You need more traffic.
More visitors on your site means more impressions, more signups, more purchases — more revenue.
With SEO, of course!
Today, I want to share a process we’ve developed at Siege Media to earn links and visibility, and to increase web traffic for our clients. I’m going to walk through how we built a site’s SEO strategy from the ground up — growing from zero visitors to 100,000 — and share key takeaways that you can apply to your own strategy.
The general outline of our strategy was:
- Start slow and take advantage of “easy wins.”
- Focus on securing a handful of strategic links to important pages.
- Establish passive link acquisition channels to build momentum.
- Be intentional about content creation and its impact on search.
- Level up over time, and target higher-value opportunities.
Let’s dive into the case study.
Note: We had control over every aspect of the site, making it much easier to accurately attribute organic gains to the SEO work we were implementing, as well as to make SEO recommendations every step of the way. I have also anonymized the data to maintain confidentiality for the website.
1. Starting slow with a new site
Starting with a new site, we understood there were limitations.
At the beginning, we focused on opportunities with low competition and decent traffic value. We used SEMrush to determine traffic value and manual research to gauge competition.
Examining the search engine results pages (SERPs), we looked for results with:
- bad exact-match domains.
- a lack of big name brands.
- low-quality or outdated content.
- pages with low link counts.
Here is an example of this type of SERP, for [life insurance quotes in California]:
You can see that although some big brands are ranking (State Farm and GEICO), there is also a bad exact-match domain result:
Clicking this link shows the content quality is pretty low:
There are other poor results in the SERP, too:
Finding results with these types of pages would give us confidence that we could easily build something searchers would prefer.
Once we identified potential opportunities, we built best-in-class content targeting those specific SERPs. To separate our content from others in the space we used:
- custom-built graphics.
- clear, concise, compelling copy.
- original photography.
- optimal formatting — font size, column width, scannable text and so on.
By building content that would best answer searcher intent and needs, we set our pages up to be successful in the SERPs.
2. Securing a handful of links to important pages
Pages need links to rank in search.
But the number of links needed to be competitive depends on the page, site, niche, type of query and so on. Furthermore, search engines have become more sophisticated in how they evaluate links, placing more emphasis on quality and less on numbers.
What we learned from doing this project is that bottom-of-the-funnel pages really only need a handful of quality links to rank well, and from there, positive engagement signals would further validate the page as an authority in the eyes of search engines.
Of course, securing links to bottom-of-the-funnel pages is extremely difficult because these pages typically aren’t link-worthy. The purpose of these pages isn’t to inform or entertain; these pages exist to drive conversions, and that doesn’t usually compel other sites to link.
There are a few situations where serving direct value to your site aligns with the goals of other websites, and link opportunities exist. These opportunities involve hyper-focused link pages that are relevant to your content.
Using the same insurance example, a page like this would represent a hyper-relevant links page for a company that offers pet insurance:
This strategy isn’t sustainable for a long-term, large-scale campaign because these situations are limited. But we learned that you only need to execute on a select handful of these opportunities to be successful with bottom-of-the-funnel pages.
Other opportunities available to bottom-of-the-funnel pages include:
- egobait — a specific person, brand, product or service, for example, is mentioned on your page.
- unique product or service — resource pages that list the small number of vendors available.
- discounts or promotions — the linking site’s audience is eligible for exclusive discounts.
- local — resource pages exclusive to local vendors and service providers.
- reviews — pages that review your product or service.
You can’t build a sustainable link acquisition campaign with these tactics, but you can secure a few quality links to your converting pages and drive initial engagement for your site.
- “4 e-commerce link building tactics that still work in 2016”
- “Overlooked Link Building Opportunities for Ecommerce Category & Product Pages”
3. Establish passive link acquisition channels
Link building is really hard.
Link acquisition is a manual process that is ongoing, forever. My favorite description of link building came from former Googler Matt Cutts, who defined it as “sweat, plus creativity.”
Because securing links is so difficult — and we knew we needed links to grow traffic — we sought to establish passive link acquisition channels to amplify all our link-building efforts.
Part of our content strategy was to use high-quality, original photography, and this provided a perfect opportunity to attract passive links. Rather than copyrighting or watermarking our photos, we decided to use a Creative Commons license that allowed others to use the photos as long as they linked back to their original source (on our site).
For example, in the screen shot below, Ars Technica is citing the photo they used for their article.
Even massive publications like this need great photos and often turn to Creative Commons or other sites to do that.
Along with having your images cited, other potential ways to earn links organically include:
- sponsorships and community involvement.
- compiling original data or research.
- being interviewed or quoted.
- building a unique tool.
The key is to create something original, and then make it easy for others to cite (link to) you as the original source.
4. Strategic content creation
Content drives SEO success.
It’s possible to secure a few links to bottom-of-the-funnel pages, but you’ll need middle and top-of-the-funnel content to sustainably capture attention and links.
Creating useful content for your audience is always a sound strategy, but you can take it a step further by being intentional and strategic about the content you publish. We maintained a relentless focus on SEO — creating every page with search, and the opportunities available to us, in mind.
To determine opportunity, we compared SEMrush traffic value against competition level.
Using the “pet insurance” example, we can analyze potential opportunities. For example, this site is ranking number one, which SEMrush estimates is worth $31.2K:
However, it looks like the competition for this SERP is fairly high with strong results such as Canine Journal, Consumers Advocate, Consumer Report and Nerd Wallet.
To find something less competitive, I’ll try [exotic pet insurance], where Nationwide is ranking number one and has a traffic value of $2.9K in SEMrush:
Looking right below the Nationwide result, I can see these pages ranking with bad exact-match domains:
Navigating to the page further validates this is a bad result:
This represents an opportunity to create content that would better serve users and have a great chance to rank.
Along with manually reviewing the search results, you can also use Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool to get an estimate of the competition and difficulty surrounding various terms and phrases.
Of course, investing into creating quality content is important, but the key takeaway for us was the success we saw from being strategic about the SEO impact of the content we created.
- “The complete guide to optimizing content for SEO (with checklist)”
- “Why SEO should always complement your content marketing”
5. Leveling up over time
Momentum is key in SEO.
As you build traction with your campaign, SEO tends to have a multiplying effect where your results will build exponentially. As you earn more visibility in search, you begin to attract more visitors — and if you satisfy the needs of those visitors, they will keep coming back (increasing traffic), endorsing your website (links) and sharing how great you are with others (social media, blogs, podcasts and so on).
We recognized our site was building momentum, and after six months of work, we started to raise expectations. We began to target more competitive spaces (which we avoided at the start), and because we had built a strong foundation, we were successful.
We established a solid baseline of authority and trust with our site, giving us the ability to compete for higher-value terms. Seeing early returns, we began taking even bigger bets on the content we created — not only investing in original design and photography but also adding interactive elements such as custom tools and video.
For example, in this screen shot you can see the payoff:
We targeted a very competitive, high-volume topic in the summer months of this year, and the result is more all-time highs, beating our previous numbers by a significant margin.
Another strategy that was fruitful was updating and improving old content using “Last Updated” post dates. Whether it be updating copy or adding a video, we found that small updates to existing content helped us in a variety of ways — it provided content freshness, increased click-through rate (CTR) and showed readers the post isn’t outdated.
For example, you can see Brian Dean of Backlinko executing this strategy here:
As we started targeting more competitive terms and earning more visibility, we began seeing significant gains in traffic, eclipsing 100,000 visitors by the end of month 12.
We didn’t use any secret tricks or hacks to grow traffic. Rather, we invested in building quality content, and we implemented various link acquisition strategies to match each stage of the project. As the site grew, so did our expectations and goals.
To recap, here’s our process for growing traffic:
- Start slow and take advantage of “easy wins.”
- Focus on securing a handful of strategic links to important pages.
- Establish passive link acquisition channels to build momentum.
- Be intentional about content creation and its impact on search.
- Level up over time, and target higher-value opportunities.
This is a repeatable, scalable process that we’ve found to be effective. Of course, you will need to tweak and adjust this process a bit to fit your unique situation and needs. However, I hope you can take the key lessons we learned from this project and apply them to your own strategy.
Google’s I/O developer conference brought several huge announcements about Google’s future direction and projects, including two new technologies which demonstrate just how importantvoice search and natural language processing are to the company’s future development.
The first, Google Assistant, is a voice-activated digital assistant which builds on “all [Google’s] years of investment in deeply understanding users’ questions”, as Google’s blog declared. It takes Google’s voice search and natural language capabilities to the next level, while also allowing users to carry out everyday tasks like booking cinema tickets or restaurant reservations.
The second is Google Home, Google’s long-awaited smart home hub to rival the Amazon Echo, which comes with Assistant built in. Google Home – which will be “unmatched in far-field voice recognition”, according to VP of Product Management Mario Quieroz – will give users access to Google’s powerful search capabilities in answering their questions as well as linking together smart devices all over their home.
It’s no surprise that Google is focusing heavily on voice search and natural language going forward when you consider that in 2015 alone, voice search rose from “statistical zero” to make up 10% of all searches globally, according to Timothy Tuttle of the voice interface specialist MindMeld. That’s an estimated 50 billion searches per month.
Indeed, Google CEO Sundar Pichai revealed in his keynote speech at I/O that 1 in every 5 searches made with the Google Android app in the US is a voice query. Bing produced a similar statistic earlier this month when it announced that a quarter of all searches on the Windows 10 taskbar using Bing are voice searches. And statistics like these are only like to increase further as search engines, apps and developers respond to this trend.
Digital assistants: The agents of voice search
Siri. Cortana. Google Now. Alexa. Google Assistant. These are only the names of the most well-known digital assistants from the major technology companies; a search for “digital assistant” on the iOS or Android app store shows just how many different varieties of these voice-controlled AIs there are.
Digital assistants are overwhelmingly the medium through which we interact with voice search and carry out natural language queries, so it makes sense that they, too, are on the rise as companies compete for the biggest share of this rapidly expanding market.
The figures show just how recent much of this uptake of voice search is. Late last year, MindMeld published a study of smartphone users in the U.S. and their use of voice search and voice commands. It found that 60% of smartphone users who used voice search had begun using it within the past year, with 41% of survey respondents having only begun to use voice search in the past 6 months.
With that said, digital assistants are not just confined to smartphones any more, increasingly integrated into devices like smart home hubs and game consoles. And the more that we speak to and interact with assistants, pushing the limits of what they’re capable of, the more sophisticated they become.
The newest generation of digital assistants, including Google Assistant and Viv, a new AI from the creators of Siri, are capable of interpreting and responding to long, multi-part and highly specific queries. For example, during a public demonstration in New York, Viv showed off its ability to accurately respond to queries like, “Was it raining in Seattle three Thursdays ago?” and “Will it be warmer than 70 degrees near the Golden Gate Bridge after 5PM the day after tomorrow?”
At the demonstration of Google Assistant at Google’s I/O conference, Sundar Pichai made much of the fact that you can pose follow-up queries to Assistant without needing to restate context. That is, you can ask a question like, “Who directed the Revenant?” and then follow up by saying, “Show me his awards,” and Assistant will know that you are still referring to director Alejandro Iñárritu in the second query. (It’s worth noting, though, that Bing’s web search has been able to do this for a while).
How voice queries are changing search
So how is this upswing in voice queries and technology’s increasing ability to respond to them changing the way that users search?
We don’t search with voice the same way that we search with a keyboard. Computer users have evolved a specific set of habits and expectations for web search based on its limitations and capabilities. So we would start off by typing a quite generalised, keyword-based search query like “SEO tips”, see what comes back, and progressively narrow down through trial and error with longer search terms like “SEO tips for m-commerce” or “SEO tips for beginners”.
Or if we were looking to buy a pair of red shoes, we might search for “red shoes” and then navigate to a specific website, browse through their shoes and use the site interface to narrow down by style, size and designer.
Whereas now, with the advanced capabilities of search engines to understand longer, more specialised searches and the advent of voice search making natural language queries more common, we might start off by searching, “Quick SEO tips for complete beginners”, or, “Show me wide-fit ladies’ red shoes for under £50.”
We search differently with a keyboard to the way we search with voice
The increasing rise of voice search brings with it a wealth of new data on user intent, habits and preferences. From the first query about SEO, a site owner can see that the searcher is not just a novice but a complete novice, and is not looking to spend a lot of time researching in-depth SEO guides; they want a list that’s easy to digest and quick to implement.
From the second query, a shop owner can tell exactly what type of shoes the consumer is looking for, down to the fit and colour. The price range indicates a budget and an intent to buy.
When mobile users are conducting voice search with location enabled, site owners and business owners can also gain valuable location data. Often, the voice query will contain the important phrase “near me”, which shows that the searcher is looking for local businesses. Mobile voice searches are three times more likely to be local than text, so optimising for local search and mobile will also help you to rank for many voice searches.
With the growth of voice search, we can expect to see more and more long-tail search keywords and natural language queries, which give increasing amounts of contextual information and useful data about searcher intent. The addition of voice assistants to smart home hubs like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home (Apple is also reported to be developing its own smart hub with Siri built in) will also give the companies behind them access to untold amounts of data on users’ daily life and habits, purchases, interests and more, opening up new avenues for marketing.
How can you capitalise on voice search?
With all of that in mind, what practical things can website owners do to take advantage of this new search frontier?
Look out for natural language queries in your site analytics
At the moment, there’s no way to tell outright which users are reaching your site through voice search, though Google is rumoured to be developing this feature for Google Analytics. But by looking out for natural language queries in your search traffic reports, you can start to get a feel for what users might be asking to find your site, learn from it and use it to inform your SEO strategy.
Think about how people are likely to phrase queries aloud
We need to start moving our approach from thinking of endless variations on different keywords to thinking about different types of questions and phrases that users might search. Ask yourself which questions might bring a user to your site, and how they will speak them aloud. What are the extra words, the ones that wouldn’t appear in a regular keyword search, and what information do they give you about the user’s intent on your site?
Make sure your site is set up to answer searchers’ questions
Once you’ve considered the types of questions a user might be asking, consider whether your site will satisfy those queries. Rob Kerry, in a presentation on the future of search at Ayima Insights, advised website owners to start integrating Q&A-style content into their sites in order to rank better for natural language searches and better satisfy the needs of users who are asking those questions.
Q&A-style content can also be excellent material for featured snippets, which is another great way to gain visibility on the search results page.
Develop content with a conversational tone
Because natural language queries reflect the way that people speak, they aren’t just longer but more colloquial. So consider if there are ways that you can create and incorporate content with a more conversational tone, to match this.
Use voice search!
One of the best ways to understand voice search, how it works and what kind of results it returns is to use it yourself. Search the questions you think might bring people to your site and see what currently ranks top, to get a sense of what works for others. Are there questions that aren’t being addressed, or answered very well? You can take this into account when creating content that is geared towards voice search.
As the app ecosystem grows, many marketers are turning their sights towards mobile app marketing. Today’s post provides a high-level view of App Store Optimization, and gives tips on how to break into the rapidly expanding world of apps.
How to Optimize for App Store Search Engines
Let’s dive into search in the app stores, and how the search engines differ based on platform.
First things first; remember I mentioned that the app ecosystem reminds me of the web in the mid-to-late 90’s? Keep that picture in your head when you think of search. App store search hasn’t been “figured out” in the same way that Google “figured out” search on the web. Simply put, we’re still in AltaVista mode in the app ecosystem: something better than Yahoo’s directory provided, but not incredibly sophisticated like Google would become in a few more years.
Just like the web has on-page and off-page SEO, apps have on-metadata and off-metadata ASO. On-metadata ASO include factors totally within your control and are often things dealing with your app store presence. Off-metadata ASO include factors that might not be entirely in your control, but which you can still influence. Here are a few of the most important knobs and levers that you as a marketer can turn to affect your search performance, and some quick tips on how to optimize them.
An app’s title is the single most important metadata factor for rank in ASO. It’s equivalent to the <title> tag in your HTML, and is a great signal to the app stores as to what your app is about. On the web, you want your title to include both a description of what you do (including keywords) as well as some branding; both elements should also exist in the app store. Be sure to include the keywords, but don’t be spammy. Make sure it parses well and makes sense. Example: “Strava Run – GPS Running, Training and Cycling Workout Tracker”
Patrick Haig, our VP of Customer Success, likes to break descriptions down into two sections: above the fold and below the fold (sound familiar?). He says, “Above the fold language should be 1-2 sentences describing the app and its primary use case, and below the fold should have a clear and engaging feature set and social proof.” We’ll dig into some of the differences about the description field across platforms below.
The Keyword Field in iOS is a 100 character field which you can use to tell iTunes search for which keywords you should show up. Since you only get 100 characters, you must use them wisely. A few tips:
- When choosing your keywords, just like on the web, focus on relevancy, search volume, and difficulty.
- Don’t use multiple word phrases; break out to individual words (Apple can combine them for you).
- Don’t repeat keywords that are already in your title (and put the most important ones in your title, leaving the keyword field for your secondary keywords).
- Separate keywords with commas, and don’t use spaces anywhere.
Consumers are finicky. They want apps which are beautiful, elegant, and simple to understand. Your icon is often their first interaction with your app, so ensure that it does a great job conveying your brand, and the elegance and usefulness of your app. Remember, in search results, an icon is one of the only ways you can convey your brand and usefulness. Think of it as part of the meta description tag you’d create in SEO. For example, SoundCloud does a great job with their icon and branding.
The most important rule to remember when creating your screenshots is that they should not be screenshots. They are, instead, promotional graphics. That means you can include text or other graphics to tell your app’s story in an interesting, visual way.
Especially in iOS, where the card layout shows your first screenshot, it is incredibly helpful when an app displays a graphic which explains the app right up front, increasing conversions from search results to viewing the app page and, ultimately, installing the app.
The best app marketers also use their
screenshotspromotional graphics together to create a flow that carries the user through the story. Each graphic can build off the previous graphic, giving the user a reason to continue scrolling and learning about your app.
Here’s a great example of using the screenshots effectively by our friends at Haiku Deck.
Outside of your direct control, you’ll also want to focus on a few things to ensure the best performance in ASO.
Every app has a rating. Your job as a marketer is to ensure that your app gets a great overall rating. Rating is directly tied to performance in app store search, which leads us to believe that rating is a factor in app store search rankings.
Similar to ratings, you want to ensure that the reviews your users write about your app are positive. These reviews will help increase your conversion rate from app page views to downloads.
For a great product to help you increase your rating and reviews, check out Apptentive.
This is discussed further below, but suffice it to say, link building to your app’s page in the app store matters for Google Play apps. Given you all are SEOs, you know all about how to rock this!
How Do iOS and Google Play Differ In App Store Search?
The differences in the platforms mean that there are different levers to pull depending on the platform. Google Play and iOS act completely independently, and often, quite differently. The differences are wide-ranging, but what are a couple of the main differences?
In general, the way to think about the differences is that Google is Google and Apple is Apple. Duh, right? Google has the built the infrastructure and technology to learn from the web and use many different data points to make a decision. Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t have indexes of the web, and comes from a background in media. When in doubt, imagine what you’d do if you were each of them and had the history each of them has.
Here are a couple concrete examples.
Description versus Keywords
In iOS, there’s a keywords field. It’s easy to see where this came from, especially when you think of iTunes’ background in music: a song has a title (app title), musician (developer name), and then needs a few keywords to describe the song (“motown,” “reggae,” etc.). When Apple launched their app store, they used the same technology that was already built for music, which meant that the app title, developer name, and keywords were the only fields used to understand search for an app. Note that description isn’t taken into account in iOS (but I expect this to change soon).
On the other hand, there is no keyword field in Google Play; there is only a description field. Thus, while iOS doesn’t take the description into account, in Google Play the description is all you have, so be sure to do exactly the same as you do on the web: cater your content towards your keywords, without being spammy.
Leveraging PageRank in Google Play
Another big difference in iOS and Google Play is that Google has access to PageRank and the link graph of the web, while Apple does not. Thus, Google will take into account the inbound links to your app’s detail page (for example, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.symantec.mobilesecurity) as a factor in Google Play search, while Apple has no such factor.
How To Measure Success In App Marketing
It’s very difficult to measure success in app marketing in the same way you can measure success in web marketing. This is especially true when you’re working with inbound channels. It’s still early, but it’s continuously getting better, with more tools and services coming out all the time to help marketers understand success. Here are some of the ways I recommend measuring success in the app store today:
Just like on the web, a great way to measure your success in app store search is to track your ranking for specific search terms you care about over time and versus your competition. Rank tracking is incredibly valuable for ASOs to understand their progress.
Top Charts, especially Top Charts within a particular category, do a great job of allowing you to understand your success in relation to the rest of the apps in your category.
Ratings and Reviews
Just as ratings and reviews will help your ASO, they are also great metrics to track over time for how you’re doing with your app marketing. Keep track of what users are saying, how they’re saying it (pro tip: listening to their language is a great way to do keyword research!), and what they’re rating your app.
Taking it one step further, correlating your search rankings to downloads will allow you to understand the effect your increased ASO is having on your app performance. One way we do this is to integrate with iTunes Connect and overlay your search rankings with your downloads so you can visually see how closely related any one keyword is with your downloads. It’s not perfect, but it helps!
Conversion and Revenue
At the end of the day, revenue is the most important metric you should be understanding. Of course, you should be tracking your revenue and doing the same correlation with search performance. In addition, you should watch your conversion rate over time; we often see apps whose conversion rate soars with an increase in ASO because the users are so much more engaged with the app.
Tools And Resources To Use To Help With App Marketing
To conclude this post, I want to quickly talk about some tools and resources to use to help your app marketing process.
Sylvain has written some great content and has some incredible insights into app marketing and ASO on his company’s (Apptamin) blog.
I mentioned Apptentive above, and they really are the best way I know to impact your ratings and reviews, and get great feedback from customers in the process.
In addition to having a great, free, in-app analytics product (Flurry Analytics), as well as an interesting paid advertising product (AppCircle), Flurry also posts some of the most interesting data about the app ecosystem on their blog.
If you’re looking to obtain some amount of attribution for your paid advertising (inbound can’t be split out, sorry!), MobileAppTracking is where it’s at. It allows you to understand which paid channels are performing best for you based on the metric of your choosing. Best of all, you only pay for what you use.
This is, of course, a shameless promotion. That said, our product is a great way to understand your performance in app store search, help you do keyword research, and give you competitive intelligence. We offer a free (forever!) tool for Indie developers and scale all the way up to the largest Enterprise customers.
Now It’s Your Turn–> Visit the link below to get the full list to help guide you along your optimization way!