chance of SERP features showing up so less Google competition.

I want to pull back a bit because I am of the firm opinion that the way keyword research was done a year ago is not how it should go down today. I have a whole post on this forthcoming…. With the way Google has changed vis-a-vis how it views search and its role in facilitating the search process, it’s more important than ever to consider the relevance of your content, which users it satisfies… To the latter, that means considering what facets of a topic you need to cover for it to be considered topically comprehensive.

With that, how do you ensure that your keyword research results in relevant content? Relevant to your users while at the same time being aligned with your core identity?

J: The first thing I’ll say is that you’re right that when writing content you have to think of your core identity. Obviously, you don’t want to write about hatchling tortoises on a laptop site. But it doesn’t have to be entirely "core" as there are always things that are on the fringe. This is how I think of it. So it can be on the fringe as it has to be somehow related. And why would you be writing about something you don’t do. So the content is fine even if it is on the fringe, something that you don’t even sell, but it’s within your industry. You’re not going to push people who visit your website towards more fringe content. It’s more of a gateway to bring people in, to get them to your homepage.

Now to get good content, keyword research is just the starting point to see what’s being typed in. So you should stay within your industry, look at the phrase, think if you can write intelligently about this, if people will trust it if it came from us, and then finally look at what’s out there on your competitors and see if you can do better and go beyond what they wrote. And if you can’t go beyond as they have the ultimate piece on the topic… and we come across that all the time...

M: People make that mistake all the time... no one says you have to reinvent the wheel... take what they did... and go beyond it [topically]! 

J: Exactly. Let’s say you find three competitors for that keyword phrase you thought would be good. And you look at the content on each of the three and you notice that each has a significant portion that is not mentioned on the others. So what if I do a piece that encapsulates it all? It will be more informative and better for the user journey as the user doesn’t need to go to three articles.

And if you don’t think you can do that or there are very authoritative links to the competition’s pages and you don’t think it will work then go more micro. Did these articles get specific enough on this part of the topic? Go carve out a piece for yourself.

M: In order to hit a topic broadly, in order to create content that aligns to Google’s "search as a journey” philosophy, and so as to target multiple user intents, how do you decide what sort of content to create?

I think that’s a question that often gets overlooked when we have these discussions, but you have to consider what works for what you’re doing. Do you need a promo page, a blog, etc? How do you go about sorting that out when dealing with a small or mid-sized brand? What type of content should I create knowing the topic I want to go after?

J: For us, our top priority is to work on the core pages of the site, like the homepage. And we have clients who have zero content on their homepage nor any links to content pages. And others worry about too much copy where we tell them that we can do "Read More” buttons or expandable text. Now, everyone would prefer to have no content on their homepage, but they can’t because they’re not the ones who have great authority or longevity and tons of traffic. I don’t want to hear about aesthetics, we can always do it under the fold or "Read More” buttons. So first make sure Google knows what you do on your home page, product pages, and service pages. Afterward, I would work on case studies. You know, we always think of this as what Google wants but Google themselves say not to think just of us [Google] but to think of your users. What do they want? And a case study really kills two birds with one stone. Because first of all, you really need this kind of stuff to get good conversions and secondly, Google will see your content on the work you have done and improve your rankings.

Once you worked on the pages that are of utmost importance for user experience and getting business, then you can continue to blogs. And as you build the content you can link to those top level pages. For example, in a blog talking about the Macbook air keyboard you can mention that to learn more you can go to this page that fully covers the Macbook Air laptop.

M: Speaking of UX, I would like to know your thoughts on the debate of UX vs SEO in terms of importance. Do you feel that user experience is being more heavily weighted by Google in terms of ranking?

J: I mean, you have to work on UX regardless of Google because user experience is super important if you want to do more business. But on the SEO side of things, Google knows your traffic and it also can understand what users do on your site. They know the bounce rate, what pages they looked at, and how much time they spend on your site. There was this idea that keeping people on the site is very important and that having a high bounce rate doesn’t help you overall even if you rank well. I can personally say, after seeing a thousand examples, that that’s not true. We had content ranking in the top 5 and the bounce rate was sky high. And yet it still works. It builds the authority and allows you to rank higher for those root keywords you want.

M: As a content creator myself, one of the least talked about aspects of content/SEO strategy is the re-works. That is, the analyzing of what worked, what didn’t work, and what do I want to do next time. No one talks about that, it’s probably the least sexy part of it all! Give me an inside look at how you go about tracking your progress and then using that data to get better?

J: If it’s a situation where we’re trying to rank for a difficult keyword and we notice that we "bit off more than we can chew” then we just move on, but if it’s a really close situation and you see you’re on page two or three then it’s worth playing it. And this plays into the importance of tracking your rankings because the more you track your success the more chances you have to make it better. We’ve been using Rank Ranger for eight years. And if we write a blog and start tracking for the five keywords we expect it to rank for and the blog is only on page three of the SERP then we have to start making decisions a few months in because it’s not going to get better on its own.

M: How important is that client buy-in to changes to your SEO strategy?

J: The first thing I do is show a ton of good work. Obviously, there are no guarantees and anyone who does guarantee is just desperate for work and will say anything. So what I do, similar to having case studies on your site, is to show them current projects and show them their SEO progress on Rank Ranger. There’s nothing better than showing a live project.

I want to give you a great example. We have a client that specializes in vintage engagement rings. Very high-end items. We knew diamonds and engagement rings were extremely competitive online. So I talked to her [the site owner] about our system of writing for long-tail keywords which will lead to ranking for the top keywords. So the blog we wrote was called, "Engagement Stone Meanings.” And we wrote about diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and opals. And these keywords are not the high-end like buy a diamond ring, or even buy ruby engagement ring, but are much less competitive like what’s the meaning of a ruby engagement ring. Topics like what kind of woman buys this type of ring, what does it cost, and what does it say about you as a person.

That one blog, we got to number one on that and now she’s on page one for everything related to vintage gemstones you can think of. It did everything right by increasing traffic and giving the site more authority. For the keyword antique engagement rings they were previously on page 10 and now they’re on page one for a search that’s being performed 33,000 times a month and their traffic went up by 700%. She’s a believer now and so are a lot of our other clients.

So definitely read our SEO case studies, take in the lessons, and try to find something that will bring value to people and write about it.



Optimize It or Disavow It [37:05 - 40:18]



M: This is my favorite part of the interview… which I guess is slightly sadistic… it’s where I give you two really great SEO strategies and you have to keep one and chuck one … or where I give two really terrible options and you’re forced to pick one of those… are you ready?

An amazing blog or a standard landing/product page? Having only the choice to work on one, would you create a post that is sure to be a piece of 10x content or create a "standard” landing/product page for one of your main products?

J: Well that’s an easy one. For us, it’s the product page. I mean, what’s the point of all of this? Why spend time and money on blogs if you don’t put in the effort on those critical pages where they will convert?

The secondary part is if that amazing blog is going to help the authority of your site, it can’t happen unless those high-level pages are set up correctly. Why would Google give you authority if they don’t think you’re a player to begin with?

M: Jerry, thank you so much for coming on the show and taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat SEO with us and offer your knowledge and insights!

J: Thank you for having me, Mordy.


The SEO News: [43:30 - 48:30]



AMP Disappeared?: Well, some AMP results that is! Looks like a bug has resulted in many AMP pages not showing on the SERP. Our own SERP feature tracker saw a 35% loss! Since the loss, Google has resolved the issue and as of Jan 29th AMP has started to return to normal on the SERP.

Google My Business SMS to End?: There’s some concern as to what will happen to the messaging feature inside of the Local Panel. Businesses that want to receive notification of a message via SMS may not be able to do so as Google’s Allo will be no more as of March. The SMS feature attached to the messaging functionality worked via Allo.

Google+ APIs Shut Down Raises Concerns to GMB Developers: Google sent out a notice that its Google+ APIs are going to be shuttered. The problem is that Google sent this message out to many accounts with Google My Business APIs that have nothing to do with Google+ leading many to worry! Since then, Google has sent out new notices explaining their intention. If you have not received this second notice, you may want to look into what is going on with your account/API.

Bold Content in Knowledge Panels: Our host, Mordy Oberstein, was one of the folks who spotted mobile Knowledge Panels looking very much like Featured Snippets. These Knowledge Panels included bolded text as well as a Featured Snippet style image and URL.




The SEO Fun Send-off Question! 



What kind of (alcoholic) drink does Google prefer? 

Mordy doesn’t see Google as a fine gentleman nor as a sophisticated social animal so he decided on tequila because rank fluctuations can make navigating the SERP a wild party!

Kim’s answer was beer, no specific brand, whatever is "local” - a subtle reference to Google's emphasis on local search! 

What drink do you think Google enjoys? 

Thanks for tuning into the In Search SEO Podcast - we hope you'll join us again next week! 





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