Do Website Engagement Rates Impact Organic Rankings?

Posted by larry.kim

[Estimated read time: 11 minutes]

Your organic click-through rate is ridiculously important. While it may not be a direct ranking signal that’s even part of Google’s core algorithm, I believe CTR is an indirect signal that definitely impacts rank. And if you improve your click-through rate, you should see your rankings and conversions improve.

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Although having a high organic CTR is crucial, having positive website engagement metrics is even more critical. What value is there in getting hundreds or thousands of people to click on your brilliant headlines if those people don’t stick around for more than a few seconds?

If Google values dwell time, is there a way to see it? YES! Today I’ll share some data that shows the relationship between engagement rates (such as bounce rate and time on site) and rankings.

One important note before we get started: Please don’t focus too much on the absolute bounce rate and time on site figures discussed in this article. We are only looking at figures for one particular vertical. The minimum expected engagement will vary by industry and query type.

Does Google measure dwell time? How is that different from bounce rate & time on site?

Yes. We know Google measures dwell time, or how much time a visitor actually spends on a page before returning to the SERPs.

In 2011, Google announced a new option that allowed us to block domains from appearing in our search results. If you clicked on a result and then returned to the SERP from the website within a few seconds, Google’s blocked sites feature would appear. Clicking it would let you block all results from that site.

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Google told us they would study the data and considered using it as a ranking signal.

Although that feature is no longer with us, we know it was based on whether (and how quickly) you bounced back. So we know Google is definitely measuring dwell time.

The problem is, we don’t have a way to measure dwell time. However, we can measure three engagement metrics that are proportional to and directionally equivalent to dwell time: bounce rate, time on site, and conversion rate.

Does Bounce Rate Impact Organic Position?

OK, let’s get the official Google line out of the way. Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted the following in 2015: “we don’t use analytics/bounce rate in search ranking.” Matt Cutts said similar in the past. Pretty clear, right?

However, I’m not saying that bounce rate is used as a direct ranking factor. And Google definitely doesn’t need Google Analytics to compute dwell time. What I believe is that, in some Rube Goldbergian way, bounce rate does in fact (indirectly) impact rankings.

Does the data back that up? We looked to see if the bounce rate of the pages/keywords we were ranking for had any relationship to their ranking. Check out this graph:

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This is very peculiar. Notice the “kink” between positions 4 and 5? In mathematical terms, this is called a “discontinuous function.” What’s happening here?

Well, it seems like for this particular keyword niche, as long as you have a low bounce rate (below 76 percent) then you’re more likely to show up in positions 1 through 4. However, if your bounce rate is higher (above 78 percent), then you’re much less likely to show up in those coveted top 4 positions.

Am I saying bounce rate is part of the core search algorithm Google uses? No.

But I think there’s definitely a relationship between bounce rate and rankings. Looking at that graph, it leads me to believe that it’s no accident — but in fact algorithmic in nature.

My guess is that algorithms use user engagement as a validation method. Think of it more like a “check” on click-through rates within the existing algorithm that hasn’t been quantified.

Undoubtedly, click-through rates can be gamed. For example, I could promise you the digital equivalent of free beer and have a ridiculously high click-through rate.

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Image via Fox.

But if there’s no free beer to be had, most (if not all) of that traffic will bounce right back.

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Image via Fox.

So I believe Google is measuring dwell time (which is proportional to bounce rate) to check whether websites getting high CTRs actually deserve it and if the clicks are indeed valid, or if it’s just click bait.

One other question this discussion obviously raises is: do higher rankings cause higher engagement rates, as opposed to the other way around? Or could both of these be caused by some a completely unrelated factor?

Well, unless you work at Google (and even then!) you may never know all the secrets of Google’s algorithm. There are things we know we don’t know!

Regardless, improving user engagement metrics, like bounce rate, will still have its own benefits. A lower bounce rate is just an indicator of success, not a guarantee of it.

Does time on site impact organic position?

Now let’s look at time on site, another metric we can measure that is proportional to dwell time. This graph also has a “kink” in the curve:

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It’s easy to see that if your keyword/content pairs have decent time on site, then you’re more likely to be in top organic positions 1–6. If engagement is weak on average, however, then you’re more likely to be in positions 7 or lower.

Interestingly, you get no additional points after you cross a minimum threshold of time on site. Even if people are spending 2 hours on your site, it doesn’t matter. I think you’ve passed Google’s test — passing it by even more doesn’t result in any additional bonus points.

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Image via Fox.

Larry’s Theory: Google uses dwell time — which we can’t measure, but is proportional to user engagement metrics like bounce rate, time on site, and conversion rates — to validate click-through rates. These metrics help Google figure out whether users ultimately got what they were looking for.

Conversion rates: The ultimate metric

So now let’s talk about conversion rates. We know that higher click-through rates typically translate into higher conversion rates:

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If you can get people really excited about clicking on something, that excitement typically carries through to a purchase or sign-up.

So what we need is an Engagement Rate Unicorn/Donkey Detector, to detect high and low engagement rates.

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Before we go any further, we need to know: what is a good conversion rate?

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On average across all industries, site-wide conversion rate for a website is around 2 percent (the donkeys), while conversion rates for the top 10 percent of websites (the unicorns) get 11 percent and above. While absolute conversion rates vary wildly by industry, unicorns always outperform donkeys by 3–5x regardless of industry.

Remember, conversion rates are a very important success metric because you get the most value (you actually captured leads, sold your product, got people to sign up for your newsletter, or visitors did whatever else it was you wanted them to do), which means the user found what they were looking for.

How do you turn conversion rate donkeys into unicorns?

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Image via Fox.

The way you don’t get there is by making little changes. The difference between donkeys and unicorns is so huge. If you want to increase your conversion rates by 3x to 5x, then small, incremental changes of 2 or 3 percent usually won’t cut it.

What should you do?

1. Change your offer (in a BIG way)

Rather than A/B testing button color or image changes, you might be better off trashing your current offer and doing a new one.

Ask yourself: Why in the world are 98 percent of the people who see your offer not taking you up on it? Well, it’s probably because your offer sucks.

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Image via Fox.

What can you offer that will resonate enough that +10 percent of people would be excited about signing up for it or buying it on the spot?

Be open-minded. The answer is probably something adjacent to what you’re currently doing.

For example, for my own company, five years ago our primary offer was to sign up for a trial of our software. It was somewhat complicated, people had to learn how to use the software, and not everyone made it through the process.

Then I had an epiphany: Why don’t I just grade people’s accounts without having them do a trial of our PPC management software, and just give them a report card? That increased my conversion and engagement rates by 10x, and the gains persisted over time. There is much more leverage in changing the offer versus, say, the image on an existing offer.

2. Use Facebook Ads

You can influence users even before they do searches. Brand awareness creates a bias in people’s minds which has a ridiculously huge impact on user engagement signals. We can do this with Facebook Ads.

You want to promote inspirational, compelling, memorable content to your target market. Although they’ll consume your content, they won’t convert to leads and sales right away. Remember, love takes time.

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Image via Fox.

Rather, your goal is to bias them so in the future they’ll do a search for your product. If it’s an unbranded search, having been exposed to your marketing materials in the past, they’ll be more likely to click on and choose you now.

Facebook and many other vendors have conducted lift studies that prove that Facebook ads impact clicks and conversions you’ll get from paid and organic search.

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You won’t get away with promoting junk. You have to promote your unicorns.

For this, we’ll use Facebook’s:

  • Interest-Based Targeting to reach people who are likely to search for the things you’re selling.
  • Demographic Targeting to reach people who are likely to search for the stuff you’re selling, maybe within the next month.
  • Behavioral Targeting to reach the people who buy stuff that is related to the stuff you’re selling.

For example, let’s say you’re a florist or jeweler. You can target Facebook ads at people who will celebrate an anniversary within the next 30 days.

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Why would you want to do this? Because you know these people will be searching for keywords relating to flowers and jewelry soon. That’s how you can start biasing them to get them to have happy thoughts about your business, increasing the likelihood that they’ll click on you, but more importantly, convert.

It’s not just Facebook. You can also buy image display ads on Google’s Display Network. You can use Custom Affinity Audiences to target people who have searched on keywords you’re interested in, but didn’t click through to your site (or you can specify certain categories related to your business).

3. Remarketing

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Image via Fox.

People are busy and have short attention spans. If you aren’t using remarketing, essentially you’re investing a ton of time and money into your SEO and marketing efforts just to get people to visit one time. That’s crazy.

You want to make sure the people who gave you a look to see what your site was about never forget you so that subsequent searches always go your way. You want them to stay engaged and convert.

Remarketing greatly impacts engagement metrics like dwell time, conversion rate, and time on site because people are more familiar with you, which means they’re more likely to be engaged with you for longer.

There’s a reason we spent nearly a million dollars on remarketing last year. Investing in remarketing:

  • Boosted repeat visits by 50 percent.
  • Increased conversions by 51 percent.
  • Grew average time-on-site by 300 percent.

These are huge numbers for a minimal investment (display ads average around for 1,000 views).

It’s your job to convert or squeeze as much money as you can from people who are already in the market for what you sell. So use remarketing to increase brand familiarity and increase user engagement metrics, while simultaneously turning the people who bounced off your site in the past into leads now.

4. Clean up your bad neighborhoods!

If you’ve tried all of the above (and other ways to improve engagement rates) and still have bad neighborhoods on your websites that have low CTR and/or user engagement rates — just delete them. Why?

I believe that terrible engagement metrics will lead to a death spiral where your site gets less clicks, less leads, less sales, and even lower rankings. And who wants that?

Now, I don’t have any proof of this, but the software engineer in me suspects that it would be very difficult for Google to compute engagement rates for every keyword/page combination on the Internet. They would need to lean on a “domain-level engagement score” to fall back on in the event that more granular data wasn’t available. Google does something conceptually similar in AdWords by having both account-level and keyword-level Quality Scores. It’s also similar to how many believe that Google considers links pointing to your domain and also individual pages on your site when computing organic rankings (a moment of silence for our beloved Google PageRank Toolbar). Dumping your very worst neighborhoods — only if all attempts to resuscitate have failed miserably — would, in theory, raise a domain-level score, if it existed.

Obviously better CTRs, higher engagement rates, and improved conversion rates lead to more leads and sales. But I also believe that improvement in these metrics will lead to better organic search rankings, creating a virtuous cycle of even more clicks and conversions.

Conclusion

It’s becoming increasingly clear that organic CTR matters. But you might not realize that high CTRs with low engagement rates aren’t that meaningful.

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Image via Fox.

So no cheap tricks, guys! Don’t invest in sites that specialize in gaming your click-through rates. Even though they might work now to an extent, they won’t work well in the future. Google is good at fighting click fraud on ad networks, so you can expect them to apply those same learnings to fight organic search click fraud.

I would prioritize click-through rate and conversion rate (or engagement) optimization at the very top of the most impactful on-page-SEO efforts.

At the very least you’ll get more conversions. But if I’m right, you’ll not only get more conversions, but you’ll get better rankings, which will lead to more conversions and even better rankings.

So use the tactics and strategies from this post to diagnose your engagement rates, and then start optimizing them!

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June 9, 2016  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Revisiting Digital Marketing Cornerstones: 140-Character Tips from Marketers

Posted by Bill.Sebald

There’s no shortage of advice on the Internet. This holds especially true in digital marketing; after all, we’re the folks who came up with “content is king,” right? If we weren’t the inventors, we clearly co-opted it.

I’ve been wanting to write a piece that takes us back to the roots of digital marketing. A reminder of sorts; one that might serve to snap some marketers out of the mundane daze of their daily grunt work. I wanted to inspire a vacation from hanging out in the weeds, which unfortunately can be common for some digital marketing practitioners. Falling into tactics and routine processes without any deviation certainly feels like grunt work — something that marketing should never be.

In reality, there’s still plenty of life left in classic digital marketing advice. Like music or meals, sometimes the basics still have plenty of flavor left. Maybe you simply have to challenge yourself to hold onto your roots.

So, I decided a great place to collect this general advice is the platform that still hangs onto 140 characters — Twitter. I wasn’t looking for anything too specific or particular, just cornerstone digital marketing advice. I posted a few repeated tweets requesting the following:

Next, I’m going to share some of the fantastic responses and expand upon them. Thanks to everyone who helped me out with their responses.


Marie Haynes

This is a great tweet to kick things off. My mind immediately goes to the concept of 10x content, of which Rand is a big proponent. Want to be the best option for searchers? Be the best solution. (Wow, that makes it sound awfully simple!)

But it’s true; this translates from the written word to business, and frankly, to life in general. Or what about The Immutable Laws Of Marketing, where not only being the best — but being perceived as the best — would help you fit into the The Law of Perception, among others classic concepts.

Here’s a quote I’ve always believed: “Perception is reality.” I find it really tough to argue. Even if you think you’re a stud, it doesn’t mean a thing if your customers do not. Using your own company as an example, you could compete by putting together one hell of a PR game, or you could genuinely build a practice that does the talking for you. If you’re an agency or consultant getting repeat business and having success through referrals, you’re doing something right.

Han Solo said it best: “Don’t get cocky, kid. A strong perception will fade if you don’t maintain it with consistently high value.” He may not have said the last part.


John Doherty

In my opinion, the heyday of SEO was very much a tactical time. It was a land of scalability and, well, a lexicon of spammy tactics. We spoke and wrote about SEO strategies, but we were often only discussing tactics.

But Google made some significant changes to offset the value of many standalone tactics. Google didn’t want to be manipulated by SEOs — they wanted to be influenced by valuable websites. I believe we’re still very much in a rebirth of SEO, and I’m completely in agreement with John — true strategic partnerships are the most valuable SEO relationship you can have today.

Tactics are components of a strategy, built upon a hypothesis and goals, and including milestones. It’s a bigger picture, but an accountable one as well. Being a strategic thinker is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be practiced. I would suspect (and I’ll bet John will agree) that the most success in 2016 will come from those consultants and agencies who master the multi-stepped, multi-faceted, data-driven strategy. And those who have the ability to help their clients execute and implement in parallel.


Steve Hammer

Damon Gochneaur

Several interesting points here from Steve and Damon. First, measure what really matters to the client. If it’s not revenue, it’s certainly some form of ROI. Let’s be honest: as digital marketers, notably SEOs, this is a serious challenge.

Reporting on rankings and traffic is easy. We have software with report “export” options, but we’re not hired to be button pushers. In actuality, we are hired to help our clients hit their KPIs, while muddling through a plane of limited visibility through search referrals and unpublished Google metrics. How did we get ourselves into this?

Being goal-oriented is everything. In my opinion, some of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself are:

  • Why is this particular task (or strategy) worth doing?
  • How do I measure it?
  • What are the metrics I can use to show my client we had an impact?

More often than I’d prefer to admit, I hear from prospects who say, “I don’t know what my last SEO company really did.” That’s shocking to me. Why would a client keep an SEO company who failed to communicate up to the required level? But at the end of the day, even if it takes longer than it should, the client does ultimately end up leaving if they don’t get what they want. Business 101.

Last, “expect to get fired every time you talk to a client” is truly an interesting one (and one I’ll be stealing). I love it. If you want your client for the long term, try to impress them every time. Have you ever rescued a sour client relationship? It’s tough being behind the 8-ball. Treat every opportunity like it’s your last. That should keep you honest.


Nick LeRoy

One of the most beautiful things about digital marketing is the ability to capture loads of data. In the old days, someone sat next to a billboard and clicked a counter as cars drove by, with no sense of engagement or demographics. Now we are so data-rich that going into the campaign creation stage without due diligence is almost negligent. While Google does keep plenty of juicy metrics a secret, we still have client analytics, log files, and even fairly accurate competitor data (a la SEMrush).

At Greenlane, any time we create a campaign for a client, hours of data gathering and looking for stories precedes the actual strategy creation. Does this guarantee success? No. Does it improve the odds? Yes – a helluva lot. A “data-first” position is what the most seasoned marketers adopt, but it should simply be something everyone – no matter how experienced – should adopt. For some right-brained marketers, reading numbers like words it’s a skill you need to learn and practice.


Jeff Gibbard

This is a great point. We’re in the relationship business. This makes us an important line of defense/offense when needed, a challenging partner, and a safe pair of hands to rely upon. When your point-person sees you as a partner, you have an agent defending your honor when it’s time for internal budget reviews. Who’s the first to get fired? The consultant… unless that consultant does amazing work and is beloved.

Plus, the more frequent the communication, the better the intelligence gathering becomes. How many times have you talked with a client and the conversation took an unexpected turn?

Here’s an example. An SEO finds themselves talking about an email campaign they knew nothing about. The SEO started to learn about all this content that the email team was creating based on A/B tests. The SEO learned about stockpiles of great content that never appeared anywhere but in customers’ inboxes. This SEO found the motherlode, even though the call was originally about URL structures. (This is a true story. My name was removed to protect my identity).

These conversations are gold, and don’t happen often if you’re not speaking on a routine basis. Enjoy the communication.


Mark Kennedy

Are you someone willing to mix it up with a client, or are you just trying to placate them? We’re not here to let our clients eat Big Macs, folks. We’re being hired to tell them there’s over 500 calories in that hamburger, and give them reasons why they should or shouldn’t eat it. Our job is to empower clients with what we’ve learned in the steps we’ve taken before. I proudly tell new prospects that “we will fight for our ideas if we really believe them to be the best.” I’ve never had anyone reject us for that statement that I know of. Even if they have, I’d argue that we probably dodged a bullet ourselves.


Corey Eulas

The “Keep It Simple, Stupid” Principle. It’s a great principal in marketing, especially in design and usability. But I agree with Corey that the same holds true with digital marketing.

A fantastic way to balance your relationship with the client is to understand what level of complexity they want. Do they want massive amounts of data, or would some visualization help them get the point faster?

I love our attorneys (said nobody ever, and this is from a guy whose ex-wife is a divorce attorney). They’re great at expediting a phone meeting, giving us just what we need, and executing on follow ups. I hate law and don’t understand most of it. But when we have a need, they do a fantastic job of relaying it to me in my language. It’s an incredibly important trait of any service provider. As I am with tax law, most of our clients are the same with SEO. Keep it simple.

Albert Einstein said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” It’s a balance which brings valuable results.


Chad Lio

I like this a lot. It’s the advice I give many clients who either have relatively young websites or aggressive competition. SEO is organic — start with a few sectional wins, and Google will start noticing your website as a whole. The niche (sometimes within the niche) is often areas of lower competition and higher opportunity. Hit those areas hard. Get a good footing there and create a roadmap for expansion.

Let’s say you’re an eCommerce site who sells nothing but buttons. Looking at Google’s Keyword Planner, “Mother of Pearl Buttons” (whatever they are) has a search volume of 880 monthly estimated searches. Not a huge number, but pretty high for a small niche campaign. Showing your customers and Google that you’re the master of Mother of Pearl Buttons is really not above the reach of even the smallest company. You will live in infamy, kind of.


Dan Kern

Here’s an analogy I occasionally use when talking to prospects who are thinking of merely dabbling with SEO for a only a brief period.

“SEO is like a big game of King of the Mountain. On your mountain, you have many aggressive competitors all climbing towards the top. Someone will always get there. Then, without warning, Google might make a change and knock away all your progress, starting you at the bottom again. Not guaranteed, but this can happen to the other climbers as well. You have two choices: quit the game, or play to win in this routine scenario. SEO is a game that’s not for the weak of heart. But keep in mind, when you do win, your rewards should offset all your losses.”

That analogy either produces excitement or pause, and I think this is important. We should encourage our clients to understand the true rules of engagement with SEO.


Phil Nottingham

Without a doubt, this is my favorite piece of advice in the entire article. I think it speaks for itself. I’ll be at MozCon this year, so everyone can feel free to take Phil’s advice.

How about you? Any nuggets of advice you’d want to add? Sound off in the comments.

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June 8, 2016  Tags: , , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Optimizing for Accessibility + SEO: Images, Video and Non-Text Elements

Posted by Laura.Lippay

[Estimated read time: 12 minutes]

(header photo is the search result for “scene” in the Blind Photographers Flickr photo pool.)

In the first two posts in this series we covered site and page structure overlaps, and formatting and linking overlaps. In this final post we’ll cover accessibility and SEO overlaps when coding for media elements.

Images and non-text elements

As you can imagine, images online can be problematic for visually impaired visitors to decipher, but luckily we’re using technology here so you and I can help solve that issue with the proper coding on and around images and non-text elements.

Some examples of images and non-text elements are:

  • Images, including graphs and charts, word art, decorative and background images, webcam images, photographs
  • Infographics
  • Image maps
  • Animations
  • Graphical buttons
  • Captchas

Here are some of the things you can optimize around images and non-text elements for better accessibility.

Alt attributes

Image alt attributes in SEO are used to describe to search bots what the image is or what the image points to if the image is a link. If a link, the alt attribute acts like keyword anchor text, helping Google understand the context of the destination page.

Alt attributes on images are also read by screen readers. Here’s a quick example:

Alt attributes are a win-win optimization for accessibility and SEO, but there are some things to keep in mind, particularly these first two items below, when optimizing alt attributes for screen readers.

Alt attribute do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t use alt attributes on decorative images: Decorative images of clouds on your health insurance website are not a hook for getting image search traffic and are not useful in providing context to screen readers. A decorative image can still look dreamy to sighted users but not get in the way of navigating through the page for visually impaired users by keeping the alt attribute as alt=”” (null), or by making it a background image.
  • Don’t use alt when there’s also a text link: If the image is a link and there is link text next to the image, both pointing to the same destination, the screen reader will read both and it sounds repetitive and weird. Use alt=”” (null) for the image alt and keep the anchor text pointing to the destination page about the topic. This may be contested by SEOs who want to put the alt attributes on the image to help it rank in image search. What I’d recommend in a case like this one is to use the alt attributes on the images on the destination page, since that’s the page you’d want to appear in SERPS anyway (probably a great topic to debate more in the comments).
  • Do keep it short or use captions: There are some traces of recommendations around the web that the JAWS screen reader doesn’t do well with alt attributes over 125 characters. Whether that’s true or not, it’s more user-friendly to keep alt attributes short. If you’d like to understand why, add a screen reader extension to your browser (like ChromeVox for Chrome or Fangs for Firefox) and navigate around a page with images that have long alt attributes. If you have a lot to say about an image, put it in caption text or describe it in text on the page instead of in the alt.
  • Don’t keyword stuff — write naturally. Let’s consider the health insurance website with decorative cloud images example again. An SEO may see five decorative cloud images on a landing page as five opportunities to stuff “health insurance, health insurance tools, health tools” etc. into the alt attributes. Don’t do it. It’s not only noise to screen readers, it can be confusing and annoying. Plus, realistically, no one is doing image searches for “health insurance” — and even if they were, the chances of them clicking on a picture of clouds in search results expecting to get what they’re looking for is pretty slim. Similarly, make sure your alt attributes are descriptive and make sense — write them for people, not just a bunch of keywords for bots.

Image captioning

Google can segment text near an image to attribute that text to the image and even create its own captions; therefore, text near an image can help provide context and could affect rankings. Image captioning also provides context for screen readers, often providing more context than an alt attribute might, or in place of an alt attribute if one is not known at the time of upload.

Image captioning do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t use alt attribute if there is an image caption. Similar to the anchor text link, describing an image via alt attributes and a caption can be repetitive. This could also be a debatable practice, as SEOs would likely want to use both. In that case, consider how it will read by a screen reader that reads both a caption and an alt attribute, and try to make the best decision that will work for both
  • Do describe what you’re captioning. For example, use “Figure 1:” so that this captioning tag is properly understood by people using assistive technologies that may not recognize the tag.
  • Optional: Do use a <figcaption> tag: <figure> with <figcaption> tags can be applied to images or other page elements. Figcaption isn’t necessarily a known tag to optimize for SEO and they aren’t a must-do for screen readers, but it sounds like Google does try to index the text within a tag whether it recognizes the tag or not, and despite figcaption’s variable readability by screen readers, the text may be considered as a related element to an image for screen readers and hopefully helpful nonetheless.

Text-as-images

The reasons to avoid text as images are similar for SEO as accessibility: Simply avoid text within an image if you want the text to be able to be machine-read. Text as an image is also not always ideal for people needing to use magnifiers, since magnifying text in an image can be pixelated and hard to read.

Text-as-images do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t use text as images for important information. If you must use text as an image, do use an alt attribute to describe the image text if it’s something that should be read by search bots and screen readers.
  • Do consider styling actual text as an alternative. If you need your text to look a certain way, style it using HTML + CSS or use SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics).

Infographics

Infographics have historically been popular among SEOs for attracting links that boost rankings. SEOs may also want to provide on-page context of the infographic and its parts to search engines.

For accessibility, the idea is to be able to easily determine what the infographic portrays. Screen readers, unlike search engines, can’t determine the infographic page’s context by using the link text and page content of the hundreds of pages linking to your infographic. For screen readers it’s all up to the on-page code signals, and you can imagine that describing a complex infographic would be weighty for an alt attribute. Also consider the use of color for colorblind users or the problem we encounter with text as images (not “readable,” scales pixelated) that we covered in part 2.

There is not a simple <infographic> tag that lets you add a lengthy, thorough description of the infographic like a long alt attribute (although you can consider longdesc below). Rather, I’d recommend you test out these tactics below to see what works best for you and your particular situation:

Infographic do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t describe the whole thing in an alt attribute. It’s terribly user-unfriendly for screen readers (can’t navigate through the text, copy or paste it, etc). Use alts as they’re meant to be used, and choose another method for long descriptions.
  • Do adhere to color contrast requirements. Plan ahead when thinking about color for your infographic, and use colors that meet the minimum color contrast requirements. Use this tool to help you out.
  • Do consider ARIA-describedby. This ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Application) attribute is read in addition to alt text on an image, and allows for a long description. Here’s a video example. Note that because describedby is announced in addition to image alt text, this can be repetitive.
  • The longdesc attribute: This image attribute allows you to provide a machine-readable link to long descriptions for images (either within the page or on a separate page), but isn’t well-supported and to my knowledge also isn’t a working SEO technique.
  • Do consider hidden text alternates: See the example in the previous post of an image infographic provided as an easily shareable piece within an iFrame with indexable text hidden in a CSS clip in the iFrame HTML.
  • Do create your infographic using CSS: This is a great solution. Below are two pages with the same infographic and how each of them look cached in Google. One is an image file with the text and links on the page below it. The other is an infographic with indexable text and links created via HTML + CSS.

Left: Infographic as image (the page also provides the infographic text on the page).

Right: Infographic provided as HTML styled with CSS (source here).

Left: image infographic. Right: HTML infographic.

You’ll notice they look incredibly similar.

Let’s look at the code. Here’s Google’s cache of the infographic text content of each page.

Top: Google cache (partial) of infographic text provided on the image infographic page.

Bottom: Google cache (partial) of infographic text in the infographic on the CSS infographic page.

Google cache (partial) of infographic text provided on the image infographic page

Google cache (partial) of infographic text in the infographic on the CSS infographic page.

Both provide indexable and screen readable solutions. The CSS version does it without having to also duplicate the information in text on the page for sighted visitors.

You may have noticed the CSS version also adds helpful invisible display:none section headers, which are seen by the screen readers but not visible in the infographic. See more on hidden text in the previous post.

Image & non-text element tools & resources

Video transcription, subtitling, and captioning

Video transcription

Video transcription is the text of the video provided alongside the video. Video transcription is helpful to hearing-impaired visitors who can’t hear the video, or to interpret words for people watching something in another language or strong accents. It’s also helpful to anyone watching a video with sound that’s tough to hear, when watching video in a loud room, or when you need to watch with no sound.

Similarly for search engines, video transcripts describe the content of a video via text.

Video subtitling and captioning

Subtitles and captioning provide time-synced text along with a video while it plays. Subtitles provide the dialogue, while captioning provides the dialogue and also describes other sounds like music, sound effects and speaker identification.

Options for providing text accompaniments for your video content include:

  • Add the transcript as text on the page. You can simply add the transcription as text on the same page as the video, like this example of the coral reef video text below the video on the page. You can type up the transcript yourself or use tools or services to do this for you (see resources section).
  • HTML5 <video> and <track>. The HTML5 <track> tag on a <video> or <audio> element allows you to add video to your page and specify a .vtt text file with your transcription text. From what I can tell, Google can index .vtt files, but I don’t see any clear examples of Google associating a .vtt text file with the page that sources it for the video.
  • Add an interactive transcript. Use a service that creates an interactive transcript, where the transcript is time-synced and can be used as navigation through the video, like these timed transcript TED talks.
  • YouTube transcripts, subtitles, and closed captions are automated by YouTube to various degrees of accuracy, but they’re incredibly convenient if you’re putting your video on YouTube. The automated transcription must be checked, though — it’s especially bad with accents, background noise, or this awesome example of YouTube’s automated transcript of a video of the ChromeVox screen reader that, in the video, reads “image. Spacer image. Image. Caption icon off image. Internal link. Privacy slash security. Link. Sponsor image. Search index page description” but is transcribed as “en españa en carnac o móviles en china se dirigen al cómico jim carrey algo”.

Screenshot of YouTube transcribing a video showing ChromeVox navigation as Spanish language text

Video accessibility do’s and don’ts:

  • Do provide video (and/or audio) transcripts. The time and effort it takes to provide text alternatives can help search engines and various viewers needing a text accompaniment to understand the content.
  • Do upload or correct YouTube transcripts & captions: YouTube’s automated transcripts are convenient but usually weird and wrong, and therefore need to be edited for correctness. Having the correct text is helpful for your transcript-dependent viewers and, when search engines do index the transcript text, that text content can help surface the video page in search results.
  • Do provide context. When it makes sense (especially in closed captioning), indicate speaker names, and other sound context like music, relevant sounds, laughing, cheering, shouting, crying, etc.
  • Don’t spam. Don’t use transcripts for keyword stuffing. It’s a terrible user experience, and depending on your platform, a transcript may not be indexed by search engines anyway, so keep it real.

Video accessibility tools & resources

Recap & thank you’s

In case you missed the previous posts, here’s what we’ve covered:

And I want to extend a huge thank you to the folks below for taking the time for fact-checking, providing references, for some great discussions while creating this series, and for their commitment to making the web accessible. THANK YOU!

Ted Drake (website | twitter)

Ryan Burgess (website | twitter)

Vincent François (website | twitter)

Jennifer Sutton (website | twitter)

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June 7, 2016  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Here’s How to Keep 301 Redirects from Ruining Your SEO

Posted by LoganRay

[Estimated read time: 7 minutes]

Every SEO knows 301 redirects are necessary from time to time. But are they affecting your other optimization efforts by slowing down page load time? Or are they sending bots on a wild goose chase? How many 301s are out there that you don’t need anymore?

Before I jump into this list, let me take you back to where this started: I was in a development meeting for one of our clients. This meeting had nothing to do with SEO. But, as usual, the discussion quickly sparked a few SEO considerations.

This client, a manufacturer of home goods, is particularly sensitive about the load time of their site, and rightfully so. They’ve got a lot of hi-resolution imagery on their site; therefore, every possible measure to minimize load time must be taken.

One of the proposed initiatives to cut load time was removing all 301 redirects. That got my attention.

There was no way I was going to let that happen. I knew some of their redirects were necessary for — well, scratch that. I wasn’t sure how valuable they were or how many people were hitting them. I had no quantitative data to support my position.

I convinced them to leave all redirects in place until a viable solution was put in place. I obviously needed to collect some data to demonstrate how important 301 redirects can be. But how was I going to identify which ones needed to stay?

I wanted a solution that would provide the data in a format that we (as the marketers/analysts) could easily access without stepping on the toes of development or IT.

Google Analytics was the obvious choice. As I was hashing out the solution for the redirect removal conundrum (details on this in No. 3 below), I noticed several other items that were affecting the load time of this site: internal links pointing to outdated URLs (which had then been 301’ed) and rel=canonicals with 301’ed URLs.

Basically, every redirect-related issue that could exist did.

After fixing these issues, we were able to effectively decrease the redirection time of the site.

The development team was stoked, the SEO team was excited that our (necessary] 301s got to stay, and the client was thrilled with load time.

These changes were put into place between July and August of 2015. I think the results speak for themselves:

574dc5d65faa40.18073611.jpg

Here are the four ways redirects could be hurting your SEO efforts:

1. You have redirect chains
2. Your internal linking steps through redirects
3. You have unnecessary 301s
4. You have canonical tags that 301

1. You have redirect chains

Let’s start out with a simple definition: A redirect chain is a series of redirects that go from one URL after another, forcing people and search engines to wait until there are no more redirects to step through. Here’s an example: www.mysite.com/responsive redirects to www.mysite.com/responsive-web-design, which then redirects to www.mysite.com/rwd.

Of course, we all know the implication this has on passing authority. For every step in a redirect chain, about 10% of authority is lost. But it’s also important to acknowledge how this would drastically increase page load time and decrease the overall quality of your site. A standard single-step redirect is already having an impact on your load time, then add to that the fact that some redirects may be going through multiple iterations just to call one URL.

It’s no surprise that 301s stack up over time and create these chains: You put in this redirect, your coworker adds another, and a few months later you stack another one on top. These things happen.

So how do you identify these chains? Luckily, our friends at Screaming Frog have built ridiculously simple feature into their tool that tracks down redirect chains and outputs them in a report. Here’s how to use it:

  • Run a full site crawl with Screaming Frog
  • Go to > Reports > Redirect Chains

574dc5d6ca6969.81355642.jpg

That’s it. Seriously.

Analyzing which ones you need to fix is slightly more involved than pulling the report. The only thing that makes this more difficult is the fact that ALL of the links on your site are factored in. This means that if you link out to another site and they’ve got a chain in place, it finds that as well (see red highlighting in the screenshot below). One of the common themes of URL types I’ve seen here is social sharing URLs; they change frequently, so they’ll need to be filtered out of the report. In column B, identify your own domain (see green highlighting) and remove all the other rows.

574dc5d7374d19.24218699.jpg

Once this is done, it’s pretty smooth sailing and you can update your 301 redirects to remove those unnecessary steps. Don’t send them to your dev or IT team yet, though. Keep reading for more useful nuggets.

2. Your internal linking steps through redirects

The second way redirects could be hurting your SEO efforts is via internal links pointing to URLs that are redirected elsewhere.

To get a handle on what’s going on with your site, follow these simple tips:

  • Visit the Google Search Console and download the full list of your internal links.
  • Go to Search Traffic > Internal Links and click the “Download this Table” button. Once you’ve done that, open the doc and use the concatenate function in Excel to append your domain to the beginning of those URL strings.

Once you have that column of your full URLs, copy the whole list. Here’s how to use that clipboard info to populate a crawl in Screaming Frog:

  • In the menu bar, go to “Mode” and change it to “List.” Then, click “Upload List” and “Paste.” This will run a crawl of only the URLs from the Internal Link report.
  • Once complete, check the status code column for any 301s. If you see any, select that URL and go to the Inlinks tab in the lower left of Screaming Frog. This will show you all the pages that contain a link to that redirecting URL.

574dc5d79c5ed8.34090099.jpg

Once you’ve identified all redirecting internal links, get your list together for updates to send over to your development team.

3. You have unnecessary 301 redirects

Websites tend to collect 301 redirects over the years, and no one really thinks to clean them up. When your .htaccess file starts to run deep with redirects, your load time suffers. Each time a URL is called by a browser, every single one of those redirects is checked to see if the requested URL needs to be sent elsewhere. The absolutely kills your load time.

But how do you identify which of those redirects are actually needed? UTM tags, that’s how.

By appending UTMs to the resolving URLs of redirects, you can easily identify which 301 redirects are actually used on a regular basis.

Here’s an example of the tagging methodology I use:

/old-page >>> /new-page?utm_medium=301&utm_source=direct&utm_campaign=/old-page

This will send data to Google Analytics every time someone hits one of your redirects and give it the attribution information you’ve included in your UTMs.

Download a Google Sheet with my tag generator. To save it locally, go to File > Download As > Microsoft Excel (.xlsx).

Twice a year, I’ll go into Google Analytics and view the Source/Medium Report and apply an in-line filter for 301s.

From here, simply pull a list of redirects that were triggered and compare that to the list of 301s in the .htaccess file. Any that weren’t hit should get removed.

1i2uvaD.jpg

Side note: If you run an e-commerce site, you can demonstrate the importance of 301 redirects by showing how much revenue was saved by having redirects in place.

4. You have canonical tags that 301

The logic behind this one requires little explanation, as it’s basically the same as having redirect chains. You don’t want to have canonical tags that point to redirected URLs. To identify these canonical tags, run your Screaming Frog crawl and go to the Directives tab. Scroll to the right to find the “Canonical Link Element 1″ column and copy the list.

Re-crawl using List Mode and find any that have a Status of 301.

33fkRHg.jpg

Bonus: Regaining links via 301s

If you have a large site, or your site has had a few URL structural changes over the years, chances are pretty good you’ve got some decent links pointing to a dead URL.

Run an Open Site Explorer report and grab the list of target URLs.

Drop that list into Screaming Frog using the same “Upload List” method described above. If you see any errors in the Status Code column, 301 redirect the URLs. (Make certain to check the stats and quality of those links first.)

Join in the conversation below if you have other redirect-related issues to add to this list, or other methods for identifying and troubleshooting these problems.

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June 6, 2016  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

4 Ways Copywriting Can Boost Your E-commerce Conversion Rates

Posted by ksaleh

[Estimated read time: 8 minutes]

Your website’s copy is far more important than you realize.

Besides design, copy forms the foundation of your brand. How you describe yourself and your products leaves a palpable impression on your customers. Whether customers think of your brand as bold, futuristic, quirky, or cute depends largely on your copy.

Web copy is also crucial for conveying product information. Your customers want to know how your product works and how it will change their lives.

Unfortunately, far too many e-commerce stores spend hours optimizing their website’s design and layout but completely skip over the copy.

The result? Poor conversion rates.

The relationship between copy and conversion rates

If you’re running an e-commerce store, a SaaS startup, or a marketing agency, the three of your biggest challenges are:

  1. Informing visitors about the store’s products and their unique features and benefits
  2. Evoking emotions that drive action and persuade the visitor
  3. Fostering a long-lasting relationship by emphasizing the brand’s values (and how they align with their customers’ values)

You’ll realize that you can meet all of these challenges through smart copywriting. In fact, it isn’t unusual for improving a website’s copy to increase its conversion rates by 2x, 3x, or even 4x.

For example:

There is a distinct, direct relationship between copy and conversion rates. Better copy, whether it’s on landing pages or product descriptions, leads to better conversion rates.

The obvious question is: how can you improve your e-commerce copy?

Here are four actionable tactics you can use right away to get better conversions.

1. Write for your target personas

Sketching out a target customer profile based on your brand’s personas will help you craft laser-targeted, high-converting copy.

Nearly all your customers will belong to one or more of these four persona types:

  • Logical persona: This persona type is logical, methodical, and detail-oriented. A customer with a logical persona will carefully scrutinize your offer before hitting the “Buy” button. He will also shop around for better deals. Roughly 40–45% of the audience falls into this category.
  • Impulsive persona: An impulsive persona type is spontaneous, risk-oriented, and optimistic. This persona is more prone to making quick decisions and will focus on the benefits when buying. Roughly 30–35% of the audience would be characterized as an impulsive persona.
  • Caring persona: A caring persona is concerned deeply about the well-being of others. This persona will consider your offer only when it helps others as well. Instead of looking at the product and its features, those having caring personas will also browse through your About Us page to see what kind of company you run. Roughly 15–20% of the population falls into this category.
  • Aggressive persona: An aggressive persona is rational and focused on self-improvement. This persona holds herself to a high standard of integrity and will expect the same from you. Roughly 5–7% of the population has this persona.

How to write for each customer persona

What kind of copy you’ll use for each persona will depend largely on what category the persona falls into. A logical persona type will respond very differently to your copy than an impulsive persona type.

Try following some of these guidelines for your persona-types:

Logical persona

  • Emphasize features
  • Include extensive details, especially of the technology behind your products
  • Avoid fluff and vague language

Example: Take a look at the product descriptions on Canada-Goose.com. This is a brand that sells expensive but high-quality outerwear for extreme cold weather conditions.

canada goose

Canada Goose customers care about the quality and construction of the clothes. The copy reflects this, focusing on features and underlying technology.

Impulsive persona

  • Focus on benefits
  • Use rich imagery and power words
  • Weave a story around your product

Example: Read the product descriptions on the J Peterman catalog. This brand sells the story behind each product.

j peterman

The details are sparse and the copy uses rich imagery and metaphors to appeal to its target audience.

Caring persona

  • Show how your products benefit others, both within product descriptions and on unique pages (About Us, mission statement, etc.).
  • Emphasize the environmental or social benefits of your products.

Example: On Patagonia.com, each product page has a separate section detailing the product’s supply chain. This is in line with Patagonia’s mission statement that promotes sustainable living and environmentally-friendly policies.

pantagonia

Aggressive persona

  • Focus on how the product will help the customer improve himself/herself
  • Emphasize the underlying technology, especially how it relates to performance improvements
  • Focus on your store or your brand’s heritage and history to establish credibility

Example: Most fitness brands fall under this category (see the copy for Keen, a brand of hiking footwear):

keen

The copy lists out the technology used in the shoe and tells the reader how it improves performance.

Ideally, you want to use copy that targets all of these personas on every page. If that’s not possible, you should at least try to figure out the dominant customer persona for each product or category, and use the appropriate copy.

2. Use power words and action words

Staggering. Smashing. Stunning.

These are all examples of power words — words that evoke strong emotions in your readers.

Power words are rarely used in everyday speech (recall the last time you used “staggering” or “sensational” in a casual conversation). This makes them stand out all the more when used in e-commerce copy.

Using power words is the easiest way to elevate your copy beyond the ordinary. A sprinkle of these words can turn boring product descriptions into emotion-generating copy that turns browsers into customers, customers into fans.

See how Firebox uses power words in its product descriptions:

power words

These simple words turn ordinary copy into something far more compelling.

So what are power words like?

Here’s a short list of power words that are particularly useful for e-commerce copywriting tasks.

Amazing

Audacious

Authentic

Backed

Best-Selling

Banned

Breathtaking

Crazy

Caution

Cheerful

Crush

Cheap

Certified

Censored

Controversial

Confession

Dumb

Defying

Delight

Dare

Discount

Exciting

Epic

Eye-opening

Explosive

Extra

Economical

Fortune

Free

Frenzy

Frugal

Forbidden

Faithful

Fearless

Flirt

Grateful

Greatest

Guaranteed

Hack

Happy

Hero

Hope

Hidden

Inexpensive

Incredible

Ironclad

Insider

Joy

Jaw-dropping

Jackpot

Jubilant

Looming

Legendary

Luxurious

Lifetime

Little-known

Magic

Mind-blowing

Miraculous

Massive

Marked-down

Money

Mystery

Naughty

No obligations

No questions asked

Official

Outlaw

Pluck

Provocative

Pummel

Passionate

Profit

Prize

Private

Proven

Protected

Priceless

Risk-free

Remarkable

Rich

Reduced

Researched

Refund

Reliable

Secret

Select

Secure

Savings

Skyrocket

Soaring

Surging

Smashing

Staggering

Stunning

Surprising

Tank

Targeted

Triumphant

Tantalizing

Thrilling

Tested

Unauthorized

Uplifting

Unconditional

Victory

Value

Verified

Whopping

Wonderful

Use action words

Power words evoke emotion, but they don’t drive readers to take action.

For that, you need to use action words in your copy.

These are simply words that describe an action: add, act, take, get, etc.

Let’s take another look at the Firebox product description page:

action words

Action words make your copy sound more energetic and active. They also subtly tell the reader to take some action.

You don’t have to use them excessively. Just pepper them in whenever you want to hammer in a feature/benefit or get your readers to take some action.

Here’s a list of some action words you can use in many different types of copywriting tasks:

Add

Act

Buy

Break

Bite

Begin

Collect

Catch

Call

Create

Choose

Drink

Drive

Draw

Eat

Exude

Feel

Find

Fly

Grow

Go

Give

Guard

Hold

Hurry

Jump

Know

Kick

Love

Listen

Locate

Make

Measure

Multiply

Mix

Print

Prepare

Play

Pull

Push

Read

Run

Ride

Ring

Shout

Sell

Shake

Study

See

Speak

Say

Take

Think

Text

Try

Taste

Tell

Test

Understand

3. Use the right formatting

Your website visitors don’t read your pages.

They scan.

According to eye-tracking studies conducted by Nielsen, people scan e-commerce pages in an F-shaped pattern:

F-shaped pattern

That is, they first look to the left column, then to the right, then drag their eyes down the page.

This means that users won’t read your copy — however remarkable it may be — unless it’s formatted correctly.

Follow these guidelines for improved e-commerce copy formatting:

  • Follow an information hierarchy. The most important content should go in the first couple of paragraphs. Less important information should be further down the page.

    Take a look at this product page on NewEgg.com. It lists the most important things about the product, including availability, seller name and key features, at the top of the page:

40AzIyB.png

  • Follow a two-column layout, with the product image on the left and critical product details on the right. People are already used to this convention and will naturally look at the image on the left first, followed by the text on the right.

    Overstock.com uses this layout on its product pages:

QK3skzN.png

  • Use bullet points for the text to the right of the image (i.e., the most important content). You can use paragraphs for longer product descriptions.

    For example, Amazon mentions each product’s top features in the form of a bullet list at the top of the page:

ek2W5SR.png

  • Use information-rich headers to organize the content (such as key features and sizing information). Users will scan these to find what they’re looking for as they scroll down the page.

    NewEgg organizes this information in separate tabs:

3HpWENg.png

BestBuy’s product pages follow a similar structure, but with even better content organization:

Uh2t8AB.png

  • Use keywords in your copy. Users will quickly scan your copy to figure out details about your product. Adding keywords such as size and price will help them scan your page faster.

    Great examples of this can be found on Target’s product pages, including this one:

0OMpymc.png

Keep these tips in mind when you write your copy. Otherwise, you just might end up creating impeccable content that no one reads.

4. Don’t forget unique pages

Your homepage, About Us page, mission statement, and the like comprise your site’s unique pages.

Unlike product or category pages (which usually follow a template), each of these pages has distinct content, copy, and design.

Optimizing the copy on your unique pages can have a noticeable impact on conversion rates. For one, these pages help customers understand you and your brand. If you can describe your brand in a way that resonates with your target customers, you’ll be able to sell more products at better prices.

Tell a story through your unique pages

When writing copy for unique pages, the standard rules apply: Use power words and evocative imagery.

At the same time, you also want to make sure that your copy weaves a story about your brand.

ThinkGeek does the same by boldly stating its manifesto on its About page:

thinkgeek

Emphasize your brand’s history and values

Another way to use copywriting to improve brand perception is to share your brand’s history and values on your unique pages.

For example, Patagonia.com has a separate page for its mission statement:

pantagonia-mission-statement

Tell your brand’s story

Your brand is more than just a collection of products. There are real people with real stories behind the business who come together to create all your amazing products.

Highlighting these on a separate “Our Story” page is a great idea.

For example, take a look at how Saddleback Leather does it:

6UZUOx4.png

Whatever tactic you use to emphasize your brand’s history and its values, the copy on these pages should reflect your brand.

Key takeaways

Copywriting and conversion rate are inherently related. Good web copy is closely correlated with good conversion rates. Using power words, appropriate formatting, and persona-targeted copywriting can help you drastically improve the copy of your e-commerce website and, by proxy, its conversion rates.

Has your brand made a commitment to enhancing conversion rates with effective copywriting?

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June 5, 2016  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments



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