Declining Organic Traffic? How to Tell if it’s a Tracking or Optimization Issue

Posted by andrewchoco

Picture this scenario. You’re a new employee that has just been brought in to a struggling marketing department (or an agency brought on to help recover lost numbers). You get access to Google Analytics, and see something like this:

(Actual screenshot of the client I audited)

This can generate two types of emotional response: excitement or fear (or both). The steady decline in organic traffic excites you because you have so many tactics and ideas that you think can save this company from spiraling downward out of control. But there’s also the fear that these tactics wont be enough to correct the course.

Regardless of whether these new tactics would work or not, it’s important to understand the history of the account and determine not only what is happening, but why.

The company may have an idea of why the traffic is declining (i.e. competitors have come in and made ranking for keywords much harder, or they did a website redesign and have never recovered).

Essentially, this boils down to two things: 1) either you’re struggling with organic optimization, or 2) something was off with your tracking in Google Analytics, has since been corrected, and hasn’t been caught.

In this article, I’ll go over an audit I did for one of my clients to help determine if the decline we saw in organic traffic was due to actual poor SEO performance, an influx in competitors, tracking issues, or a combination of these things.

I’ll be breaking it down into five different areas of investigation:

  1. Keyword ranking differences from 2015–2017
    1. Did the keywords we were ranking for in 2015 change drastically in 2017? Did we lose rankings and therefore lose organic traffic?
  2. Top organic landing pages from 2015–2017
    1. Are the top ranking organic landing pages the same currently as they were in 2015? Are we missing any pages due to a website redesign?
  3. On-page metric
    1. Did something happen to the site speed / bounce rate / page views etc.
  4. SEMrush/Moz keyword, traffic, and domain authority data
    1. Looking at the SEMrush organic traffic cost metric as well as Moz metrics like Domain Authority and competitors.
  5. Goal completions
    1. Did our conversion numbers stay consistent throughout the traffic drop? Or did the conversions drop in correlation with the traffic drop?

By the end of this post, my goal is that you’ll be able to replicate this audit to determine exactly what’s causing your organic traffic decline and how to get back on the right track.

Let’s dive in!

Keyword ranking differences from 2015–2017

This was my initial starting point for my audit. I started with this specifically because the most obvious answer, for a decline in traffic is a decline in keyword rankings.

I wanted to look at what keywords we were ranking for in 2015 to see if we significantly dropped in the rankings or if the search volume had dropped. If the company you’re auditing has had a long-running Moz account, start by looking at the keyword rankings from the initial start of the decline, compared to current keyword rankings.

I exported keyword data from both SEMrush and Moz, and looked specifically at the ranking changes of core keywords.

March was a particularly strong month across the board, so I narrowed it down and exported the keyword rankings in:

  • March 2015
  • March 2016
  • March 2017
  • December 2017 (so I could get the most current rankings)

Once the keywords were exported, I went in and highlighted in red the keywords that we were ranking for in 2015 (and driving traffic from) that we were no longer ranking for in 2017. I also highlighted in yellow the keywords we were ranking for in 2015 that were still ranking in 2017.

2015 keywords:

2017 keywords:

(Brand-related queries and URLs are blurred out for anonymity)

One thing that immediately stood out: in 2015, this company was ranking for five keywords, including the word “free.” They have since changed their offering, so it made sense that in 2017, we weren’t ranking for those keywords.

After removing the free queries, we pulled the “core” keywords to look at their differences.

March 2015 core keywords:

  • Appointment scheduling software: position 9
  • Online appointment scheduling: position 11
  • Online appointment scheduling: position 9
  • Online scheduling software: position 9
  • Online scheduler: position 9
  • Online scheduling: position 13

December 2017 core keywords:

  • Appointment scheduler: position 11
  • Appointment scheduling software: position 10
  • Online schedule: position 6
  • Online appointment scheduler: position 11
  • Online appointment scheduling: position 12
  • Online scheduling software: position 12
  • Online scheduling tool: position 10
  • Online scheduling: position 15
  • SaaS appointment scheduling: position 2

There were no particular red flags here. While some of the keywords have moved down 1–2 spots, we had new ones jump up. These small changes in movement didn’t explain the nearly 30–40% drop in organic traffic. I checked this off my list and moved on to organic landing pages.

Top organic landing page changes

Since the dive into keyword rankings didn’t provide the answer for the decline in traffic, the next thing I looked at were the organic landing pages. I knew this client had switched over CMS systems in early 2017, and had done a few small redesign projects the past three years.

After exporting our organic landing pages for 2015, 2016, and 2017, we compared the top ten (by organic sessions) and got the following results.

2015 top organic landing pages:

2016 top organic landing pages:

2017 top organic landing pages:

Because of their redesign, you can see that the subfolders changed between 2015/2016 to 2017. What really got my attention, however, is the /get-started page. In 2015/2016, the Get Started page accounted for nearly 16% of all organic traffic. In 2017, the Get Started page was nowhere to be found.

If you run into this problem and notice there are pages missing from your current top organic pages, a great way to uncover why is to use the Wayback Machine. It’s a great tool that allows you to see what a web page looked like in the past.

When we looked at the /get-started URL in the Wayback Machine, we noticed something pretty interesting:

In 2015, their /get-started page also acted as their login page. When people were searching on Google for “[Company Name] login,” this page was ranking, bringing in a significant amount of organic traffic.

Their current setup sends logins to a subdomain that doesn’t have a GA code (as it’s strictly used as a portal to the actual application).

That helped explain some of the organic traffic loss, but knowing that this client had gone through a few website redesigns, I wanted to make sure that all redirects were done properly. Regardless of whether or not your traffic has changed, if you’ve recently done a website redesign where you’re changing URLs, it’s smart to look at your top organic landing pages from before the redesign and double check to make sure they’re redirecting to the correct pages.

While this helped explain some of the traffic loss, the next thing we looked at was the on-page metrics to see if we could spot any obvious tracking issues.

Comparing on-page engagement metrics

Looking at the keyword rankings and organic landing pages provided a little bit of insight into the organic traffic loss, but it was nothing definitive. Because of this, I moved to the on-page metrics for further clarity. As a disclaimer, when I talk about on-page metrics, I’m talking about bounce rate, page views, average page views per session, and time on site.

Looking at the same top organic pages, I compared the on-page engagement metrics.

2015 on-page metrics:

2016 on-page metrics:

2017 on-page metrics:

While the overall engagement metrics changed slightly, the biggest and most interesting discrepancy I saw was in the bounce rates for the home page and Get Started page.

According to a number of different studies (like this one, this one, or even this one), the average bounce rate for a B2B site is around 40–60%. Seeing the home page with a bounce rate under 20% was definitely a red flag.

This led me to look into some other metrics as well. I compared key metrics between 2015 and 2017, and was utterly confused by the findings:

Looking at the organic sessions (overall), we saw a decrease of around 80,000 sessions, or 27.93%.

Looking at the organic users (overall) we saw a similar number, with a decrease of around 38,000 users, or 25%.

When we looked at page views, however, we saw a much more drastic drop:

For the entire site, we saw a 50% decrease in pageviews, or a decrease of nearly 400,000 page views.

This didn’t make much sense, because even if we had those extra 38,000 users, and each user averaged roughly 2.49 pages per session (looking above), that would only account for, at most, 100,000 more page views. This left 300,000 page views unaccounted for.

This led me to believe that there was definitely some sort of tracking issue. The high number of page views and low bounce rate made me suspect that some users were being double counted.

However, to confirm these assumptions, I took a look at some external data sources.

Using SEMrush and Moz data to exclude user error

If you have a feeling that your tracking was messed up in previous years, a good way to confirm or deny this hypothesis is to check external sources like Moz and SEMrush.

Unfortunately, this particular client was fairly new, so as a result, their Moz campaign data wasn’t around during the high organic traffic times in 2015. However, if it was, a good place to start would be looking at the search visibility metric (as long as the primary keywords have stayed the same). If this metric has changed drastically over the years, it’s a good indicator that your organic rankings have slipped quite a bit.

Another good thing to look at is domain authority and core page authority. If your site has had a few redesigns, moved URLs, or anything like that, it’s important to make sure that the domain authority has carried over. It’s also important to look at the page authorities of your core pages. If these are much lower than when they were before the organic traffic slide, there’s a good chance your redirects weren’t done properly, and the page authority isn’t being carried over through those new domains.

If, like me, you don’t have Moz data that dates back far enough, a good thing to check is the organic traffic cost in SEMrush.

Organic traffic cost can change because of a few reasons:

  1. Your site is ranking for more valuable keywords, making the organic traffic cost rise.
  2. More competitors have entered the space, making the keywords you were ranking for more expensive to bid on.

Usually it’s a combination of both of these.

If our organic traffic really was steadily decreasing for the past 2 years, we’d likely see a similar trendline looking at our organic traffic cost. However, that’s not what we saw.

In March of 2015, the organic traffic cost of my client’s site was $14,300.

In March of 2016, the organic traffic cost was $22,200

In December of 2017, the organic traffic cost spiked all the way up to $69,200. According to SEMrush, we also saw increases in keywords and traffic.

Looking at all of this external data re-affirmed the assumption that something must have been off with our tracking.

However, as a final check, I went back to internal metrics to see if the conversion data had decreased at a similar rate as the organic traffic.

Analyzing and comparing conversion metrics

This seemed like a natural final step into uncovering the mystery in this traffic drop. After all, it’s not organic traffic that’s going to profit your business (although it’s a key component). The big revenue driver is goal completions and form fills.

This was a fairly simple procedure. I went into Google Analytics to compare goal completion numbers and goal completion conversion rates over the past three years.

If your company is like my client’s, there’s a good chance you’re taking advantage of the maximum 20 goal completions that can be simultaneously tracked in Analytics. However, to make things easier and more consistent (since goal completions can change), I looked at only buyer intent conversions. In this case it was Enterprise, Business, and Personal edition form fills, as well as Contact Us form fills.

If you’re doing this on your own site, I would recommend doing the same thing. Gated content goal completions usually have a natural shelf life, and this natural slowdown in goal completions can skew the data. I’d look at the most important conversion on your site (usually a contact us or a demo form) and go strictly off those numbers.

For my client, you can see those goal completion numbers below:

Goal completion name




Contact Us




Individual Edition




Business Edition




Enterprise Edition








Conversion rates:

Goal completion name




Contact Us




Individual Edition




Business Edition




Enterprise Edition








This was pretty interesting. Although there was clearly fluctuation in the goal completions and conversion rates, there were no differences that made sense with our nearly 40,000 user drop from 2015 to 2016 to 2017.

All of these findings further confirmed that we were chasing an inaccurate goal. In fact, we spent the first three months working together to try and get back a 40% loss that, quite frankly, was never even there in the first place.

Tying everything together and final thoughts

For this particular case, we had to go down all five of these roads in order to reach the conclusion that we did: Our tracking was off in the past.

However, this may not be the case for your company or your clients. You may start by looking at keyword rankings, and realize that you’re no longer ranking on the first page for ten of your core keywords. If that’s the case, you quickly discovered your issue, and your game plan should be investing in your core pages to help get them ranking again for these core keywords.

If your goal completions are way down (by a similar percentage as your traffic), that’s also a good clue that your declining traffic numbers are correct.

If you’ve looked at all of these metrics and still can’t seem to figure out the reasoning for the decrease and you’re blindly trying tactics and struggling to crawl your way back up, this is a great checklist to go through to confirm the ominous question of tracking issue or optimization issue.

If you’re having a similar issue as me, I’m hoping this post helps you get to the root of the problem quickly, and gets you one step closer to create realistic organic traffic goals for the future!

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The #1 Reason Paid Ads (On Search, Social, and Display) Fail – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Pouring money into a paid ad campaign that’s destined to fail isn’t a sound growth strategy. Time and again, companies breaking into online ads don’t see success due to the same issue: they aren’t known to their audiences. There’s no trust, no recognition, and so the cost per click remains high and rising.

In this edition of Whiteboard Friday, Rand identifies the cycle many brands get trapped in and outlines a solution to make those paid ad campaigns worth the dollars you put behind them.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting about the number one reason so many paid ad campaigns, especially from new companies and companies with new products or new ventures that they’re going into, new markets and audiences they’re addressing, fail. They just fall apart. I see this scenario play out so many times, especially in the startup and entrepreneurial world but, to be honest, across the marketing landscape.

Here’s how it usually goes. You’ve got your CEO or your CMO or your business owner and they’re like, “Hey, we have this great new product. Let’s spread the word.” So they talk to a marketer. It could be a contractor. It could be an agency. It could be someone in-house.

The marketer is like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll buy some ads online, help us get the word out there and get us some traffic and conversions.”

Then a few months later, you basically get this. “How’s that paid ad campaign going?” “Well, not so good. I have bad news.”

The cycle

Almost always, this is the result of a cycle that looks like this. You have a new company’s campaign. The campaign is to sell something or get exposure for something, to try and drive visits back to a web page or a website, several pages on the site and then get conversions out of it. So you buy Facebook ads, Instagram ads, maybe LinkedIn and Twitter. You probably use the Google Display Network. You’re probably using AdWords. All of these sources are trying to drive traffic to your web page and then get a conversion that turns into money.

Now, what happens is that these get a high cost per click. They start out with a high cost per click because it’s a new campaign. So none of these platforms have experience with your campaign or your company. So you’re naturally going to get a higher-than-normal cost per click until you prove to them that you get high engagement, at which point they bring the cost per click down. But instead of proving to them you get high engagement, you end up getting low engagement, low click-through rate, low conversion rate. People don’t make it here. They don’t make it there. Why is that?

Why does this happen?

Well, before we address that, let’s talk about what happens here. When these are low, when you have a low engagement rate on the platform itself, when no one engages with your Facebook ads, no one engages with your Instagram ads, when no one clicks on your AdWords ad, when no one clicks on your display ads, the cost to show to more people goes up, and, as a result, these campaigns are much harder to make profitable and they’re shown to far fewer people.

So your exposure to the audience you want to reach is smaller and the cost to reach each next person and to drive each next action goes up. This, fundamentally, is because…

  • The audience that you’re trying to reach hasn’t heard of you before. They don’t know who you are.
  • They don’t know, trust, or like you or your company product, they don’t click. They don’t click. They don’t buy. They don’t share. They don’t like.

They don’t do all the engagement things that would drive this high cost per click down, and, because of that, your campaigns suffer and struggle.

I see so many marketers who think like this, who say yes to new company campaigns that start with an advertising-first approach. I want to be clear, there are some exceptions to the rule. I have seen some brand new companies that fit a certain mold do very well with Instagram advertising for certain types of products that appeal to that audience and don’t need a previously existing brand association. I’ve seen some players in the Google AdWords market do okay with this, some local businesses, some folks in areas where people don’t expect to have knowledge and awareness of a brand already in the space where they’re trying to discover them.

So it’s not the case always that this fails, but very often, often enough that I’m calling this the number one reason I see paid ads fail.

The solution

There’s only one solution and it’s not pretty. The solution is…

You have to get known to your audience before you pour money into advertising.

Meaning you need to invest in organic channels — content or SEO or press and PR or sponsorships or events, what have you, anything that can get your brand name and the names of your product out there.

Brand advertising, in fact, can work for this. So television brand advertising, folks have noticed that TV brand advertising often drives the cost per click down and drives engagement and click-through rates up, because people have heard of you and they know who you are. Magazine and offline advertising works like this. Sometimes even display advertising can work this way.

The second option is to…

Advertise primarily or exclusively to an audience that already has experience with you.

The way you can do this is through systems like Google’s retargeting and remarketing platforms. You can do the same thing with Facebook, through custom audiences of email addresses that you upload, same thing with Instagram, same thing with Twitter. You can target people who specifically only follow the accounts that you already own and control. Through these, you can get better engagement, better click-through rate, better conversion rate and drive down that cost per click and reach a broader audience.

But if you don’t do these things first, a lot of times these types of investments fall flat on their face, and a lot of marketers, to be honest, and agencies and consultants lose their jobs as a result. I don’t want that to happen to you. So invest in these first or find the niches where advertising can work for a first-time product. You’re going to be a lot happier.

All right, everyone. Look forward to your comments. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by

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How to Diagnose SEO Traffic Drops: 11 Questions to Answer

Posted by Daniel_Marks

Almost every consultant or in-house SEO will be asked at some point to investigate an organic traffic drop. I’ve investigated quite a few, so I thought I’d share some steps I’ve found helpful when doing so.

Is it just normal noise?

Before you sound the alarm and get lost down a rabbit hole, you should make sure that the drop you’re seeing is actually real. This involves answering two questions:

A.) Do you trust the data?

This might seem trivial, but at least a quarter of the traffic drops I’ve seen were simply due to data problems.

The best way to check on this is to sense-check other metrics that might be impacted by data problems. Does anything else look funky? If you have a data engineering team, are they aware of any data issues? Are you flat-out missing data for certain days or page types or devices, etc.? Thankfully, data problems will usually make themselves pretty obvious once you start turning over a few rocks.

One of the more common sources of data issues is simply missing data for a day.

B.) Is this just normal variance?

Metrics go up and down all the time for no discernible reason. One way to quantify this is to use your historical standard deviation for SEO traffic.

For example, you could plot your weekly SEO traffic for the past 12 months and calculate the standard deviation (using the STDEV function on Google Sheets or Excel makes this very easy) to figure out if a drop in weekly traffic is abnormal. You’d expect about 16% of weeks to be one standard deviation below your weekly average just by sheer luck. You could therefore set a one-standard-deviation threshold before investigating traffic drops, for example (but you should adjust this threshold to whatever is appropriate for your business). You can also look at the standard deviation for your year-over-year or week-over-week SEO traffic if that’s where you’re seeing the drop (i.e. plot your % change in YoY SEO traffic by week for the past 12 months and calculate the standard deviation).

SEO traffic is usually pretty noisy, especially on a short time frame like a week.

Let’s assume you’ve decided this is indeed a real traffic drop. Now what? I’d recommend trying to answer the eleven questions below, at least one of them will usually identify the culprit.

Questions to ask yourself when facing an organic traffic drop

1. Was there a recent Google algorithm update?

MozCast, Search Engine Land, and Moz’s algorithm history are all good resources here.

Expedia seems to have been penalized by a Penguin-related update.

If there was an algorithm update, do you have any reason to suspect you’d be impacted? It can sometimes be difficult to understand the exact nature of a Google update, but it’s worth tracking down any information you can to make sure your site isn’t at risk of being hit.

2. Is the drop specific to any segment?

One of the more useful practices whenever you’re looking at aggregated data (such as a site’s overall search traffic) is to segment the data until you find something interesting. In this case, we’d be looking for a segment that has dropped in traffic much more than any other. This is often the first step in tracking down the root cause of the issue. The two segments I’ve found most useful in diagnosing SEO traffic drops specifically:

  • Device type (mobile vs. desktop vs. tablet)
  • Page type (product pages vs. category pages vs. blog posts vs. homepage etc.)

But there will likely be plenty of other segments that might make sense to look at for your business (for example, product category).

3. Are you being penalized?

This is unlikely, but it’s also usually pretty quick to disprove. Look at Search Console for any messages related to penalties and search for your brand name on Google. If you’re not showing up, then you might be penalized.

Rap Genius (now Genius) was penalized for their link building tactics and didn’t show up for their own brand name on Google.

4. Did the drop coincide with a major site change?

This can take a thousand different forms (did you migrate a bunch of URLs, move to a different JavaScript framework, update all your title tags, remove your navigation menu, etc?). If this is the case, and you have a reasonable hypothesis for how this could impact SEO traffic, you might have found your culprit. saw a pretty big drop in SEO traffic after changing their JavaScript framework.

5. Did you lose ranking share to a competitor?

There are a bunch of tools that can tell you if you’ve lost rankings to a competitor:

If you’ve lost rankings, it’s worth investigating the specific keywords that you’ve lost and figuring out if there’s a trend. Did your competitors launch a new page type? Did they add content to their pages? Do they have more internal links pointing to these pages than you do?

GetStat’s Share of Voice report lets you quickly see whether a competitor is usurping your rankings

It could also just be a new competitor that’s entered the scene.

6. Did it coincide with a rise in direct or dark traffic?

If so, make sure you haven’t changed how you’re classifying this traffic on your end. Otherwise, you might simply be re-classifying organic traffic as direct or dark traffic.

7. Has there been a change to the search engine results pages you care about?

You can either use Moz’s SERP features report, or manually look at the SERPs you care about to figure out if their design has materially changed. It’s possible that Google is now answering many of your relevant queries directly in search results, put an image carousel on them, added a local pack, etc. — all of which would likely decrease your organic search traffic. lost most of its SEO traffic because of rich snippets like the one above.

8. Is the drop specific to branded or unbranded traffic?

If you have historical Search Console data, you can look at number of branded clicks vs. unbranded clicks over time. You could also look at this data through AdWords if you spend on paid search. Another simple proxy to branded traffic is homepage traffic (for most sites, the majority of homepage traffic will be branded). If the drop is specific to branded search then it’s probably a brand problem, not an SEO problem.

9. Did a bunch of pages drop out of the index?

Search Console’s Index Status Report will make it clear if you suddenly have way fewer URLs being indexed. If this is the case, you might be accidentally disallowing or noindexing URLs (through robots.txt, meta tags on the page, or HTTP headers).

Search Console’s Index Status Report is a quick way to make sure you’re not accidentally noindexing or disallowing large portions of your site.

10. Did your number of referring domains and/or links drop?

It’s possible that a large number of your backlinks have been removed or are no longer accessible for whatever reason.

Ahrefs can be a quick way to determine if you’ve lost backlinks and also offers very handy reports for your lost backlinks or referring domains that will allow you to identify why you might have lost these links.

A sudden drop in backlinks could be the reason you’re seeing a traffic drop.

11. Is SEM cannibalizing SEO traffic?

It’s possible that your paid search team has recently ramped up their spend and that this is eating into your SEO traffic. You should be able to check on this pretty quickly by plotting your SEM vs. SEO traffic. If it’s not obvious after doing this whether it’s a factor, then it can be worth pausing your SEM campaigns for specific landing pages and seeing if SEO traffic rebounds for those pages.

To be clear, some level of cannibalization between SEM and SEO is inevitable, but it’s still worth understanding how much of your traffic is being cannibalized and whether the incremental clicks your SEM campaigns are driving outweigh the loss in SEO traffic (in my experience they usually do outweigh the loss in SEO traffic, but still worth checking!).

If your SEM vs. SEO traffic graph looks similar to the (slightly extreme) one above, then SEM campaigns might be cannibalizing your SEO traffic.

That’s all I’ve got — hopefully at least one of these questions will lead you to the root cause of an organic search traffic drop. Are there any other questions that you’ve found particularly helpful for diagnosing traffic drops? Let me know in the comments.

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Google’s Walled Garden: Are We Being Pushed Out of Our Own Digital Backyards?

Posted by Dr-Pete

Early search engines were built on an unspoken transaction — a pact between search engines and website owners — you give us your data, and we’ll send you traffic. While Google changed the game of how search engines rank content, they honored the same pact in the beginning. Publishers, who owned their own content and traditionally were fueled by subscription revenue, operated differently. Over time, they built walls around their gardens to keep visitors in and, hopefully, keep them paying.

Over the past six years, Google has crossed this divide, building walls around their content and no longer linking out to the sources that content was originally built on. Is this the inevitable evolution of search, or has Google forgotten their pact with the people’s whose backyards their garden was built on?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this question, but the evolution itself is undeniable. I’m going to take you through an exhaustive (yes, you may need a sandwich) journey of the ways that Google is building in-search experiences, from answer boxes to custom portals, and rerouting paths back to their own garden.

I. The Knowledge Graph

In May of 2012, Google launched the Knowledge Graph. This was Google’s first large-scale attempt at providing direct answers in search results, using structured data from trusted sources. One incarnation of the Knowledge Graph is Knowledge Panels, which return rich information about known entities. Here’s part of one for actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (note: this image is truncated)…

The Knowledge Graph marked two very important shifts. First, Google created deep in-search experiences. As Knowledge Panels have evolved, searchers have access to rich information and answers without ever going to an external site. Second, Google started to aggressively link back to their own resources. It’s easy to overlook those faded blue links, but here’s the full Knowledge Panel with every link back to a Google property marked…

Including links to Google Images, that’s 33 different links back to Google. These two changes — self-contained in-search experiences and aggressive internal linking — represent a radical shift in the nature of search engines, and that shift has continued and expanded over the past six years.

More recently, Google added a sharing icon (on the right, directly below the top images). This provides a custom link that allows people to directly share rich Google search results as content on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and by email. Google no longer views these pages as a path to a destination. Search results are the destination.

The Knowledge Graph also spawned Knowledge Cards, more broadly known as “answer boxes.” Take any fact in the panel above and pose it as a question, and you’re likely to get a Knowledge Card. For example, “How old is Chiwetel Ejiofor?” returns the following…

For many searchers, this will be the end of their journey. Google has answered their question and created a self-contained experience. Note that this example also contains links to additional Google searches.

In 2015, Google launched Medical Knowledge Panels. These gradually evolved into fully customized content experiences created with partners in the medical field. Here’s one for “cardiac arrest” (truncated)…

Note the fully customized design (these images were created specifically for these panels), as well as the multi-tabbed experience. It is now possible to have a complete, customized content experience without ever leaving Google.

II. Live Results

In some specialized cases, Google uses private data partnerships to create customized answer boxes. Google calls these “Live Results.” You’ve probably seen them many times now on weather, sports and stock market searches. Here’s one for “Seattle weather”…

For the casual information seeker, these are self-contained information experiences with most or all of what we care about. Live Results are somewhat unique in that, unlike the general knowledge in the Knowledge Graph, each partnership represents a disruption to an industry.

These partnerships have branched out over time into even more specialized results. Consider, for example, “Snoqualmie ski conditions”…

Sports results are incredibly disruptive, and Google has expanded and enriched these results quite a bit over the past couple of years. Here’s one for “Super Bowl 2018″…

Note that clicking any portion of this Live Result leads to a customized portal on Google that can no longer be called a “search result” in any traditional sense (more on portals later). Special sporting events, such as the 2018 Winter Olympics, have even more rich features. Here are some custom carousels for “Olympic snowboarding results”…

Note that these are multi-column carousels that ultimately lead to dozens of smaller cards. All of these cards click to more Google search results. This design choice may look strange on desktop and marks another trend — Google’s shift to mobile-first design. Here’s the same set of results on a Google Pixel phone…

Here, the horizontal scrolling feels more intuitive, and the carousel is the full-width of the screen, instead of feeling like a free-floating design element. These features are not only rich experiences on mobile screens, but dominate mobile results much more than they do two-column desktop results.

III. Carousels

Speaking of carousels, Google has been experimenting with a variety of horizontal result formats, and many of them are built around driving traffic back to Google searches and properties. One of the older styles of carousels is the list format, which runs across the top of desktop searches (above other results). Here’s one for “Seattle Sounders roster”…

Each player links to a new search result with that player in a Knowledge Panel. This carousel expands to the width of the screen (which is unusual, since Google’s core desktop design is fixed-width). On my 1920×1080 screen, you can see 14 players, each linking to a new Google search, and the option to scroll for more…

This type of list carousel covers a wide range of topics, from “cat breeds” to “types of cheese.” Here’s an interesting one for “best movies of 1984.” The image is truncated, but the full result includes drop-downs to select movie genres and other years…

Once again, each result links to a new search with a Knowledge Panel dedicated to that movie. Another style of carousel is the multi-row horizontal scroller, like this one for “songs by Nirvana”…

In this case, not only does each entry click to a new search result, but many of them have prominent featured videos at the top of the left column (more on that later). My screen shows at least partial information for 24 songs, all representing in-Google links above the traditional search results…

A search for “laptops” (a very competitive, commercial term, unlike the informational searches above) has a number of interesting features. At the bottom of the search is this “Refine by brand” carousel…

Clicking on one of these results leads to a new search with the brand name prepended (e.g. “Apple laptops”). The same search shows this “Best of” carousel…

The smaller “Mentioned in:” links go to articles from the listed publishers. The main, product links go to a Google search result with a product panel. Here’s what I see when I click on “Dell XPS 13 9350” (image is truncated)…

This entity live in the right-hand column and looks like a Knowledge Panel, but is commercial in nature (notice the “Sponsored” label in the upper right). Here, Google is driving searchers directly into a paid/advertising channel.

IV. Answers & Questions

As Google realized that the Knowledge Graph would never scale at the pace of the wider web, they started to extract answers directly from their index (i.e. all of the content in the world, or at least most of it). This led to what they call “Featured Snippets”, a special kind of answer box. Here’s one for “Can hamsters eat cheese?” (yes, I have a lot of cheese-related questions)…

Featured Snippets are an interesting hybrid. On the one hand, they’re an in-search experience (in this case, my basic question has been answered before I’ve even left Google). On the other hand, they do link out to the source site and are a form of organic search result.

Featured Snippets also power answers on Google Assistant and Google Home. If I ask Google Home the same question about hamsters, I hear the following:

On the website, they say “Yes, hamsters can eat cheese! Cheese should not be a significant part of your hamster’s diet and you should not feed cheese to your hamster too often. However, feeding cheese to your hamster as a treat, perhaps once per week in small quantities, should be fine.”

You’ll see the answer is identical to the Featured Snippet shown above. Note the attribution (which I’ve bolded) — a voice search can’t link back to the source, posing unique challenges. Google does attempt to provide attribution on Google Home, but as they use answers extracted from the web more broadly, we may see the way original sources are credited change depending on the use case and device.

This broader answer engine powers another type of result, called “Related Questions” or the “People Also Ask” box. Here’s one on that same search…

These questions are at least partially machine-generated, which is why the grammar can read a little oddly — that’s a fascinating topic for another time. If you click on “What can hamsters eat list?” you get what looks a lot like a Featured Snippet (and links to an outside source)…

Notice two other things that are going on here. First, Google has included a link to search results for the question you clicked on (see the purple arrow). Second, the list has expanded. The two questions at the end are new. Let’s click “What do hamsters like to do for fun?” (because how can I resist?)…

This opens up a second answer, a second link to a new Google search, and two more answers. You can continue this to your heart’s content. What’s especially interesting is that this isn’t just some static list that expands as you click on it. The new questions are generated based on your interactions, as Google tries to understand your intent and shape your journey around it.

My colleague, Britney Muller, has done some excellent research on the subject and has taken to calling these infinite PAAs. They’re probably not quite infinite — eventually, the sun will explode and consume the Earth. Until then, they do represent a massively recursive in-Google experience.

V. Videos & Movies

One particularly interesting type of Featured Snippet is the Featured Video result. Search for “umbrella” and you should see a panel like this in the top-left column (truncated):

This is a unique hybrid — it has Knowledge Panel features (that link back to Google results), but it also has an organic-style link and large video thumbnail. While it appears organic, all of the Featured Videos we’ve seen in the wild have come from YouTube (Vevo is a YouTube partner), which essentially means this is an in-Google experience. These Featured Videos consume a lot of screen real-estate and appear even on commercial terms, like Rihanna’s “umbrella” (shown here) or Kendrick Lamar’s “swimming pools”.

Movie searches yield a rich array of features, from Live Results for local showtimes to rich Knowledge Panels. Last year, Google completely redesigned their mobile experience for movie results, creating a deep in-search experience. Here’s a mobile panel for “Black Panther”…

Notice the tabs below the title. You can navigate within this panel to a wealth of information, including cast members and photos. Clicking on any cast member goes to a new search about that actor/actress.

Although the search results eventually continue below this panel, the experience is rich, self-contained, and incredibly disruptive to high-ranking powerhouses in this space, including IMDB. You can even view trailers from the panel…

On my phone, Google displayed 10 videos (at roughly two per screen), and nine of those were links to YouTube. Given YouTube’s dominance, it’s difficult to say if Google is purposely favoring their own properties, but the end result is the same — even seemingly “external” clicks are often still Google-owned clicks.

VI. Local Results

A similar evolution has been happening in local results. Take the local 3-pack — here’s one on a search for “Seattle movie theaters”…

Originally, the individual business links went directly to each of those business’s websites. As of the past year or two, these instead go to local panels on Google Maps, like this one…

On mobile, these local panels stand out even more, with prominent photos, tabbed navigation and easy access to click-to-call and directions.

In certain industries, local packs have additional options to run a search within a search. Here’s a pack for Chicago taco restaurants, where you can filter results (from the broader set of Google Maps results) by rating, price, or hours…

Once again, we have a fully embedded search experience. I don’t usually vouch for any of the businesses in my screenshots, but I just had the pork belly al pastor at Broken English Taco Pub and it was amazing (this is my personal opinion and in no way reflects the taco preferences of Moz, its employees, or its lawyers).

The hospitality industry has been similarly affected. Search for an individual hotel, like “Kimpton Alexis Seattle” (one of my usual haunts when visiting the home office), and you’ll get a local panel like the one below. Pardon the long image, but I wanted you to have the full effect…

This is an incredible blend of local business result, informational panel, and commercial result, allowing you direct access to booking information. It’s not just organic local results that have changed, though. Recently, Google started offering ads in local packs, primarily on mobile results. Here’s one for “tax attorneys”…

Unlike traditional AdWords ads, these results don’t go directly to the advertiser’s website. Instead, like standard pack results, they go to a Google local panel. Here’s what the mobile version looks like…

In addition, Google has launched specialized ads for local service providers, such as plumbers and electricians. These appear carousel-style on desktop, such as this one for “plumbers in Seattle”…

Unlike AdWords advertisers, local service providers buy into a specialized program and these local service ads click to a fully customized Google sub-site, which brings us to the next topic — portals.

VII. Custom Portals

Some Google experiences have become so customized that they operate as stand-alone portals. If you click on a local service ad, you get a Google-owned portal that allows you to view the provider, check to see if they can handle your particular problem in your zip code, and (if not) view other, relevant providers…

You’ve completely left the search result at this point, and can continue your experience fully within this Google property. These local service ads have now expanded to more than 30 US cities.

In 2016, Google launched their own travel guides. Run a search like “things to do in Seattle” and you’ll see a carousel-style result like this one…

Click on “Seattle travel guide” and you’ll be taken to a customized travel portal for the city of Seattle. The screen below is a desktop result — note the increasing similarity to rich mobile experiences.

Once again, you’ve been taken to a complete Google experience outside of search results.

Last year, Google jumped into the job-hunting game, launching a 3-pack of job listings covering all major players in this space, like this one for “marketing jobs in Seattle”…

Click on any job listing, and you’ll be taken to a separate Google jobs portal. Let’s try Facebook…

From here, you can view other listings, refine your search, and even save jobs and set up alerts. Once again, you’ve jumped from a specialized Google result to a completely Google-controlled experience.

Like hotels, Google has dabbled in flight data and search for years. If I search for “flights to Seattle,” Google will automatically note my current location and offer me a search interface and a few choices…

Click on one of these choices and you’re taken to a completely redesigned Google Flights portal…

Once again, you can continue your journey completely within this Google-owned portal, never returning back to your original search. This is a trend we can expect to continue for the foreseeable future.

VIII. Hard Questions

If I’ve bludgeoned you with examples, then I apologize, but I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not a case of one or two isolated incidents. Google is systematically driving more clicks from search to new searches, in-search experiences, and other Google owned properties. This leads to a few hard questions…

Why is Google doing this?

Right about now, you’re rushing to the comments section to type “For the money!” along with a bunch of other words that may include variations of my name, “sheeple,” and “dumb-ass.” Yes, Google is a for-profit company that is motivated in part by making money. Moz is a for-profit company that is motivated in part by making money. Stating the obvious isn’t insight.

In some cases, the revenue motivation is clear. Suggesting the best laptops to searchers and linking those to shopping opportunities drives direct dollars. In traditional walled gardens, publishers are trying to produce more page-views, driving more ad impressions. Is Google driving us to more searches, in-search experiences, and portals to drive more ad clicks?

The answer isn’t entirely clear. Knowledge Graph links, for example, usually go to informational searches with few or no ads. Rich experiences like Medical Knowledge Panels and movie results on mobile have no ads at all. Some portals have direct revenues (local service providers have to pay for inclusion), but others, like travel guides, have no apparent revenue model (at least for now).

Google is competing directly with Facebook for hours in our day — while Google has massive traffic and ad revenue, people on average spend much more time on Facebook. Could Google be trying to drive up their time-on-site metrics? Possibly, but it’s unclear what this accomplishes beyond being a vanity metric to make investors feel good.

Looking to the long game, keeping us on Google and within Google properties does open up the opportunity for additional advertising and new revenue streams. Maybe Google simply realizes that letting us go so easily off to other destinations is leaving future money on the table.

Is this good for users?

I think the most objective answer I can give is — it depends. As a daily search user, I’ve found many of these developments useful, especially on mobile. If I can get an answer at a glance or in an in-search entity, such as a Live Result for weather or sports, or the phone number and address of a local restaurant, it saves me time and the trouble of being familiar with the user interface of thousands of different websites. On the other hand, if I feel that I’m being run in circles through search after search or am being given fewer and fewer choices, that can feel manipulative and frustrating.

Is this fair to marketers?

Let’s be brutally honest — it doesn’t matter. Google has no obligation to us as marketers. Sites don’t deserve to rank and get traffic simply because we’ve spent time and effort or think we know all the tricks. I believe our relationship with Google can be symbiotic, but that’s a delicate balance and always in flux.

In some cases, I do think we have to take a deep breath and think about what’s good for our customers. As a marketer, local packs linking directly to in-Google properties is alarming — we measure our success based on traffic. However, these local panels are well-designed, consistent, and have easy access to vital information like business addresses, phone numbers, and hours. If these properties drive phone calls and foot traffic, should we discount their value simply because it’s harder to measure?

Is this fair to businesses?

This is a more interesting question. I believe that, like other search engines before it, Google made an unwritten pact with website owners — in exchange for our information and the privilege to monetize that information, Google would send us traffic. This is not altruism on Google’s part. The vast majority of Google’s $95B in 2017 advertising revenue came from search advertising, and that advertising would have no audience without organic search results. Those results come from the collective content of the web.

As Google replaces that content and sends more clicks back to themselves, I do believe that the fundamental pact that Google’s success was built on is gradually being broken. Google’s garden was built on our collective property, and it does feel like we’re slowly being herded out of our own backyards.

We also have to consider the deeper question of content ownership. If Google chooses to pursue private data partnerships — such as with Live Results or the original Knowledge Graph — then they own that data, or at least are leasing it fairly. It may seem unfair that they’re displacing us, but they have the right to do so.

Much of the Knowledge Graph is built on human-curated sources such as Wikidata (i.e. Wikipedia). While Google undoubtedly has an ironclad agreement with Wikipedia, what about the people who originally contributed and edited that content? Would they have done so knowing their content could ultimately displace other content creators (including possibly their own websites) in Google results? Are those contributors willing participants in this experiment? The question of ownership isn’t as easy as it seems.

If Google extracts the data we provide as part of the pact, such as with Featured Snippets and People Also Ask results, and begins to wall off those portions of the garden, then we have every right to protest. Even the concept of a partnership isn’t always black-and-white. Some job listing providers I’ve spoken with privately felt pressured to enter Google’s new jobs portal (out of fear of cutting off the paths to their own gardens), but they weren’t happy to see the new walls built.

Google is also trying to survive. Search has to evolve, and it has to answer questions and fit a rapidly changing world of device formats, from desktop to mobile to voice. I think the time has come, though, for Google to stop and think about the pact that built their nearly hundred-billion-dollar ad empire.

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MozCon 2018: Making the Case for the Conference (& All the Snacks!)

Posted by Danielle_Launders

You’ve got that conference looming on the horizon. You want to go — you’ve spent the past few years desperately following hashtags on Twitter, memorizing catchy quotes, zooming in on grainy snapshots of a deck, and furiously downloading anything and everything you can scour from Slideshare.

But there’s a problem: conferences cost money, and your boss won’t even approve a Keurig in the communal kitchen, much less a ticket to a three-day-long learning sesh complete with its own travel and lodging expenses.

What’s an education-hungry digital marketer to do?

How do you convince your boss to send you to the conference of your dreams?

First of all, you gather evidence to make your case.

There are a plethora of excellent reasons why attending conferences is good for your career (and your bottom line). In digital marketing, we exist in the ever-changing tech space, hurtling toward the future at breakneck speed and often missing the details of the scenery along the way.

A good SEO conference will keep you both on the edge of your seat and on the cutting-edge of what’s new and noteworthy in our industry, highlighting some of the most important and impactful things your work depends on.

A good SEO conference will flip a switch for you, will trigger that lightbulb moment that empowers you and levels you up as both a marketer and a critical thinker.

If that doesn’t paint a beautiful enough picture to convince the folks that hold the credit card, though, there are also some great statistics and resources available:

Specifically, we’re talking about MozCon

Yes, that MozCon!

Let’s just take a moment to address the elephant in the room here: you all know why we wrote this post. We want to see your smiling face in the audience at MozCon this July (the 9th–11th, if you were wondering). There are a few specific benefits worth mentioning:

  • Speakers and content: Our speakers bring their A-game each year. We work with them to bring the best content and latest trends to the stage to help set you up for a year of success.
  • Videos to share with your team: About a month or so after the conference, we’ll send you a link to professionally edited videos of every presentation at the conference. Your colleagues won’t get to partake in the morning Top Pot doughnuts or Starbucks coffee, but they will get a chance to learn everything you did, for free.
  • Great food onsite: We understand that conference food isn’t typically worth mentioning, but at MozCon you can expect snacks from local Seattle vendors – in the past this includes Trophy cupcakes, KuKuRuZa popcorn, Starbucks’ Seattle Reserve cold brew, and did we mention bacon at breakfast? Let’s not forget the bacon.
  • Swag: Expect to go home with a one-of-a-kind Roger Mozbot, a super-soft t-shirt from American Apparel, and swag worth keeping. We’ve given away Roger Legos, Moleskine notebooks, phone chargers, and have even had vending machines with additional swag in case you didn’t get enough.
  • Networking: You work hard taking notes, learning new insights, and digesting all of that knowledge — that’s why we think you deserve a little fun in the evenings to chat with fellow attendees. Each night after the conference, we’ll offer a different networking event that adds to the value you’ll get from your day of education.
  • A supportive network after the fact: Our MozCon Facebook group is incredibly active, and it’s grown to have a life of its own — marketers ask one another SEO questions, post jobs, look for and offer advice and empathy, and more. It’s a great place to find TAGFEE support and camaraderie long after the conference itself has ended.
  • Discounts for subscribers and groups: Moz Pro subscribers get a whopping $500 off their ticket cost (even if you’re on a free 30-day trial!) and there are discounts for groups as well, so make sure to take advantage of savings where you can!
  • Ticket cost: At MozCon our goal is to break even, which means we invest all of your ticket price back into you. Check out the full breakdown below:

Can you tell we’re serious about the snacks?

You can check out videos from years past to get a taste for the caliber of our speakers. We’ll also be putting out a call for community speaker pitches in April, so if you’ve been thinking about breaking into the speaking circuit, it could be an amazing opportunity — keep an eye on the blog for your chance to submit a pitch.

If you’ve ever seriously considered attending an SEO conference like MozCon, now’s the time to do it. You’ll save actual hundreds of dollars by grabbing subscriber or group pricing while you can (think of all the Keurigs you could get for that communal kitchen!), and you’ll be bound for an unforgettable experience that lives and grows with you beyond just the three days you spend in Seattle.

Grab your ticket to MozCon!

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How (and Whether) to Invest in and Structure Online Communities – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Building an online community sounds like an attractive idea on paper. A group of enthusiastic, engaged users working on their own to boost your brand? What’s the hitch?

Well, building a thriving online community takes a great deal of effort, often with little return for a very long time. And there are other considerations: do you build your own platform, participate in an existing community, or a little of both? What are the benefits from a brand, SEO, and content marketing perspective? In this edition of Whiteboard Friday, Rand answers all your questions about building yourself an online community, including whether it’s an investment worth your time.

How and whether to invest in and structure online communities

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re chatting about how and whether to invest in and structure online communities.

I want to say a thank you to @DaveCraige on Twitter. Dave, thank you very much for the question, an excellent one. I think this is something that a lot of content marketers, web marketers, community builders think about is, “Should I be making an investment in building my own community? Should I leverage someone’s existing community? How can I do that and benefit from an SEO perspective and a content marketing and a brand awareness perspective?” So we’ll try and tackle some of those questions today on Whiteboard Friday.

Strategy first!

First off, before you go and invest anywhere or build anything, I urge you to think strategy first, meaning your business has goals. You have things that you want to accomplish. Maybe those are revenue growth or conversions. Maybe they have to do with entering a new sphere of influence or pursuing a new topic. Maybe you’re trying to launch a new product. Maybe you’re trying to pivot the business or disrupt yourself, change with technology.

Whatever those business goals are, they should lead you to marketing goals, the things that marketing can help to accomplish in those business goals. From that should fall out a bunch of tactics and initiatives. It’s only down here, in your marketing goals and tactical initiatives, that if online communities match up with those and serve your broader business goals, that you should actually make the investment. If not or if they fall below the line of, “Well, we can do three things that we think this year and do them well and this is thing number 4 or number 5 or number 10,” it doesn’t make the cut.

Online communities fit here if…

1. A passionate group of investment-worthy size exists in your topic.

So if, for example, you are targeting a new niche. I think Dave himself is in cryptocurrency. There’s definitely a passionate group of people in that sphere, and it is probably of investment-worthy size. More recently, that investment has been a little rocky, but certainly a large size group, and if you are targeting that group, a community could be worthwhile. So we have passion. We have a group. They are of sizable investment.

2. You/your brand/your platform can provide unique value via a community that’s superior to what’s available elsewhere.

Second, you or your brand or your platform can provide not just value but unique value, unique value different from what other people are offering via a community superior to what’s available elsewhere. Dave might himself say, “Well, there’s a bunch of communities around crypto, but I believe that I can create X, which will be unique in ways Y and Z and will be preferable for these types of participants in this way.” Maybe that’s because it enables sharing in certain ways. Maybe it enables transparency of certain kinds. Maybe it’s because it has no vested interest or ties to particular currencies or particular companies, whatever the case may be.

3. You’re willing to invest for years with little return to build something of great long-term value.

And last but not least, you’re willing to invest potentially for years, literally years without return or with very little return to build something of great long-term value. I think this is the toughest one. But communities are most similar in attribute to content marketing, where you’re going to put in a ton of upfront effort and a lot of ongoing effort before you’re going to see that return. Most of the time, most communities fail because the people behind them were not willing to make the investments to build them up, or they made other types of mistakes. We’ll talk about that in a second.

Two options: Build your own platform, or participate in an existing community

You have two options here. First, you can build your own platform. Second, you can participate in an existing community. My advice on this is never do number one without first spending a bunch of time in number two.

So if you are unfamiliar with the community platforms that already exist in interior decorating or in furniture design or in cryptocurrency or in machining tools or in men’s fashion, first participate in the communities that already exist in the space you’re targeting so that you are very familiar with the players, the platforms, the options, and opportunities. Otherwise, you will never know whether it’s an investment-worthy size, a passionate group. You’ll never know how or whether you can provide unique value. It’s just going to be too tough to get those things down. So always invest in the existing communities before you do the other one.

1. Build your own platform

Potential structures

Let’s talk quickly about building your own platform, and then we’ll talk about investing in others. If you’re deciding that what matches your goals best and your strategy best is to build your own platform, there are numerous opportunities. You can do it sort of halfway, where you build on someone else’s existing platform, for example creating your own subreddit or your own Facebook or LinkedIn group, which essentially uses another community’s platform, but you’re the owner and administrator of that community.

Or you can actually build your own forum or discussion board, your own blog and comments section, your own Q&A board, your own content leaderboard, like Hacker News or like Dharmesh and I did with, where we essentially built a Reddit or Hacker News-like clone for marketers.

Those investments are going to be much more severe than a Facebook group or a Twitter hashtag, a Twitter chat or a LinkedIn group, or those kinds of things, but you want to compare the benefits and drawbacks. In each, there are some of each.

Benefits & drawbacks

So forums and discussions, those are going to have user-generated content, which is a beautiful thing because it scales non-linearly with your investment. So if you build up a community of people who are on an ongoing basis creating topics and answering those topics and talking about those things in either a Q&A board or a forum discussion or a content leaderboard, what’s great is you get that benefit, that SEO benefit of having a bunch of longtail, hopefully high-quality content and discussion you’re going to need to do.

Mostly, what you’re going to worry about is drawbacks like the graveyard effect, where the community appears empty and so no one participates and maybe it drags down Google’s perception of your site because you have a bunch of low quality or thin pages, or people leave a bunch of spam in there or they become communities filled with hate groups, and the internet can devolve very quickly, as you can see from a lot of online communities.

Whatever you’re doing, blog and comments, you get SEO benefits, you get thought leadership benefits, but it requires regular content investments. You don’t get the UGC benefit quite like you would with a forum or a discussion. With Facebook groups or LinkedIn groups, Twitter hashtags, it’s easy to build, but there’s no SEO benefit, usually very little to none.

With a Q&A board, you do get UGC and SEO. You still have those same moderation and graveyard risks.

With content leaderboards, they’re very difficult to maintain, being a good example, where Dharmesh and I figured, “Hey, we can get this thing up and rolling,” and then it turns out no, we need to hire people and maintain it and put in a bunch of effort and energy. But it can become a bookmarkable destination, which means you get repeat traffic over and over.

Whatever you’re choosing, make sure you list out these benefits and then align these with the strategy, the marketing goal, the tactics and initiatives that flow from those. That’s going to help determine how you should structure, whether you should structure your own community.

2. Participate in existing communities


The other option is participating in existing ones, places like Quora, subreddits, Twitter, LinkedIn groups, existing forums. Same thing, you’re going to take these. Well, we can participate on an existing forum, and we can see that the size and reach is on average about nine responses per thread, about three threads per day, three new threads per day.

Benefits & drawbacks

The benefit is that it can build up our thought leadership and our recognition among this group of influential people in our field. The drawback is it builds our competitor’s content, because this forum is going to be ranking for all those things. They own the platform. It’s not our owned platform. Then we align that with our goals and initiatives.

Four bits of advice

1. If you build, build for SEO + owned channels. Don’t create on someone else’s platform.

So I’m not going to dive through all of these, but I do want to end on some bits of advice. So I mentioned already make sure you invest in other people’s communities before you build your own. I would also add to that if you’re going to build something, if you’re going to build your own, I would generally rule these things out — LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, Twitter hashtag groups. Why? Because those other platforms control them, and then they can change them at any time and your reach can change on those platforms. I would urge you to build for SEO and for an owned media channel.

2. Start with a platform that doesn’t lose credibility when empty (e.g. blog > forum).

Second, I’d start with a platform that doesn’t lose credibility when it’s empty. That is to say if you know you want to build a forum or a content leaderboard or a Q&A board, make it something where you know that you and your existing team can do all the work to create a non-graveyard-like environment initially. That could mean limiting it to only a few sections in a forum, or all the Q&A goes in one place as opposed to there are many subforums that have zero threads and zero comments and zero replies, or every single thing that’s posted, we know that at least two of us internally will respond to them, that type of stuff.

3. Don’t use a subdomain or separate domain.

Third, if you can, avoid using a subdomain and definitely don’t use a separate domain. Subdomains inherit some of the ranking ability and benefits of the primary domain they’re on. Separate domains tend to inherit almost none.

4. Before you build, gather a willing, excited crew via an email group who will be your first active members.

Last, but not least, before you build, gather a willing, excited group of people, your crew, hopefully via an email group — this has served me extremely well — who will be those first active members.

So if you’re building something in the crypto space, as maybe Dave is considering, I might say to him, hey, find those 10 or 15 or 20 people who are in your world, who you talk to online already, create an email group, all be chatting with each other and contributing. Then start your Q&A board, or then start your blog and your comments section, or then start your forum, what have you. If you can seed it with that initial passionate group, you will get over a lot of the big hurdles around building or rolling your own community system.

All right, everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and we’ll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by

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How to Deal with Fake Negative Reviews on Google

Posted by JoyHawkins

Fake reviews are a growing problem for those of us that own small businesses. In the online world, it’s extremely easy to create a new account and leave either a positive or negative review for any business — regardless of whether you’ve ever tried to hire them.

Google has tons of policies for users that leave reviews. But in my experience they’re terrible at automatically catching violations of these policies. At my agency, my team spends time each month carefully monitoring reviews for our clients and their competitors. The good news is that if you’re diligent at tracking them and can make a good enough case for why the reviews are against the guidelines, you can get them removed by contacting Google on Twitter, Facebook, or reporting via the forum.

Recently, my company got hit with three negative reviews, all left in the span of 5 minutes:

Two of the three reviews were ratings without reviews. These are the hardest to get rid of because Google will normally tell you that they don’t violate the guidelines — since there’s no text on them. I instantly knew they weren’t customers because I’m really selective about who I work with and keep my client base small intentionally. I would know if someone that was paying me was unhappy.

The challenge with negative reviews on Google

The challenge is that Google doesn’t know who your customers are, and they won’t accept “this wasn’t a customer” as an acceptable reason to remove a review, since they allow people to use anonymous usernames. In most cases, it’s extremely difficult to prove the identity of someone online.

The other challenge is that a person doesn’t have to be a customer to be eligible to leave a review. They have to have a “customer experience,” which could be anything from trying to call you and getting your voicemail to dropping by your office and just browsing around.

How to respond

When you work hard to build a good, ethical business, it’s always infuriating when a random person has the power to destroy what took you years to build. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t the least bit upset when these reviews came in. Thankfully, I was able to follow the advice I’ve given many people in the last decade, which is to calm down and think about what your future prospects will see when they come across review and the way you respond to it.

Solution: Share your dilemma

I decided to post on Twitter and Facebook about my lovely three negative reviews, and the response I got was overwhelming. People had really great and amusing things to say about my dilemma.

Whoever was behind these three reviews was seeking to harm my business. The irony is that they actually helped me, because I ended up getting three new positive reviews as a result of sharing my experience with people that I knew would rally behind me.

For most businesses, your evangelists might not be on Twitter, but you could post about it on your personal Facebook profile. Any friends that have used your service or patronized your business would likely respond in the same manner. It’s important to note that I never asked anyone to review me when posting this — it was simply the natural response from people that were a fan of my company and what we stand for. If you’re a great company, you’ll have these types of customers and they should be the people you want to share this experience with!

But what about getting the negative reviews removed?

In this case, I was able to get the three reviews removed. However, there have also been several cases where I’ve seen Google refuse to remove them for others. My plan B was to post a response to the reviews offering these “customers” a 100% refund. After all, 100% of zero is still zero — I had nothing to lose. This would also ensure that future prospects see that I’m willing to address people that have a negative experience, since even the best businesses in the world aren’t perfect. As much as I love my 5-star rating average, studies have shown that 4.2–4.5 is actually the ideal average star rating for purchase probability.

Have you had an experience with fake negative reviews on Google? If so, I’d love to hear about it, so please leave a comment.

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