Tag Archive | "Ranking"

Troubleshooting Local Ranking Failures [Updated for 2018]

Posted by MiriamEllis

I love a mystery… especially a local search ranking mystery I can solve for someone.

Now, the truth is, some ranking puzzles are so complex, they can only be solved by a formal competitive audit. But there are many others that can be cleared up by spending 15 minutes or less going through an organized 10-point checklist of the commonest problems that can cause a business to rank lower than the owner thinks it should. By zipping through the following checklist, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one or more obvious “whodunits” contributing to poor Google local pack visibility for a given search.

Since I wrote the original version of this post in 2014, so much has changed. Branding, tools, tactics — things are really different in 2018. Definitely time for a complete overhaul, with the goal of making you a super sleuth for your forum friends, clients, agency teammates, or executive superiors.

Let’s emulate the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which earned lasting fame by hitting on a simple formula for surfacing and solving mysteries in a most enjoyable way.

Before we break out our magnifying glass, it’s critical to stress one very important thing. The local rankings I see from an office in North Beach, San Francisco are not the rankings you see while roaming around Golden Gate park in the same city. The rankings your client in Des Moines sees for things in his town are not the same rankings you see from your apartment in Albuquerque when you look at Des Moines results. With the user having become the centroid of search for true local searches, it is no mystery at all that we see different results when we are different places, and it is no cause for concern.

And now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and are in the proper detective spirit, let’s dive into how to solve for each item on our checklist!


☑ Google updates/bugs

The first thing to ask if a business experiences a sudden change in rankings is whether Google has done something. Search Engine Land strikes me as the fastest reporter of Google updates, with MozCast offering an ongoing weather report of changes in the SERPs. Also, check out the Moz Google Algo Change history list and the Moz Blog for some of the most in-depth strategic coverage of updates, penalties, and filters.

For local-specific bugs (or even just suspected tests), check out the Local Search Forum, the Google My Business forum, and Mike Blumenthal’s blog. See if the effects being described match the weirdness you are seeing in your local packs. If so, it’s a matter of fixing a problematic practice (like iffy link building) that has been caught in an update, waiting to see how the update plays out, or waiting for Google to fix a bug or turn a dial down to normalize results.

*Pro tip: Don’t make the mistake of thinking organic updates have nothing to do with local SEO. Crack detectives know organic and local are closely connected.

☑ Eligibility to list and rank

When a business owner wants to know why he isn’t ranking well locally, always ask these four questions:

  1. Does the business have a real address? (Not a PO box, virtual office, or a string of employees’ houses!)
  2. Does the business make face-to-face contact with its customers?
  3. What city is the business in?
  4. What is the exact keyword phrase they are hoping to rank for?

If the answer is “no” to either of the first two questions, the business isn’t eligible for a Google My Business listing. And while spam does flow through Google, a lack of eligibility could well be the key to a lack of rankings.

For the third question, you need to know the city the business is in so that you can see if it’s likely to rank for the search phrase cited in the fourth question. For example, a plumber with a street address in Sugar Land, TX should not expect to rank for “plumber Dallas TX.” If a business lacks a physical location in a given city, it’s atypical for it to rank for queries that stem from or relate to that locale. It’s amazing just how often this simple fact solves local pack mysteries.

☑ Guideline spam

To be an ace local sleuth, you must commit to memory the guidelines for representing your business on Google so that you can quickly spot violations. Common acts of spam include:

  • Keyword stuffing the business name field
  • Improper wording of the business name field
  • Creating listings for ineligible locations, departments, or people
  • Category spam
  • Incorrect phone number implementation
  • Incorrect website URL implementation
  • Review guideline violations

If any of the above conundrums are new to you, definitely spend 10 minutes reading the guidelines. Make flash cards, if necessary, to test yourself on your spam awareness until you can instantly detect glaring errors. With this enhanced perception, you’ll be able to see problems that may possibly be leading to lowered rankings, or even… suspensions!

☑ Suspensions

There are two key things to look for here when a local business owner comes to you with a ranking woe:

  1. If the listing was formerly verified, but has mysteriously become unverified, you should suspect a soft suspension. Soft suspensions might occur around something like a report of keyword-stuffing the GMB business name field. Oddly, however, there is little anecdotal evidence to support the idea that soft suspensions cause ranking drops. Nevertheless, it’s important to spot the un-verification clue and tell the owner to stop breaking guidelines. It’s possible that the listing may lose reviews or images during this type of suspension, but in most cases, the owner should be able to re-verify his listing. Just remember: a soft suspension is not a likely cause of low local pack rankings.
  2. If the listing’s rankings totally disappear and you can’t even find the listing via a branded search, it’s time to suspect a hard suspension. Hard suspensions can result from a listing falling afoul of a Google guideline or new update, a Google employee, or just a member of the public who has reported the business for something like an ineligible location. If the hard suspension is deserved, as in the case of creating a listing at a fake address, then there’s nothing you can do about it. But, if a hard suspension results from a mistake, I recommend taking it to the Google My Business forum to plead for help. Be prepared to prove that you are 100% guideline-compliant and eligible in hopes of getting your listing reinstated with its authority and reviews intact.

☑ Duplicates

Notorious for their ability to divide ranking strength, duplicate listings are at their worst when there is more than one verified listing representing a single entity. If you encounter a business that seems like it should be ranking better than it is for a given search, always check for duplicates.

The quickest way to do this is to get all present and past NAP (name, address, phone) from the business and plug it into the free Moz Check Listing tool. Pay particular attention to any GMB duplicates the tool surfaces. Then:

  1. If the entity is a brick-and-mortar business or service area business, and the NAP exactly matches between the duplicates, contact Google to ask them to merge the listings. If the NAP doesn’t match and represents a typo or error on the duplicate, use the “suggest an edit” link in Google Maps to toggle the “yes/no” toggle to “yes,” and then select the radio button for “never existed.”
  2. If the duplicates represent partners in a multi-practitioner business, Google won’t simply delete them. Things get quite complicated in this scenario, and if you discover practitioner duplicates, tread carefully. There are half a dozen nuances here, including whether you’re dealing with actual duplicates, whether they represent current or past staffers, whether they are claimed or unclaimed, and even whether a past partner is deceased. There isn’t perfect industry agreement on the handling of all of the ins-and-outs of practitioner listings. Given this, I would advise an affected business to read all of the following before making a move in any direction:

☑ Missing/inaccurate listings

While you’ve got Moz Check Listing fired up, pay attention to anything it tells you about missing or inaccurate listings. The tool will show you how accurate and complete your listings on are on the major local business data aggregators, plus other important platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, Factual, Yelp, and more. Why does this matter?

  1. Google can pull information from anywhere on the web and plunk it into your Google My Business listing.
  2. While no one can quantify the exact degree to which citation/listing consistency directly impacts Google local rankings for every possible search query, it has been a top 5 ranking factor in the annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey as far back as I can remember. Recently, I’ve seen some industry discussion as to whether citations still matter, with some practitioners claiming they can’t see the difference they make. I believe that conclusion may stem from working mainly in ultra-competitive markets where everyone has already got their citations in near-perfect order, forcing practitioners to look for differentiation tactics beyond the basics. But without those basics, you’re missing table stakes in the game.
  3. Indirectly, listing absence or inconsistency impacts local rankings in that it undermines the quest for good local KPIs as well as organic authority. Every lost or misdirected consumer represents a failure to have someone click-for-directions, click-to-call, click-to-your website, or find your website at all. Online and offline traffic, conversions, reputation, and even organic authority all hang in the balance of active citation management.

☑ Lack of organic authority

Full website or competitive audits are not the work of a minute. They really take time, and deep delving. But, at a glance, you can access some quick metrics to let you know whether a business’ lack of achievement on the organic side of things could be holding them back in the local packs. Get yourself the free MozBar SEO toolbar and try this:

  1. Turn the MozBar on by clicking the little “M” at the top of your browser so that it is blue.
  2. Perform your search and look at the first few pages of the organic results, ignoring anything from major directory sites like Yelp (they aren’t competing with you for local pack rankings, eh?).
  3. Note down the Page Authority, Domain Authority, and link counts for each of the businesses coming up on the first 3 pages of the organic results.
  4. Finally, bring up the website of the business you’re investigating. If you see that the top competitors have Domain Authorities of 50 and links numbering in the hundreds or thousands, whereas your target site is well below in these metrics, chances are good that organic authority is playing a strong role in lack of local search visibility. How do we know this is true? Do some local searches and note just how often the businesses that make it into the 3-pack or the top of the local finder view have correlating high organic rankings.

Where organic authority is poor, a business has a big job of work ahead. They need to focus on content dev + link building + social outreach to begin building up their brand in the minds of consumers and the “RankBrain” of Google.

One other element needs to be mentioned here, and that’s the concept of how time affects authority. When you’re talking to a business with a ranking problem, it’s very important to ascertain whether they just launched their website or just built their local business listings last week, or even just a few months ago. Typically, if they have, the fruits of their efforts have yet to fully materialize. That being said, it’s not a given that a new business will have little authority. Large brands have marketing departments which exist solely to build tremendous awareness of new assets before they even launch. It’s important to keep that in mind, while also realizing that if the business is smaller, building authority will likely represent a longer haul.

☑ Possum effect

Where local rankings are absent, always ask:

“Are there any other businesses in your building or even on your street that share your Google category?”

If the answer is “yes,” search for the business’ desired keyword phase and look at the local finder view in Google Maps. Note which companies are ranking. Then begin to zoom in on the map, level by level, noting changes in the local finder as you go. If, a few levels in, the business you’re advising suddenly appears on the map and in the local finder, chances are good it’s the Possum filter that’s causing their apparent invisibility at the automatic zoom level.

Google Possum rolled out in September 2016, and its observable effects included a geographic diversification of the local results, filtering out many listings that share a category and are in close proximity to one another. Then, about one year later, Google initiated the Hawk update, which appears to have tightened the radius of Possum, with the result that while many businesses in the same building are still being filtered out, a number of nearby neighbors have reappeared at the automatic zoom level of the results.

If your sleuthing turns up a brand that is being impacted by Possum/Hawk, the only surefire way to beat the filter is to put in the necessary work to become the most authoritative answer for the desired search phrase. It’s important to remember that filters are the norm in Google’s local results, and have long been observed impacting listings that share an address, share a phone number, etc. If it’s vital for a particular listing to outrank all others that possess shared characteristics, then authority must be built around it in every possible way to make it one of the most dominant results.

☑ Local Service Ads effect

The question you ask here is:

“Is yours a service-area business?”

And if the answer is “yes,” then brace yourself for ongoing results disruption in the coming year.

Google’s Local Service Ads (formerly Home Service Ads) make Google the middleman between consumers and service providers, and in the 2+ years since first early testing, they’ve caused some pretty startling things to happen to local search results. These have included:

Suffice it to say, rollout to an ever-increasing number of cities and categories hasn’t been for the faint of heart, and I would hazard a guess that Google’s recent re-brand of this program signifies their intention to move beyond the traditional SAB market. One possible benefit of Google getting into this type of lead gen is that it could decrease spam, but I’m not sold on this, given that fake locations have ended up qualifying for LSA inclusion. While I honor Google’s need to be profitable, I share some of the qualms business owners have expressed about the potential impacts of this venture.

Since I can’t offer a solid prediction of what precise form these impacts will take in the coming months, the best I can do here is to recommend that if an SAB experiences a ranking change/loss, the first thing to look for is whether LSA has come to town. If so, alteration of the SERPs may be unavoidable, and the only strategy left for overcoming vanished visibility may be to pay for it… by qualifying for the program.

☑ GMB neglect

Sometimes, a lack of competitive rankings can simply be chalked up to a lack of effort. If a business wonders why they’re not doing better in the local packs, pull up their GMB listing and do a quick evaluation of:

  • Verification status – While you can rank without verifying, lack of verification is a hallmark of listing neglect.
  • Basic accuracy – If NAP or map markers are incorrect, it’s a sure sign of neglect.
  • Category choices – Wrong categories make right rankings impossible.
  • Image optimization – Every business needs a good set of the most professional, persuasive photos it can acquire, and should even consider periodic new photo shoots for seasonal freshness; imagery impacts KPIs, which are believed to impact rank.
  • Review count, sentiment and management – Too few reviews, low ratings, and lack of responses = utter neglect of this core rank/reputation-driver.
  • Hours of operation – If they’re blank or incorrect, conversions are being missed.
  • Main URL choice – Does the GMB listing point to a strong, authoritative website page or a weak one?
  • Additional URL choices – If menus, bookings, reservations, or placing orders is part of the business model, a variety of optional URLs are supported by Google and should be explored.
  • Google Posts – Early-days testing indicates that regular posting may impact rank.
  • Google Questions and Answers – Pre-populate with best FAQs and actively manage incoming questions.

There is literally no business, large or small, with a local footprint that can afford to neglect its Google My Business listing. And while some fixes and practices move the ranking needle more than others, the increasing number of consumer actions that take place within Google is reason enough to put active GMB management at the top of your list.


Closing the case

The Hardy Boys never went anywhere without their handy kit of detection tools. Their father was so confident in their utter preparedness that he even let them chase down gangs in Hong Kong and dictators in the Guyanas (which, on second thought, doesn’t seem terribly wise.) But I have that kind of confidence in you. I hope my troubleshooting checklist is one you’ll bookmark and share to be prepared for the local ranking mysteries awaiting you and your digital marketing colleagues in 2018. Happy sleuthing!

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SearchCap: Local ranking factors, keyword bidding & more

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

The post SearchCap: Local ranking factors, keyword bidding & more appeared first on Search Engine Land.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

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SearchCap: Google Shopping ad updates, SEO ranking factors & nofollow links

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

The post SearchCap: Google Shopping ad updates, SEO ranking factors & nofollow links appeared first on Search Engine Land.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

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Search Buzz Video Recap: Google Algorithm Update & Mobile First Index Tests, Sentiment Ranking Factors & Danny Sullivan Joins Google

This week in search, I covered a largish Google search algorithm ranking update over last weekend. Also, we are noticing huge shifts in the mobile search results…


Search Engine Roundtable

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SEO ranking factors: What’s important, what’s not

This week, Google celebrated its 19th birthday. A lot has changed in nearly two decades. Rather than relying primarily on PageRank to evaluate the quality of web pages, Google now uses a whole array of techniques to suggest a wide range of content in response to queries, from simple direct answers…



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Search Buzz Video Recap: Google Search Ranking Changes, Top Ranking Signals & Dynamic Algorithms

First, I am offline, so this video and post was all created and produced on Wednesday, things may have transpired between now and then that I may have to catch up on this Monday. Google did some algorithm search ranking updates this week…


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Understanding and Harnessing the Flow of Link Equity to Maximize SEO Ranking Opportunity – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

How does the flow of link equity work these days, and how can you harness its potential to help improve your rankings? Whether you’re in need of a refresher or you’ve always wanted a firmer grasp of the concept, this week’s Whiteboard Friday is required watching. Rand covers the basic principles of link equity, outlines common flow issues your site might be encountering, and provides a series of action items to ensure your site is riding the right currents.

Link equity flow

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about understanding and harnessing link equity flow, primarily internal link equity flow, so that you can get better rankings and execute on your SEO. A big thank you to William Chou, @WChouWMX on Twitter, for suggesting this topic. If you have a topic or something that you would like to see on Whiteboard Friday, tweet at me. We’ll add it to the list.

Principles of link equity

So some principles of link equity first to be aware of before we dive into some examples.

1. External links generally give more ranking value and potential ranking boosts than internal links.

That is not to say, though, that internal links provide no link equity, and in fact, many pages that earn few or no external links can still rank well if a domain itself is well linked to and that page is on that site and has links from other good, important pages on the domain. But if a page is orphaned or if a domain has no links at all, extremely difficult to rank.

2. Well-linked-to pages, both internal and external, pass more link equity than those that are poorly linked to.

I think this makes intuitive sense to all of us who have understood the concept of PageRank over the years. Basically, if a page accrues many links, especially from other important pages, that page’s ability to pass its link equity to other pages, to give a boost in ranking ability is stronger than if a page is very poorly linked to or not linked to at all.

3. Pages with fewer links tend to pass more equity to their targets than pages with more links.

Again, going off the old concept of PageRank, if you have a page with hundreds or thousands of links on it, each of those receives a much more fractional, smaller amount of the link equity that could be passed to it than if you have a page with only a few links on it. This is not universally… well, I just want to say this doesn’t scale perfectly. So it’s not the case that if you were to trim down your high link earning pages to having only one link and point to this particular page on your site, then you suddenly get tremendously more benefit than if you had your normal navigation on that page and you link to your homepage and About page and products page. That’s not really the case. But if you had a page that had hundreds of links in a row and you instead made that page have only a few links to the most important, most valuable places, you’ll get more equity out of that, more rank boosting ability.

4. Hacks and tricks like “nofollow” are often ineffective at shaping the flow of link equity.

Using rel=”no follow” or embedding a remotely executable JavaScript file that makes it so that browsers can see the links and visitors can, but Google is unlikely to see or follow those links, to shape the flow of your link equity is generally (a) a poor use of your time, because it doesn’t affect things that much. The old-school PageRank algorithm not that hugely important anymore. And (b) Google is often pretty good at interpreting and discounting these things. So it tends to not be worth your time at all.

5. Redirects and canonicalization lose a small amount of link equity. Non-ideal ones like 302s, JS redirects, etc. may lose more than 301, rel=canonical, etc.

So if I have a 301 or a rel=canonical from one page to another, those will lose or cost you a small, a very small amount of link equity. But more potentially costly would be using non-ideal types of redirects or canonicalization methods, like a JavaScript-based redirect or a 302 or a 307 instead of a 301. If you’re going to do a redirect or if you’re going to do canonicalization, 301s or rel=canonicals are the way to go.

So keeping in mind these principles, let’s talk through three of the most common link equity flow issues that we see websites facing.

Common link equity flow issues

A. A few pages on a large site get all the external links:

You have a relatively large site, let’s say thousands to tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of pages, and only a few of those pages are earning any substantial quantity of external links. I have highlighted those in pink. So these pages are pointing to these pink ones. But on this website you have other pages, pages like these purple ones, where you essentially are wanting to earn link equity, because you know that you need to rank for these terms and pages that these purple ones are targeting, but they’re not getting the external links that these pink pages are. In these cases, it’s important to try a few things.

  1. We want to identify the most important non-link earning pages, these purple ones. We’ve got to figure out what these actually are. What are the pages that you wish would rank that are not yet ranking for their terms and phrases that they’re targeting?
  2. We want to optimize our internal links from these pink pages to these purple ones. So in an ideal world, we would say, “Aha, these pages are very strong. They’ve earned a lot of link equity.” You could use Open Site Explorer and look at Top Pages, or Ahrefs or any of our other competitors and look at your pages, the ones that have earned the most links and the most link equity. Then you could say, “Hey, can I find some relevance between these two or some user stories where someone who reaches this page needs something over here, and thus I’m going to create a link to and from there?” That’s a great way to pass equity.
  3. Retrofitting and republishing. So what I mean by this is essentially I’m going to take these pages, these purple ones that I want to be earning links, that are not doing well yet, and consider reworking their content, taking the lessons that I have learned from the pink pages, the ones that have earned link equity, that have earned external links and saying, “What did these guys do right that we haven’t done right on these guys, and what could we do to fix that situation?” Then I’m going to republish and restart a marketing, a link building campaign to try and get those links.

B. Only the homepage of a smaller site gets any external links.

This time we’re dealing with a small site, a very, very small site, 5 pages, 10 pages, maybe even up to 50 pages, but generally a very small site. Often a lot of small businesses, a lot of local businesses have this type of presence, and only the homepage gets any link equity at all. So what do we do in those cases? There’s not a whole lot to spread around. The homepage can only link to so many places. We have to serve users first. If we don’t, we’re definitely going to fall in the search engine rankings.

So in this case, where the pink link earner is the homepage, there are two things we can do:

  1. Make sure that the homepage is targeting and serves the most critical keyword targets. So we have some keyword targets that we know we want to go after. If there’s one phrase in particular that’s very important, rather than having the homepage target our brand, we could consider having the homepage target that specific query. Many times small businesses and small websites will make this mistake where they say, “Oh, our most important keyword, we’ll make that this page. We’ll try and rank it. We’ll link to it from the homepage.” That is generally not nearly as effective as making a homepage target that searcher intent. If it can fit with the user journey as well, that’s one of the best ways you can go.
  2. Consider some new pages for content, like essentially saying, “Hey, I recognize that these other pages, maybe they’re About and my Terms of Service and some of my products and services and whatnot, and they’re just not that link-worthy. They don’t deserve links. They’re not the type of pages that would naturally earn links.” So we might need to consider what are two or three types of pages or pages that we could produce, pieces of content that could earn those links, and think about it this way. You know who the people who are already linking to you are. It’s these folks. I have just made up some domains here. But the folks who are already linking to your homepage, those are likely to be the kinds of people who will link to your internal pages as well. So I would think about them as link targets and say, “What would I be pretty confident that they would link to, if only they knew that it existed on our website?” That’s going to give you a lot of success. Then I would check out some of our link building sections here on Whiteboard Friday and across the Moz Blog for more tips.

C. Mid-long tail KW-targeting pages are hidden or minimized by the site’s nav/IA.

So this is essentially where I have a large site, and I have pages that are targeting keywords that don’t get a ton of volume, but they’re still important. They could really boost the value that we get from our website, because they’re hyper-targeted to good customers for us. In this case, one of the challenges is they’re hidden by your information architecture. So your top-level navigation and maybe even your secondary-level navigation just doesn’t link to them. So they’re just buried deep down in the website, under a whole bunch of other stuff. In these cases, there are some really good solutions.

  1. Find semantic and user intent relationships. So semantic is these words appeared on those pages. Let’s say one of these pages here is targeting the word “toothpaste,” for example, and I find that, oh, you know what, this page over here, which is well linked to in our navigation, mentions the word “toothpaste,” but it doesn’t link over here yet. I’m going to go create those links. That’s a semantic relationship. A user intent relationship would be, hey, this page over here talks about oral health. Well, oral health and toothpaste are actually pretty relevant. Let me make sure that I can create that user journey, because I know that people who’ve read about oral health on our website probably also later want to read about toothpaste, at least some of them. So let’s make that relationship also happen between those two pages. That would be a user intent type of relationship. You’re going find those between your highly linked to external pages and your well-linked-to internal pages and these long tail pages that you’re trying to target. Then you’re going to create those new links.
  2. Try and leverage the top-level category pages that you already have. If you have a top-level navigation and it links to whatever it is — home, products, services, About Us, Contact, the usual types of things — it’s those pages that are extremely well linked to already internally where you can add in content links to those long-tail pages and potentially benefit.
  3. Consider new top-level or second-level pages. If you’re having trouble adding them to these pages, they already have too many links, there’s no user story that make good sense here, it’s too weird to jam them in, maybe engineering or your web dev team thinks that that’s ridiculous to try and jam those in there, consider creating new top-level pages. So essentially saying, “Hey, I want to add a page to our top-level navigation that is called whatever it is, Additional Resources or Resources for the Curious or whatever.” In this case in my oral health and dentistry example, potentially I want an oral health page that is linked to from the top-level navigation. Then you get to use that new top-level page to link down and flow the link equity to all these different pages that you care about and currently are getting buried in your navigation system.

All right, everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. Give us your tips in the comments for how you’ve seen link equity flow, the benefits or drawbacks that you’ve seen to try and controlling and optimizing that flow. We’ll see again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Google Algorithm & Ranking Update Chatter

Starting over the weekend, mostly Saturday and Sunday on August 19th and 20th, there were some chatter in the webmaster channels around Google fluctuations in the search results. The chatter was intense for a day or so and died out a lot since then…


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Is the New, Most Powerful Ranking Factor "Searcher Task Accomplishment?" – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Move over, links, content, and RankBrain — there’s a new ranking factor in town, and it’s a doozy. All kidding aside, the idea of searcher task accomplishment is a compelling argument for how we should be optimizing our sites. Are they actually solving the problems searchers seek answers for? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains how searcher task accomplishment is what Google ultimately looks for, and how you can keep up.

Searcher Task Accomplishment

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re chatting about a new Google ranking factor.

Now, I want to be clear. This is not something that’s directly in Google’s algorithm for sure. It’s just that they’re measuring a lot of things that lead us to this conclusion. This is essentially what Google is optimizing toward with all of their ranking signals, and therefore it’s what SEOs nowadays have to think about optimizing for with our content. And that is searcher task accomplishment.

So what do I mean by this? Well, look, when someone does a search like “disinfect a cut,” they’re trying to actually accomplish something. In fact, no matter what someone is searching for, it’s not just that they want a set of results. They’re actually trying to solve a problem. For Google, the results that solve that problem fastest and best and with the most quality are the ones that they want to rank.

In the past, they’ve had to do all sorts of algorithms to try and get at this from obtuse angles. But now, with a lot of the work that they’re doing around measuring engagement and with all of the data that’s coming to them through Chrome and through Android, they’re able to get much, much closer to what is truly accomplishing the searcher’s task. That’s because they really want results that satisfy the query and fulfill the searcher’s task.

So pretty much every — I’m excluding navigational searches — but every informational and transactional type of search — I mean, navigational, they just want to go to that website — but informational and transactional search query is basically this. It’s I have an expression of need. That’s what I’m telling Google. But behind that, there’s a bunch of underlying goals, things that I want to do. I want to know information. I want to accomplish something. I want to complete an activity.

When I do that, when I perform my search, I have this sort of evaluation of results. Is this going to help me do what I want? Then I choose one, and then I figure out whether that result actually helps me complete my task. If it does, I might have discovery of additional needs around that, like once you’ve answered my disinfect a cut, now it’s, okay, now I kind of want to know how to prevent an infection, because you described using disinfectant and then you said infections are real scary. So let me go look up how do I prevent that from happening. So there’s that discovery of additional needs. Or you decide, hey, this did not help me complete my task. I’m going to go back to evaluation of results, or I’m going to go back to my expression of need in the form of a different search query.

That’s what gives Google the information to say, “Yes, this result helped the searcher accomplish their task,” or, “No, this result did not help them do it.”

Some examples of searcher task accomplishment

This is true for a bunch of things. I’ll walk you through some examples.

If I search for how to get a book published, that’s an expression of need. But underlying that is a bunch of different goals like, well, you’re going to be asking about like traditional versus self-publishing, and then you’re going to want to know about agents and publishers and the publishing process and the pitch process, which is very involved. Then you’re going to get into things like covers and book marketing and tracking sales and all this different stuff, because once you reach your evaluation down here and you get into discovery of additional needs, you find all these other things that you need to know.

If I search for “invest in Ethereum,” well maybe I know enough to start investing right away, but probably, especially recently because there’s been a ton of search activity around it, I probably need to understand: What the heck is the blockchain and what is cryptocurrency, this blockchain-powered currency system, and what’s the market for that like, and what has it been doing lately, and what’s my purchase process, and where can I actually go to buy it, and what do I have to do to complete that transaction?

If I search for something like “FHA loans,” well that might mean I’m in the mindset of thinking about real estate. I’m buying usually my first house for an FHA loan, and that means that I need to know things about conditions by region and the application process and what are the providers in my area and how can I go apply, all of these different things.

If I do a search for “Seattle event venues,” well that means I’m probably looking for a list of multiple event venues, and then I need to narrow down my selection by the criteria I care about, like region, capacity, the price, the amenities. Then once I have all that, I need contact information so that I can go to them.

In all of these scenarios, Google is going to reward the results that help me accomplish the task, discover the additional needs, and solve those additional needs as well, rather than the ones that maybe provide a slice of what I need and then make me go back to the search results and choose something else or change my query to figure out more.

Google is also going to reward, and you can see this in all these results, they’re going to reward ones that give me all the information I need, that help me accomplish my task before they ask for something in return. The ones that are basically just a landing page that say, “Oh yeah, Seattle event venues, enter your email address and all this other information, and we’ll be in touch with a list of venues that are right for you.” Yeah, guess what? It doesn’t matter how many links you have, you are not ranking, my friends.

That is so different from how it used to be. It used to be that you could have that contact form. You could have that on there. You could not solve the searcher’s query. You could basically be very conversion rate-focused on your page, and so long as you could get the right links and the right anchor text and use the right keywords on the page, guess what? You could rank. Those days are ending. I’m not going to say they’re gone, but they are ending, and this new era of searcher task accomplishment is here.

Challenge: The conflict between SEO & CRO

There’s a challenge. I want to be totally up front that there is a real challenge and a problem between this world of optimizing for searcher task accomplishment and the classic world of we want our conversions. So the CRO in your organization, which might be your director of marketing or it might be your CEO, or maybe if your team is big enough, you might have a CRO specialist, conversation rate optimization specialist, on hand. They’re thinking, “Hey, I need the highest percent of form completions possible.”

So when someone lands on this page, I’m trying to get from two percent to four percent. How do we get four percent of people visiting this page to complete the form? That means removing distractions. That means not providing information up front. That means having a great teaser that says like, “Hey, we can give this to you, and here are testimonials that say we can provide this information. But let’s not give it right up front. Don’t give away the golden goose, my friend. We want these conversions. We need to get our qualified leads into the funnel,” versus the SEO, who today has to think about, “How do I get searchers to accomplish their task without friction?” This lead capture form, that’s friction.

So every organization, I think, needs to decide which way they’re going to go. Are they going to go for basically long-term SEO, which is I’m going to solve the searcher’s task, and then I’m going to figure out ways later to monetize and to capture value? Or am I going to basically lose out in the search results to people who are willing to do this and go this route instead and drive traffic from other sources? Maybe I’ll rank with different pages and I’ll send some people here, or maybe I will pay for my traffic, or I’ll try and do some barnacle SEO and get links from people who do rank up top there, but I won’t do it directly myself. This is a choice we all have.

How do we nail searcher task accomplishment?

All right. So how do you do this? Let’s say you’ve gone the SEO path. You’ve decided, “Yes, Rand, I’m in. I want to help the searcher accomplish their task. I recognize that I’m going to have to be willing to sacrifice some conversion rate optimization.” Well, there are two things here.

1. Gain a deep understanding of what drives searchers to search.

2. What makes some searchers come away unsatisfied.

Once they’ve performed this query, why do they click the back button? Why do they choose a different result? Why do they change their query to something else? There are ways we can figure out both of these.

To help with number 1 try:

Some of the best things that you can do are talk to people who actually have those problems and who are actually performing those searches or have performed them through…

  • Interviews
  • Surveys

I will provide you with a link to a document that I did around specifically how to get a book published. I did a survey that I ran that looked at searcher task accomplishment and what people hoped that content would have for them, and you can see the results are quite remarkable. I’ll actually embed my presentation on searcher task accomplishment in this Whiteboard Friday and make sure to link to that as well.

  • In-person conversations, and powerful things can come out of those that you wouldn’t get through remote or through email.
  • You can certainly look at competitors. So check out what your competitors are saying and what they’re doing that you may not have considered yet.
  • You can try putting yourself in your searcher’s shoes.

What if I searched for disinfect a cut? What would I want to know? What if I searched for FHA loans? I’m buying a house for the first time, what am I thinking about? Well, I’m thinking about a bunch of things. I’m thinking about price and neighborhood and all this. Okay, how do I accomplish all that in my content, or at least how do I provide navigation so that people can accomplish all that without having to go back to the search results?

To help with number 2 try:

Understanding what makes those searchers come away unsatisfied.

  • Auto-suggest and related searches are great. In fact, related searches, which are at the very bottom of the page in a set of search results, are usually searches people performed after they performed the initial search. I say usually because there can be some other things in there. But usually someone who searched for FHA loans then searches for jumbo loans or 30-year fixed loans or mortgage rates or those kinds of things. That’s the next step. So you can say, “You know what? I know what you want next. Let me go help you.” Auto-suggest related searches, those are great for that.
  • Internal search analytics for people who landed on a page and performed a site search or clicked on a Next link on your site. What did they want to do? Where did they want to go next? That helps tell you what those people need.
  • Having conversations with those who only got partway through your funnel. So if you have a lead capture at some point or you collect email at some point, you can reach out to people who initially came to you for a solution but didn’t get all the way through that process and talk to them.
  • Tracking the SERPs and watching who rises vs falls in the rankings. Finally, if you track the search results, generally speaking what we see here at Moz, what I see for almost all the results I’m tracking is that more and more people who do a great job of this, of searcher task accomplishment, are rising in the rankings, and the folks who are not are falling.

So over time, if you watch those in your spaces and do some rank tracking competitively, you can see what types of content is helping people accomplish those tasks and what Google is rewarding.

That said, I look forward to your comments. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Why We Can’t Do SEO WIthout CRO from Rand Fishkin

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Ranking Fluctuations: What to Expect + How to React – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Rankings fluctuations can be panic-inducing, but they happen to everyone. In this Whiteboard Friday, Rand discusses why ranking fluctuations occur, the importance of keeping your cool during those darker moments, and how to identify when you should actually be concerned.

Ranking Fluctuations

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we are chatting about rankings fluctuations.

So many of you who monitor your rankings in Google might do so weekly or daily or monthly. For those of you who do it daily, you probably observe something like this. I made this up. This is not actually the keyword I tracked, but these are the numbers that I saw. So, basically, you might see that, over the course of four or five days, you hop around from number one, number two, one, one, one. But as you go down this list to the ranking position four or five or six, you’re seeing things like oh number 5, and then I’m ranking number 21, number 19, 7, 8. Gosh, it’s just going all over the place. This happens quite a bit actually.

Many folks ask questions on the Moz Q&A platform and all over the web and to their SEO professionals like, “Why are my rankings jumping around so much? Is this bad? Is there something I should do?” The answer, generally speaking, is no. Rankings bounce around like this in most search results, especially in the sort of bottom half of page one and especially page two, three, four, or five quite a bit, a tremendous amount in fact.

We see SERP fluctuation as being quite high, quite common and consistently so. It is rarely actually the case that you see that number one, number two, number three positions that stay that way for extended periods of time, many weeks or months without moving at all. Some random days you will check it and you will see some of these changes. Others you’ll see them in their consistent positions.

What to expect in rankings flux

A few things to note:

1. There is obviously more fluctuation in the lower down results, on average, usually than there are in the higher results.

So if I get my rankings up here, can I expect no flux? Not exactly.

2. When you first gain rankings in the top three, four, or five, let’s say, you will usually see more fluctuation than after you’ve been there for a sustained period.

So what’s unusual is to see a ton of rankings fluctuation for a URL that’s been ranking for a keyword in position one or two or three for two or three months in a row. That’s pretty uncommon. You might see one or two position changes, but you usually don’t see four or five or six.

3. You should also expect to see more fluctuation, even in the top results, when there’s a highly temporal topic or result. That you can observe by looking at the search results and seeing if Google has got that gray text that says three hours ago or two days ago, or they give a specific date of when it came out, March 15th. When you see those and lots of them, you should expect more fluctuation.

What to do

What should you do about this? Well, first off, please, please, please, please…

1. Do not freak out. A lot of people just lose their cool with their SEOs or with their team or with themselves. They panic. I would urge you not to arbitrarily change your tactics.

If you’re observing rankings fluctuation like the kind I’m describing — so down here in the five, six, seven positions, up here in the three, four, five positions from day to day — that’s okay. You are not doing something wrong or bad, at least not necessarily and not usually.

2. I would urge you to use weeks as your time period, not days, and measure at least four to six weeks of rankings before you start to freak out over, “Hey, there’s too much rankings fluctuation.”

3. You should also compare your own fluctuation to your competitors. So if you see, hey, I’m ranking here and I’m fluctuating a bunch, oh, but it turns actually the positions around me are also fluctuating, guess what? It’s not you. It’s the SERP. It’s Google. Don’t blame yourself for this.

4. I would try and compare your rankings to traffic. So it can be the case that if you’re hitting your rankings on a particular day or from a personalized device or a geographic area or something like that, that you could be getting different kinds of rankings than what’s actually being seen by most people.

  • Now, rank trackers, like Moz’s or SEMrush’s or Ahrefs or Searchmetrics or any of these folks who do rank tracking at scale, use a non-personalized, non-geo-biased system. I’ll show you how to replicate it in the comments if you’re interested. But you should expect that you might see some of that bias.
  • So what I’d urge you to do is also look at your page traffic. So if you look at traffic to your pages and then organic search, if this is me over here with Healthfind, maybe I should check how many visits from organic search did this page get. Oh, actually it looks pretty consistent from day to day and week to week. Well, maybe I shouldn’t panic then. Probably you shouldn’t.

5. The thing to be concerned about is precipitous falls over many pages in a quick period of time. So if you see that you’ve got 20 pages on your site, 50 pages on your site, they all lost rankings yesterday and fairly significantly, okay, that’s cause for real concern. Now I would go investigate. I’d see if you did something wrong, or if maybe Google caught something that they thought was sketchy that you were doing, or if they devalued some of your links, or you had some site problems, whatever. But normal flux, so two to four positions regularly at the top or more down at the bottom, that is to be expected.

Don’t panic. You’re going to be okay. Google fluctuates all the time. And we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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