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How to Perform an In-Depth Technical SEO Audit

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I’m not going to lie: Conducting an in-depth SEO audit is a major deal.

And, as an SEO consultant, there are a few sweeter words than, “Your audit looks great! When can we bring you onboard?”

Even if you haven’t been actively looking for a new gig, knowing your SEO audit nailed it is a huge ego boost.

But, are you terrified to start? Is this your first SEO audit? Or, maybe you just don’t know where to begin?

Sending a fantastic SEO audit to a potential client puts you in the best possible place.

So take your time. Remember: Your primary goal is to add value to your customer with your site recommendations for both the short-term and the long-term.

In this column, I’ve put together the need-to-know steps for conducting an SEO audit and a little insight into the first phase of my processes when I first get a new client. It’s broken down into sections below. If you feel like you have a good grasp on a particular section, feel free to jump to the next.

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When Should I Perform an SEO Audit?

After a potential client sends me an email expressing interest in working together and they answer my survey, we set-up an intro call (Skype or Google Hangouts is preferred).

Before the call, I do my own mini quick SEO audit (I invest at least one hour to manually researching) based on their survey answers to become familiar with their market landscape. It’s like dating someone you’ve never met.

You’re obviously going to stalk them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all other channels that are public #soIcreep.

Here’s an example of what my survey looks like:

Here are some key questions you’ll want to ask the client during the first meeting:

  1. What are your overall business goals? What are your channel goals (PR, social, etc.)?
  2. Who is your target audience?
  3. Do you have any business partnerships?
  4. How often is the website updated? Do you have a web developer or an IT department?
  5. Have you ever worked with an SEO consultant before? Or, had any SEO work done previously?

Sujan Patel also has some great recommendations on questions to ask a new SEO client.

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After the call, if I feel we’re a good match, I’ll send over my formal proposal and contract (thank you HelloSign for making this an easy process for me!).

To begin, I always like to offer my clients the first month as a trial period to make sure we vibe.

This gives both the client and I a chance to become friends first before dating. During this month, I’ll take my time to conduct an in-depth SEO audit.

These SEO audits can take me anywhere from 40 hours to 60 hours depending on the size of the website. These audits are bucketed into three separate parts and presented with Google Slides.

  • Technical: Crawl errors, indexing, hosting, etc.
  • Content: Keyword research, competitor analysis, content maps, meta data, etc.
  • Links: Backlink profile analysis, growth tactics, etc.

After that first month, if the client likes my work, we’ll begin implementing the recommendations from the SEO audit. And going forward, I’ll perform a mini-audit monthly and an in-depth audit quarterly.

To recap, I perform an SEO audit for my clients:

  • First month.
  • Monthly (mini-audit).
  • Quarterly (in-depth audit).

What You Need from a Client Before an SEO Audit

When a client and I start working together, I’ll share a Google Doc with them requesting a list of passwords and vendors.

This includes:

  • Google Analytics access and any third-party analytics tools.
  • Google and Bing ads.
  • Webmaster tools.
  • Website backend access.
  • Social media accounts.
  • List of vendors.
  • List of internal team members (including any work they outsource).

Before you begin your SEO audit, here’s a recap of the tools I use:

Conducting a Technical SEO Audit

Tools needed for technical SEO audit:

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  • Screaming Frog.
  • DeepCrawl.
  • Copyscape.
  • Integrity for Mac (or Xenu Sleuth for PC users).
  • Google Analytics (if given access).
  • Google Search Console (if given access).
  • Bing Webmaster Tools (if given access).

Step 1: Add Site to DeepCrawl and Screaming Frog

Tools:

  • DeepCrawl.
  • Copyscape.
  • Screaming Frog.
  • Google Analytics.
  • Integrity.
  • Google Tag Manager.
  • Google Analytics code.

What to Look for When Using DeepCrawl

The first thing I do is add my client’s site to DeepCrawl. Depending on the size of your client’s site, the crawl may take a day or two to get the results back.

Once you get your DeepCrawl results back, here are the things I look for:

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Duplicate Content

Check out the “Duplicate Pages” report to locate duplicate content.

If duplicate content is identified, I’ll make this a top priority in my recommendations to the client to rewrite these pages, and in the meantime, I’ll add the <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”> tag to the duplicate pages.

Common duplicate content errors you’ll discover:

  • Duplicate meta titles and meta descriptions.
  • Duplicate body content from tag pages (I’ll use Copyscape to help determine if something is being plagiarized).
  • Two domains (ex: yourwebsite.co, yourwebsite.com).
  • Subdomains (ex: jobs.yourwebsite.com).
  • Similar content on a different domain.
  • Improperly implemented pagination pages (see below.)

How to fix:

  • Add the canonical tag on your pages to let Google know what you want your preferred URL to be.
  • Disallow incorrect URLs in the robots.txt.
  • Rewrite content (including body copy and metadata).

Here’s an example of a duplicate content issue I had with a client of mine. As you can see below, they had URL parameters without the canonical tag.

These are the steps I took to fix the issue:

  • I fixed any 301 redirect issues.
  • Added a canonical tag to the page I want Google to crawl.
  • Update the Google Search Console parameter settings to exclude any parameters that don’t generate unique content.
    parameter URLs in Google Search Console

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  • Added the disallow function to the robots.txt to the incorrect URLs to improve crawl budget.

Pagination

There are two reports to check out:

  • First Pages: To find out what pages are using pagination, review the “First Pages” report. Then, you can manually review the pages using this on the site to discover if pagination is implemented correctly.
  • Unlinked Pagination Pages: To find out if pagination is working correctly, the “Unlinked Pagination Pages” report will tell you if the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” are linking to the previous and next pages.

In this example below, I was able to find that a client had reciprocal pagination tags using DeepCrawl:

DeepCrawl unlinked pagination pages

How to fix:

  • If you have a “view all” or a “load more” page, add rel=”canonical” tag. Here’s an example from Crutchfield:
    crutchfield example
  • If you have all your pages on separate pages, then add the standard rel=”next” and rel=”prev” markup. Here’s an example from Macy’s:
    Macys separate pages
  • If you’re using infinite scrolling, add the equivalent paginated page URL in your javascript. Here’s an example from American Eagle.
    American Eagle Outfitters Infinite Scroll

Max Redirections

Review the “Max Redirections” report to see all the pages that redirect more than 4 times. John Mueller mentioned in 2015 that Google can stop following redirects if there are more than five.

While some people refer to these crawl errors as eating up the “crawl budget,” Gary Illyes refers to this as “host load.” It’s important to make sure your pages render properly because you want your host load to be used efficiently.

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Here’s a brief overview of the response codes you might see:

  • 301 – These are the majority of the codes you’ll see throughout your research. 301 redirects are okay as long as there are only one redirect and no redirect loop.
  • 302 – These codes are okay, but if left longer than 3 months or so, I would manually change them to 301s so that they are permanent. This is an error code I’ll see often with ecommerce sites when a product is out of stock.
  • 400 – Users can’t get to the page.
  • 403 – Users are unauthorized to access the page.
  • 404 – The page is not found (usually meaning the client deleted a page without a 301 redirect).
  • 500 – Internal server error that you’ll need to connect with the web development team to determine the cause.

How to fix:

  • Remove any internal links pointing to old 404 pages and update them with the redirected page internal link.
  • Undo the redirect chains by removing the middle redirects. For example, if redirect A goes to redirect B, C, and D, then you’ll want to undo redirects B and C. The final result will be a redirect A to D.
  • There is also a way to do this in Screaming Frog and Google Search Console below if you’re using that version.

What to Look for When Using Screaming Frog

The second thing I do when I get a new client site is to add their URL to Screaming Frog.

Depending on the size of your client’s site, I may configure the settings to crawl specific areas of the site at a time.

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Here is what my Screaming Frog spider configurations look like:

configuration settings in Screaming Frog

You can do this in your spider settings or by excluding areas of the site.

Once you get your Screaming Frog results back, here are the things I look for:

Google Analytics Code

Screaming Frog can help you identify what pages are missing the Google Analytics code (UA-1234568-9). To find the missing Google Analytics code, follow these steps:

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  • Go to Configuration in the navigation bar, then Custom.
  • Add analytics.js to Filter 1, then change the drop-down to Does not contain.

google analytics code in screaming frog

How to fix:

  • Contact your client’s developers and ask them to add the code to the specific pages that it’s missing.
  • For more Google Analytics information, skip ahead to that Google Analytics section below.

Google Tag Manager

Screaming Frog can also help you find out what pages are missing the Google Tag Manager snippet with similar steps:

  • Go to the Configuration tab in the navigation bar, then Custom.
  • Add <iframe src-“//www.googletagmanager.com/ with Does not contain selected in the Filter.

How to fix:

  • Head over to Google Tag Manager to see if there are any errors and update where needed.
  • Share the code with your client’s developer’s to see if they can add it back to the site.

Schema

You’ll also want to check if your client’s site is using schema markup on their site. Schema or structured data helps search engines understand what a page is on the site.

To check for schema markup in Screaming Frog, follow these steps:

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  • Go to the Configuration tab in the navigation bar, then Custom.
  • Add itemtype=”http://schema..org/ with ‘Contain’ selected in the Filter.

schema in screaming frogIndexing

You want to determine how many pages are being indexed for your client, follow this in Screaming Frog:

  • After your site is done loading in Screaming Frog, go to Directives > Filter > Index to review if there are any missing pieces of code.

indexing in screaming frog

How to fix:

  • If the site is new, Google may have no indexed it yet.
  • Check the robots.txt file to make sure you’re not disallowing anything you want Google to crawl.
  • Check to make sure you’ve submitted your client’s sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
  • Conduct manual research (seen below).

Flash

Google announced in 2016 that Chrome will start blocking Flash due to the slow page load times. So, if you’re doing an audit, you want to identify if your new client is using Flash or not.

To do this in Screaming Frog, try this:

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  • Head to the Spider Configuration in the navigation.
  • Click Check SWF.
  • Filter the Internal tab by Flash after the crawl is done.

flash in sreaming frog

How to fix:

  • Embed videos from YouTube. Google bought YouTube in 2006, no-brainer here.
  • Or, opt for HTML5 standards when adding a video.

Here’s an example of HTML5 code for adding a video:

<video controls="controls" width="320" height="240">&gt;
 <source class="hiddenSpellError" data-mce-bogus="1" />src="https://feedpress.me/tutorials/media/Anna-Teaches-SEO-To-Small-Businesses.mp4" type="video/mp4"&gt;
 <source src="/tutorials/media/Anna-Teaches-SEO-To-Small-Businesses.ogg" type="video/ogg" />
Your browser does not support the video tag.</video>

JavaScript

According to Google’s announcement in 2015, JavaScript is okay to use for your website as long as you’re not blocking anything in your robots.txt (we’ll dig into this deeper in a bit!). But, you still want to take a peek at how the Javascript is being delivered to your site.

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How to fix:

  • Review Javascript to make sure it’s not being blocked by robots.txt
  • Make sure Javascript is running on the server (this helps produce plain text data vs dynamic).
  • If you’re running Angular JavaScript, check out this article by Ben Oren on why it might be killing your SEO efforts.
  • In Screaming Frog, go to the Spider Configuration in the navigation bar and click Check JavaScript. After the crawl is done, filter your results on the Internal tab by JavaScript.

spider in sreaming frogjavascript in screaming frogRobots.txt

When you’re reviewing a robots.txt for the first time, you want to look to see if anything important is being blocked or disallowed.

For example, if you see this code:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /

Your client’s website is blocked from all web crawlers.

But, if you have something like Zappos robots.txt file, you should be good to go.

# Global robots.txt as of 2012-06-19

User-agent: *
Disallow: /bin/
Disallow: /multiview/
Disallow: /product/review/add/
Disallow: /cart
Disallow: /login
Disallow: /logout
Disallow: /register
Disallow: /account

They are only blocking what they do not want web crawlers to locate. This content that is being blocked is not relevant or useful to the web crawler.

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How to fix:

  • Your robots.txt is case-sensitive so update this to be all lowercase.
  • Remove any pages listed as Disallow that you want the search engines to crawl.
  • Screaming Frog by default will not be able to load any URLs disallowed by robots.txt. If you choose to switch up the default settings in Screaming Frog, it will ignore all the robots.txt.
    robots txt in screaming frog | SEJ
  • You can also view blocked pages in Screaming Frog under the Response Codes tab, then filtered by Blocked by Robots.txt filter after you’ve completed your crawl.
  • If you have a site with multiple subdomains, you should have a separate robots.txt for each.
  • Make sure the sitemap is listed in the robots.txt.

Crawl Errors

I use DeepCrawl, Screaming Frog, and Google and Bing webmaster tools to find and cross-check my client’s crawl errors.

To find your crawl errors in Screaming Frog, follow these steps:

  • After the crawl is complete, go to Bulk Reports.
  • Scroll down to Response Codes, then export the server-side error report and the client error report.

How to fix:

  • The client error reports, you should be able to 301 redirect the majority of the 404 errors in the backend of the site yourself.
  • The server error reports, collaborate with the development team to determine the cause. Before fixing these errors on the root directory, be sure to back up the site. You may simply need to create a new .html access file or increase PHP memory limit.
  • You’ll also want to remove any of these permanent redirects from the sitemap and any internal or external links.
  • You can also use 404 in your URL to help track in Google Analytics.

Redirect Chains

Redirect chains not only cause poor user experience, but it slows down page speed, conversion rates drop, and any link love you may have received before is lost.

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Fixing redirect chains is a quick win for any company.

How to fix:

  • In Screaming Frog after you’ve completed your crawl, go to Reports > Redirect Chains to view the crawl path of your redirects. In an excel spreadsheet, you can track to make sure your 301 redirects are remaining 301 redirects. If you see a 404 error, you’ll want to clean this up.

screaming frog redirect chainsscreaming frog redirect chains 404 status code

Internal & External Links

When a user clicks on a link to your site and gets a 404 error, it’s not a good user experience.

And, it doesn’t help your search engines like you any better either.

To find my broken internal and external links I use Integrity for Mac. You can also use Xenu Sleuth if you’re a PC user.

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I’ll also show you how to find these internal and external links in Screaming Frog and DeepCrawl if you’re using that software.

How to fix:

  • If you’re using Integrity or Xenu Sleuth, run your client’s site URL and you’ll get a full list of broken URLs. You can either manually update these yourself or if you’re working with a dev team, ask them for help.
  • If you’re using Screaming Frog, after the crawl is completed, go to Bulk Export in the navigation bar, then All Outlinks. You can sort by URLs and see which pages are sending a 404 signal. Repeat the same step with All Inlinks.
    Screaming Frog bulk export backlinks
  • If you’re using DeepCrawl, go to the Unique Broken Links tab under the Internal Links section.

URLs

Every time you take on a new client, you want to review their URL format. What am I looking for in the URLs?

  • Parameters – If the URL has weird characters like ?, =, or +, it’s a dynamic URL that can cause duplicate content if not optimized.
  • User-friendly – I like to keep the URLs short and simple while also removing any extra slashes.

How to fix:

  • You can search for parameter URLs in Google by doing site:www.buyaunicorn.com/ inurl: “?” or whatever you think the parameter might include.
  • After you’ve run the crawl on Screaming Frog, take a look at URLs. If you see parameters listed that are creating duplicates of your content, you need to suggest the following:
    • Add a canonical tag to the main URL page. For example, www.buyaunicorn.com/magical-headbands is the main page and I see www.buyaunicorn.com/magical-headbands/?dir=mode123$, then the canonical tag would need to be added to www.buyaunicorn.com/magical-headbands.
    • Update your parameters in Google Search Console under Crawl > URL Parameters.

parameter URL options in google search console

  • Disallow the duplicate URLs in the robots.txt.

Step 2: Review Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Tools:

  • Google Search Console.
  • Bing Webmaster Tools.
  • Sublime Text (or any text editor tool).

Set a Preferred Domain

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Since the Panda update, it’s beneficial to clarify to the search engines the preferred domain. It also helps make sure all your links are giving one site the extra love instead of being spread across two sites.

How to fix:

  • In Google Search Console, click the gear icon in the upper right corner.
  • Choose which of the URLs is the preferred domain.

Google Search Console Preferred Domain

  • You don’t need to set the preferred domain in Bing Webmaster Tools, just submit your sitemap to help Bing determine your preferred domain.

Backlinks

With the announcement that Penguin is real-time, it’s vital that your client’s backlinks meet Google’s standards.

If you notice a large chunk of backlinks coming to your client’s site from one page on a website, you’ll want to take the necessary steps to clean it up, and FAST!

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How to fix:

  • In Google Search Console, go to Links > then sort your Top linking sites.
    GSC top linking sites
  • Contact the companies that are linking to you from one page to have them remove the links.
  • Or, add them to your disavow list. When adding companies to your disavow list, be very careful how and why you do this. You don’t want to remove valuable links.

Here’s an example of what my disavow file looks like:

disavow exampleKeywords

As an SEO consultant, it’s my job to start to learn the market landscape of my client. I need to know who their target audience is, what they are searching for, and how they are searching. To start, I take a look at the keyword search terms they are already getting traffic from.

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  • In Google Search Console, under Search Traffic > Search Analytics will show you what keywords are already sending your client clicks.

keywords google search consoleSitemap

Sitemaps are essential to get search engines to crawl your client’s website. It speaks their language. When creating sitemaps, there are a few things to know:

  • Do not include parameter URLs in your sitemap.
  • Do not include any non-indexable pages.
  • If the site has different subdomains for mobile and desktop, add the rel=”alternate” tag to the sitemap.

How to fix:

  • Go to Google Search Console > Index > Sitemaps to compare the URLs indexed in the sitemap to the URLs in the web index.
    Google Search Console - Index - Sitemaps
  • Then, do a manual search to determine pages are not getting indexed and why.
  • If you find old redirected URLs in your client’s sitemap, remove them. These old redirects will have an adverse impact on your SEO if you don’t remove them.
  • If the client is new, submit a new sitemap for them in both Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Search Console.
    Add a new sitemap

Crawl

Crawl errors are important to check because it’s not only bad for the user but it’s bad for your website rankings. And, John Mueller stated that low crawl rate may be a sign of a low-quality site.

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To check this in Google Search Console, go to Coverage > Details.

coverage

To check this in Bing Webmaster Tools, go to Reports & Data > Crawl Information.

bing webmaster tools crawl information

How to fix:

  • Manually check your crawl errors to determine if there are crawl errors coming from old products that don’t exist anymore or if you see crawl errors that should be disallowed in the robots.txt file.
  • Once you’ve determined where they are coming from, you can implement 301 redirects to similar pages that link to the dead pages.
  • You’ll also want to cross-check the crawl stats in Google Search Console with average load time in Google Analytics to see if there is a correlation between time spent downloading and the pages crawled per day.

Structured Data

As mentioned above in the schema section of Screaming Frog, you can review your client’s schema markup in Google Search Console.

Use the individual rich results status report in Google Search Console. (Note: The structured data report is no longer available).

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This will help you determine what pages have structured data errors that you’ll need to fix down the road.

How to fix:

  • Google Search Console will tell you what is missing in the schema when you test the live version.
  • Based on your error codes, rewrite the schema in a text editor and send to the web development team to update. I use Sublime Text for my text editing. Mac users have one built-in and PC users can use Google bought YouTube.

Step 3: Review Google Analytics

Tools:

  • Google Analytics.
  • Google Tag Manager Assistant Chrome Extension.
  • Annie Cushing Campaign Tagging Guide.

Views

When I first get a new client, I set up 3 different views in Google Analytics.

  • Reporting view.
  • Master view.
  • Test view.

These different views give me the flexibility to make changes without affecting the data.

How to fix:

  • In Google Analytics, go to Admin > View > View Settings to create the three different views above.
    google analytics view settings
  • Make sure to check the Bot Filtering section to exclude all hits from bots and spiders.
  • Link Google Ads and Google Search Console.
  • Lastly, make sure the Site search Tracking is turned on.
    google analytics bot filter

Filter

You want to make sure you add your IP address and your client’s IP address to the filters in Google Analytics so you don’t get any false traffic.

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How to fix:

  • Go to Admin> View > Filters
  • Then, the settings should be set to Exclude > traffic from the IP addresses > that are equal to.

filters in google analyticsTracking Code

You can manually check the source code, or you can use my Screaming Frog technique from above.

If the code is there, you’ll want to track that it’s firing real-time.

  • To check this, go to your client’s website and click around a bit on the site.
  • Then go to Google Analytics > Real-Time > Locations, your location should populate.
    real time tagging in google analytics
  • If you’re using Google Tag Manager, you can also check this with the Google Tag Assistant Chrome extension.

How to fix:

  • If the code isn’t firing, you’ll want to check the code snippet to make sure it’s the correct one. If you’re managing multiple sites, you may have added a different site’s code.
  • Before copying the code, use a text editor, not a word processor to copy the snippet onto the website. This can cause extra characters or whitespace.
  • The functions are case-sensitive so check to make sure everything is lowercase in code.

Indexing

If you had a chance to play around in Google Search Console, you probably noticed the Coverage section.

When I’m auditing a client, I’ll review their indexing in Google Search Console compared to Google Analytics. Here’s how:

  • In Google Search Console, go to Coverage
  • In Google Analytics, go to Acquisition > Channels > Organic Search > Landing Page.
    google search console channels
  • Once you’re here, go to Advanced > Site Usage > Sessions > 9.
    google analytics sessions

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How to fix:

  • Compare the numbers from Google Search Console with the numbers from Google Analytics, if the numbers are widely different, then you know that even though the pages are getting indexed only a fraction are getting organic traffic.

Campaign Tagging

The last thing you’ll want to check in Google Analytics is if your client is using campaign tagging correctly. You don’t want to not get credit for the work you’re doing because you forgot about campaign tagging.

How to fix:

Keywords

You can use Google Analytics to gain insight into potential keyword gems for your client. To find keywords in Google Analytics, follow these steps:

Go to Google Analytics > Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms. This will give you a view of what customers are searching for on the website.
google analytics site search

Next, I’ll use those search terms to create a New Segment in Google Analytics to see what pages on the site are already ranking for that particular keyword term.

GA new segment

Step 4: Manual Check

Tools:

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  • Google Analytics.
  • Access to client’s server and host.
  • You Get Signal.
  • Pingdom.
  • PageSpeed Tools.
  • Wayback Machine.

One Version of Your Client’s Site is Searchable

Check all the different ways you could search for a website. For example:

  • http://annaisaunicorn.com
  • https://annaisaunicorn.com
  • http://www.annaisaunicorn.com

As Highlander would say, “there can be only one” website that is searchable.

How to fix: Use a 301 redirect for all URLs that are not the primary site to the canonical site.

Indexing

Conduct a manual search in Google and Bing to determine how many pages are being indexed by Google. This number isn’t always accurate with your Google Analytics and Google Search Console data, but it should give you a rough estimate.

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To check, do the following:

  • Perform a site search in the search engines.
    annaleacrowe_SEO audit site search
  • When you search, manually scan to make sure only your client’s brand is appearing.
  • Check to make sure the homepage is on the first page. John Mueller said it isn’t necessary for the homepage to appear as the first result.

How to fix:

  • If another brand is appearing in the search results, you have a bigger issue on your hands. You’ll want to dive into the analytics to diagnose the problem.
  • If the homepage isn’t appearing as the first result, perform a manual check of the website to see what it’s missing. This could also mean the site has a penalty or poor site architecture which is a bigger site redesign issue.
  • Cross-check the number of organic landing pages in Google Analytics to see if it matches the number of search results you saw in the search engine. This can help you determine what pages the search engines see as valuable.

Caching

I’ll run a quick check to see if the top pages are being cached by Google. Google uses these cached pages to connect your content with search queries.

To check if Google is caching your client’s pages, do this:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:https://www.searchenginejournal.com/pubcon-day-3-women-in-digital-amazon-analytics/176005/

Make sure to toggle over to the Text-only version.

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You can also check this in Wayback Machine.

How to fix:

  • Check the client’s server to see if it’s down or operating slower than usual. There might be an internal server error or a database connection failure. This can happen if multiple users are attempting to access the server at once.
  • Check to see who else is on your server with a reverse IP address check. You can use You Get Signal website for this phase. You may need to upgrade your client’s server or start using a CDN if you have sketchy domains sharing the server.
  • Check to see if the client is removing specific pages from the site.

Hosting

While this may get a little technical for some, it’s vital to your SEO success to check the hosting software associated to your client’s website. Hosting can harm SEO and all your hard work will be for nothing.

You’ll need access to your client’s server to manually check any issues. The most common hosting issues I see are having the wrong TLD and slow site speed.

How to fix:

  • If your client has the wrong TLD, you need to make sure the country IP address is associated with the country your client is operating in the most. If your client has a .co domain and also a .com domain, then you’ll want to redirect the .co to your client’s primary domain on the .com.
  • If your client has slow site speed, you’ll want to address this quickly because site speed is a ranking factor. Find out what is making the site slow with tools like PageSpeed Tools and Pingdom. Here’s a look at some of the common page speed issues:
    • Host.
    • Large images.
    • Embedded videos.
    • Plugins.
    • Ads.
    • Theme.
    • Widgets.
    • Repetitive script or dense code.

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Core Web Vitals Audit

Core Web Vitals is a collection of three metrics that are representative of a website’s user experience. They are important because Google is updating their algorithms in the Spring of 2021 to incorporate Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor.

Although the ranking factor is expected to be a small factor, it’s still important to audit the Core Web Vitals scores and identify areas for improvement.

Why Is It Important to Include Core Web Vitals in Your Audit?

Improving Core Web Vitals scores will not only help search ranking but perhaps more importantly it may pay off with more conversions and earnings.

Improvements to speed and page performance are associated with higher sales, traffic, and ad clicks.

Upgrading the web hosting and installing a new plugin may improve page speed but will have little (if any) effect on Core Web Vitals.

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The measurement is done at the point where someone is literally downloading your site on their mobile phone.

That means the bottleneck is at their Internet connection and the mobile device. A fast server will not speed up a slow Internet connection on a budget mobile phone.

Similarly, because many of the solutions involve changing the code in a template or the core files of the content management system itself, a page speed plugin will be of very little use.

There are many resources to help understand solutions. But most solutions require the assistance of a developer who feels comfortable updating and changing core files in your content management system.

Fixing Core Web Vitals issues can be difficult. WordPress, Drupal, and other content management systems (CMS) were not built to score well for Core Web Vitals.

It is important to note that the process for improving Core Web Vitals involves changing the coding at the core of WordPress and other CMS.

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Essentially, improving Core Web Vitals requires making a website do something that it was never intended to do when the developers created a theme or CMS.

The purpose of a Core Web Vitals audit is to identify what needs fixing and handing that information over to a developer who can then make the necessary changes.

What Are Core Web Vitals?

Core Web Vitals are consist of three metrics that collectively identify how fast the most important part of your page loads, how fast a user can interact with the page (example: click a button), and how fast it takes for the web page to become stable without page elements shifting around.

There are:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).
  • First Input Delay (FID).
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).

There are two kinds of scores for the Core Web Vitals:

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Lab Data

Lab data is what is generated when you run a page through Google Lighthouse or in PageSpeed Insights.

Lab data consists of scores generated through a simulated device and Internet connection. The purpose is to give the person working on the site an idea of what parts of the Core Web Vitals need improvement.

The value of a tool like PageSpeed Insights is that it identifies specific code and page elements that are causing a page to score poorly.

Field Data

Field Data are actual Core Web Vitals scores that have been collected by Google Chrome browser for the Chrome User Experience Report (also known as CrUX).

The Field data is available in Google Search Console under the Enhancements tab via the link labeled Core Web Vitals (field data can be accessed via this link, too) https://search.google.com/search-console/core-web-vitals.

How to Perform an In-Depth Technical SEO Audit

The field data reported in Google Search Console comes from visited pages that have had a minimum amount of visits and measurements. If Google doesn’t receive enough scores then Google Search Console will not report that score.

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Screaming Frog for Core Web Vitals Audit

Screaming Frog version 14.2 now has the ability to display a pass or fail Core Web Vitals assessment. You need to connect Screaming Frog to the PageSpeed Insights API (get an API key here) via a key.

To register your Page Speed Insights API key with Screaming Frog, first navigate to Configuration > API Access > PageSpeed Insights

There, you will see a place to enter your API key and connect it to the service.

In the same PageSpeed Insights popup, you can also select the Metrics tab and tick off the boxes indicating what metrics you’d like to have reported.

Be sure to select Mobile for the device as that’s the metric that matters for ranking purposes.

How to Perform an In-Depth Technical SEO Audit

If you select the Opportunities tab, after the crawl Screaming Frog will show you a list of different kinds of improvements (like defer offscreen images, remove unused CSS, etc.).

How to Perform an In-Depth Technical SEO Audit

Note Before Crawling

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There is generally no need to crawl an entire site and produce an exhaustive page-by-page accounting of what’s wrong with every single page of the website.

Before crawling, you may want to consider crawling a representative set of pages. To do this, first select a group of pages that represent the types of pages common to each section or category of the website. Create a spreadsheet, text file list, or manually paste the URLs in using the Upload tab in Screaming Frog.

Most sites contained pages and posts created with similar page structure and content. For example, all the pages in a “news” category are going to be fairly similar, pages in a “reviews” category are also going to be similar to each other.

You can save time by crawling a representative group of pages in order to identify issues common across individual categories as well as problems common to all pages sitewide that need fixing.

Because of those similarities, the issues discovered are going to be similar. It may only be necessary to crawl a handful of representative pages from each type of category in order to identify what kinds of issues are specific to each of those sections.

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The kinds of things that are being fixed are typically sitewide issues that are common across the entire site, like unused CSS that is loaded from every page or Cumulative Layout Shift caused by an ad unit located in the left-hand area of the web pages.

Because modern websites are templated, the fixes will happen at the template level or with custom coding in the stylesheet, etc.

Crawl the Site With Screaming Frog

Once the URLs are fully crawled, you can click on the PageSpeed tab and read all the recommendations and view the pass/fail notations for the various metrics.

Zoom In on URL Opportunities

A useful feature in the Screaming Frog Core Web Vitals Audit is the ability to select a URL from the list of URLs in the top pane and then see the opportunities for improvement in the bottom pane of the Screaming Frog display screen.

How to Perform an In-Depth Technical SEO Audit

Below is a screenshot of the bottom screen, with an opportunity selected and the details of that improvement opportunity in the right-hand pane.

How to Perform an In-Depth Technical SEO Audit

Official Google Tool

Google has published a tool that can provide an audit. It’s located here: https://web.dev/measure/

How to Perform an In-Depth Technical SEO Audit

Insert a URL for an overview of the page performance. If you’re signed in Google will track the page for you over time. Clicking the View Report link will open a new page containing a report detailing what is wrong and links to guides that show how to fix each problem.

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Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
All screenshots taken by author





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Blog

The State of Affiliate Marketing & Campaign Management with Adam Riemer [Podcast]

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How does affiliate marketing tie in to SEO? More than you’d think. Google algorithm updates have led to mega affiliates and their listicles ranking higher than ever. How do you get your product or service in the mix?

Adam Riemer joins Loren Baker to discuss affiliate marketing, the state of the affiliate industry and crossing the streams of SEO and Affiliate Marketing.

Here is the entire transcript of the show (please excuse any transcription errors) :

Loren:

Loren Baker, founder of Search Engine Journal, and welcome to today’s SEJ show. With me, I have Adam Riemer. Adam, how’s it doing? How’s it going?

Adam:

Good. How are you? Thanks for having me.

Loren:

Good. Thank you. Good. For those of you who don’t know Adam, he is an affiliate marketing genius. So I’m really excited to have him on the show today to talk a little bit about the affiliate side of things, how that works with SEO and then yeah, how… Oops. I got a little bit of stream here, stuff going on in my back end here. Okay, back. How that works with SEO and how things are really changing in that landscape. But before we get started, I’d like to give a shout out to our sponsor, Awesomic. So Awesomic is sponsoring today’s episode of the SEJ show. That’s Awesomic.io. If you’re struggling with fresh visuals for your affiliate marketing offer, Awesomic has your back. So our friends are Awesomic we’ll cover your design needs for a fixed monthly fee. It’s a subscription service.

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Loren:

So it’s all kinds of design stuff, very professional matching up their best designers with your needs for a small monthly fee, a fixed monthly fee. Just sign up, place a task and see first results on your next business day. No more hiring and no more stress to get those landing pages set up. So that’s all from Awesomic. Again, that’s Awesomic.io, and I’m going to be dropping a link in the comments a little bit later, but in the meantime, Adam, let’s talk affiliate marketing in the world of SEO and PR. What’s going on now? What are you spending most of your time doing? And also give everybody a little bit of a background on yourself.

Adam:

Okay. So yeah, I’ve just been dealing with stuff since… Well, my first website went up in the mid-nineties and then I’ve been doing this professionally since about 2002, 2003 and yeah. Affiliate Summit Pinnacle award winner twice for affiliate manager of the year, regular speaker at Pubcon Advance Search Summit now. I’ve been all over the world with big digital Adelaide, Australia, two shows in London, and just kind of me.

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Loren:

Awesome. Awesome. So I’m really interested because you do kind of cross over a little bit. There’s not very many affiliate marketers that I know that are so ingrained in the world of SEO and then vice versa. So I really like connecting with folks like yourself that do a little bit of everything, that are great at what they do, but you also know how to speak SEO as much as you know how to speak affiliate, right? You do quite a bit on the SEO side don’t you?

Adam:

Yeah, definitely. I kind of really can’t choose the other place I love is lead gen and conversion rate optimization. So it’s fun to be able to play across all three industries pretty substantially.

Loren:

Yeah, it was pretty funny. I found myself over the past year or two, I feel like I’m more of a lead gen expert through the SEO channels and other channels versus an SEO that drives traffic that may or may not convert. Do you feel that there’s more, especially in the past, maybe the past five years or so, there’s more focus on actually the quality of the traffic, what they’re doing, what they’re doing after they convert then there used to be, especially from the SEO side?

Adam:

There is and to answer your first question about where I am with both, having the experience across all three of those really helps me substantially with my helping my clients succeed. So for example, I can take a program that has some great bloggers or maybe some up and coming people or influencers. And I can take a look at their site and be like, “Okay, well you have this fantastic list, but it’s only sitting in position eight or nine. Maybe it’s on the second page.” So I can then go in and use some of the SEO skills to help them install schema for list items and to say, this is this. And then there’ll be associations through same as, an additional type. So that way they can say, “Okay, this is the same as Cadillac,” if it’s a list of cars and then additional type and you go to the specific models or if it’s vintage or can reference the toys and that gives them the advantage.

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Adam:

So that way, if I have a client that’s trying to show up for product X, Y, Z inside Google, now we can not only get that client ranking in the top position, but we can get positions two through five with affiliates, so now the number one result, no matter what, is my client, and they have just substantial power inside the search engines. The next part is by doing conversion rate optimization, I’m able to sit there and say, “Okay, we know that this works and this works for this file.” Then I can get the affiliate to give me their stats, what’s coming in from Pinterest or Facebook. We can say, “Okay, we know this traffic works this way from the client’s site. Let’s tweak the wording here. Let’s tweak the images here because we know this is what’s selling.” Or if we know that the affiliate has the color green, the green version of the product on their site, but we know that blue is converting better off their traffic, I can get them to change this.

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Adam:

And those are certain things that come over from the conversion rate optimization that I can apply. And by having client data, I can also say, “We know that your traffic is more Facebook. Have you been Google [inaudible 00:05:28], for example. Let’s change the wording here to pre-sell it better for when it hits the client site here and that will increase overall too.” Then we can also use that learning to adjust the client’s site for a better overall traffic across the board. So it kind of just plays nicely together having that weird, unique skillset.

Loren:

I really like that approach. There’s a couple of reasons. And we’ll talk about this in a bit, but there has been kind of a blurred line in between affiliate SEO and PR. A lot of us know this, especially anyone that’s in the health space, but there’s multiple health sites, which are really affiliate sites at the end of the day, that have enough authority and equity and just authority halo over top of them where they’re ranking for just about everything. And a lot of it’s listicles, a lot of it’s lists that click over to products and things like that. Which is, from an organic SEO perspective, it’s what we’re working with. It’s an environment that we’re working within with Google. So one thing I’ve found myself doing much more of is looking at well, how does a featured image on that site, is our product in the middle? If it’s a listicle in the top 10, where’s my client’s product?

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Loren:

I might not be the person that is in touch with Healthline or health.com or shape.com or whatever it may be. But if I can talk to the affiliate manager or whoever the team is at that specific publication and get them to bump up or maybe get them a better offer, I know that search intent traffic at the end of the day, it’s going to convert better. It’s probably going to have a better long-term residual benefit, especially if it’s a subscribe and save type product or something like that. Therefore, it’s kind of my job to be on top of that as well as it is to rank the organic listing. And at the same time, it’s also my job, if the organic listing is ranking, one, to make sure it’s converting, and two to make sure that we’re tracking back that longterm attribution back to SEO.

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Loren:

Because I think that SEO… I was kind of chatting with myself today about this on Twitter, but I was responding to Lily Ray about it, is I think that organic SEO is one of the only forms of marketing where that residual sale that long-term customer lifetime value is not always looked at by our industry. Instead, we’re looking at ranking, traffic and conversion, but what can we do after the fact to make sure that, hey, that high intent user, it’s clicked over, that’s found the answer of what they’re looking for is going to stay, and what is the real value of that at the end of the day?

Adam:

Yeah. Another metric that’s often overlooked is so email’s always one of the highest returns on investment for a company because the list is people that are already engaged with the brand. So one of the things that I like to do is I track the total email signups and newsletter signups and then the click-throughs after, and then conversions after that originated through affiliate or through organic search. Because if it’s growing that list, then you can more easily make a case on why these channels need more attention or more budget. Now it also depends on how your affiliate program is managed and the type of affiliates. If it’s just people like a coupon site jumping at the very end of the sale, that’s not growing your list. That’s just intercepting at the checkout, and sure, you might still get a sign up, but it wasn’t an introduction to your company overall.

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Adam:

So the first tool that actually used to measure that was Convertro, years and years ago. I think they’re still around. It was an awesome tool back then. I hope they are. And that just led me down a pretty massive rabbit hole. Actually no, the very first one was when I was with a skills assessment testing company, I think it was Clicktales. Was that the name of it? Yeah. Years ago, about 2002, 2003, when I just got my first professional jobs.

Loren:

Was Clicktale the one that used to animate the entire, it almost had a heat map component, where it animated the entire affiliate process. Yeah.

Adam:

Yeah, gosh. Yeah. I think that was the name of it. God, there was a long time ago. Talk about companies that just kind of disappeared.

Loren:

Yeah. It is. I love diving into that and I think that as SEOs, we have to also remember that we’re also digital marketers. So yeah, I can deliver the customer on a silver platter, but I also want to make sure that you’re the one that’s serving them what they intend to get at the end of the day. We do have a question that came in. Tony wants to know where Frost is at. Do you have Frost with you?

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Adam:

Frost is with his babysitter back at my condo. I’m in Philadelphia right now, visiting my PPC team.

Loren:

Awesome. Hey Tony, how’s it going? If you all have any questions on affiliate marketing or SEO just feel free to drop a-

Adam:

You make a good point about major media. So like CNN, which is one of the biggest sites in the world, they have an entire affiliate section. If you go to CNN underscore, every single thing in there is an affiliate [inaudible 00:10:37]. Now what’s cool is it has a lot of authority to rank on its own. But CNN underscored also has a major feature space right on the homepage of cnn.com and Buzzfeed… I keep thinking Buzzstream, that’s the CRM system I use for my affiliate outreach. I freaking love them. But basically Buzzfeed, they are… So weird to see people walking by.

Adam:

But Buzzfeed, almost every link on that site now is also an affiliate. What’s pretty cool is they also combined in magic links and some other things. So as they’re advertising realistic ones across their own site, you’re actually able to see what came through organic search and what’s coming through their own ad efforts. The same thing applies to CNN underscore as they run ads. So they have their new Mother’s Day ad going up soon. Today.com from the Today Show, that is now almost all affiliate links. So it’s no longer just PR. PR Needs affiliate to ensure that they’re going to get that coverage. So it kind of just works hand in hand.

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Loren:

We had Bosna on the show previously, who’s the product manager, or I believe that’s her role, at CNN underscored and was really talking about how SEO has become such an important component of that. I was not necessarily aware of, and I didn’t even think about this, about how much these publications are promoting this within their own ecosystem as well, which is a huge benefit. I’m thinking about how we do stuff at SEJ where we’re always promoting things via our email newsletter, via popups and everything else on the site. That is a nice benefit on the major mass media side of things. So speaking of PR and SEO and affiliate all kind of rolled into one, should these be siloed anymore? I think there’s going to have to be some communication between the SEO teams and the PR teams and the affiliate teams, if one or the other, or the ability for all to work together is going to get a product or brand featured on a CNN or a Buzzfeed or Rolling Stone, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

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Adam:

So the interesting thing is you don’t have to silo. You don’t have to merge it. You can keep it siloed, but there is some cross pollination here. And some of the ways that I like to measure that is if you go into the code on each page, it might say it was published… Let’s see. Today’s the 16th, on April 16th, but you can actually go into the source code and you could see that it was actually published three years ago in March and then it was updated. So then you go into the cache or the way back machine, you see where you moved up higher, where you added to this page originally, and that could now be PR talking to the specific editor, or it could be the affiliate manager working with the ad team there. And there’s a lot of different ways. It goes publication by publication.

Adam:

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Some publications you’re allowed to send product to, and it’s a natural pickup with the editors. Hearst Media is very famous for that. They’re very strict where the editors do have control. It is pure journalism and editorial. Now at the same time, you can do advertorials and you can reduce the costs with affiliate links. The same thing goes for Buzzfeed and with Penske Media Company and all of the other big ones, Meredith Corporation. But some of them have more journalistic integrity, where the editors do have full control, the ad team doesn’t. But the ad team can say, “You must include these brands. They’ve paid for it,” and the journalism will. Similar to doing advertorials in newspapers years ago, where they would label it’s an advertorial, it would just be kind of hidden.

Loren:

Yeah, speaking of Hearst-

Adam:

Well the New York Times, for example, they are still very much journalistic whether you agree with them or not, but Wirecutter is almost purely affiliated at this point. So it’s a big part of the New York Times, but it’s their affiliate side. So they’re making money serving ads, they’re making money off affiliate likes. They’re making money with a lot of different things.

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Loren:

Really interesting. So speaking of which, and speaking of journalistic integrity when putting together these product reviews and these product lists, Google rolled out an algorithm update, or more so an announcement more than likely, last week about product reviews, best practices for product reviews. What’s important from the Google side, what shouldn’t be done. I’ll drop a link in the comments for anybody out there. What are your thoughts on Google’s announcements or their algorithm tweak around product reviews? Do you see any movement on that side or you think it’s something that commerce, it’s just kind of more of a hey, we’ve noticed this is a big deal. This is what you should be doing on this front.

Adam:

I think it’s just, you should have been doing this from the first place anyways. If you were just writing thin little things like this is a great product, it’s not ever going to move the needle and you’re eventually going to fall. If you actually take the time to update your product reviews with correct information and you sit there and you fix things that weren’t correct, or you add new details as features go if it’s something that updates software wise, that’s going to help users. So it’s just still providing the best experience. If all you do is add paragraph after paragraph and there’s pros and cons, they’re lumped into a big bulky chunk of text, try breaking that out under a pros and cons list.

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Adam:

If it’s a comparison product review where you’re comparing and you have a section that compares maybe an iPhone to a Samsung Galaxy phone or something like that, then why not, instead of just doing paragraphs, do a table. It’s all still about providing the best possible user experience, combining different features that make it easier to absorb and accurate details. The better you can do without just drowning people in nonsense is the better your content is going to do in the search engines. I’m not expecting to see any actual changes unless you only wrote really bad reviews or things that weren’t factional. Sorry, what’s the word? Fictional, I guess. Yeah.

Loren:

Factional, fictional, nonfictional/.

Adam:

And that’s your own fault for taking shortcuts.

Loren:

Agreed, agreed. It’s kind of like when Google rolled out EAT guidelines, we’ve been doing Eat for years. But there are some tweaks-

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Adam:

Writing content or digital PR. Now has the word digital in front of it. Nothing’s changed.

Loren:

The blurred line is kind of interesting though. I have been on meetings where we’ve had our PR team or a client’s PR team or another PR vendor kind of get on and be like, “Oh, we got you this win on Buzzfeed. Or we got you this win here.” First of all, sometimes they’ll list things as wins that were a result of the link acquisition work that we do. So that’s always a little bit of a conflict that’s interesting. And they roll out the, “Hey, this publication, HuffPost gets like 24 billion unique views a month metric.” But at the same time, I have been on meetings where the PR teams are listing the successes that they’ve had and we’ve looked and they’ve been all affiliate links. So is that still a success from the PR side? How does all of that work at the end of the day? Who gets attribution? How do you split that between SEO, PR and affiliate marketing?

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Adam:

Good call. Or good questions. So what I do is ask the PR team privately without the client, so that there’s no judging or yelling at each other, say, can you share where you had the conversation with the editor? Can you share this? Because if they didn’t and they just sent out a mass email, that’s not going to work. Or I ask them, can you send me the pitch that you sent to this, to your list or to your wire, if you’re not doing individual outreach. Loren, you’ve seen some of my outreach, you know it’s very specific and customized for everyone and different products. And that’s why I’m able to say, “No. This came from me because it follows this theme that I sent on this date.” And if the PR team isn’t able to do that, then I don’t count towards them. If PR team said, “We went out with this theme and we sent out these three specific skews,” then I would say, “You know what, this isn’t my channel, but there’s a darn good chance it went from you and from your efforts.”

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Adam:

So it’s really just depends on if they can do that. The other reality is so there’s different monetization tools out there that have a marketplace that say, “You’re a part of this media or these affiliate programs. Here’s the commissions. Choose from these products from these stores.” So if you’re listed there, it could come up naturally. That could be because they’re looking on season and maybe the PR team went through. Maybe it’s also because the affiliate managers keeping for the listing in that marketplace up-to-date so that’s where it’s sort of combined. And at that point you just got to play nice with each other and say, it’s probably from both of our efforts.

Loren:

Let’s play nice with each other. Let’s all get along. Let’s all help the client at the end of the day. And yeah, I love it. I love it. So I want to pivot a little bit in the SEO and affiliate, but before I do so, I’m going to go ahead and talk a little bit more about our sponsor, Awesomic. Search engine optimization is vital for affiliate marketing, but so is design. With catchy and memorable creatives, your ads will bring up to 10 times more traffic and generate new leads. The only challenge is finding a high-class designer who knows how to work in a specific niche. But the good news is you don’t have to spend hours looking for a professional designer anymore. We recommend you check out Awesomic and again, that’s Awesomic.io. I dropped the link to it earlier in the comments. An app where your task is automatically matched with the best fit designer who has proven industry expertise at Awesomic.io. Adam, how am I doing on my read-throughs there? Pretty good, right? That was the first time I-

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Adam:

I can barely see. My eyes, I feel like my eyes are bright red and swollen. It’s just allergies.

Loren:

I remember when I was in college, I used to do radio DJ a little bit. And that was the big thing, when you’re reading a radio ad or a PSA, you have to repeat the thing. The phone number twice, that was the old thing back in the day. So all of that’s coming back to fruition. Anyway, so speaking of SEO and affiliate marketing, not only is your creative very important, your design, your landing page, et cetera, et cetera, your branding, your banners, but also the content within where your affiliate links live.

Loren:

Now, this has been an ongoing debate in the world of SEO, in the world of Google. We have natural links. We have natural links that have a no-follow or a UGC or a sponsored attribute. And then we have affiliate links. What’s the best way, in your opinion, your professional opinion, your expertise, your extremely professional expertise on how to link out to an affiliate link on the site to get your affiliate revenue or your percentage from it, but also not to trip anything on the Google side, Google things that you’re just putting sponsored links left and right. Should someone be using a plugin to do that? Is it a redirecting or should they just link directly utilizing their share sale link or whatever it may be?

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Adam:

I’m not going to say it depends. What I am going to do is say, this is going to rely on how advanced you want to get. If you want some severe tracking and some really cool features, you can always use something pretty like pro or an advanced tracking system, so that way you can get more stats and data for yourself. I’ve also gone through and done a redirect through, a redirect on my website, into a redirect through the affiliate links so I can actually measure it through analytics and get demographic information out of it. Because if you’re redirecting through a fake page on your site, Google Analytics is going to pull those stats for you. There’s also the chance you can just go directly to the affiliate network. The affiliate network could give you a link that redirects through one of their servers, or it could be just a direct first party link to the website with a parameter or to a unique landing page on the website.

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Adam:

Now, depending on what you have there, if it is an affiliate that redirects through a server, I would recommend putting sponsored all, not more follow. The reason for sponsored is you’re not putting that link there just because you’re a good person. You want to give them backlink. It’s an actual sponsored link. There is some form of hopeful compensation. You’re trying to get paid for using this affiliate link. If you were doing it because you just wanted to help your reader, or you were just trying to say, I support this website, then you would have a backlink and it would be follow, but because there is compensation it gets sponsored. If it is a, what’s it called? If it would look like a backlink, it has a parameter, I would do no follow, because… And then I would put a disclaimer on the top of the website, Google before this whole UGC sponsored and everything else attribute on links. Before that happened, they started penalizing websites for not disclosing relationships for advertising.

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Adam:

So my personal opinion, and I’m probably wrong on this. The only people who would answer with some certainty would be Gary or John or Martin or something. And basically what I would do then is I would just make sure that there’s a disclaimer and disclosure on the top that says sponsored. And then I would make sure anything paid or anything where there could be compensation gets a no follow at that point. And now you’ve addressed sponsored and no follow. I don’t think putting sponsor and no follow on the same link in the code is really necessary. That’s probably overkill and it might not make sense why no follow and sponsor. You’d still want the no opener software security and tab mapping. But personally, I would just say, put a disclosure on the top and then put no follow on anything that’s compensated, whether it’s affiliate or a paid link or something like that and now you have both bases covered.

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Loren:

Yeah. You can cover your butt by doing so. I like that. I like that advice. We’ll transcribe it, and we’ll include that in the wrap up for today. Anything else? So you were talking a little bit about coupon sites earlier, and we can’t get into some of the work that we do together publicly, but I know that we’ve cleaned up various different affiliate accounts in the past where we’re making sure that, hey, someone’s not on the site already. They go to the cart. Why are you serving them a box that says apply coupon code? Okay. You’re serving a box that says apply coupon code. You’re not pre-filling it with your own coupon code. Therefore, what are they going to do? They’re going to go to Google and search for brand coupon code. Brand offer code. Why? Because you told them to do it.

Loren:

So you being the e-commerce site, what’s your thought process on the world of couponing sites utilizing affiliate links, attribution that what once came from SEO or came from PPC suddenly may get reshifted over to a coupon affiliate engagement? What’s your view process on that? How does it work? What do you typically recommend that your clients do to make sure proper attribution is given et cetera, et cetera. I’d love to hear your, I know you’re very passionate about this. So here’s a couple of minutes. The floor is yours.

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Adam:

It’s important to always test. There is couponing for the life cycle and the process for almost every site online that has a coupon code box at checkout. And it is a part of the system, there’s no questioning that. But how much value does just showing up for the brand plus coupon actually add, and does it close more sales? Does it increase the total sales and would the sales happen regardless if the site’s up there? So it’s up to the brand to determine. So the first thing I like to do is run tests, and that would take me about 20 minutes to go through and explain how to do that properly, which we probably don’t have time for. And so-

Loren:

I can leave you on here for 20 minutes.

Adam:

It would get really boring for people really fast. Happy to do it though.

Loren:

I’ll leave it on all night. It won’t be so boring around downtown South Street. Okay, go ahead. Sorry.

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Adam:

There’s been one or two cases where I did see that total sales dropped. This is over the 18 or so years I’ve been doing this with just God knows how many hundreds of companies. Where we did actually see some sort of decrease, but in almost every case, we don’t see any actual increase or decrease from allowing coupon sites that show up for brand plus coupons inside the store. And the way that we start by looking, is this a problem or is this not? Are these sites introducing customers to us? Now, in some cases, the coupon site could be showing up for lingerie coupons, or it could be showing up for Halloween costume coupons or Christmas coupons or something like that. And if that is the case, they could be actually sending you traffic from those pages. And if they’re not showing up for your own trademark when they’re not using browser extensions, then there’s a darn good chance that coupon site is adding a ton of value to you and you want to keep them and reward them because they’re introducing.

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Adam:

Now, there’s also the chance that coupon site has an email list and that email list… So what you want to do in this case, is that email list might contain a lot of people who are your customers but haven’t shopped with you for two or three years. Because they’re trusting that coupon site and that coupon site’s list, if they do an email blast, you’re going to see a big lift in traffic to your website that you did not have on your own. And if the conversions come, even though they were your customers, this is a massive value add. So coupon sites can add value and can do good. The problem is it’s working with them in the right way. If the majority of your sales are just shopping cart interceptions, you probably shouldn’t be working with that coupon site until they can drive nine new transactions for every one they’re intercepting.

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Adam:

That point, I personally believe there’s a ton of value there, and we should allow them, but only if you also have protection for your influencers and for your other affiliates that are top huddle. So our sheriff’s sale, for example, you can do what’s called leapfrogging, impact radius, or sorry, the impact [inaudible 00:29:28] and partner rise, for example, and ever flow. And most of the networks now, not all of them have the ability to say, “Okay, this is the lower priority one to commission. This is the higher priority. If there’s a click from the higher priority and a click from the lower priority, always give it to the higher priority.” Some of them allow you to split it 10 ways like sheriff sale does. So each network has, in each tracking platform, has their own way of handling it. But it’s all about testing and seeing is this adding value to our process and is it not?

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Adam:

If the coupon sites are just intercepting your shopping part of checkout, chances are there is no value being added. There’s always the chance there is, but at that point, you have to look at it. It is part of the cycle. It is part of the process. So do we just lower the percentage or do we just remove it until they’re ready to add value in a more substantial way? And a way you can look at that is the click to close time. If it takes 10 minutes on average for a customer to hit your website from PPC non-branded to get to checkout, and these coupon sites magically close everything in five minutes, chances are, it’s just the interception. So you would measure from shopping cart checkout to close what’s the average time? Does this match our coupon sites?

Adam:

If the conversion rates are insanely high, so if your e-commerce conversion rate is 4%, these coupon sites are at 10% and 30% chances are, they are just intercepting your checkout. And that’s when you really need to ask yourself, how much is this worth? Can we run a test? And it may turn out, they’re adding a ton of value. It may turn out they’re not adding any, but it is an individual basis and it is something that you need to hire someone who can go in with an open mind and who is not compensated in the affiliate channel to test this properly. Only match your own traffic patterns. If you do a massive sale and you’re generating your own spike and the coupon sites match identically, chances are, they’re just intercepting you. And then you should ask them, create the same spike a week before we do ours. If they can’t and then they magically climb with yours, they’re just intercepting you most of the time.

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Loren:

So this is not a question of setting up some codes, working with your affiliate software, to sign up with all these coupon sites and just let them serve those codes for when someone’s in your cart. These are actually partnership opportunities that you can explore, but first run the data first and do some test.

Adam:

Exactly. I also, I mean, I found a lot of big issues with influencers companies, and they really don’t like to me very much right now because I throw that into a big loop. So a lot of influencer companies will use coupon codes as a tracking platform and a way to track their sales. Like, oh, these are our top influencers. They’re doing amazing. So the first thing I do there is I go to YouTube and I type brand plus reviews. And then I also go to the Google search because there’s a lot of Google searches that have videos in it. And sure enough, those are the influencers. And then the next place I look are those coupon sites. And I click to reveal all the coupon codes and chances are, there’s a bunch of the top influencers codes are just sitting there at the brand’s interception.

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Adam:

Because they track back to your influencer platform, it looks like it’s the influencer driving sales regularly. It’s just that coupon site at the very end, so now you’re paying commission. You’re also crediting your influencer channel. The reality is that came in from your own email list or it came from somewhere else, and they’re just finding, they’re getting that click from the coupon site and the affiliate channel, and they’re using an influencer code so it looks like it’s an influencer sale too. And now you’ve lost a bunch of money to influencers you shouldn’t have been paying and to the coupon site who just intercepted you through affiliate, but it was actually your email.

Loren:

Is it worth it for e-comm site owners, et cetera, D2C companies to set up their own coupon page on their site so they may have the ability to outrank some of the different coupon aggregates and things like that within the market, that way you’re keeping the attribution internal?

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Adam:

Absolutely 100%. You can also pay the coupon sites. And that way, if you have a paid deal with them and they’re showing up in the second and third position, you can say, “Look, I’m going to give you X, Y, Z a month. You’re going to keep this updated with only codes we want to have there. You’re going to remove the rest, turn off new user generated content,” and you could do it that way and really take control of it and not have to worry about interfering with your affiliate channel. And now you have a value adding program. You’re going to have top funnel affiliates happier to work with you because they’re not worried about that interception at the end. And you control the codes that exist there, whether or not the coupon site just depends on them is going to be open to a media fee instead or not.

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Adam:

And whether your finance team, they’re going to get pretty off when you ask about that, just from my… Yeah, it’s like, there’s a lot of different ways. It’s just going to depend on the company, how open they are to trying things, and if it’s really that important to them. A lot of times, if you do decide the coupon sites are not part of your program or worth it, once they’re removed, the links become direct links and you can watch them hit the referral channel inside, excuse me, your analytics package. Sorry about all the sneezing, the eye wiping and stuff. Allergies are kicking my butt.

Loren:

No problem. It’s that time of the year. It’s almost time to go. So I’m going to go ahead and drop where people can find you on Twitter. You have a very interesting Twitter handle @rollerblader as well as I’m going to drop the link to your site. Anything you’d like to say before we sign off?

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Adam:

Well, thank you all for listening. If you want, and you can find me at adamreamer.me. It’s my blog. And thank you for having me, Loren.

Loren:

It’s really been a pleasure.

Adam:

Advanced Search Summit in Napa in June.

Loren:

I know first in-person event in about a year and a half, I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to make it up there. You’re emceeing, correct?

Adam:

I am.

Loren:

I’m going to go ahead and drop a link. Nice. Again, that’s Advanced Search Summit, Napa, California. I think there’s some seats left. So go ahead and just search Google for that, anyone who’s listening or viewing at the moment. And there’s quite a lineup of speakers and expertistes. Two-day event. Lots of cool things like visiting castles and falcons and stuff like that. Mr. Reamer is emceeing. So it’s-

Adam:

My favorite people are speaking there too, so I’m so excited. We have Melanie Mitchell. We have Rebecca from Third Love. She’s just a brilliant human being. I’m so excited. And I mean, you always have Lily Ray, who’s just holy crud on knowledge, like wow. And it’s just, it’s awesome. I’m so excited to see everyone and yeah, it’s going to be good.

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Loren:

Agreed, agreed. Much love out there to the search community from Search Engine Journal. Always happy to support all of the different events and outings that are going on within the industry. Adam, it’s been a pleasure. I really enjoyed talking about things that are on the outward perimeter of SEO. So it’s been great to learn about affiliate marketing from you today to learn about the world of couponing, the intersection of PR, SEO and affiliate. And I really hope you enjoy your weekend in Philly.

Adam:

Thanks. Yeah, it’s weird. It’s my first trip since over a year for the most part. But I’m fully vaccinated now. The person I’m with, my PPC person, his company’s Blue Route Marketing, they are fully vaccinated right now. So my first time in a room with someone else without a mask on too.

Loren:

Nice.

Adam:

Yeah, it’s weird.

Loren:

Grab some Claritin, you’ll be good. A little bit of vaccine, a little bit of Claritin for the allergies. You’re going to have a great weekend.

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Adam:

Thanks everyone.

Loren:

Thanks. It’s been a pleasure. Before you all drop off, here’s an advertising message from our sponsor Awesomic. Hi, this is Loren Baker, founder of Search Engine Journal. And thank you again for watching today’s episode of the Search Engine Journal Show, brought to you by our sponsors, Awesomic. Are you going to launch a new Facebook campaign, but you lack the visuals? Freelance marketplaces are not the easiest option anymore now that we have Awesomic. Awesomic is an app that matches your design tasks with the best fit specialist for the job. Simple subscription and faster iterations, make your work both easy and efficient, providing consistency and saving you a lot of headache down the line. Sign up today at all. sonic.io. Again, that’s Awesomic.io. With our special promo code Design 10 and get a 10% discount off your first month. Again, that’s Awesomic.io and promo code Design 10 for 10% off your first month with Awesomic. Thanks again from the team at SEJ and our sponsor, Awesomic.

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Elementor Update Addresses Core Web Vitals

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Popular WordPress page builder plugin Elementor announced an update focused on delivering faster page loads. The update introduces improved efficiencies in how JavaScript and CSS files are delivered. These changes in Elementor version 3.2 promise to improve Core Web Vitals scores.

According to the Elementor’s announcement:

“The company has optimized its development cycle and created a five-track plan fixated on specific performance areas such as Optimized Asset Loading, JavaScript/CSS Libraries, Optimized internal JavaScript and CSS, Optimized Backend and Rendering Processes, and more slim code output.

Elementor’s plan ensures that all aspects of performance receive significant improvements, front and back.”

Elementor has also introduced a way for publishers to indicate how to load Google Fonts more efficiently:

“A new Google font loading feature personalizes users’ loading experience, enabling them to modify how Elementor loads Google Fonts. Elementor dashboard settings offer auto, swap, block, optional, and fallback.”

Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are metrics designed to measure the actual web page experience for actual users on mobile devices. The measurements are collected by users on Chrome who have opted in to provide the information which is then collected as the Chrome User Experience (CrUX) Report.

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It is this data that is used to create the Core Web Vitals scores for websites which in turn will become a ranking signal in June 2021.

Hosting a website at a fast server will not improve the core web vitals scores because the problems that cause core web vitals are in the code of the website itself.

Delivering that code faster from a fast web host won’t fix the code that has to be downloaded and rendered on a mobile device.

That’s why it’s important for the makers of website templates and page builders to make the code their users rely on more efficient.

What Elementor announced is their renewed effort to deliver the web page code more efficiently to help publishers give their site visitors a better user experience and help the publishers rank better.

Why JavaScript and CSS Can Be Problematic

JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are files that respectively provide functionality and visual style to web pages. A JavaScript file can make a contact form work and the Cascading Style Sheet tells the browser what colors and fonts to use (among other visual style related data).

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When a person visits a web page the browser will download these files in order to create (render) the web page. But the web page rendering will stop every time it encounters a JavaScript or CSS file. That’s why they’re called Render Blocking Files.

While there are coding tactics to delay downloading the files or to download them in parallel (simultaneously with other files), those files still need to be activated (so to speak) in order to complete the rendering of the web page.

The ideal approach is to minimize how many files need to be downloaded. The best approach is to download the absolute minimum amount of JavaScript and CSS necessary to create a given web page.

For example, if a web page doesn’t contain a contact form then there is no need to download the files necessary to create a contact form.

This more efficient approach to downloading JavaScript and CSS is called conditionally loading. That means to download them when they are needed and not downloading if they are not needed.

And that is part of what Elementor announced.

Elementor Is Now More Efficient

What Elementor changed was to download many JavaScript files only when they are needed. That’s called loading files conditionally. Elementor confirmed to me that they have plans to begin conditionally loading CSS in the near future as well.

According to Elementor:

“The Lightbox, Screenful, Dialog, and Share links libraries are all loaded conditionally…”

Elementor also announced:

“The e-icons CSS file has also been split into two separate libraries – frontend and backend – saving up to 50KB on any given page load.”

Another improvement is that CSS that only affects site visitors who are Editors will not be loaded automatically for all users. That means if a site visitor is not an Editor their browser will download less files to make the web page render, saving 17 kilobytes.

The Elementor team shared this with me:

“Both our R&D team and our SEO team have been working on this project for the past 6 months, making sure that Elementor is fully compatible with the upcoming Web Vitals Google algorithm change. We’ve been focusing on reducing the number of DOM elements, rendering process optimization, dynamic asset loading, and much more.”

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Elementor Publishes Courses for Improving Core Web Vitals

In addition to the code changes Elementor has taken the extra step to provide YouTube courses to help them better understand best practices for building sites that provide a faster user experience.

“To guide people through this update, we’ve made some excellent educational materials, including a new course on improving performance on your website. This will take a look at the whole process, since performance is based on a combination of factors, not just your website building platform of choice.”

Watch the Elementor optimization courses on YouTube here.

Elementor Takes the Initiative

It’s very heartening to see more and more companies step up to make these important updates. The announcement by Elementor is an exciting development for users of the plugin and puts the pressure on the rest of the WordPress ecosystem from plugins to theme makers to keep up with Elementor.

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Introducing Text Path & Mask Layer Features!





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Pinterest Expands Shopify Integration Worldwide

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Pinterest’s integration with Shopify is expanding worldwide, giving 1.7 million merchants the ability to turn products from their e-commerce store into shoppable pins.

Shopify’s Pinterest app, which launched last year in the US and Canada, is now available in 27 additional countries.

The Pinterest app for Shopify stores lets merchants upload their product catalogues and convert their products into pins.

Users can then buy products featured in a merchant’s pins without ever having to leave Pinterest.

In addition to expanding its Pinterest app to more countries, Shopify is adding support for multiple product feeds, and the ability to market products via dynamic retargeting ads.

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Here’s more about all the updates announced this week.

Updates to Shopify’s Pinterest App

Expansion to 27 More Countries

Shopify offers a free app that merchants can install on their site to upload their product catalogs to Pinterest.

Uploading a product catalog to Pinterest gives merchants the ability to publish shoppable product pins.

It can take up to 48 hours for a product catalog to sync for the first time, but after that it will automatically update every day.

The use of Shopify’s Pinterest app was previously limited to merchants in North America. Now it’s available worldwide.

Countries where the app is available include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.

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Multi-Feed Support For Catalogs

Shopify merchants can now upload multiple product feeds to Pinterest.

Previously limited to one product feed, Pinterest now allows merchants to upload up to 20 product feeds.

Merchants can add specific local data to their product feeds such as currency, language, and product availability. This makes it possible to upload a separate feed for each market they serve.

Dynamic Retargeting Ads

Shopify merchants advertising on Pinterest now have access to dynamic retargeting ads for the first time.

Dynamic retargeting ads enable Pinterest advertisers to re-engage with users who have previously expressed interest in their products.

Merchants can retarget exact or similar products to people who have either shopped with them before or shown some form of interest.

In order to utilize Pinterest’s dynamic retargeting ads, merchants need to meet a threshold for a minimum number of PageVisit and AddToCart events in the last 7 days.

Those metrics are tracked by the Pinterest Tag that merchants are required to install on their website.

Bill Watkins, Global Head of Mid-Market and Small Business Sales at Pinterest, on the Shopify partnership expansion:

“Pinterest is an inspiring place to shop and we’re excited to expand our partnership with Shopify to help merchants in 27 more countries grow their shopping presence on Pinterest globally. Small and medium businesses in particular have the opportunity to thrive on Pinterest because they connect with consumers in a positive environment when they are early in their decision-making journey and full of purchase intent.”

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These updates are now available in the previously mentioned countries.

Source: Pinterest Newsroom





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Instagram to Add New Ways For Creators to Make Money

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shares details about new features coming to Instagram that will allow creators to get paid for their content.

The features, announced this week during a livestream which included Instagram chief Adam Mosseri, will enable content creators to earn multiple revenue streams.

Creators will be able to generate income through:

  • Partnerships with brands
  • Selling merchandise
  • Recommending affiliate products

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There’s nothing to stop Instagram users from earning revenue in those ways already. But they have to do it through their own means, which requires contacting brands, setting up e-commerce stores, and joining affiliate programs.

Instagram is aiming to streamline those processes by making it easy for creators to accomplish everything within the app.

That also serves Instagram’s interests, as the company makes no money when creators establish partnerships with brands on their own, or sell goods through their own stores.

By keeping all revenue-earning activity within Instagram the company can take a cut for itself, and/or charge service fees.

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How Instagram plans to profit from the new features is unclear at this time. Here’s what we do know about the new ways for creators to make money.

New Ways For Instagram Creators to Earn Revenue

Connecting Brands With Creators

Instagram is developing a “marketplace” for brands where they can discover and sponsor emerging creators.

Mosseri says:

“We should be able to help brands find creators that are uniquely aligned with the work they’re trying to do and vice versa.”

This will simplify the process of establishing brand partnerships for both parties. And it sounds like it can help draw attention to creators who otherwise may not end up on a brand’s radar.

Instagram Creator Shops

Instagram creator shops will allow users with regular accounts to sell merchandise on their profile.

Creator shops are an extension of Facebook & Instagram shops that were introduced last year. Previously only available to business accounts, regular users will soon be able to create their own store on Instagram.

Zuckerberg states:

“We see a lot of creators setting up shops too, and one part of being a content creator business model is you create great content, and then you can sell stuff, and so having creator shops is awesome,”

Affiliate Recommendation Marketplace

Instagram plans to help creators get paid for promoting content in the app.

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Zuckerberg says:

“Creators should be able to get a cut of the sales of things that they’re recommending and we should build up an affiliate recommendation marketplace to enable that to all happen.”

This will make it easier for creators to find opportunities to earn commission through recommending products.

The development of an affiliate recommendation marketplace may allow creators to find more products to recommend that align with their values.

Given that the whole thing will be facilitated by Instagram, it has the potential to offer more favorable terms for creators than existing affiliate programs.

Zuckerberg and Mosseri did not say when these features will be available, though they promised to reveal more information soon.

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Source: CNBC





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Why We Need to Stop Quoting the Zero-Click Searches Studies

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On August 13, 2019, Rand Fishkin — CEO of SparkToro, founder of Moz — published a blog post that stated, “Less than Half of Google Searches Now Result in a Click.”

Fishkin summed up the findings as proof that:

“Google’s ongoing attempts to answer more searches without a click to any results or a click to Google’s own properties are both proving successful. As a result, zero-click searches, and clicks that bring searchers to a Google-owned site keep rising.”

While the article also quotes an earlier study that showed that almost 6% of Google clicks went to a Google-owned property (which Fiskin labeled as a “huge portion”), most people got caught up on the “50% of queries resulted in zero clicks” part.

According to a phrase match search on Google, the “less than half” statistic went on to get quoted over 400,000 times.

Heck, I even mentioned it once in my article about the legality of featured snippets.

On March 22, 2021, Fishkin updated his study, now claiming that:

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“From January to December 2020, 64.82% of searches on Google (desktop and mobile combined) ended in the search results without clicking to another web property.”

While some SEO professionals questioned the new data, thousands more search engine industry publications and blogs quoted the study for weeks.

The only problem?

The math doesn’t add up.

This Metric Has More Blind Spots Than A Buick

In July 2020, I published an article with the assistance of a statistician about the abysmal state of “studies” in the SEO business.

The statistician highlighted the 2019 SparkToro zero-click study in detail for an issue known as “availability bias.”

Roger Montti covered this issue shortly after the 2021 SparkToro study was released, so I won’t go into too much detail here.

However, the problem is that because the data for both studies was collected for other purposes (e.g., users of Avast Antivirus or the SimilarWeb dataset), it’s not an accurate representative sample of Google users.

Additionally, the 2019 data from JumpShot was composed of “millions of Android-powered devices and millions of PCs,” but excludes all iOS-based devices. Once again, this shows that the data is not a fair and random sampling of Google users.

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This issue alone should kick these studies to the proverbial curb.

However, the more significant problem is the number of “blind spots” (i.e., details of the data we can’t see) in the slice of the pie that represents the so-called “zero-clicks” occurring — or not — on Google.

Before we dig into the data, let’s look at the original graphs presented in the 2019 SparkToro study:

Graph showing where Google's searcher's click.

I believe the point the SparkToro study is trying to make was that by the end of Q2 (June) 2019, the “zero-click” number had crossed the 50%.

However, the “Clicks to Google-Owned Sites” slice is missing from this graph, so it’s a little hard to compare.

Assuming that “Organic Clicks to Rest of the Web” and “Searches w/ Organic Clicks” represent the same information and looking at the difference in the numbers, it appears the “Clicks to Google-Owned Sites” slice was absorbed into the “Searches w/ Organic Clicks” slice (we’ll come back to this later).

More importantly, what’s in that “Zero-Click Searches” slice?

There were some caveats added to the original 2019 study some time after the original post that can help with this question.

According to the study, “zero-click searches” include:

  • “Searches that end because a user was frustrated and couldn’t find an answer.”
  • “Searches that are answered by the results” (i.e., Featured Snippets/Knowledge Graph).
  • “Searches that end because something interrupted the searcher, or any other reason for a cessation of activity after the query.”
  • “A click/action that takes a searcher out of the browser (for example, opening the phone app for a click-to-call, or the Google Maps app for driving directions).”

Additionally, it should be noted that the zero-click definition:

  • Does not include “clicks to Google-owned sites,” which is listed separately as 5.98%.
  • Does not include “Voice searches that show a screen of results are part of this analysis. Searches that are answered by a device’s audio (like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, etc. speaking an answer).”

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Let’s look at each of these caveats a little closer using data available in other studies.

Before someone on Twitter points it out — yes, I’m quite aware of the irony of referencing other studies using the same biased data sources, but that’s the point.

This data was available in prior studies but was omitted from the SparkToro study for reasons not provided.

  • “Frustrated User” Searches: An earlier study published in March 2017 (written by Fishkin while he was still at Moz and also using JumpShot data) stated that the “percent of queries on Google result in the searcher changing their search terms without clicking any results” was “a full 18% of searches.”
  • Answered by the results (i.e., Featured Snippets or Knowledge Graph): “According to Ahrefs’ data, ~12.29% of search queries have featured snippets in their search results.”

This stat is from a different data set, but I present it to illustrate a possibility of how much of that “over 50%” could be Featured Snippet/Knowledge Graph search results.

According to the March 2017 Moz study, links in the Knowledge Graph get “~0.5% of clicks” but of course, those go on the “organic clicks” side of the graph.

Click-To-Call Searches: An older survey of 3,000 mobile searchers by Google in 2013 revealed that 70% of mobile searchers click-to-call a business directly from Google’s search results.

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This data doesn’t align with how the JumpShot data was collected. However, again, I present it to illustrate that a substantial percentage of the so-called “zero-click” searches are getting a click.

Google Maps Searches: According to the March 2017 Moz study, “0.9% of Google search clicks” go to Google Maps.

Other Apps and “Interrupted searches:” Unfortunately, I was not able to discover any specific data on these types of searches in my research for this article.

What Does This Clarification of the Data Tell Us?

Think about it this way: the “Frustrated User” and the “Answered by the Results” users would most likely never click on a result anyway.

This is because the answer just wasn’t there, or perhaps because the response was so simple that a visit to a webpage to obtain that answer was unnecessary.

One could make an argument that the “Interrupted Searches” category belongs here, as well, since they never even had the opportunity for a click.

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So, what we have here are really “Never Clickers” rather than “Zero-Clickers,” and those searchers could easily be over 20% of that 50.33% of searchers.

Then, you have an unknown percentage of users in that remaining 20-30% of that 50.33% slice who are clicking on a result. However, they weren’t counted because of the technology used to collect the data; specifically the Click-To-Call, Google Maps, and Other Apps searches.

These searches don’t belong in that slice at all because clicks are actually occurring.

In either case, Google is not “keeping the click for themselves” since that number is represented elsewhere. The clicks simply never existed in the first place.

“Some folks have pointed out that ‘zero-click’ is slightly misleading terminology, as a search ending with a click within the Google SERP itself falls into this grouping,” Fishkin states early in the 2021 study. “The terminology seems to have stuck, so instead I’m making the distinction clear.”

However, as we can see from above, it’s much more than “slightly misleading.”

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It’s just incorrect.

For the 2021 study, SparkToro switched to SimilarWeb data and, for some reason, switched to click-through rate (maybe the graph lists both):

Graph of Google search click-through rate and zero-click searches in 2020.

Here, the graph states that less than two-thirds of searches are “zero-click.”

However, Fishkin writes that the “number is likely undercounting some mobile and nearly all voice searches” and therefore is most likely over two-thirds of all searches worldwide.

This is how Fishkin was able to use that figure in his headline.

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However, unlike the 2019 study, there is even less information about what is included in the “zero-click” slice. I think we can safely assume that it has the same problems as the JumpShot data.

In conversations about this new study with a longtime actual working SEO professional, Bill Slawski shared some concerns over the quality of the data. Bill has written about Google patents for over 15 years with nothing but positive feedback, including from Google’s Matt Cutts and Paul Haahr.

Based on his looking through the company’s web page on its data sources, Slawski said:

“[SimilarWeb] provides some information about where [the data] is coming from, but nothing that actually indicates how they collect data about Google searches. They say it comes in part from 4.7 million web apps, but never name what those apps are specifically.”

Elsewhere on SimilarWeb’s data sources page, it claims that it collects data from various Google Analytics accounts. However, I can guarantee that Google’s own Google Analytics account isn’t one of them.

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Slawski added:

“Digital ink is cheap. It costs next to nothing to list the steps they may have taken to collect this data. The failure to do so indicates to me that something is being hidden.”

What Is the Actual Point of the SparkToro Studies?

In both the 2019 and 2021 studies, Fishkin makes a case about Google’s monopolistic practices.

However, if that was the actual point of the two studies, that number (represented by clicks that go to Google properties) is not part of the zero-click searches number in the 2019 study.

It is largely ignored in the 2019 post and completely omitted from the 2021 post.

That clicks to Google properties number is either a separate slice equaling 5.98% for Q2 of 2019 or lumped in with the rest of the organic searches in June 2019.

The clicks to Google properties number was not broken out at all in the 2021 study. If that study’s definitions follow the same rules as before, it still wouldn’t be part of the zero-click total — but we actually don’t know from the SparkToro post.

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(Note: A follow-up presentation by SimilarWeb with more data was scheduled for March 31; however, the link to that event from the SparkToro post is not working as of this writing, and the SimilarWeb website does not have any listings for the event.)

Now, if 5.98% is a massive number for you, that’s a whole different story. But it isn’t part of the zero-click story at all.

Given that this is Google’s website and Google provides the organic search listings to millions of websites for free, the fact that they might be keeping less than 6% of those searches for their properties doesn’t bother me so much.

Why on Earth Do We Keep Quoting These Studies?

The 2021 study caused Google to issue a response that stated that more clicks than ever are going to organic search results.

While this should be tempered by the fact that the use of search engines increased during the 2020-2021 pandemic, it supports the fact that the data presented is simply untrue.

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Yet, despite all of these blind spots and sloppy data, hundreds of thousands of blog posts have repeated that “over 50%” and “over two-thirds” of searches get zero clicks.

The lone holdout, Montti, presented his case shortly after Google’s official statement was released.

While other publications covered Google’s response, barely any of them used the opportunity to point out any issues with the original study itself. In fact, some took the opportunity to pile on Google.

I don’t totally blame Fishkin, Moz, or SparkToro for this one. My fellow industry writers should take on some of the blame.

It’s easy to just go with something that sounds like it’s right because you feel like Google’s search results aren’t what they used to be.

But seriously, take a minute to think about this stuff before starting another post with, “We all know that fewer than 50% of searches get clicks.”

We don’t actually know that at all because no one has actually proven that statement so far.

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Conclusion

With data like this, I always think back to a monologue from the first “Jurassic Park” movie.

Jeff Goldblum’s character – Ian Malcolm – confronts John Hammond about how “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether not they could [bring back dinosaurs] that they didn’t stop to think if they should,” but is completely ignored.

In this instance, I think Fishkin was so excited about presenting what he thought was compelling evidence of wrongdoing on Google’s part that he didn’t stop to think if he should.

Year after year, I keep waiting for companies like SparkToro and others to have this Alec Guinness from “Bridge on the River Kwai”, “What have I done?” moment, where they realize the damage they are doing.

But it never seems to arrive.

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All screenshots taken by author, April 2021





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SERP Analysis Tools For SEO and Ranking?

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A relatively new type of tools analyzes the search engines results pages (SERPs) and provides recommendations based on statistical analysis of similarities shared between the top ranked sites. But some in the search community have doubts about the usefulness of this kind of tool.

SERP Correlation Analysis and Lack of Causation

This kind of analysis is called Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Correlation Analysis. SERP analysis is research that analyzes Google search results to identify factors in ranked web pages.

The SEO community has found startling correlations in the past by studying search results.

One analysis discovered that top ranked sites tended to have Facebook pages with a lot of likes.

Of course, those top ranked sites were not top ranking because of the Facebook likes.

Just because the top ranked sites share certain features does not mean that those features caused them to rank better.

And that lack of actual cause between the factors in common and the actual reasons why those sites are top ranked can be seen as a problem.

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Just because web pages ranked in the search results share a word count, a keyword density or share keywords in common does not mean that those word counts, keyword densities and keywords are causing those pages to rank.

SERPs Are No Longer Ten Blue Links

Another problem with analyzing the top ten of the search results is that the search results are no longer a list of ten ranked web pages, the ten blue links.

Bill Slawski (@bill_slawski) of GoFishDigital expressed little confidence in search results correlation analysis.

He said,

“The data in correlation studies may be cleaned so that One Boxes and Featured Snippets don’t appear within them, but it’s been a long time since we lived in a world of ten blue links.”

Misleading Analysis?

I asked an AI-based content optimization company (@MarketMuseCo) about SERP Analysis tools.

They responded:

“Content optimization tools that scrape SERPs and use term frequency calculations to tell you what to write about are misleading at best.

Most of these tools will scrape content from the top 10-30 search results, extract common terms, and rate their relevance using Google AdWords Keyword Planner from Google’s public API.

Adding words to your content from these types of tools will never lead to comprehensive, expertly written content that, over time, becomes a competitive advantage for your business.”

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SERP AnalysisTools and LSI Keywords

Some of these SERP Analysis tools promote outdated concepts like LSI Keywords as being important for ranking in Google.

This is a concept that is well known to have little relevance for ranking in Google’s search results.

User Reviews of SERP Analysis Tool

Nigel Mordaunt, Director at Charlotte, NC Search Consultancy, Status Digital Group (@StatusCLT), told me that he tried SERP analysis tools and was not satisfied with the results.

He offered his opinion of these tools based on his hands-on experience:

“Using those tools do not promote reader satisfaction, which I think is the core of on-page SEO. It more promotes a copycat style of content which mimics 1,000 other sites within your niche.”

Jeff Ferguson (@CountXero), a marketer with over 20 years of experience, Partner/Head of Production, Amplitude Digital (@AmplitudeAgency) and Adjunct Professor, UCLA offered his opinion based on his own experience with these kinds of tools.

Jeff commented:

“I’ve played with a few of these before, and I can see the appeal; however, all too often, their reasoning for doing certain things is based on SEO myths, outdated info, or just flat out made up.

Most of them are great at doing a word count of the content for a given keyword, but word count isn’t a ranking factor. Others are pushing things like “LSI Keywords,” which don’t actually exist in the Google universe.”

More Data Does Not Give You Better Results

Some of these tools will analyze more than the top ten of the search results. They may analyze the top 30 and higher.

But more data does not translate into better analysis. The idea that more data will yield a better analysis is a common misconception.

According to Data Science Consultant Michael Grogan writing in TowardsDataScience.com:

“More data is not better if much of that data is irrelevant to what you are trying to predict. Even machine learning models can be misled if the training set is not representative of reality.

…Is inclusion of certain data relevant to the problem that we are trying to solve?  …it should not be assumed that blindly introducing more data into a model will improve its accuracy.”

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Wikipedia has an entry about accuracy and precision, where accuracy is about how close an experiment or analysis is to the truth and precision is how reproducible the results can be, regardless if the results are accurate or not.

“For example, if an experiment contains a systematic error, then increasing the sample size generally increases precision but does not improve accuracy. The result would be a consistent yet inaccurate string of results from the flawed experiment.”

Accuracy is a problem with SERP Analysis in that the typical analysis does not account for all the variables that are responsible for why a web page ranks in the search results.

The reason they don’t account for all the variables is because nobody outside of Google knows what those variables are.

Analyzing Search Results Yields Flawed Results

Analyzing the search results has consistently yielded questionable results. One can analyze the results and tease out something like a possible search intent.

But to claim to identify factors that are responsible for why a site is ranking is questionable.

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I mentioned to Bill Slawski that I was writing about SERP Analysis Tools and he quipped:

“I laughed my head off after reading the —– website. Word count has never been a ranking signal at Google. Neither has keyword density.”

Everyone has their opinion about this kind of tool. Some people may find value in it.

It’s up to you to research and determine if this kind of tool is useful for you.





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Why Top of Funnel Matters & How to Win Buy-In for It

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As a demand generation marketer for most of my career, I get excited about the ROI that bottom-of-funnel tactics provide.

Targeting the highest-of-purchase-intent keywords and audiences is bound to produce good results assuming your pre- and post-click experience is optimized.

But what happens when you’ve exhausted all demand and maximized your share of voice, hitting the point of diminishing returns?

I’ve encountered many companies that are content with the success of their tried-and-true marketing plays. Many don’t see a need to prospect beyond the bottom of the funnel.

After all, it’s hard to snap out of the spell of cheap cost per leads (CPLs) that well-run bottom-of-funnel initiatives provide.

The reality, though, is that organizations hit an inflection point at a certain stage of maturity and need to invest at the top of the funnel if they want to continue gaining market share.

The data is clear. Digitally surrounding a prospect early on pays dividends outside of what you can directly attribute to paid media.

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Why Top of Funnel Works

According to a study by McKinsey, brands in the initial consideration set were more than twice as likely to win business compared to brands considered later in the decision journey.

For up-and-coming brands, the top of the funnel (TOF) is even more critical.

In LinkedIn’s Age of Agility survey of B2B technology buyers, two in three decision-makers remain hesitant to try a new vendor.

To gain market share from established players, brands must reinforce their culture, expertise, relevance, and value early on in the buying journey.

When your prospect is finally in-market, you’ll be first in their consideration set and have a marked advantage.

One reason? The availability heuristic, which states that given a choice between several options, people tend to prefer the one that comes to mind most readily.

Using marketing to digitally surround prospects early on helps brands capitalize on this.

Effective brand advertising produces visible and quantifiable long-term results when evaluated holistically.

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That said, no matter how buttoned-up your attribution is, there are always gaps. It is impossible to truly assign all customer touchpoints during their purchase path, despite our best efforts.

For example, one of my clients produced some incredible top-of-funnel video content which was edgy and humorous in nature, serving as the perfect antidote for the often stuffy Finance industry.

From a brand awareness and recall perspective, it performs well. But, the buzz – the comments and anecdotes – are what most excite me.

Here’s what a prominent bank executive just emailed to her 21-person West Coast team.

This email went out to the very people who have countless relationships with prospects we’re targeting in other paid initiatives. Each person on that email likely opened this message, clicked through, and watched one of the ads.

Those are decision influencers. They are potential brand ambassadors.

Perhaps they just want to share something funny and relevant with their clients to further their relationship. Any way you slice it, that email — driven by a top-of-funnel initiative — was of enormous value.

And it is completely unquantifiable.

With this in mind, my go-to rule is from Marketing 101: serve the right ad, to the right person, at the right time.

Although there’s immense value in tight attribution and blended front and back-end data, there are still gaps that marketers must address even if we can’t precisely articulate the short-term value.

So, with that caveat, what is the best way to quantify top of funnel success?

Defining Top-of-funnel Success

Paving the road to future business starts by defining the right TOF key performance indicators (KPIs) correlated to down funnel activity and optimizing toward them.

What are the right KPIs? While they may differ from client-to-client, everything distills down into three pre-nurture buckets.

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  1. Awareness.
  2. Engagement.
  3. Lead Generation.

At the awareness level, your KPIs should primarily focus on the share of voice (SOV).

For example, within paid search, you’ll want to monitor things like impression share, absolute top-of-page impression share, and CTR.

The Long and Short of It, an ebook by the IPA (an advocacy dedicated to promoting evidence-based decision-making in marketing), walks us through the SOV rule, which has held true for B2C for 50+ years.

In short, there is clear evidence that brands grow when they ensure their SOV is higher than their share of market (SOM).

Likewise, brands whose SOV is lower than their SOV market see a decrease.

Here’s how LinkedIn visualizes this process in the ebook The Five Principles of Growth in B2B Marketing:

How Share of Voice Impacts Share of Market | SEJ

Exposure to your target audience is vital for long-term growth.

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Pro Tip

If you have core keyword themes you want to maximize SOV for but are limited by budget, add audience layers onto your audience groupings.

Use observation-level bid adjustments (manual bidding only) or explicitly target them with audience + keyword, measuring metrics at that combined level.

With that said, there’s often a misalignment between awareness-focused KPIs and what is in the organization’s best interest.

For example, if you are running a YouTube campaign and gauging success off views and cost-per-view, there is a misalignment between what drives real results and what drives KPI success.

Not all views are created equal. YouTube advertisers have all felt the pain of seeing “conversions” come through on content that is either fraudulent or not aligned with your target demo (e.g., B2B conversions on young kids’ gaming channels).

Engagement: The Glue That Binds TOF With BOF

Outside of lead gen initiatives, the KPIs that are most aligned to the goals and budgets of most advertisers are engagement-based.

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Engagement KPIs are things that indicate interest or if we’re lucky, intent. They are actions that a user takes as they browse your social and web properties.

When you align your TOF KPIs to engagement, you’re ensuring impressions to those that matter most. Engagement from the right audience (past, present, future customers) should be your aim.

Doing so enables digital marketers to validate audience alignment and continuously improve through targeting and AI-driven optimization.

So, how do you quantify success, test, and iterate?

Examples of Engagement-based Top of Funnel KPIs

Here are a few KPIs to consider to gauge success and build audiences:

  • Page scroll > 25%
    • Benefit: Can be used as a minimum baseline for non-bot/irrelevant traffic.
    • Use case: Use instead of Sitewide retargeting initiatives for improved quality; When primary conversion data is sparse, use within a Conversion Set to train automated bid strategies.
  • Time on site > 2 minutes
    • Benefit: Indicates a highly engaged user.
    • Use case: Retargeting threshold if said budget is constrained; put in separate retargeting track further in buying journey.
  • Site engagement (chatbot engagements, site searches, blog views to completion, content shares, bookmarks, comments)
    • Benefit: Indicates audience alignment (blog content is often the entry point for organic traffic).
    • Use case: Defines segmented retargeting tracks based on content consumption.
  • Social engagement (reactions, comments, shares, profile views, follows)
    • Benefit: According to LinkedIn’s Age of Agility survey of B2B Tech Buyers, 1 in 2 decision-makers say peer validation is a primary vehicle to increase product trust. Every reaction, comment, share, and follow is a signal to a peer’s connections that improve brand equity.
    • Use case: For B2B, use Social Follower RT initiative to increase LinkedIn following, which enables future organic and paid impressions.

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Each organization’s engagement KPIs will be slightly different.

However, all companies will benefit from identifying actions that indicate interest, ensuring conversion tracking is aligned, and reporting tells the story of the engaged user.

Pro Tips

1. Ultimately, your goal should be to correlate engagement activities with down-funnel results and back into an estimated value. When you are getting started, consider setting estimated values for each action and utilizing features like Google Ads Conversion Sets to enable you to use value-based bidding more intelligently.

2. Bucket your goals into groupings by funnel stage. For example, have a “1,” “2” or “3” in the URL for your thank-you pages to indicate the event’s funnel stage. This allows you to streamline audience creation for future nurturing.

Getting Clients Bought In

As we’ve discussed, research shows SOV is important. However, trust must be built with those who control the purse strings, and that comes with showing success further down the funnel.

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Clients are understandably skeptical of top-of-funnel initiatives.

More than likely, they’ve come across someone selling them a definition of success that stops at impressions and CTR.

Positioned correctly, even the most stringent of demand gen advertisers can be convinced.

For reluctant advertisers, shifting KPIs from pre-click (awareness) to post-click (engagement) is often the solution that enables agencies and marketing managers to get their foot-in-the-door with top of the funnel.

It is much easier for clients to get on board with KPIs based on someone expressing meaningful interest in your brand.

With this in mind, consider bucketing engagement activities together and defining success based on two KPIs:

  1. Engagements.
  2. Cost-per-Engagement.

This allows you to two do things:

  1. Deploy a more cohesive cross-channel strategy.
  2. Tell a simpler, better story with your data.

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Further, always consider segmenting your pitch decks and reporting based on funnel stage. You are much more likely to get buy-in if you carve out budget and report on success separately.

Where to Go From Here?

If you take away just a few things from this article, I hope they are the following:

  • TOF grows brands. The research is clear.
  • Some metrics articulate value, but the payout period is longer.
  • Not everything is attributable. Focus on serving the right message to the right person at the right time.
  • Getting buy-in for TOF requires separating some initiatives from demand gen plays.

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Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, April 2021





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