Why You Shouldn’t Have a Mobile Marketing Strategy

Posted by willcritchlow

Before I start, I should address the irony of writing this post on a site that isn’t yet designed for mobile. I don’t make those decisions, nor have the insight into the development backlog. I still think this is the community to have this discussion with, so I’ll just have to put up with the irony.

This post isn’t really about responsive websites, though. I wanted to address a broader question. There are a few marketing topics that seem to make it into board rooms sooner than others. Social media was one – I’ve heard a lot of senior people ask “what’s our social strategy?” over the years and now I’m hearing “what’s our mobile marketing strategy?”. That’s why I picked mobile as my topic for our upcoming
SearchLove conference in London.

But I don’t want to give another talk on responsive design, mobile user-agent server headers and googlebot mobile. Those things have their place, but they are inherently tactics. Instead, I want to ask myself the question “what does a true mobile marketing strategy look like?”. Before I get to that, some background:

The changing mobile landscape

I’ve been closely involved in mobile since the early 2000s. Before starting Distilled, I worked for a strategy consultancy called
Analysys who specialised in telecoms (and particularly in mobile). I distinctly remember every year back then being hailed as “the year of the mobile” (the earliest reference I can find online was optimistic that 2000 was going to be the year of the mobile).

It’s funny because a decade ago, we were doing email on our phones (the iconic Blackberry appeared in 2003), but somehow WAP, GPRS and the
Nokia 6600 all failed to achieve ubiquity.

In the end, by 2007, we’d all stopped talking about the year of the mobile, which meant that even the explosive adoption of the iPhone took a while to fully seep into marketers’ collective consciousness. At the recent
ThoughtWorks ParadigmShift conference, I gave a talk on the three “paradigm shifting” trends I see in marketing at the moment (the other two being what I called “your TV is just another screen” and “robots are filtering everything you see”). I showed these stats:

Internet trends for marketers from Will Critchlow

Mobile tactics

I’m clearly not the first or only person to have noticed this, and it’s generated a huge amount of thinking about “mobile friendly” and even ”
mobile first” design.

Towards the end of this post, I’ve collected some thoughts and further reading on specific mobile tactics, but before we get into that, I wanted to dive a little deeper into the strategic layer.

You shouldn’t have a mobile marketing strategy

There’s something going on that I’ve referred to as
there’s no such thing as mobile. What I mean by this is that consumers are seeing less and less of a distinction between their devices.

Internet trends for marketers from Will Critchlow

To see this, we first have to realise that 77% of all usage of “mobile” devices is done from home or work where regular computers are available.



The vast majority of the attraction is not mobility, but a combination of a device that is:

  • Ubiquitous (the same device everywhere)
  • Personal (with your settings, a degree of privacy, etc)
  • Always-on / instant-on
  • Designed for rapid interactions

It’s the same set of trends that is driving the “bring your own device” (BYOB) trend that IT departments are having to learn to deal with.

Our computers are fighting back by becoming more like our mobile devices (instant-on, app stores, even touch screens) and our mobile devices are adding to their ubiquity advantages with features previously limited to the desktop (faster processors, larger and brighter screens, faster connections, better keyboards).

So, when you realise that all our data is in the cloud and our connection to the physical device is only sentimentality (and the cost of replacement), and you consider the range of screen resolutions that can be considered “mobile”, you realise that unless you mean to target customers who are literally
walking around at the time, mobile marketing isn’t really a distinct thing – it’s just the future of digital marketing.

Every marketing strategy should be mobile

You only have to watch a user who’s never built their own website, and therefore can’t empathise with the technical difficulties, try to use a website that doesn’t work on their iPhone or iPad. They swear at the device. They swear at the brand. They wonder if they’re doing it wrong or if their connection has dropped. They abuse the “idiots who built this website” without realising the difficulty of what they’re asking for.

There’s no such thing as mobile as far as the user is concerned. Which means you, as marketers, have to work exceptionally hard to play nicely with ubiquity.

Fundamentally, people use their devices for:

  • communicating with other people (1-1 and 1-many)
  • consuming media (text, images, video)
  • searching for answers

As a marketer, you can see the opportunities to be available, be found, be recommended in any of these uses. To improve your chances, you will need to consider:

  • Your platform – the CMS you use, the outputs it’s capable of
  • Your content – the strategy of what to create and the tactical execution
  • Your audience – where are they and how can you reach them?
  • Your conversion paths – what do you want people to do and what would encourage them to do that?
  • Your measurement abilities – how are you going to quantify and demonstrate success, and how are you going to refine your approach in light of new data?

So, what does that sound like? It sounds a lot like the approach we take for every client who comes to us for digital marketing.

And that’s what I mean when I say that
every marketing strategy should be a mobile marketing strategy. Through every single step of that process, you can (and should) append “on mobile” to the question.

How might I be wrong?

What if apps beat the mobile web? That’s the biggest threat to web marketers right now in my opinion. Clearly this is a threat to Google as well (how do you index the app ecosystem?). So it’s interesting to look at their response because they’re also embracing it. Think about:

  • The pace of innovation in, for example, mobile gmail apps versus desktop gmail
  • How Chrome is sneaking an operating system onto every device you own and can now run Android apps
  • How much a search in Chrome looks increasingly like a search in the Google app – with features moving from the app to mobile Chrome in a similar way to the way features move from mobile to desktop
  • The trend towards app constellations for most of the major mobile players – taking a slice not only from the monolithic apps, but also from the regular mobile web (“there’s an app for that”)

I don’t think the pendulum is going to swing too far this way, however. Turns out that it’s not only Google that relies on indexing the sum of published human knowledge. Can you imagine going back to a world where you can’t Google for an answer? I can’t.

So, I think that even in this situation, “content” remains something resembling the mobile web – as does much of ecommerce away from perhaps Amazon. The long tail of providers simply works against “an app for everything”. You might have an app for your favourite store and your favourite newspaper, but you’re not going to have 15 of each (in my opinion).

So where do we focus our marketing? In my opinion, we focus on search, social and content. Those are the fundamental human activities which are enhanced by ubiquitous computing devices, and they’re ones we understand deeply. The future looks like
brands as publisher like never before.

So, should I build an app?

I don’t believe this is a marketing question. It’s a product and business question. I think the answer could well be “yes” for many businesses if you have elements that can be improved by:

  • Native APIs (camera, coarse or fine-grained location, etc)
  • Game-engine-style graphics abilities
  • Offline functionality
  • Lock-in that actually benefits your users somehow

But it’s not a marketing question. Aside from a small number of communication tools that can grow via viral loops (think: whatsapp), apps are not a discovery mechanism. The vast majority of app store searches are navigational (i.e. people searching for apps they’ve already heard of) and I don’t see that changing any time soon – an app store search isn’t going to replace a general web search for knowledge and so it’s not going to add people into the top of your funnel.

It’s also such a hugely fragmented market that – from conversations with developers who’ve seen their apps sitting at #1 in moderate-sized categories – I know that even success
doesn’t inherently drive more downloads and more success.

Tactical recommendations for mobile

Apart from repeating the advice to think about
how your site appears on mobile, I wanted to end with some positive recommendations – i.e. what should you do tactically?

The key lesson here? We need to stop focussing on mobile as a device we use when ‘on the go’. Mobile is no longer a distinct thing but, rather, simply the future of digital marketing. It must inform every strategy we devise as marketers, and at every step of the way. 

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September 29, 2014  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Can Google Determine the Level of Quality in Your Content?

Can Google Determine the Level of Quality in Your Content? is a post by SEO expert Andy Eliason. For information about our SEO services or more great SEO tips and tricks, visit the SEO.com blog.

Plan your product and processes by aiming for both high quality and high value to set your goods and services apart from your competition in the marketplace

In the recently released Searchmetrics Ranking Factors Study, the case for quality content is once again highlighted as a critical SEO component. There should be any number of people out there who are rolling their eyes right about now, thinking: not another post about how “content is king.” We’ve heard it before. How many ways can you keep saying the same thing?

Well, that’s what I usually think, anyway, so I was a little surprised to see it presented as something that is “becoming increasingly important” in this report. They say “this was not the case for a long time,” which I found confusing. Quality content is not becoming important, it always has been. Right?

But then I got into the report a little further and really started to see what they meant.

From a strictly SEO point of view, content was always seen as necessary, but it usually took a back seat to other, more technical parts of the craft. Why?

Well, we say a lot about high-quality content, but who is really the judge of that?

Content was a lot easier in the days of keyword density and strategic keyword placement. In those days, quality was how you managed to use the most unnatural long-tail keywords in the most natural ways possible, and hoped that no one noticed that real people don’t actually speak like that. Or maybe you could just bold your keywords, and surely that helped the quality score shoot right up. (/sarcasm)

That kind of behavior, of course, is something best left in the past. After the release of the Hummingbird update, Google began to focus even more on semantic and context-based queries, and this is how they are driving the importance of high-quality, valuable, and relevant content.

Do Context and Relevance Equal Quality?

One of the simplest ways to define “quality,” at least from a search engine’s perspective, is by determining the context and relevance of the content. In the past, this was a simple matter of using the right keywords in the right places. We’ve moved on from that level, though, and taken a more holistic approach.

Under-The-Radar Keyword Research Method - Scott CowleyRight now, targeting single keywords – or even keyword groups – simply isn’t enough to be effective in the modern online environment. Ever since the Hummingbird update, Google has been developing a more semantic approach to search, and that means they’re looking for semantically relevant terms (the report refers to them as “proof terms”) and other relevant terms that will speak to the overall value and relevance of the content.

This kind of “semantically comprehensive wording” certainly acts as signal that the page is relevant to a query, but consciously selecting these terms and phrases is going to be more difficult than just going through the standard keyword research. On the other hand, this should help lead to more natural content creation because if you really are generating valuable content, it should happen naturally.

The Best Part of a Semantic Focus

The benefit of this switch is that now, as writers focus on a more holistic approach, they should be able to reflect more topics in their text. This, then, makes the same page relevant for users with a varying range of search intentions. The same copy can start to rank even better for related, additional keywords without even trying. (Well, obviously, with a lot of trying, but you know what I mean.)

So, according to Searchmetrics: “If website editors want their content to rank better for specific keywords, the content should be created with the fulfillment of user search intent in mind.”

What does that mean, exactly?

It means that what we’ve been saying all along still carries a lot of weight. We always say that you should write for the user, and not the search engines. By focusing on their actual needs, you can provide the kind of quality content Google is looking for.

Is Quality about Readability?

Does your personal writing style figure into the overall quality of the content? Are you using words and phrases that are too complex for your audience just to try and sound smart? This year, Searchmetrics included a new development in its report, and that’s the legibility of the text.

It seems that the general trend is that text that is easier to read tends to rank higher. There’s even a suggestion of a mathematical formula to determine the level of legibility (get the report for yourself to check it out), but it’s unlikely that Google is using something like this to determine who well you write.

Rather, Google is equating readability with “easy to comprehend,” and so it’s probably looking at user signals, like time on the site and bounce rate to judge whether or not your users find your writing legible.

It’s interesting to note, then, that by using those signals, Google isn’t necessarily looking at quality but usability. Technically, this could mean that layout is just as important as what you say. (And when we get into rich media’s importance later, we’ll see that’s definitely a thing.)

Does More Content Equal Quality Content?

This year also saw a lot of increases in correlation to content length. The report said that: “This means that websites need to produce more content in order to remain competitive in search.”

So, that doesn’t seem to mean you need to write longer content, but just have more of it. There is a difference.

Keep in mind, though, more doesn’t automatically mean better. You still have to consider legibility and keyword/topic usage. You need to balance the amount of content with the quality features that signal your relevance. Having said that, though, it does seem that sites with more words in the copy hold onto higher ranking positions.Rich Media

So ask yourself: is this another holistic thing? Is it about the site word count, or is this about the word count by page?

Rich Media Matters

Images and videos can always make content more appealing. They help increase the time on site and reduce bounce rate, which means they are an important factor in a definition of quality.

Image is all about style, though, so you can expect that this will only go so far. I.e. you’re not going to get more value out of relying on images alone. Right now, though, you’re better off leaning toward image rich at the moment.

So What is Quality to a Search Engine?

In the end, focusing on a single keyword isn’t really enough to show that your content is relevant and filled with quality signals. You need to look at topics and related terms. You need to see the site as a holistic thing. This will help you rank better for a number of related terms and establish your position in the top of the rankings.


Get Internet Marketing Insight For Your Company - SEO.com

Can Google Determine the Level of Quality in Your Content? is a post by SEO expert Andy Eliason. For information about our SEO services or more great SEO tips and tricks, visit the SEO.com blog.

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September 27, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

How Some Companies Succeed at Converting Visitors yet Fail to Earn Great Customers – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

It’s easy to think that conversion is the end goal for most marketing teams, but any business that relies on customer loyalty needs to take a it a step farther. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains a few of the reasons that people we thought were new customers often decide to leave.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video transcription

Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I’m talking about some conversion rate optimization mistakes that we’ve made. They’re pernicious and challenging to understand, because we’ve succeeded in one big important aspect of CRO, which is converting visitors into customers. That might sound like a great thing, but in fact sometimes being great at that can be a terrible thing. I’ll talk about exactly why and how.

I’ve seen this at Moz. We’ve had a little bit of a problem with it. I’ve seen this at many, many other companies. I want to try and use Moz as an empathetic example to everyone out there of how these problems happen.

Succeeding at converting visitors into customers is not the end goal for the vast, vast majority of companies, unless you have a product that you know you’re only ever going to sell once, and that will be the only brand interaction that you hope to have with that human being ever or that organization ever in your lives. Well, usually that’s not the case.

Usually, most companies have a relationship that they want to have with their customers. They’re trying to earn that customer’s brand loyalty, and they’re trying to earn future sales from that person. That means building a longer term relationship, which is how CRO can occasionally go very, very wrong.

I’ve got the three primary examples. These are the three types of things that I’ve seen happen in company after company. It’s not just true in software, but software makes a particularly good example of it because we have a retention type model. It’s not just about converting someone, but it’s also about keeping them part of your service and making your product consistently useful to them, etc.

Here’s our friendly Joe Searcher. Joe goes ahead and searches for SEO tools. Then, Joe gets to the free trial of Moz Pro, which you could conceivably get to if you search in Google for that. We often have AdWords ads running for things like that and maybe we rank too.

Then, Joe goes, “All right. Yeah, maybe I’ll give this a spin. It’s a 30 day free trial.” He sees all the stuff in there. He’s like, “All right. There’s the Moz Bar. Maybe I’ll try that, and I’ll set up my Moz Analytics campaign. I see I’m getting some crawl errors and keyword scores.”

Then, Joe is like, “Man, I don’t know. I don’t really feel totally invested in this tool. I’m not sure why I should trust the results. Maybe I don’t know quite enough about SEO to validate this. Or I know enough about SEO to know that there are some little things here and there that are wrong. Maybe they told me to do some keyword stuff that I don’t feel totally comfortable with. I don’t trust these guys. I’m out of here. I’m going to quit.”

Well, that kind of sucked, right? Joe had a bad experience with Moz. He probably won’t come back. He probably won’t recommend us to his friends.

Unfortunately, we also provided a customer with access to our stuff, ran a credit card, and accumulated some charges and some expenses in his first month of use, and lost him as a customer. So it’s a lose-lose. We were successful at converting, but it ended up being bad for both Joe and for Moz.

The problem is really here. Something fascinating that you may not know about Moz is that, on average, before someone takes a free trial of our software, they visit our website eight times before they take a free trial. Many, many visits are often correlated with high purchase prices.

But for a free trial, there are actually a lot of software companies who convert right on the first or the second visit. I think that might be a mistake. What we’ve observed in our data and one of the reasons that we’ve biased not to do this, to try and actually avoid converting someone on the first or second visit, is because Moz customers that convert on the first, or second, or third visit to our website tend to leave early and often. They tend to be not longstanding, loyal customers who have low churn rates and those kinds of things. They tend to have a very high churn and low retention.

Those who visit Moz ten times or more before converting turn out to be much more loyal. In fact, it keeps going. If they visit 14 times or more or 20 times or more, that loyalty keeps increasing. It’s very fascinating and strongly suggests that before you convert someone you actually want to have a brand relationship.

Joe needs to know that Moz is going to be helpful, that he can trust it, that he’s got the education and the knowledge and the information, and he’s interacted with community, and he’s consumed content. He’s been like, “Okay, I get what’s going on. When I see that F Keyword Score, I know that like, oh, right, there’s some stemming here. It might not be catching all the interpretations of this keyword that I’ve got in there. So I give Moz a little leeway in there because this other stuff works well for me, as opposed to quitting at the first sign of trouble.”

This happens in so, so many companies. If you’re not careful about it, it can happen to you too.

Another good example here is, let’s say, Mary. Mary is a heavy Twitter user. She has great social following and wants to do some analysis of her Twitter account, some competitive Twitter accounts. So she finds Followerwonk, which is great. It’s a wonderful tool for this.

She says, “Okay, I want to get access to some of the advanced reports. I need to become a Moz Pro member to do that. What does Moz have to do with Followerwonk? Okay, I get it. Moz owns Followerwonk, so I’m getting to the free trial page for Moz Pro. Weirdly, this trial page doesn’t even talk about Followerwonk in here. There’s one mention in the Research Tools section. That’s kind of confusing. Then, I’m going to get into the product. Now you’re trying to have me set up a Moz Analytics account. I don’t even own and control a website or do SEO. I’m trying to use Followerwonk. Why am I paying a month if my free trial extends? Why would I do that to get all this other stuff if I just want Wonk? That doesn’t make any sense, so I’m out of here. I’m going to quit.”

Essentially, we created a path where Mary can’t get what she actually wants and where she’s forced to use things that she might not necessarily want. Maybe she doesn’t want them at all. Maybe she has no idea what they do. Maybe she has no time to investigate whether they’re helpful to her or not.

We’re essentially devaluing our own work and products by bundling them all together and forcing Mary, who just wants Followerwonk, to have to get a Moz subscription. That kind of sucks too.

By the way, we validated this with data. On average, visitors who come through Followerwonk and sign up for a free trial perform terribly. They have very, very low stickiness until and unless they actually make it back to the Followerwonk tool immediately and start using that and use that exclusively. If they get wrapped up inside the Pro subscription and all the other tools, Open Site Explorer, Moz Analytics and Moz Bar, Keyword Difficulty, and Fresh Web Explorer, blah, they’re overwhelmed. They’re out of here. They didn’t get what they want.

The other thing that really sucks is we’ve seen a bunch of research. There’s been psychological research done that basically suggests that when you do this, when you bundle a whole bunch of things together, they are inherently cheapened and believe the value to be less, and they feel themselves cheated. If you buy all of this stuff and you only wanted Followerwonk, you feel like well, Followerwonk must only be worth like a month.

That’s not actually the case. Inside the business we can see, oh, there are all these different cost structures associated with different products, and some people who are heavy users of this and not heavy users of that make up for it. Okay, but your customers don’t have that type of insight, so they’re not seeing it. Again, quick conversion has failed to create real value.

Number three, what is SEO? We’re going to have Fred here. Fred’s going to do a search for “what is SEO.” He’s going to get to the free trial of Moz Pro maybe because we were running an advertisement or that kind of thing. Then, Fred’s going to go, “All right. Yeah, that sounds good. I want to do SEO on my website. I know that’s important. Search traffic is important.”

Then, he starts getting into the product and goes through the experience. He has to enter his keywords, and he’s like, “Man, I don’t know what keywords they mean. What do they mean by keywords? I need to learn more about SEO. I’m out of here. I’m quitting this product. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The problem here is an education gap. Essentially, before Fred is able to effectively use and understand the product, he needs education, and unfortunately what we’ve done is end around and put the conversion message ahead of the education process and thus cost Fred. This, again, happens all the time. Companies do this.

There are ways to solve these. There are three things you can do that will really solve these conversion issues. First, measure your customer journey, not just your conversion path. So many folks look at paths to conversion. You have your reports set up in Google Analytics, and you look at assisted conversions and path to conversions, but you don’t look at customer journey, which is what do people do after they convert.

If you’re an e-commerce or a retail store, you care about this too, even though it seems like a one-time purchase. Do they come back? Do they buy more stuff from you? Are they amplifying? Are they sharing the product? Do you have a good score with them when you ask people on Net Promoter Score like, “Hey, would you suggest or recommend using this service, using our ecommerce shop? Did you have a good experience?”

If you’re seeing low scores there, low return visits, low engagement with the product that you’re offering, chances are good that you’re doing something like this. You’re converting someone too early.

Second, you don’t want to cheapen, mislead, or bundle products without evidence that people will actually enjoy them, appreciate them, and that it matches your customer need, as we’ve done here by bundling all of these things with Followerwonk. It may be the case that this can go one way and not the other.

You might say, as we did, I was like, “Oh, I’m in SEO and I love Followerwonk. It’s so useful for all this stuff. But I wasn’t thinking about the 600 people a day who go into Followerwonk just for Twitter analytics and don’t really have a whole lot of need around other SEO tools.”

So optimizing the bundle one way and not the other was probably a mistake. I think it’s a mistake that Peter Bray and the team are working on fixing now, my mistake that they’re now working on fixing. I apologize for that.

This bundling can also be very misleading. You need to be careful in validating that customers actually want two products, two services, two goods together.

Finally, this is a huge part of how content marketing works. You want to educate before you convert. Educate before you convert and find ways to filter for not right customers.

Imagine if in Fred’s process here, he’d searched for “what is SEO,” and he got to the Beginner’s Guide. Then, he got to the free trial page, and we had identified, “Hey, Fred’s never been here before. He just got done with the Beginner’s Guide when he got to the keyword page here.”

We can nudge him maybe with some proactive suggestions here. But if he goes through and starts entering keywords and he can’t figure it out, maybe we need someone from our Customer Success Team to actually email him and say, “Hey, Fred, is there something I can help you with? Can we set up this process for you? Do you want to have a phone call,” these kinds of things. We need to provide some assistance.

Likely you’re doing one of these things as well. When you get aggressive about converting customers fast and early, yes, you can really juice your revenue. You can turn a low conversion rate into a high one. But you can also in the long run cost your company if you aren’t measuring and thinking about the right things.

Hopefully, you’ll do that and have a great customer journey experience throughout your conversion process. We will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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September 26, 2014  Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

The 2014 #MozCon Video Bundle Has Arrived!

Posted by EricaMcGillivray

Your advanced course, the videos from MozCon 2014, is finally here. Whether you’re looking for the latest dive into SEO, wondering what you should be doing with mobile, or figuring out how to step up your PR, the MozCon videos have a bit of everything from leading industry experts.

For MozCon 2014 attendees, you should’ve received an email with your unique URL for a “free” copy of the videos, included in your ticket cost.

MozCon 2014 was the best ever! I know, we say that every year, but I swear on Roger’s antenna that it really was. We’ve settled into our new home at the Washington State Convention Center, and hosted 1,400 people at this year’s gathering (a sellout crowd!). There were 28 future-focused sessions, cram-packed with advice and actionable recommendations from some of the industry’s most innovative minds. Topics ranged from SEO and A/B testing to analytics and content marketing. Here’s a taste:

How did attendees like the sessions?

This year, 43% of attendees took our post-MozCon survey, and here’s what they had to say about the content:

What precent of presentations did you find interesting?
56.3% said 80%+ were perfect and 36.6% said 50%+ were interesting.

Were the presentations advanced enough? Over 70% said yes

Marshall Simmonds at MozCon 2014

Tell me more about these videos

If you’re wondering why it takes two months to produce and perfect these videos post-MozCon, it’s because we go the extra mile to create something easy-to-digest for you. Our videos show both the presenter and their presentation, so you don’t have to hide the presenter’s face to flip through a slide deck. You can also download each deck, so you’ve got easy access to links and reference tools.

For 9 for Moz Pro subscribers (9 for non-subscribers), the 2014 MozCon Video Bundle gives you instant access to:
  • 28 videos (over 17 hours) from MozCon 2014
  • Stream or download the videos to your computer, tablet, phone, phablet, or whatever you’ve got handy
  • Downloadable slide decks for all presentations

Buy the 2014 MozCon Video Bundle

Non-subscribers: Save 0 by signing up for a free 30-day trial of Moz Pro!

The 2014 free presentation

Each year, we release one of the top presentations for everyone to watch for free. Last year, we gave away 
Kyle Rush’s on CRO, and the year before, Wil Reynold’s #RCS.

This year, check out ”Prove Your Value” with Dana DiTomaso, partner at Kick Point; she talks you through the best ways of reporting your work to your client or boss.

Still not convinced? Enjoy our cat Pinterest board. Or, if you’re super-excited about MozCon and interested in the live show, buy your early bird ticket for MozCon 2015. We sold out this year, and expect to do so again, so get ‘em while they last!

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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September 25, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Broken Link Building Bible: The New Testament

Posted by russvirante

It was a little over a year ago that I first wrote the “Broken Link Building Bible” and it seemed like it was time for an update. If you haven’t had a chance yet, please head over to the original, as most of it is still highly relevant today, and it contains the basics which will not be covered in this post. 

Today I present a New Testament, complete with ethical guidelines, new prospecting, content, and outreach techniques. Throughout this guide I will show you how to accomplish most of these tactics using a culmination of tools like Open Site ExplorerDomain Hunter Plus, or BrokenLinkBuilding.com. Let’s jump in.

Table of contents

  1. Ethical Guidelines
    1. Content Commandments
      1. Cloaking
      2. Plagiarizing
      3. Bait & Switch
      4. Identity Theft
    2. Outreach Commandments
      1. Automation
      2. Unrelated
      3. Misrepresentation
    3. Conclusions
  2. Advanced Prospecting
    1. Section Discovery
    2. Site Discovery
  3. Advanced Content
    1. Panda Guidelines
    2. Publish Date
    3. Be Thorough
    4. Citation Focus
  4. Advanced Outreach
    1. Short Form
    2. Long Form
    3. Double Tap
    4. Slow Play
    5. Bandwagon
  5. Revelation

Ethical guidelines: The BLB Commandments

I have mentioned many times before that I love broken link building because the success of the campaign is directly proportional to the good you do for the web. You aren’t attracting links unless you are fixing them. Not all campaigns are so unscrupulous, however: What is interesting is that even though none of these are traditional link violations like the anchor text manipulation which led to the downfall of guest posting, but they can nevertheless get you in trouble. Let’s run through the list.

Content commandments

  • Thou shalt not cloak: Cloaking with broken link building usually takes the form of recreating content and then using either the canonical tag or traditional IP delivery techniques to point Googlebot towards a more commercial site. You really aren’t going to get a huge boost out of using this technique, and more importantly, you are missing out on the opportunity to build a genuinely great site. If you are already creating content that’s good enough to form a successful BLB campaign, why not just expose that content on your site? It’s a big risk for a little reward.
  • Thou shalt not plagiarize: Sorry, folks, but you can’t just copy the old site or page off of Archive.org and expect to get away with it. You’re asking for a DMCA complaint. How hard is it to update content? Also, link to the original creator’s website for good measure!
  • Thou shalt not bait and switch: This is just like slow cloaking. Why kill really good content on your site that deserves links, only to redirect to a page that doesn’t? Use BLB as a platform for developing a great, content-rich website.
  • Thou shalt not commit identity theft: This one is really egregious. If you find a whole domain that is now expired, don’t simply recreate the whole site and then send emails from that site as if you are the original owner. Seriously, I can’t believe I have to write this, but I have seen it in the wild.

Outreach commandments

  • Thou shalt not automate sends: The fastest way to kill a campaign is to just send out thousands of automated emails. You will get terrible conversion rates, piss off webmasters, get your IP blacklisted, and waste good prospects. Take your time to hand-select your targets and customize your emails.
  • Thou shalt not send unrelated emails: Not all broken links are good opportunities. Only send emails to prospects whose sites have a good likelihood of playing ball. I have seen campaigns where success rates are 10%+ because the link builder was careful enough in the prospecting process. If you send too many requests to unrelated sites, your deliverability will suffer.
  • Thou shalt not misrepresent: There is no need to lie to your prospect. Don’t pretend to be some kid working on a project or say “I was visiting your site when…”. You will see in the outreach templates below that there are some really strong pitch emails that don’t require you lie. You’ll sleep better at night, and trust me, genuine-sounding emails do a lot better than disingenuous ones.
That is enough for the commandments for now, but let me be clear: You aren’t going to get the same performance bumps with the above techniques that you might have received out of paying for guest blog posts or using manipulated anchor text. There really is no good reason to bastardize the BLB process with these types of techniques. Be good.
Which leads me to the next section:

Advanced prospecting techniques

Section discovery

One of the most important additions to the Broken Link Building Bible is the proper methodology for finding sections within websites that are missing, rather than simply a single page. You can often double or even triple the number of relevant prospecting opportunities by simply using this discovery technique. It is fairly simple; here are the steps when not using BrokenLinkBuilding.com:
  1. Go through the normal procedures of identifying relevant BLB opportunities following the steps outlined in the BLB Bible.
  2. Use a backlink tool like Open Site Explorer to export the Top Pages from the site that has the broken link opportunity. For example, if you found a broken link to http://www.joesite.com/important-page.html, you would want to run a Top Pages report for the joesite.com domain.
  3. Export the results by setting “filter by status codes 400 or greater” (this will pick up both 404s and error pages). Finally, visit the archive.org versions of these pages to see if any are strong opportunities.

And, here are the steps using BrokenLinkBuilding.com:

  1. Click on the list icon next to the opportunity you want to examine for section 404s
  2. Click on the Archive link to look at the archive pages to see if it matches your campaign
  3. [Pro Tip] If you find a great opportunity, mine its backlinks for more broken link opportunities or use it as a URL campaign inside BrokenLinkBuilding.com

Site discovery

The above technique may sometimes reveal entire domains that are 404′d, but often rather than being 404′d they are simply no longer active. Because of this, the sites do not return any error code at all. If you find an entire domain that is 404′d, you have a huge opportunity to reclaim links.
First, a quick note on the ethics we discussed before. If the domain is no longer registered, you have every right to snatch it up. However, I would argue that it is probably not in your best interest to simply redirect this site to yours. I would recommend a different method – one that is likely to pay dividends in a couple of directions.
  1. Register the domain using your valid contact information
  2. Do not re-launch the site
  3. Begin reclaiming links through Broken Link Building like you always have
  4. If and when the original webmaster reaches out to ask why you now own the domain s/he accidentally dropped, offer to transfer it back to them and build a relationship that could earn you a link from that site as well.
This method allows you to protect the asset from others, potentially earn a link from the asset, continue the BLB process, and stay within the BLB commandments. You might be able to squeeze more authority out of it with a redirect, but I doubt Google will give you all the credit.
So, back to the prospecting side. How do we find these types of domains? Well, here we would want to enlist the help of Domain Hunter Plus, a fantastic Chrome Extension that helps you find not only broken links but unregistered domains. Instead of rehashing, a perfectly useful guide
can be found here at PointBlank SEO.

Advanced content creation

In the BLB Old Testament, I didn’t spend enough time talking through what type of content is most likely to succeed with broken link building. It seems straightforward enough that content similar to the broken resource is likely to do well, but is there anything else you can do to improve the success rate? Of course. I will run through a couple of them here…
  • Think Panda: If you have never read through the Panda Questionnaire before, take a look at it here in the section labeled “Briefly: What is the Panda Algorithm“. Your BLB content should try and hit these guidelines with perfect precision. Make sure your content is insightful, well written, thorough, and cleanly designed. Spending extra time with your content will make a huge difference in conversion rate.
  • Be obvious about the publish date: The last thing that a webmaster wants to do is replace one broken link with another. They need to feel confident that the replacement you are offering them won’t get outdated any time soon. The easiest way to do this is make it clear that the content has been updated by a certain date. In fact, I recommend including this in the outreach email, saying something like… “this one was updated recently and seems to cover the same content…”
  • Be thorough: The webmaster you reach out to may only be interested in a small part of the page they once linked to. A giant resource page on cancer may have a specific statistic they are citing, or a description of a particular treatment option. Make sure that your content covers all the bases. Once again, this ties into the outreach itself and explains why the one-to-one email campaigns do better than automated campaigns. If you look at your target’s site before emailing them, you know which sections to point out in the outreach email that show why the new link you propose meets her/his needs.
  • Citations: Unless your site is already a well known and respected brand, chances are you need to build up your credibility a bit before you start asking people to link to your content. Make sure your site is Wikipedia-esque in its outbound linking and citations. You will often find that many of the sites which you are reaching out to actually have great content that you can cite in your own work. Nothing increases the likelihood of a converted outreach email than the webmaster finding their own content properly cited as part of the body of research behind a strong content piece.

Advanced outreach


This is often the go-to template for broken link building. It is quick, easy, and effective. However, I wouldn’t use it on your highest-value prospects. If there is a really good opportunity, jump to the long-form and spend some time crafting a thoughtful email. Here is what it looks like…
  • Subject: found a broken link on ##page##
  • Body: Just wanted to let you know there is a broken link to ##broken## on your page ##page##. Found this instead ##replacement##. Might want to fix it.
And that is it. Short and simple. Of course, you would want to replace the ##page##, ##broken## and ##replacement## with the page that has the broken link, the broken link, and your replacement link respectively.


The long form is very effective for high value prospects and is worth your time and effort. Generally speaking, there are 3 parts to an effective long-form outreach template…
  1. Inbox justification
  2. Custom pitch
  3. Thank you
Let’s run through these really quickly…
  1. Inbox Justification: Go ahead and get out on the table why you are emailing the webmaster. They don’t know who you are and the least you can do is offer them early on a reason to read your email. Don’t lie. You don’t have to say “I was reading your website and I found…”. Just say something to the effect of: “Hi, I am ##name## and I noticed that you have a broken link to ##broken resource name## (##broken resource link##) on your ##page name## (##page url##).” No need to mention the replacement yet.
  2. Personal Touch: Here is where you explain why your replacement is a good fit and why you are personally invested in it. Go ahead and say if you are the business owner. If you created excellent content, there is nothing to be ashamed of! Tell them why you care about people finding the right content and how yours improves upon the one you are replacing. Give them a reason to believe if they add your link that it will stay updated for the long haul. Normally, you want to touch 3 main points: it’s new and improved, it’s here for the long run, and you are personally invested in guaranteeing that.
  3. Thank You: Finally, be cordial and grateful that someone took the time out of their day to read your email. Don’t just say “thanks,” but actually express some gratitude for not hitting the delete button the second it showed up in their inbox. You’d be surprised, but genuine thankfulness is so rare in emails these days that many people are shocked to just have someone be nice. Honestly, when is the last time you wrote an email where the send off was something more than “thx” or just your name?
Long story short, the long form can be far more effective, so use it for your top prospects every time. Once you get good at it, you will see your conversions jump dramatically.

Double tap

The double tap is the follow-up method for either the short form or long form. If you haven’t heard back from a webmaster (give it a week or so) and it is a high value prospect, send a second email from a different account but don’t make a recommendation for a replacement. Just point out that the link is broken. A lot of webmasters blow off the first email because one broken link doesn’t seem like a big problem. However, if multiple users indicate that it is a problem, it will draw their attention. Here is a quick pro-tip. In the follow-up email, don’t say the page that the broken link is on, just say they have a broken link pointing to ##brokenpage##. This will send them searching through their inbox for that email they ignored before which had all the information.

Slow play

The reverse of the double tap is the slow play. The slow play involves first sending an email that simply says “you have a broken link to ##page##”. These types of emails likely result in a response like… “what page did you find it on?”. You then have an in to say something like… “Hold on a second… yeah, the broken link to ##broken## is on ##page##, I actually just put up a replacement here ##replacement##”. This methodology is particularly good if you aren’t comfortable leading with the content pitch. Unfortunately, it does require more effort.

The bandwagon

Sometimes all a webmaster needs to hear is that their competitors are delivering when they are not. It can seem odd that you so easily found a replacement for their broken link, but if you explain to the webmaster that you found the replacement
on a competitor’s website, they will be more likely to add it so more of their users don’t end up with a better experience on the competitor’s resource page. Of course, make sure that you actually score a link from the competitor’s website first before you start using that in an email. Otherwise you are likely to get called out and, frankly, it would be a violation of the ethical guidelines we discussed earlier.


I’d like to conclude with some thoughts on the future of Broken Link Building. The technique has been around in one form or another for over a decade now. It has slowly grown to become more scalable with improved prospecting and outreach tools. However, it has never exploded like other link building fads because…

  1. There is a limited, although renewable, supply of opportunities
  2. Content creation is often necessary for success
  3. Quality drives conversion rates

The shortcuts just aren’t the same; they’re the very shortcuts that tend to get us in trouble with Google. I want you to think about Broken Link Building just like you might think of a natural resource. Let’s use it wisely. There is plenty to go around.

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September 24, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

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