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How to Do a Competitive Marketing Analysis Using 6 Free Google Tools

How to Do a Competitive Marketing Analysis Using 6 Free Google Tools

We’ve seen and heard many people just throwing their business online, many times with great products, and failed at it. One of the reasons they failed was a lack of a well-structured marketing plan before they started the journey and as well as of competitive intelligence data. In today’s article, we wish to address that issue by presenting the tools made available by Google and going through some concepts and ideas that can be extracted with their use.



Let’s talk about the free tools from Google made available for you, tools that cost nothing and can offer you enough information to gain a sense of the market you’re about to jump into, besides a handful of actions and strategies you could perform to skyrocket your business. A true jam – packed with value!


Arsenal of Tools

Google AdWords Keyword Planner
Google Trends
Google Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool
Google My Business
Google +
Google Analytics

Your Market’s Behavior

Customer Behavior Unlocking
Where Are Your Customers Looking for Your Business
What Development Stage Has Your Market Reached

Uncovering Your Competitors’ Secrets

Benchmark Every Metric to Your Competitor and Figure out Your Brand Power
Always Compare Yourself to Your Competition
Check Which Competitors Target Certain Keywords

Identify New Market Opportunities

Low Competition High Search Volume 
Seek for Keywords Not yet Targeted

1. Arsenal of Tools


First things first, the weapons you have at your disposal. We’re sure you know that Google offers a wide variety of tools, all free of charge (we’ll repeat that today), that help you gather information about the market and, more importantly, competitors information. So we have the following: Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool, Google My Business, Google + and last but not least Google Analytics.

The Free Google Tools can be used to study your current competitors and also your site or generic niche.


All the tools mentioned above can be used to benchmark your own website, but you can also use them to keep track, measure and research any other site you desire. Google doesn’t limit their use in any shape or form, so why not use them to get ahead of your market?

1.1 Google AdWords Keyword Planner


The first weapon in the arsenal is the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. Now it’s not what it used to be. We miss you “Google keyword tool”! But it does bring a lot of value to the table, in terms of performing keyword research, finding the cost and so on. You can get some pretty good suggestions. Take a look at the screenshot below.



The tool has a free format and a paid option. All users that have an active Adwords campaign will see more accurate data, and those who use the free option will see restricted info.


If you want some juicy competitive information, consumer search behavior, then you can use this free Google tool. It shows what people are searching for, how they are searching for it, and where they are searching for it: languages, dates, volumes of searches as well as the bidding competition that’s going on in Google Adwords.



All of this by simply entering the keywords of the business you’re interested in. The next step, the pros practice, is to filter all that noise that comes with the tool, and we believe that’s what most people are complaining about this tool, the noise. What’s left after the advanced filtering action are the keywords that you want for your business. Especially the keywords with a high search volume, low competition with really low bidding war going on. We’ll get into that later on, let’s move on to the next weapon.

1.2 Google Trends


Another great tool for marketers to make competitive research is Google Trends. This one is by far our favorite tool when studying markets. It basically shows the search interest of people for certain keywords. What you should use it for is to study the market you want to tackle.




And the search interest over time is not the only thing that Google Trends provides. It’s also a great way to study the market from different regions. In the example we’ve taken, we compared the search interest for digital vs. online marketing. Below you can see which countries search for the words “digital marketing” and which one search for “online marketing”. Now if you look at the screenshots below what can you notice?



The “digital marketing” search phrase ranks really well in countries such as France and Morroco. The users have different search behaviors, that’s what we want to show with this. Mexico, Columbia and Peru look more colored in this screenshot than the one for “online marketing”. Canada and US are also more keen to use “digital marketing”. 


On the other side, the “online marketing” has more searches in Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Romania and Vietnam. 



This type of small researches can help you take some decisions before considering a digital marketing strategy to promote your business. 


Google Trends even offers some of the Google Keyword Planner tool functions by suggesting related keywords for the one you’ve just entered. You can use it to keep track of the keywords that are gaining ground rapidly (rising) and from those, you can notice some opportunities for your competitive strategy.



You can even see the relates queries for sub-regions or a specific country, by clicking on the state you want. You even see the data for each city.


1.3 Google Ad Preview and Diagnosis Tool


Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool is a great addition to enrich your competitor analysis. In theory, this tool provides you with the position of your competitor’s ad (along with yours, if that’s the case). You can see your top competitors and what keywords (or phrases) they are tracking, what they are promoting. You’ll get a closer step in understanding your competition. 


1.4 Google My Business


Google My Business can really push your business on SERP if you setup your account correctly and let your customers know they can leave reviews. The tool is entirely free and it is easy to use.  When creating a page, it is recommended to see if the business isn’t already on Maps. If you found it, you have to claim it and edit the info, following the steps from the screenshot below.



In case you don’t find it, you’ll have to create it. Add your business address, type of business, and website. After that, you’ll have to wait for a confirmation (a verification code in a postcard, most probably) which comes through mail, and that can take up to 14 days. Select businesses have the option to verify the business listing by phone or email.


To level up, add high-quality pictures regarding your office and business; add street-view, get reviews for your website, because they will help you rank higher in Map searches. Connect it with the Google + profile to get even more exposure. 


After you finished setting up your Google My Business page, you can edit and perform other changes or see performance metrics directly from the Dashboard:


1.5 Google +


Another tool in Google’s arsenal is Google +. I think social media was born to spy and follow what other people are doing without them knowing. It’s acting like the Invisibility Cloak. Google + is a powerful tool because it offers you the possibility to see what your competitor is sharing, if it has an active account, if it is has a verified account, the circles it’s in, the marketing campaigns it runs and many more. 


In the example below, you can see Lenovo’s Google + profile. It has a complete profile, integrated with other Google tool such as Hangouts, Google Calendar, Gmail plus links to its other social channels such as blog, Facebook, Instagram. 



At a quick scroll on their page, you’ll see posts mostly with inspirational messages and quotes, along with technology pictures mixing with pictures regarding the team and other Lenovo activities, and some Star Wars references. Doing a short analysis of their page help you see which type of content had more traction, get inspiration for your posts to attract the audience and get an overview of your competitor’s online presence.


We’ve witnessed a social signals impact that gets higher and higher as the time passes by. Social Media influences the evolution of a business. We made an in-house research where we analyzed the influence of social signals towards a website’s rankings. It showed that a strong presence on social networks is correlated with better rankings.

1.6. Google Analytics


To complete your market research use Google Analytics. There are some things from Google analytics that can give you an idea of your competition and your industry. The benchmarking option allows you to compare your data with aggregated industry data from other companies who share their data. That means you can get an idea of what happens with those that are in your niche – your competitors. You have to enable benchmarking first: 



After that, you’ll be able to see data related to devices, location and channels, which can give you a slight idea to see where you should focus more, where your competition is, where you have issues. More than that, you’ll have the opportunity to get some insights on your market segment.


2. Your Market’s Behavior


Now that you’re familiar with the tools and what we are going to use them for, let’s take a real market example and see how we use it. We chose to take the music streaming market to explain an in-depth use of Google’s arsenal. The first thing when trying to enter a market is trying to learn the behavior of the consumers. When researching, we are going to focus on the following:

What do consumers search for?
What are the consumers’ expectations?
How are the competitors taking advantage of the consumers’ search behavior?
Which are the overall market trends?
What is the brand power of my competitors?
Can we find any hidden opportunities?

2.1  Customer Behavior Unlocking


The first tool we go to in our analysis of the music streaming market is the Google Keyword Planner. This tool will answer the first two questions (What are consumers searching for? & What are their expectations?) and maybe give us a hint for the last question (Hidden opportunities). To get to the answers, we inserted the landing pages of our future competitors in the keyword planner and began to read what it provides.


The competitors we considered for our analysis are Spotify, Pandora and Grooveshark. There are plenty more to study in order to make a complete analysis, but for the purpose of presenting how to do a competitive analysis information, we consider this to be sufficient to start with.


Search for your competitor’s website, add filters and removed the noise. All that is left are relevant keywords that the users search for to get to the pages.



By entering the landing page for Spotify, Google Keywords Tools will show some keywords recommendations that might be related and could fit its description.

If we look at the keywords suggested by Google, an overwhelming amount contain the word “gift card” and “30 days trial”.

We can already start to figure out some expectations for the future users of our tool. Potential users don’t want to pay for it, they expect it to be free. Let’s study the other two competitors to see if this behavior fits all the users.




For Pandora, the situation is almost the same. The difference here is that Google also suggests the word “upgrade” and “radio” more often. Their SEO efforts could have focused on promoting the service as an online radio in order to gather more website visitors from Google who search for this kind of service.

We can already start painting the persona for the user who searches for online music streaming.


Let’s check the last competitor to see if our theory is valid.



Grooveshark validates our theory. For online music streaming services, people search for online music, radio and expect it to be free. We still need some more data about the users; the volume of searches per month is the next one.


We have some keywords that stand out for each competitor: “Free online streaming”, “online music” and “online Radio”. Let’s study them to find out the potential market.



What you see in the chart above could seem too encouraging at first but these results are filled with noise (useless keywords, irrelevant for the music streaming business). Almost 60 million organic searches each month for keywords related to those we placed in the input. Let’s start filtering to get to the reliable numbers.



After we added the filters (average monthly searches > 1000; removed other keywords), we get some real numbers about the volume of searches. The overall number of monthly searches for keywords related to online music streaming is about 200.000. This is encouraging since that could be considered potential website traffic for your new business. The numbers for the exact keywords are a bit low, free online streaming gaining 14k monthly searches, while online music 246k, online radio 450k, and radio online 1,8M searches.


So what do we know until now?

The market has about 40M monthly searches with a potential of over 120M, people are looking for online radio and online music and expect it to be free.

Also to mention is the fact that there is a slight drop in search volume during spring. Let’s see how the other tools can help us build a complete user profile and market trends.

2.2 Where Are Your Customers Looking for Your Business 


Let’s complete our users’ profile by studying the channels they are using, offered by Benchmarking in Google Analytics.



I know there is a lot of data in that chart, but you should look only to the one that interests you. In our case, look at the sessions column. Using the benchmarking metrics, you can compare your data against benchmarks and make a short market research. For example, the number of organic searches had a beautiful increase of 65.28% compared to the benchmark. The site had 78,828 vs. 47,695 (the number of the organic searches for the benchmarks).


From the chart above we can see the website could improve the metrics for email, display, and other forms of advertising since the competition is there and the audience too. 


Another data you could use to see where is the audience looking for your business is the devices info. Since mobile raise so much into the statistical data, is important to offer information that can be easily accessed by mobile. 

2.3 What Development Stage Has Your Market Reached


Google Trends is great at studying the stage of the market. We can insert the keywords that we believe to describe a certain market, and by studying the results we may conclude if an industry is gaining traction, if it was or is interesting to the average user. Let’s take a look below:



We can see that the overall trend and the search interest for “free online music”, “music streaming” and “free online radio” is in a downward trend. It peaked somewhere around 2010 and since then the interest has gone down. Now, we have to be extra careful when drawing conclusions here because there could be some errors.


The downward trend could indicate the fact that people just aren’t interested in online music streaming, or it could just as well indicate that the market has matured and that people became loyal to a competitor. We tested this theory and searched the brands we used in our study: Spotify, Pandora, Grooveshark. 



It seems like the searches for this brands started to increase around the same time when the previous terms had a drop down.


*Full disclaimer here; while we said in the beginning of the article that Google’s tools aren’t enough to make a complete marketing strategy, we feel that we should mention it again throughout the article. Do use other tools and data for a complete marketing strategy, use Google just as a starting point to get an overall image of the market.

3. Uncovering Your Competitors’ Secrets


From our last chapter we can say that we gathered a lot of data from the market. The fact that the online music streaming industry is maturing, that users have become loyal to certain brands, the personae who want free online music and spend their time on mobile devices are great assets. We can use all this Google data to make a strong marketing strategy and grow your business. Let’s now study the competitors, benchmark them and see their strengths and weaknesses.


Let’s move on with the analysis then, and the first thing to study is “Brand Power”.

3.1 Benchmark Every Metric to Your Competitor and Figure out Your Brand Power


Brand power is the interest in Google Trends over time. We inserted the brand of the three competitors we are studying into Google trends and we got the following result:



From the analysis, we can see that Pandora has the greatest brand power among the competitors. It did have a larger lead in later years but Spotify has gained a lot of ground. Grooveshark’s brand power seems to be going down starting from 2013 and had a definitive fall in 2016. 

It’s also worth mentioning that Pandora’s trend could be affected by the launch of the movie Avatar in 2009.

The planet the movie takes place is called Pandora and Google doesn’t differentiate that in the search behavior of users. Though I don’t suspect it made large impact in the overall trend for Pandora, some spikes from the year 2009/2010 could be attributed to the movie. And right here we have our first limitation of the Google Trends tool; if your competitors have common names, we don’t really suggest using Google Trends to study their brand power.


Another reason why it has the largest trend is that another brand has exactly the same brand name: Pandora jewelry, which was founded in 1982, before the music company Pandora, that appeared in 2000.  


Even if the brand had a huge spike, somewhere around January – February 2017, Spotify started to outnumber Pandora. Let’s check with the Google Keywords Tool to see if the brand power is similar for January 2017 – January 2018.



Indeed, the number of searches for Spotify is 60% higher than Pandora. With over 16 mil searches each month, we can note that Pandora holds the biggest market share for online music streaming.


3.2 Always Compare Yourself to Your Competitors


This is a constant process for all businesses.

Comparing to competitors is an ongoing activity of the marketing department, or in the case of a small company, the marketing guy. What you need to keep track of here is the brand power. This is one of the most important metrics you can extract from the tools offered by Google.


It’s the way to attach a measurable number to the marketing efforts that are hard to track (content marketing). Seeing each month that the volume of searches is increasing for your brand is in a great part attributed to a great content marketing strategy, and it’s encouraging to see that people are actually searching for your brand and not only for your services.



This makes things so much easier for you to study the market since you can now review the add impressions of different competitors to see exactly who is most successful.


You can even concentrate on keywords with lower competition and suggested bids where you can more easily rank in top ad positions.

3.3 Check Which Competitors Target Certain Keywords


Now that we have the brand power of the competitors, let’s find a glimpse of the keywords targeted by the competitors. It’s a bit of a stretch to call it that, since the Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool shows you what keywords are targeted by the competition, not their complete search engine optimization strategy.


It’s still a great tool to figure out what each landing page is optimized for, and check your competitors’ content. You’ll have to search for the keywords you are targeting and create a list of strengths and weaknesses in terms of ranking keywords for your competitors to gain a competitive advantage. You can identify your competitors for specific keywords. Also, it offers an advantage towards your competition because you can also see the bid for certain keywords and you can use that to create better sales and marketing campaigns. 



Once you’ve entered the query, Google will firstly show you the paid results and then the organic search results for the country and device you set. In case of Pandora, Google shows the place of the page in SERP which is outranked by Spotify by one position.


The next step is doing the same analysis for the other two competitors, compiling a list of all the results and trying to optimize your landing page for the same keyword groups.

4. Identify New Market Opportunities


So we went through the market, we looked at each competitor, now it’s time to figure out how to get ahead by finding new keywords that the competitors might not have yet discovered. For this, there are a couple of tricks using the Google Keyword Planner tool. We’ll try to present some ways to target keywords that will generate traction and could bring traffic to your website from various search engines.

4.1 Low Competition High Search Volume 


The first trick to get to those juicy keywords starts once again with entering the competitors landing page into the Google Keyword Planner. Google recognizes the website type of Pandora and begins to list out keyword ideas for it.



The following filter types were added:

Average monthly searches > 1000
Suggested bid < 1.00$
Various negative keywords (keywords that were not relevant) to remove the noise: download, downloads, movie, video, mp3


What we’re left with are very relevant keywords for your business that have a high average monthly search and very low bids. This is exactly what you should target with your SEO strategy.

4.2 Seek for Keywords Not yet Targeted


The product category search of Keyword planner is a great way to find “untapped” niches. Just select the product category that your product fits in, or you can select a category similar to yours, that you believe it holds some potential customers and begin the analysis.



We continue with the online music streaming example and select the “Music Streams & Downloads” product category.



This is what you get.

Tons of keyword ideas that you can target with the SEO strategy, be it through content marketing or adwords.

Again, don’t take them all as Google displays it to you, filter the data. Even if it greatly reduces the potential reach and search volume why would you want to spend resources on irrelevant keywords to your business?


Always go for the high search volume keywords with low bid numbers, since your competitors aren’t really tackling them.



Firstly and most importantly, what we want you to gain from this post is that using only Google’s tools to make a competitor analysis is not enough. But it’s a great start, you get tons of relevant information – in such a short time – that allows you to gain a strong competitive advantage. Information that you might not find anywhere else, juicy keywords with Google Keyword Planner, industry trends and market behavior using the Google Trends Tools, constant monitoring of your competitors using Google Ads Keyword Planner and demographic, behavior and influencers data from the Google Analytics Benchmarking that can enrich your business strategy.


The second most important thing we wish you would remember from this article is the fact that the majority of the data needs to be filtered and taken in with a grain of salt. Google offers us both in the Keyword and the Display Planner tools rich filters to get to the information we really need and the one that is relevant to our industry only by enjoying all the features and benefits there are available for free.


How often do you use the Google Tools for business in your competitive analysis?


The post How to Do a Competitive Marketing Analysis Using 6 Free Google Tools appeared first on SEO Blog | cognitiveSEO Blog on SEO Tactics & Strategies.

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7 Practical Ways To Test And Improve Website Usability

7 Practical Ways To Test And Improve Website Usability

7 Practical Ways To Test And Improve Website Usability

Have you went to a website before and just feel lost?

You don’t know where to find the navigation bar. And when you finally found it hidden as a drop down menu, the categories tab brings you to another confusing page where you can’t find a single product.

Now, we would never want that for our website visitors.

Here’s where website usability comes in.

“The user experiences usability first and pays later.” – Jakob Nielsen, The King of Usability

Website usability is how easy an average person can navigate your website to achieve specific goals. Be it getting to your blog post or complete a purchase.

What you need to know is,

The final aim of usability is to create a navigational and informative website. The website can not only retain visitors but also make them into recurring visitors. Thus, help to build a user community on your website.

Ignoring usability means you’re neglecting your users. What will they do when they have difficulty navigating your website? They’ll leave, there are plenty other websites out there.

A website with a good usability should be simple, natural and easy to use.

Let’s look at usability more closely, it is made up of 5 smaller segments.

How easy it is for a first time visitor to navigate and accomplish a task.

How easy it is for someone to navigate and accomplish a task on your website after having left for a period.

How quickly someone can complete a task after getting used to your website.

How pleasant it is to use your website.

How many errors the user made, how serious those errors are and how easily can they recover from the errors.

A successful website combines both the company’s and the user’s usability goals.

Keep this in mind,

A company’s goal is tangible and can be presented by numbers, like conversion rate, revenue, page ranking etc.

While the user’s usability goal is a little less tangible to measure, which includes their satisfaction and efficiency.

It is crucial to test your website usability every time you have a new update or a redesign. That is because you need to strike a balance between the two goals.

The importance of testing website usability includes:

Helps predict user behavior and map out visitor path
What you think is user behavior may not be the actual user behavior. When you carry out a test, you have actual data to build your visitor path on.

Accurately predicting user behavior is crucial in increasing web page dwell time. You can use the real data to smooth out and guide your visitor’s exploration process on your website.

Helps retain visitors by lowering bounce rate and exit rate
Testing out website usability let you learn where and when a user decides to leave your web page. Not only that, you can also know whether your CTA (click-to-action) is working as they should.

When you know what’s working and what’s not working, you will have a better idea on which part of the design to start fixing to retain visitors.

You get happier users and increase conversion rate
Website usability is all about creating a good and fruitful experience for your website users, which, naturally leads to happier users.

When you take what you learn from the test to improve your website design, you can ultimately increase your conversion because of the good usability that leads to good user experience.

Testing can be carried out in multiple stages of a website development. There are ways to test it out before the website is created or when the website has matured.

Here are 8 ways to test your website usability

1. Paper prototype


This is the most cost effective way to test your website usability. Since you only need some papers, drawing skill, someone who understands how the system works, a facilitator and 5 real users who are willing to help you carry out the test.

Paper prototype can be used at the early stages of or before development to test out different concepts instead of scrutinizing detailed features.

Create the screen and all the different features of the website, like a burger menu in separate papers. Create a list of scenarios for the users to follow. The human computer a.k.a the guy who knows the most about the system will then adjust the papers accordingly to mimic a real prototype. All while the facilitator takes care of the whole process.

2. Heatmap

The confetti report from Crazy Egg offers an unique heatwave report based on individual clicks.

Heatmap is a visual analyzing tool that can be used on live and running websites. The idea of a heatmap is to use a cool to warm color spectrum to show you the most clicked or viewed spots on a webpage by tracking real user behavior.

Website redesign can benefit a lot if you can get real user data from a heatmap to see the browsing habit of your visitors and which elements interest them to click on the most. You might be surprised how different it is compared to where you think they’d click.

Heatmap tools like CrazyEgg offers more personalized data on every unique visitors’ clicks with their confetti feature. You can further customize your data by selecting the matrix like search term, search engine, time of day etc.

3. Remote Usability Testing


As the name suggested, the users are not in the same room as you when the test is carried out. This gives a test result that is closer to the real thing because some users might behave differently subconsciously when they’re face to face with the researcher compared to when they’re on their own.

This type of test can also give you a wider pool of users since they can be recruited online instead of having to be physically present for the test.

The remote test can be done either moderated or unmoderated. You can share-screen, or be on a conference call with the users while they’re testing, that is moderated. While an unmoderated user gets a list of tasks, an automated software to carry out the test while their screen and voice is recorded while saying out loud what they think.

4. Online Website Survey

If your website is already established and have a good size of visitors daily, you can implement a survey to ask them directly how their experience on your website is.

This method is easier and cheaper to implement since your visitors will be free volunteers who answer your questions. However, how effective your data can be used depending on what questions you ask. If your questions are too general, you won’t get usable data; if your questions go too technical or complex, the visitors might not answer it at all.

For example, don’t ask Do you like the dropdown menu?, instead, you should ask Does the drop-down menu has everything you need?.

So the best way is to base the survey questions off a set of data you want and offer your estimations as the options for the users to choose from. Instead of giving them open-ended questions with no options that require more time and effort to answer.

5. Expert Review/ Site Audit

This is straightforward, you hire someone, usually a UX designer to go through your website and tell you what they think. What is good, what is bad, what should be changed, what can be better etc.

The thing with accessing your website through the eye of an expert is they already know what the users will be looking for. While the users may not be able to tell you what they really want unless it’s presented as an option for them.

Expert Review can happen at any stages of the website development and when a website is already established. The cost will also be cheaper than planning for a full-fledged test hiring real users. The User Is Drunk is one of the more unique expert out there that will carry out a review on your website and also give you a good time while watching it.

6. Focus Group

To create a focus group for your usability test, you will need to gather 6 to 8 users from your targeted market that fits your buyer persona, and also a moderator. This is a technique better used on the early planning stages because it helps immensely in deciding the direction your design will follow.

First thing’s first, you need to state a clear focus of the discussion. Sit the participants down before the discussion starts to make sure they understand what they need to be talking about. Set the length of the session to no less than 2 to 3 hours, especially when you have a bigger group nearing 10 people so every participant has a chance to voice out.

To fuel the session, you can ask a few open-ended questions. Note the word open end, you don’t want in any way influence their answer because the data you gather will be skewed.

7. One on One Usability Testing


Like the remote usability test, one single user will be testing out your website. But instead of using means like screenshare or screen and audio recording, you will be in the same room as the user to observe the testing process directly.

To accommodate the tester/ user, you will have to set up the space and equipments to carry out the test. You will also need to create a set of tasks beforehand for the user to accomplish, together with a set of question regarding the user’s opinion on your website.

Take into account the time the tester takes to accomplish certain tasks because that speaks volume on the usability. Also, prepare a subjective scale to easily gauge the level of ease to accomplish each assigned tasks. The test can be carried out repetitively throughout the course of website development and also on an established website.

Now that you have some brief idea about why and how to carry out some tests for your website’s usability, we have some tips that can help you make the whole process easier…

1. Less is more
5 is the magical number that you’re looking for. According to the usability expert Jakob Nielsen, you can get enough usable insights to work on from having just 5 testers.

2. Run multiple tests
He also suggests that you should carry out more small tests instead of one big, complex, elaborated test. Remember, you’re testing for the improvement of the website design, not recording weaknesses.

3. Don’t be too choosy
Every website has their targeted audience, but not every user visiting your website will fit your targeted persona. Keep that in mind when recruiting testers or volunteers, have a basic requirement and stop there. Getting diverse opinions is more important than getting the opinions you want.

4. Before the fold is the most important part
You want to put the most effort on the part that greets your visitors when the website is first loaded, that is before the fold. How pleasant and clear the navigation is at the first glance means a lot in retaining visitors.

Here comes the conclusion…

A website doesn’t have to be fancy, but it needs to be easy to use. Having a good website where visitors can actually get to where they want and what they want, is the very first step of having some happy people that might become your happy customers. So start testing and improve your website usability to be a bigger conversion magnet!

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Complete Checklist:
32 Simple Ways To Increase More Traffic & Visitors To Your Blog

An awesome checklist to refer to at all times!
Discover all these best practices.
Start driving more traffic to your own blog.
Absolute checklist for all beginners!

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Rewriting the Beginner’s Guide to SEO, Chapter 3: Keyword Research

Rewriting the Beginner’s Guide to SEO, Chapter 3: Keyword Research

Posted by BritneyMuller

Welcome to the draft of Chapter Three of the new and improved Beginner’s Guide to SEO! So far you’ve been generous and energizing with your feedback for our outline, Chapter One, and Chapter Two. We’re asking for a little more of your time as we debut the our third chapter on keyword research. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

Chapter 3: Keyword ResearchUnderstand what your audience wants to find.

Now that you’ve learned how to show up in search results, let’s determine which strategic keywords to target in your website’s content, and how to craft that content to satisfy both users and search engines.

The power of keyword research lies in better understanding your target market and how they are searching for your content, services, or products.

Keyword research provides you with specific search data that can help you answer questions like:

What are people searching for?
How many people are searching for it?
In what format do they want that information?

In this chapter, you’ll get tools and strategies for uncovering that information, as well as learn tactics that’ll help you avoid keyword research foibles and build strong content. Once you uncover how your target audience is searching for your content, you begin to uncover a whole new world of strategic SEO!

What terms are people searching for?

You may know what you do, but how do people search for the product, service, or information you provide? Answering this question is a crucial first step in the keyword research process.

Discovering keywords

You likely have a few keywords in mind that you would like to rank for. These will be things like your products, services, or other topics your website addresses, and they are great seed keywords for your research, so start there! You can enter those keywords into a keyword research tool to discover average monthly search volume and similar keywords. We’ll get into search volume in greater depth in the next section, but during the discovery phase, it can help you determine which variations of your keywords are most popular amongst searchers.

Once you enter in your seed keywords into a keyword research tool, you will begin to discover other keywords, common questions, and topics for your content that you might have otherwise missed.

Let’s use the example of a florist that specializes in weddings.

Typing “wedding” and “florist” into a keyword research tool, you may discover highly relevant, highly searched for related terms such as:

Wedding bouquets
Bridal flowers
Wedding flower shop

In the process of discovering relevant keywords for your content, you will likely notice that the search volume of those keywords varies greatly. While you definitely want to target terms that your audience is searching for, in some cases, it may be more advantageous to target terms with lower search volume because they’re far less competitive.

Since both high- and low-competition keywords can be advantageous for your website, learning more about search volume can help you prioritize keywords and pick the ones that will give your website the biggest strategic advantage.

Pro tip: Diversify!

It’s important to note that entire websites don’t rank for keywords, pages do. With big brands, we often see the homepage ranking for many keywords, but for most websites, this isn’t usually the case. Many websites receive more organic traffic to pages other than the homepage, which is why it’s so important to diversify your website’s pages by optimizing each for uniquely valuable keywords.

How often are those terms searched?Uncovering search volume

The higher the search volume for a given keyword or keyword phrase, the more work is typically required to achieve higher rankings. This is often referred to as keyword difficulty and occasionally incorporates SERP features; for example, if many SERP features (like featured snippets, knowledge graph, carousels, etc) are clogging up a keyword’s result page, difficulty will increase. Big brands often take up the top 10 results for high-volume keywords, so if you’re just starting out on the web and going after the same keywords, the uphill battle for ranking can take years of effort.

Typically, the higher the search volume, the greater the competition and effort required to achieve organic ranking success. Go too low, though, and you risk not drawing any searchers to your site. In many cases, it may be most advantageous to target highly specific, lower competition search terms. In SEO, we call those long-tail keywords.

Understanding the long tail

It would be great to rank #1 for the keyword “shoes”… or would it?

It’s wonderful to deal with keywords that have 50,000 searches a month, or even 5,000 searches a month, but in reality, these popular search terms only make up a fraction of all searches performed on the web. In fact, keywords with very high search volumes may even indicate ambiguous intent, which, if you target these terms, it could put you at risk for drawing visitors to your site whose goals don’t match the content your page provides.

Does the searcher want to know the nutritional value of pizza? Order a pizza? Find a restaurant to take their family? Google doesn’t know, so they offer these features to help you refine. Targeting “pizza” means that you’re likely casting too wide a net.

The remaining 75% lie in the “chunky middle” and “long tail” of search.

Don’t underestimate these less popular keywords. Long tail keywords with lower search volume often convert better, because searchers are more specific and intentional in their searches. For example, a person searching for “shoes” is probably just browsing. Whereas, someone searching for “best price red womens size 7 running shoe,” practically has their wallet out!

Pro tip: Questions are SEO gold!

Discovering what questions people are asking in your space, and adding those questions and their answers to an FAQ page, can yield incredible organic traffic for your website.

Getting strategic with search volume

Now that you’ve discovered relevant search terms for your site and their corresponding search volumes, you can get even more strategic by looking at your competitors and figuring out how searches might differ by season or location.

Keywords by competitor

You’ll likely compile a lot of keywords. How do you know which to tackle first? It could be a good idea to prioritize high-volume keywords that your competitors are not currently ranking for. On the flip side, you could also see which keywords from your list your competitors are already ranking for and prioritize those. The former is great when you want to take advantage of your competitors’ missed opportunities, while the latter is an aggressive strategy that sets you up to compete for keywords your competitors are already performing well for.

Keywords by season

Knowing about seasonal trends can be advantageous in setting a content strategy. For example, if you know that “christmas box” starts to spike in October through December in the United Kingdom, you can prepare content months in advance and give it a big push around those months.

Keywords by region

You can more strategically target a specific location by narrowing down your keyword research to specific towns, counties, or states in the Google Keyword Planner, or evaluate “interest by subregion” in Google Trends. Geo-specific research can help make your content more relevant to your target audience. For example, you might find out that in Texas, the preferred term for a large truck is “big rig,” while in New York, “tractor trailer” is the preferred terminology.

Which format best suits the searcher’s intent?

In Chapter 2, we learned about SERP features. That background is going to help us understand how searchers want to consume information for a particular keyword. The format in which Google chooses to display search results depends on intent, and every query has a unique one. While there are thousands of of possible search types, there are five major categories to be aware of:

1. Informational queries: The searcher needs information, such as the name of a band or the height of the Empire State Building.

2. Navigational queries: The searcher wants to go to a particular place on the Internet, such as Facebook or the homepage of the NFL.

3. Transactional queries: The searcher wants to do something, such as buy a plane ticket or listen to a song.

4. Commercial investigation: The searcher wants to compare products and find the best one for their specific needs.

5. Local queries: The searcher wants to find something locally, such as a nearby coffee shop, doctor, or music venue.

An important step in the keyword research process is surveying the SERP landscape for the keyword you want to target in order to get a better gauge of searcher intent. If you want to know what type of content your target audience wants, look to the SERPs!

Google has closely evaluated the behavior of trillions of searches in an attempt to provide the most desired content for each specific keyword search.

Take the search “dresses,” for example:

By the shopping carousel, you can infer that Google has determined many people who search for “dresses” want to shop for dresses online.

There is also a Local Pack feature for this keyword, indicating Google’s desire to help searchers who may be looking for local dress retailers.

If the query is ambiguous, Google will also sometimes include the “refine by” feature to help searchers specify what they’re looking for further. By doing so, the search engine can provide results that better help the searcher accomplish their task.

Google has a wide array of result types it can serve up depending on the query, so if you’re going to target a keyword, look to the SERP to understand what type of content you need to create.

Tools for determining the value of a keyword

How much value would a keyword add to your website? These tools can help you answer that question, so they’d make great additions to your keyword research arsenal:

Moz Keyword Explorer – Our own Moz Keyword Explorer tool extracts accurate search volume data, keyword difficulty, and keyword opportunity metrics by using live clickstream data. To learn more about how we’re producing our keyword data, check out Announcing Keyword Explorer.
Google Keyword Planner – Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner has historically been the most common starting point for SEO keyword research. However, Keyword Planner does restrict search volume data by lumping keywords together into large search volume range buckets. To learn more, check out Google Keyword Planner’s Dirty Secrets.
Google Trends – Google’s keyword trend tool is great for finding seasonal keyword fluctuations. For example, “funny halloween costume ideas” will peak in the weeks before Halloween.
AnswerThePublic – This free tool populates commonly searched for questions around a specific keyword. Bonus! You can use this tool in tandem with another free tool, Keywords Everywhere, to prioritize ATP’s suggestions by search volume.
SpyFu Keyword Research Tool – Provides some really neat competitive keyword data.

Download our free keyword research template!

Keyword research can yield a ton of data. Stay organized by downloading our free keyword research template. You can customize the template to fit your unique needs (ex: remove the “Seasonal Trends” column), sort keywords by volume, and categorize by Priority Score. Happy keyword researching!

Now that you know how to uncover what your target audience is searching for and how often, it’s time to move onto the next step: crafting pages in a way that users will love and search engines can understand.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Long vs Short Landing Page – Which Works Better?

Long vs Short Landing Page – Which Works Better?

A landing page can technically describe any page visitors arrive at when they visit your site. It’s essential to understand that these landing pages are your first impression, and a valuable opportunity to convert leads. Doing so has been our focus for a few weeks now.

So far, we’ve discussed the elements included in an effective landing page, as well as explaining how to write the best landing pages to increase your conversions.

Today, we’re going to look at a question raised in our comments section – how long should a landing page be? This is a good question with no one-size-fits-all answer. I’m going to analyze the pros and cons of each format, and give some insights and advice (including effective landing pages examples) as to when short landing page and long landing page are most appropriate.

Because landing pages help to sell the value of your company’s products, services, and content, it’s important to understand what these mean to people arriving at your site, and how you can shift that impression through your landing page in order to encourage increased conversions from your web traffic.

For some, this can be done in no time at all. For others, a longer, more extensive landing page allows for a richer sales case. It really depends on your audience and what they want from your website.

Increase Your Arsenal, Test Your Audiences

HubSpot conducted typically in-depth research into landing pages. The take-home insights were that businesses with over 40 landing pages generated 12 times as many leads as those that only had one to five landing pages.

Already, I’m opening you up to a new world – a multiverse of landing pages. You need to have more than one, and preferably more than forty. Why? Because then you can break down your audience and target them with surgical precision to increase your conversion rates.

Here’s another one for you – only 52% of people using landing pages test them to see what could perform better. This is the other big mistake – in the world of online marketing everything is a draft, and there’s always room for improvement.

So, what kind of factors do you need to be taking into account in order to target audiences more effectively with landing pages?

Audience Segments. Different demographics may well respond differently, across different strata of age, economic and social status, nationality and more. Only testing supported by Google Insights will reveal this.
Test Your Ad Copy. Different types of Ads attract different kinds of visitors, so play with your format and messaging to strike a chord with different people.
Test Different Content Interests. Different people are interested in different things. This shouldn’t come as a shock. But have you thought about using content interests and statistics to determine your suite of landing pages?
Behavioral Data. Some people are online butterflies, with multiple tabs open, flitting from one page to the next. These people aren’t likely to stick around for an over-long landing page. Understanding behavior by analyzing things like visit-time can help you create landing pages that cater to your audiences.
Keywords. Keywords are the bread and butter of SEO and PPC, and if you’re in business online you must already have begun to target these in order to increase your exposure to people who want what you’re selling. Even these, however, can be stratified according to audience type.

This introduction is simply meant to break open the world of landing pages, so you can understand this is a complex and nuanced discipline where no easy answer will present itself.

Instead, you need to gird yourself to evaluate all of these considerations when debating the simpler question of long vs short. So, let’s dive in and consider when each might be appropriate.

Long Landing Page
The Advantages


With more space to fill with high quality content, detailed insights, supported claims and convincing arguments, longer landing pages naturally create a better impression of the company as an expert authority, and one to be trusted. This increased credibility can only come from the details – the first thing to be cut in a short landing page. More space also offers more opportunities to convince visitors to perform an action.


A long landing page can have a big impact on your search engine ranking. For this to be the case, you need to make sure you have high-quality text, properly optimized visuals, and even multimedia on your landing page. Longer landing pages perform better for SEO over the long term.


Because products have a story, a process, unique features and advantages, pricing and more to include, long landing pages generally perform better for products than short. People need to be courted and convinced of the value of a product precisely because there will be so much competition out there.

Long Landing Page Good Examples

General Assembly has a long landing page with several sections covering their product offer. That said, a “sign up now” button follows you down the page, so the call to action is constantly by your side, ready for you to click.

This creates a kind of hybrid landing page, which has all the advantages of the best landing page length while being broken down into discrete sections. If you get to the bottom and you haven’t click, a pop-up registration page promises even more in-depth resources to help you commit to a decision. A great win for explanation fiends.

Crazy Egg decided to go all out and test the extremes, creating a landing page for their product that offered more information than anyone could need, and one that had only the bare essentials.

The long form landing page outperformed the short control page by 30% in terms of leads generated.

This offers a potentially interesting insight into customer behavior. Where there is an abundance of information, individuals can scan and select highlights relevant to their needs, disregarding the rest – especially when the design is clear and the sections are obvious. In a short landing page, if the information isn’t there, there’s nothing the consumer can do about it except disengage.

The Disadvantages

Fewer Leads

Even though long landing pages can outperform shorter ones in conversions, they do reduce the number of leads you get. Many people just passing by won’t invest the effort necessary to analyze all the information you present, so they’ll simply navigate away. If you need these impulsive leads to make your business work, then long landing pages aren’t for you.

More Distractions

Those leads that do stick around will be more engaged, but is this engagement in the right things? It’s always a difficult balance between providing real value and creating a compelling sales case. Long landing pages can disguise your intention to sell too well, and leave people feeling satisfied with what they found out on the page without any real desire to buy the product. You need to make sure you can maintain focus and drive across the length.

So, what about the competition?

Short Landing Page
The Advantages

Fewer Distractions

Your readers will be receiving a lot less information, which removes potential barriers to action. Assuming that your readers will have a critical eye, more information means more questions and potentially more confusion. Short landing pages force you to be focused with your messaging.

Get What You Want

If all you want is contact details to establish a relationship, a shorter landing page can actually work better. Convincing someone to buy a product requires more work, but starting a relationship requires less. Imagine being at a bar and talking to someone for 30 minutes before asking for their number.

Enough is Enough

If everything that does make it onto the page is enough to convince someone to do the action you require, why include more? The only way to know this for sure is through testing, but honing down your most active difference makers, 80/20 style (the notion that 80 percent of your outcomes come from your top-performing 20 percent of input) could mean a more emphatic.

KISS – Keep It Simple and Short

More age-old wisdom that has become a cliché only thanks to the fact keeps being true. In a competitive environment where time is at a premium, audiences will appreciate you keeping it simple.

Short Landing Page Good Examples

Salesforce has a landing page that is 56 words in total.

It gives people the briefest understanding of what is on offer and gives people an idea of what they can gain by putting their information into the contact box.

This kind of landing page does little more than creating a curiosity gap that requires your information to resolve. It entices people to download the premium content in order to get any value. It says ‘well, you’ve come this far… why not go the final step?’ This works perfectly for free resources or free trials, getting that all-important foot in the door.

Crazy Egg built on their previous experiment to see what would happen if they went the other way. Experimenting with several different shorter versions of their landing page, they created version D, which concentrated the most effective content and eschewed the more contextual information, with more CTA.

This half-length landing page improved performance by 13%.

Prioritizing features and testimonials was an important part of this performance boost – using only what works, and putting what works best first and last, giving a compelling initial and final impression.

The Disadvantages

Quantity over Quality

While you’ll get more leads, the leads you get won’t be very high quality. If you are looking for landing pages that do most of the work for you, then short landing page isn’t for you. These low-quality leads may develop into prospects and even subscribers, but are far less likely to become customers. What’s more, they are even less likely to become loyal customers. This kind of landing pages work for instant gratification.

Best Landing Pages: Your Answer Is In The Evidence

So, long vs short landing page – which is effective for you?

As we’ve seen, different products, different circumstances, different audiences can all affect the answer to this question.

We’ve also seen that landing pages need to be many and varied, which opens up the possibilities to move beyond this question. Why have one or the other when you can have twenty of both?

Why would you want twenty of both? So you can get testing.

A/B test two versions of the same page and you halve that to ten of each with minor differences.

Anything you’re uncertain of, create a version with and without a feature, or with things in a different order. Time and insights will tell you the answer.

You can even test the length of the sign-up form itself, adding and reducing the number of fields that need to be filled out to see what effect it has.

Really, this is a lesson in the importance of being comfortable saying “I don’t know”. If you know what you don’t know, you can begin to find out. You’ll notice that I used Crazy Egg as an example in both columns – that’s because they found out the ideal formula through testing.

With the resources from this blog, you should have a good idea how to start that process, and where to start it based on your particular products or services. The best landing pages are ultimately the landing pages that are proven to work.

Have you found success using long or short landing pages to capture leads? Tell us in the comments below!

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How To Improve Conversion Rate Using Colors

Interesting Facts About Color Psychology.
Real Case Scenario Included.
Best Color Tips To Increase Conversion Rates!
A Complete Guide Every Marketer Must Have!

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SEO-friendly URLs

SEO-friendly URLs

The subject is up for much discussion: SEO-friendly URLs. Should or shouldn’t I include the category? Should the URL be as short as possible or is there room for extras? Could an URL be stuffed with keywords or not?

In this post, I’ll explain our take on SEO-friendly URLs and try to elaborate a bit on why we think that is the best option for that link. First, let me tell you that a SEO-friendly URL differs per type of website. In this article, I’ll discuss a few to show the differences. There are a few ground rules, but I strongly encourage you to keep the visitor in mind when setting up your URL structure.

Ground rules for SEO-friendly URLs

No matter what kind of website you have, there are a couple of ground rules that apply to all websites.

The main thing to keep in mind is that your URLs should be focused. Strip your URLs of stop words like ‘a’, ‘of’, ‘the’ etc. In 99% of the cases, these words add nothing of value to your URL. If possible, strip your URLs of verbs as well. Words like ‘are’ or ‘have’ are not needed in your URL to make clear what the page is about.
The length of your URL isn’t really a factor in this. We do recommend to keep your URLs as short as possible. It’s not that Google doesn’t like lengthy URLs, but shorter URLs are most probably more focused. Keep in mind that if you use breadcrumbs on your site, as we do, these could appear instead of the full URL:

Length isn’t that much of an issue: Google will show what they think is important for that visitor. Keep in mind that meta titles and descriptions are cut off at 512 pixels, and so is your URL.
Don’t use underscores, as these connect the words and make them into one. Dashes are preferred.

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These are the ground rules for SEO-friendly URLs. The best SEO-friendly URL differs per type of website. Pick your type of site to jump to the information that applies to your website:

Company websites
Online shops
Blogs or news sites

SEO-friendly URLs for your company website

If your website holds information about your company and/or services and that is basically it, no matter how many pages you have, I’d go with the shortest URL possible.

SEO-friendly URLs for your online shop

If your website is an online shop, there are two ways to go about:

Some content management systems (like Magento) create both. In that case, use rel=”canonical” to point Google to the one you want to appear in Google.

The question remains what URL structure to use. In this case, SEO-friendly URLs should also be helpful URLs for your visitor. If your shop contains categories that make your visitor’s life easier, by all means, include these categories in your URL as well. That way your URL, breadcrumbs, and menu will remind the visitor where they are on your website:

See what I mean? Decide for yourself if your categories add that value to the product and URL. If so, it’s also better for SEO to include the category, as category and product are very much related.

SEO-friendly URLs for your blog or news site

If your website is a blog or news website, there are a number of ways to construct your URL. Let’s go over these separately:
If your site as a whole has a strong coherence, you could consider focusing on the post title and the post title only to create an SEO-friendly URL. The coherence will indicate the main topic of your website to Google, so no need to add that in the URL.
In case that your website is a news website and you’re writing about different topics, adding the topic (for instance as a category name), will make even more clear what the page is about. It’s a bit similar as explained above at SEO-friendly URLs for your online shop.
If your website features daily news and the news is related to a date, be sure to include that date in the URL as well. If someone is looking for the latest news on Apple’s products, the date in the URL will already show if the page is about this year’s iPhone or not. My recommendation: only use the date in the URL if the date matters.
Google News’ technical guidelines clearly state: “To make sure we only crawl new articles, please make sure your URLs are unique with at least 3 digits, and are permanent.” If for some reason you don’t want to include the date in the URL of your news article, you could add an ID for the post as well to get this covered. Keep in mind that Google News is only for news that matters to the world, which doesn’t apply to most company news 😉


There is no one way to create the best SEO-friendly URL. It depends on the type of website you have. Especially with a blog or news site, there are multiple options. The main thing is to keep your URLs focused. Besides that, make sure to include all the information that’s important to make clear what the page is about.

Read more:  rel=canonical • What it is and how (not) to use it  »

The post SEO-friendly URLs appeared first on Yoast.

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Getting an HTTPS migration done in an enterprise environment

Getting an HTTPS migration done in an enterprise environment

There have been some excellent articles written about the steps necessary for a successful HTTP to HTTPS migration. Although we know that a move is becoming more and more pressing, knowing what to do is only a small part of the story when you’re working in an enterprise environment. Somehow, we need to figure out at the very least:

Who do we need to persuade, and what’s going to convince them?
How are we going to mitigate risk as much as possible?
How are we going to get the actual details done? – some of these steps are simple but hard

Many of you will be living this, and be feeling these challenges keenly. We’ve been putting a lot of thought and a lot of work into helping our points of contact make these cases and get these migrations done. Here are some pointers and tips we’ve learned along the way; hopefully they’ll help you.

Sidenote: read about how we used our ODN platform to help to ship an urgent HTTPS migration for a major retailer

If you want to get some sense of the challenges, or if you don’t regularly work with large sites in complex organisations, the journey of the BBC to secure their news section might give you some idea of the complexity:

Two years ago, they talk about making changes at their CDNs to enable HTTPS in the future when the individual products (e.g. homepage or travel news) get to the point of being ready on the back-end
By the end of 2017, they are talking about enabling HTTPS to their origins and worrying about how to warm up the HTTPS caches
June 2018 we get the Medium post about the elusive padlock on BBC News after problems like an Indian government-mandated network block that rendered the site totally inaccessible

And then even after all that effort, we realise that the first links I shared there are on the “BBC blogs” section of the site which is still insecure:

Making the case for the enterprise HTTPS migration

In some cases, I find that business cases and return on investment are the most powerful drivers of change, and there are possible approaches that could use data to make this case (looking first at drops in conversion rate from warnings over unsecured pages) but my first approach would be an argument that looks more like this:

We’re definitely going to have to do this eventually
External changes mean that we shouldn’t keep putting it off – there are reputational, business, and operational risks from delaying

It’s a more risk-averse argument focusing on avoidance of downside, but it has powerful emotional elements to it:

1. We’re definitely going to have to do this eventually

There are plenty of rational arguments for the move to HTTPS (great article) but this is mainly an argument that no matter what decisions we make, we can’t put this off forever. We can look at competitors, large sites, and external moves (e.g. by Chrome) to make this point powerfully:

Websites are moving to HTTPS at unprecedented rates

Google research shows that:

More than half of large sites now have HTTPS available (moving from 39% to 54% in the year to Feb 2017) with default HTTPS doubling in a single year
The bigger / more popular a site is, the greater its chance of having HTTPS available and the greater the chance of it using HTTPS by default
A majority of desktop browsing now occurs over HTTPS

All of which means that users are becoming more accustomed to seeing HTTPS everywhere and increasingly expect it. We have even seen this in qualitative feedback from website user testing (create a free account to watch this video):

High ranking websites are particularly likely to be HTTPS

In just 9 months, after announcing HTTPS as a (minor) ranking factor, the % of HTTPS results on page 1 of Google search results jumped from 30% to over 50%:

New features increasingly assume HTTPS connections

Features like HTTP/2 (which can bring significant speed improvements to many sites), and service workers (which are required for app-like capabilities such as offline functionality) require or assume the presence of HTTPS connections. If you aren’t already up to speed on them, this presentation by our VP Product, Tom Anthony will tell you what you need to know (create a free account to watch this video).

2. External changes mean we should do it now

Browser changes increase the urgency of making the change

We have known for some time that Google in particular was going to use their Chrome browser to push webmasters to HTTPS. Initially, the just flagged sites as insecure if they were on HTTP when a form was detected:

They then announced further changes to take it from just those pages to any HTTP page:

This actually isn’t Google’s last planned update on this theme, there will be a release of Chrome sometime soon that highlights the insecurity in red:

Not only is this change raising the profile of your security setup with your users and customers and most likely hurting engagement and conversion rate, but it is starting to bring bad press down on those who haven’t made the move yet. This BBC article, for example calls out a number of sites by name and cautions that while you shouldn’t necessarily entirely avoid sites that are still on HTTP, “you should be wary on those that require you to sign in or which let you buy goods and services through them”.

Mitigating the risk of an HTTPS migration

OK, so we know it’s something we want to do, and key stakeholders are coming around to the idea, but pretty early in the process, someone is going to bring up risk factors, and how we can minimise and mitigate as many of the risks as possible.

Aside from thorough testing in a staging environment, what else can you do to reduce the risks of going to HTTPS? One key tool in the arsenal is Content Security Policy (CSP) headers. One of the hardest parts of the move is avoiding mixed-content warnings, where your (secure) page references HTTP resources and assets. A good way of mitigating risks and avoiding UI issues and broken functionality from blocked assets is to roll out HTTPS initially with a very lax CSP that allows insecure assets, but reports them via the report-uri policy directive. This means, that on any HTTPS page that uses HTTP resources, the browser will still report the page as insecure but it will work and you will get collect data on which resources are still in use where.

As you then remove all HTTP dependencies, you can tighten up the CSP to much stricter policies and achieve the “secure” label in the browser. Once all pages are fully on HTTPS and redirects are in place, you can add HSTS (Strict-Transport-Security) to the mix. HSTS is a header served on the HTTPS version of your site that is cached by browsers and informs them not to trust the HTTP version in future and always to request the HTTPS version of every page on your site (until the expiry of the HSTS setting).

(Note: the more important security is to your site, the further down this rabbit-hole you may wish to go – right up to preloaded HSTS sites – though note that this is not easily reversible even temporarily in the event of certificate errors.)

There are a variety of great resources on the SEO details, with checklists and processes to follow, so I’m not going to repeat all of the steps here. I recommend:

This article on all the benefits of HTTPS and technical features you can use once you have moved over
Patrick Stox outlined the process, and Aleyda published a great checklist on the SEO steps and implications
You may find it useful to refer to the official Google line (from John Mueller) to reassure stakeholders about Google’s view of the process and its benefits

THOUGH I am very concerned about the advice to “use 302 redirects + rel=canonical to HTTP if you want to test HTTPS but not have it indexed”. I would not recommend ever having canonical links that point to pages that redirect back to the original page (even 302 redirects). I would recommend not doing this.

How are we going to get the details implemented?

As always, knowing what to do and getting agreement to go ahead is only a small part of the battle in many organisations. Large websites and big companies typically have myriad dependencies and integrations of older systems that throw up unexpected roadblocks in the way of the objective. In the case of an HTTPS migration, this is often things like:

We have mixed-content warnings that we can’t deal with at scale – how are we going to update all the references to images on http URLs? What about our 3rd-party plugins and embeds?
Our canonical links all point to the HTTP version of our site and the engineering work to update them across all the different page templates is going to add scary amounts of money to the cost of this project – potentially across multiple back-ends / CMS
We want to add Referrer-policy and especially Content Security Policy headers to enable better testing and mitigate risks, but we have no way to control HTTP headers through our CMS

Recommendations of what to do are worthless if you can’t get them done – a mantra that we repeat a lot at Distilled is it’s not our job to deliver reports – it’s our job to effect change. One of the ways we’ve done this is by building the ODN platform which makes it easy to make agile changes to HTML and HTTP responses. We just completed an urgent HTTPS migration for a major retailer where we addressed exactly these kind of blockers with the platform – you can read more about that here.

If you’re in the unfortunate situation of knowing you need to make the move to HTTPS, and having the organisation aligned, but being blocked by these kinds of technical issue, drop us a line to discuss whether we can help.


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