Tag Archive | "Research"

Measuring the quality of popular keyword research tools

Contributor JR Oakes measures the quality of popular keyword research tools against data found in Google search results and performing page data from Google Search Console.



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New Research: 35% of Competitive Local Keywords Have Local Pack Ads

Posted by Dr-Pete

Over the past year, you may have spotted a new kind of Google ad on a local search. It looks something like this one (on a search for “oil change” from my Pixel phone in the Chicago suburbs):

These ads seem to appear primarily on mobile results, with some limited testing on desktop results. We’ve heard rumors about local pack ads as far back as 2016, but very few details. How prevalent are these ads, and how seriously should you be taking them?

11,000 SERPs: Quick summary

For this study, we decided to look at 110 keywords (in 11 categories) across 100 major US cities. We purposely focused on competitive keywords in large cities, assuming, based on our observations as searchers, that the prevalence rate for these ads was still pretty low. The 11 categories were as follows:

  • Apparel
  • Automotive
  • Consumer Goods
  • Finance
  • Fitness
  • Hospitality
  • Insurance
  • Legal
  • Medical
  • Services (Home)
  • Services (Other)

We purposely selected terms that were likely to have local pack results and looked for the presence of local packs and local pack ads. We collected these searches as a mobile user with a Samsung Galaxy 7 (a middle-ground choice between iOS and a “pure” Google phone).

Why 11 categories? Confession time – it was originally 10, and then I had the good sense to ask Darren Shaw about the list and realized I had completely left out insurance keywords. Thanks, Darren.

Finding #1: I was very wrong

I’ll be honest – I expected, from casual observations and the lack of chatter in the search community, that we’d see fewer than 5% of local packs with ads, and maybe even numbers in the 1% range.

Across our data set, roughly 35% of SERPs with local packs had ads.

Across industry categories, the prevalence of pack ads ranged wildly, from 10% to 64%:

For the 110 individual keyword phrases in our study, the presence of local ads ranged from 0% to 96%. Here are the keywords with >=90% local pack ad prevalence:

  • “car insurance” (90%)
  • “auto glass shop” (91%)
  • “bankruptcy lawyer” (91%)
  • “storage” (92%)
  • “oil change” (95%)
  • “mattress sale” (95%)
  • “personal injury attorney” (96%)

There was no discernible correlation between the presence of pack ads and city size. Since our study was limited to the top 100 US cities by population, though, this may simply be due to a restricted data range.

Finding #2: One is the magic number

Every local pack with ads in our study had one and only one ad. This ad appeared in addition to regular pack listings. In our data set, 99.7% of local packs had three regular/organic listings, and the rest had two listings (which can happen with or without ads).

Finding #3: Pack ads land on Google

Despite their appearance, local packs ads are more like regular local pack results than AdWords ads, in that they’re linked directly to a local panel (a rich Google result). On my Pixel phone, the Jiffy Lube ad at the beginning of this post links to this result:

This is not an anomaly: 100% of the 3,768 local pack ads in our study linked back to Google. This follows a long trend of local pack results linking back to Google entities, including the gradual disappearance of the “Website” link in the local pack.

Conclusion: It’s time to get serious

If you’re in a competitive local vertical, it’s time to take local pack ads seriously. Your visitors are probably seeing them more often than you realize. Currently, local pack ads are an extension of AdWords, and require you to set up location extensions.

It’s also more important than ever to get your Google My Business listing in order and make sure that all of your information is up to date. It may be frustrating to lose the direct click to your website, but a strong local business panel can drive phone calls, foot traffic, and provide valuable information to potential customers.

Like every Google change, we ultimately have to put aside whether we like or dislike it and make the tough choices. With more than one-third of local packs across the competitive keywords in our data set showing ads, it’s time to get your head out of the sand and get serious.

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SearchCap: Google to sell Zagat, videos in Google My Business & new research

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

The post SearchCap: Google to sell Zagat, videos in Google My Business & new research appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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How to Use the "Keywords by Site" Data in Tools (Moz, SEMrush, Ahrefs, etc.) to Improve Your Keyword Research and Targeting – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

One of the most helpful functions of modern-day SEO software is the idea of a “keyword universe,” a database of tens of millions of keywords that you can tap into and discover what your site is ranking for. Rankings data like this can be powerful, and having that kind of power at your fingertips can be intimidating. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains the concept of the “keyword universe” and shares his most useful tips to take advantage of this data in the most popular SEO tools.

How to use keywords by site

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 going to chat about the Keywords by Site feature that exists now in Moz’s toolset — we just launched it this week — and SEMrush and Ahrefs, who have had it for a little while, and there are some other tools out there that also do it, so places like KeyCompete and SpyFu and others.

In SEO software, there are two types of rankings data:

A) Keywords you’ve specifically chosen to track over time

Basically, the way you can think of this is, in SEO software, there are two kinds of keyword rankings data. There are keywords that you have specifically selected or your marketing manager or your SEO has specifically selected to track over time. So I’ve said I want to track X, Y and Z. I want to see how they rank in Google’s results, maybe in a particular location or a particular country. I want to see the position, and I want to see the change over time. Great, that’s your set that you’ve constructed and built and chosen.

B) A keyword “universe” that gives wide coverage of tens of millions of keywords

But then there’s what’s called a keyword universe, an entire universe of keywords that’s maintained by a tool provider. So SEMrush has their particular database, their universe of keywords for a bunch of different languages, and Ahrefs has their keyword universe of keywords that each of those two companies have selected. Moz now has its keyword universe, a universe of, I think in our case, about 40 million keywords in English in the US that we track every two weeks, so we’ll basically get rankings updates. SEMrush tracks their keywords monthly. I think Ahrefs also does monthly.

Depending on the degree of change, you might care or not care about the various updates. Usually, for keywords you’ve specifically chosen, it’s every week. But in these cases, because it’s tens of millions or hundreds of millions of keywords, they’re usually tracking them weekly or monthly.

So in this universe of keywords, you might only rank for some of them. It’s not ones you’ve specifically selected. It’s ones the tool provider has said, “Hey, this is a broad representation of all the keywords that we could find that have some real search volume that people might be interested in who’s ranking in Google, and we’re going track this giant database.” So you might see some of these your site ranks for. In this case, seven of these keywords your site ranks for, four of them your competitors rank for, and two of them both you and your competitors rank for.

Remarkable data can be extracted from a “keyword universe”

There’s a bunch of cool data, very, very cool data that can be extracted from a keyword universe. Most of these tools that I mentioned do this.

Number of ranking keywords over time

So they’ll show you how many keywords a given site ranks for over time. So you can see, oh, Moz.com is growing its presence in the keyword universe, or it’s shrinking. Maybe it’s ranking for fewer keywords this month than it was last month, which might be a telltale sign of something going wrong or poorly.

Degree of rankings overlap

You can see the degree of overlap between several websites’ keyword rankings. So, for example, I can see here that Moz and Search Engine Land overlap here with all these keywords. In fact, in the Keywords by Site tool inside Moz and in SEMrush, you can see what those numbers look like. I think Moz actually visualizes it with a Venn diagram. Here’s Distilled.net. They’re a smaller website. They have less content. So it’s no surprise that they overlap with both. There’s some overlap with all three. I could see keywords that all three of them rank for, and I could see ones that only Distilled.net ranks for.

Estimated traffic from organic search

You can also grab estimated traffic. So you would be able to extract out — Moz does not offer this, but SEMrush does — you could see, given a keyword list and ranking positions and an estimated volume and estimated click-through rate, you could say we’re going to guess, we’re going to estimate that this site gets this much traffic from search. You can see lots of folks doing this and showing, “Hey, it looks this site is growing its visits from search and this site is not.” SISTRIX does this in Europe really nicely, and they have some great blog posts about it.

Most prominent sites for a given set of keywords

You can also extract out the most prominent sites given a set of keywords. So if you say, “Hey, here are a thousand keywords. Tell me who shows up most in this thousand-keyword set around the world of vegetarian recipes.” The tool could extract out, “Okay, here’s the small segment. Here’s the galaxy of vegetarian recipe keywords in our giant keyword universe, and this is the set of sites that are most prominent in that particular vertical, in that little galaxy.”

Recommended applications for SEOs and marketers

So some recommended applications, things that I think every SEO should probably be doing with this data. There are many, many more. I’m sure we can talk about them in the comments.

1. Identify important keywords by seeing what you rank for in the keyword universe

First and foremost, identify keywords that you probably should be tracking, that should be part of your reporting. It will make you look good, and it will also help you keep tabs on important keywords where if you lost rankings for them, you might cost yourself a lot of traffic.

Monthly granularity might not be good enough. You might want to say, “Hey, no, I want to track these keywords every week. I want to get reporting on them. I want to see which page is ranking. I want to see how I rank by geo. So I’m going to include them in my specific rank tracking features.” You can do that in the Moz Keywords by Site, you’d go to Keyword Explorer, you’d select the root domain instead of the keyword, and you’d plug in your website, which maybe is Indie Hackers, a site that I’ve been reading a lot of lately and I like a lot.

You could see, “Oh, cool. I’m not tracking stock trading bot or ark servers, but those actually get some nice traffic. In this case, I’m ranking number 12. That’s real close to page one. If I put in a little more effort on my ark servers page, maybe I could be on page one and I could be getting some of that sweet traffic, 4,000 to 6,000 searches a month. That’s really significant.” So great way to find additional keywords you should be adding to your tracking.

2. Discover potential keywords targets that your competitors rank for (but you don’t)

Second, you can discover some new potential keyword targets when you’re doing keyword research based on the queries your competition ranks for that you don’t. So, in this case, I might plug in “First Round.” First Round Capital has a great content play that they’ve been doing for many years. Indie Hackers might say, “Gosh, there’s a lot of stuff that startups and tech founders are interested in that First Round writes about. Let me see what keywords they’re ranking for that I’m not ranking for.”

So you plug in those two to Moz’s tool or other tools. You could see, “Aha, I’m right. Look at that. They’re ranking for about 4,500 more keywords than I am.” Then I could go get that full list, and I could sort it by volume and by difficulty. Then I could choose, okay, these keywords all look good, check, check, check. Add them to my list in Keyword Explorer or Excel or Google Docs if you’re using those and go to work.

3. Explore keywords sets from large, content-focused media sites with similar audiences

Then the third one is you can explore keyword sets. I’m going to urge you to. I don’t think this is something that many people do, but I think that it really should be, which is to look outside of your little galaxy of yourself and your competitors, direct competitors, to large content players that serve your audience.

So in this case, I might say, “Gosh, I’m Indie Hackers. I’m really competing maybe more directly with First Round. But you know what? HBR, Harvard Business Review, writes about a lot of stuff that my audience reads. I see people on Twitter that are in my audience share it a lot. I see people in our forums discussing it and linking out to their articles. Let me go see what they are doing in the content world.”

In fact, when you look at the Venn diagram, which I just did in the Keywords by Site tool, I can see, “Oh my god, look there’s almost no overlap, and there’s this huge opportunity.” So I might take HBR and I might click to see all their keywords and then start looking through and sort, again, probably by volume and maybe with a difficulty filter and say, “Which ones do I think I could create content around? Which ones do they have really old content that they haven’t updated since 2010 or 2011?” Those types of content opportunities can be a golden chance for you to find an audience that is likely to be the right types of customers for your business. That’s a pretty exciting thing.

So, in addition to these, there’s a ton of other uses. I’m sure over the next few months we’ll be talking more about them here on Whiteboard Friday and here on the Moz blog. But for now, I would love to hear your uses for tools like SEMrush and the Ahrefs keyword universe feature and Moz’s keyword universe feature, which is called Keywords by Site. Hopefully, we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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SearchCap: Google image badges, Google Search Console beta reports & keyword research

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

The post SearchCap: Google image badges, Google Search Console beta reports & keyword research appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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The Lazy Writer’s Guide to 30-Minute Keyword Research

Posted by BritneyMuller

You, a content marketing ninja, are able to wield immense SEO reach with your content in ways most SEOs (*cough* like myself) can only dream of.

BUT, you’re not leveraging keyword research to your advantage!

The fact that you can discover how many people per month are searching for something, what words they’re using, and what questions they’re asking still blows my mind!

Keyword research doesn’t have to be a marathon bender. A brisk 30-minute walk can provide incredible insights — insights that connect you with a wider audience on a deeper level.


Why keyword research is essential [Case Study]

My previous company, Pryde Marketing, was not founded on out-of-this-world high-quality content. It was founded on leveraging online data strategically for private medical practices.

When we were hired to do keyword research for an MRI company, we discovered that hundreds of people a month were searching “open vs closed mri” but no one was providing any good answers, content, or photos for these searchers.

We decided to create an “Open Vs. Closed MRI” page for our client that, to our surprise, continues to see over double the traffic of the homepage. Plus, it’s brought in over 50k+ unique visitors.

We were not successful because we thought of this content idea.

We were successful because we listened to the keyword data.


5 keyword research hacks in under 30 minutes

Example client: Hunter & Company (Wedding & Event Planning)

Objective: Write better content for their website and assist with digital marketing efforts.

#1: Blog category keyword research

Having five to ten data-driven blog categories can help you rank for popular topics, allow readers to find more relevant content, and help to organize your blog.

Evaluate top industry websites (10 mins)

Identify the most common navigation items and blog categories on leading industry sites.

Top Wedding Site Eval.png

Advanced search operators (3 mins)

While exploring top websites, you can use advanced Google operators to dig deeper.

Example: Bride.com has topic pages like /topic/wedding-beauty. To view all of Bride.com’s topics search this: site:brides.com/topic

Wedding advanced search operator.png

Google Suggest (10 mins)

Google “wedding” and don’t hit enter!

Instead, make note of the drop-down search suggestions. You can also search “wedding a” [don’t hit enter], “wedding b” [don’t hit enter], all the way through to z to get the most popular and/or trending wedding-related searches.

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 11.20.18 AM.png

Now that we have aggregated keywords from the above tactics, we have a solid list:

wedding venues, wedding photographers, wedding dj, wedding beauty, wedding videographers, wedding bands, wedding budget, wedding invitations, wedding registry, wedding colors, wedding decorations, wedding party, wedding ideas, wedding cakes, wedding centerpieces, wedding hairstyles, wedding bouquets, engagement rings, wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, mother of the bride dresses, wedding rings, flower girl dresses, wedding accessories, wedding jewelry, wedding tuxedos, wedding registry, wedding ceremony, wedding reception, wedding cake, wedding food, wedding favors, wedding flowers

Keep up the pace — we can’t stop here!

Next, let’s determine which categories are most popular by average monthly Google searches.

There are two primary tools to view average monthly search volume (AKA to know how many times a query like “wedding flowers” are searched per month): Google Keyword Planner and Moz Keyword Explorer. (Check out GKP vs. MKE to learn more.)

Google Keyword Planner (5 mins)

Step 1: Paste your saved keyword list into the box under “Enter one or more of the following” and click “Get Ideas”:

Step 2: Evaluate and save search volume data while being mindful of the large search data ranges and limited data:Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.09.51 AM.png

Note: Google will occasionally change your keywords to something different; “wedding videographers” was changed to “wedding videos” in this case. It’s important to be mindful of this as you’re deciding on the exact category names.

You should also explore the keywords below your immediate keyword search section. Sort by average monthly searches (highest to lowest) to make sure you aren’t missing any other big category items.

Moz Keyword Explorer (5 mins)

Step 1: Create a new list.

Step 2: Paste your keyword list into the “Enter Keywords” box:

Step 3: Take a quick water break, because KWE will take a minute to gather data. Once the data is in view, sort by and evaluate average monthly search volume:

Woohoo! We reached the finish line with two minutes to spare.

To finalize our blog categories, we need to ask ourselves two things: Which topics are the most popular and the most relevant to a wedding planner site?

With that in mind, you’ve chosen six of the most popular wedding topics and have nested several sub-categories within “Wedding Decorations” — brilliant!

  • Wedding Dresses
  • Wedding Invitations
  • Wedding Photography
  • Wedding Cakes
  • Wedding Venues
  • Wedding Decorations
    • Wedding Flowers
    • Wedding Colors
    • Wedding Centerpieces
    • Wedding Venues

#2: FAQ keyword research

Answering the most commonly searched-for questions about your product/service will provide value to your readers and solidify you as an industry expert.

Here’s how to gather the most commonly asked questions on a topic:

AnswerThePublic.com (10 mins)

Search for your product/service.

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 10.40.06 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 10.40.20 AM.png

How cool is this snazzy question wheel?! While the visuals are fun, it’s easier to gather the questions by clicking the top-right yellow “export to csv” button and deleting non-relevant questions in a .csv or Google Sheet.

Moz Keyword Explorer (10 mins)

Step 1: Search and filter “display keyword suggestions” by “are questions”:

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.09.02 AM.png

Step 2: Add relevant questions to a new keyword list:

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.12.32 AM.png

Step 3: Add relevant AnswerThePublic questions to list:

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.06.30 AM.png

Research done!

I wouldn’t worry about evaluating search volume too closely for FAQs because questions are typically more long-tail (meaning they have lower search volume and are usually easier to rank for). In multitudes, these can be very valuable to your site.

Now you can start adding your newly discovered FAQs to an FAQ page (while trying to avoid duplicate types of questions):

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.19.47 AM.png

#3: Competitive content research

Evaluate your competitor’s 10 most popular pages on SimilarWeb (5 mins)

This uncovers the specific type of content your audience is interested in. Here are the 10 most popular pages for One Fine Day Events:

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 9.14.50 PM.png

Evaluate each of the top pages & gather 3 key takeaways (20 mins)

  1. The most popular “Gallery” page confirms that images are extremely popular in the wedding and event space. Maintaining an optimized gallery and incorporating more images into on-page content should be a top digital marketing priority.
  2. Interestingly, the “Preferred Vendors” page is a Category page! It’s something we should consider implementing on Hunter & Co. It would also be a great link building opportunity (to get vendors to link back to Hunter & Co)… but I digress.
  3. Testimonials are also be a top priority and live off the primary navigation.

Pro tip: Use Google Trends to evaluate seasonal searches and prepare competitive content months before it spikes:

#4: Expand your keyword reach

Expanding your page’s topical content will expand your digital SEO reach. This is why you’ll see definitive guides like Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO ranking so well, and for such a wide range of keywords (~1,665!).

Download MozBar (Chrome add-on) (1 minute)

Step 1: Activate MozBar. Enter in your primary keyword and click “optimize.”

Step 2: Click “On-Page Content Suggestions”:

Step 3: View the 23+ content integration ideas for your webpage:

Decide which topics you want to integrate (5 mins)

You never want to force non-relevant content onto a page for SEO reasons. Instead, look through the topics and think about which would provide value to your readers.

Then, devise a plan to naturally integrate those topics into the page’s content.

Topic integrations for the Hunter & Co. homepage:

  • Wedding Planning Checklist (create a checklist page that’s linked to from homepage)
  • Wedding Vendors (confirms our popular page strategy! Add a page link from the homepage)
  • Wedding Venues
  • Couples

#5: Keep up with Google

We are seeing a big rise in “no-click” Google searches.

No-click searches occur when individuals search for something and find their answer, without ever having to click on a search result.

Example: If you search “Denver weather,” Google will show you an 8-day weather forecast for Denver. Most searchers are satisfied with that and leave, resulting in a no-click Google search.

Image from State of Searcher Behavior Revealed

No-click searches are rising because Google continues to provide searchers answers within search features such as featured snippets (answer boxes), People Also Ask boxes, knowledge graphs, weather forecasts, etc.

Know which search features show up most often for your keywords (5 mins)

Knowing which search features occur most frequently for your product/service-related searches can help you to steal search features by optimizing for them. Keep in mind that if you’re ranking on page one or two of a desired featured snippet search, you’re better positioned to steal that featured snippet than if you were on page 3+.

Remember our FAQs about “wedding planning” above? Twenty-four of 28 questions found in Moz Keyword Explorer have featured snippets (answer boxes) in their search results:

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.04.04 AM.png

RealSimple currently has a large featured snippet for “wedding checklist”:

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.28.18 AM.png

Looking more closely into that page, you’ll notice RealSimple’s <html> check-box markup and definitive style content.

Brainstorm a better (and more useful) wedding checklist (10 mins)

  • Hire a freelance developer to create a beautiful, printable wedding checklist calendar that, once a reader enters their wedding date, populates with scheduled to-dos.
  • Create an IFTTT (If This Then That) recipe to schedule Google Calendar To-Do Reminders based on the user’s wedding date.
  • Provide a more detailed and more beautiful wedding checklist.

Now, my content marketing ninjas, go forth and tap gloves with a wider audience! Your content deserves it!

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Link building: Preliminary research and analysis

Columnist Andrew Dennis outlines the research necessary to provide a solid foundation for your link-building strategy.

The post Link building: Preliminary research and analysis appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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Your Daily SEO Fix: The Keyword Research Edition

Posted by FeliciaCrawford

Back in 2015, we had an epiphany. Every day, via every channel, you — our readers, subscribers, community members, and social followers — would ask us really good questions. (You’re an incredibly intelligent, friendly, inquisitive bunch, you know that? It’s humbling.) A lot of those questions were about how to accomplish your SEO goals, and it got us thinking.

Moz is an educational resource, it’s true, but we also offer a suite of tools (both free and paid) that can help you achieve those goals. Why not provide a space for those two things to converge? And thus, the idea of the Daily SEO Fix was born: quick 1–3 minute videos shared throughout the week that feature Mozzers describing how to solve problems using the tools we know best.

It’s two years later now, and both our tools and our industry have evolved. Time to revisit this idea, no?

Today’s series of Daily SEO Fixes feature our keyword research tool, Keyword Explorer. Perhaps you’ve heard us mention it a couple times — we sure like it, and we think it could help you, too. And you don’t have to be a subscriber to check this puppy out — anyone on the whole wide Internet can use it to research two queries a day for free. If you’re logged into your Moz community account, you get five free queries.

Open Keyword Explorer in a new tab!

Queue it up in another browser tab to follow along, if you’d like!*

*Keep in mind that some features, such as lists, are only available when you’re also a Moz Pro Medium subscriber or above. If you’re bursting with curiosity, you can always check out the 30-day free trial, which features everything you’d see in a paid subscription… but for free. :)


Fix #1: Nitty-gritty keyword research

Let’s get down to brass tacks: your keyword research. Janisha’s here to walk you through…

  • Researching your keyword;
  • Determining whether it strikes the right balance of volume, difficulty, and opportunity;
  • How to quickly analyze the SERPs for your query and see what factors could be affecting your ranking opportunity;
  • Finding keyword suggestions ripe with promise; and
  • Organizing your newly discovered keywords into lists.

Fix #2: Finding question keywords to boost your content & win featured snippets

When you answer the questions searchers are actually asking, you’ve got way more opportunity to rank, earn qualified traffic to your site, and even win yourself a featured snippet or two. Brittani shows you how to broaden your page content by speaking to your audience’s most burning questions.


Fix #3: Updating your keyword metrics on a whim

If you’re hot on the trail of a good ranking, you don’t have the time or patience to wait for your metrics to update on their own. Kristina shows you how to get that sweet, sweet, up-to-date data after you’ve organized a list of related keywords in Keyword Explorer.


Fix #4: Moving curated keyword lists to Moz Pro for long-term tracking

If you’re interested in tracking the overall SEO progress of a site and digging into the nuts and bolts of your keyword data, you’ll want to pay attention. Kristina’s back to explain how to import your curated Keyword Explorer lists into a Moz Pro campaign to track long-term rankings for a specific site.


That’s a wrap for Week 1!

There you have it — four ways to level up your keyword research and knock some to-dos off your list. We’ll be back next Thursday with more fixes from a new group of Mozzers; keep an eye on our social channels for a sneak peek, and maybe try a free spin of Moz Pro if you’d like to follow along.

Curious about what else you can do with Keyword Explorer? Here are some fab resources:

And if you’re fairly new to the game or looking for ways to grow your team members’ SEO knowledge, be sure to check out our classes on introductory SEO, keyword research, site audits, link building, reporting, and more.

See you next week, friends!

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Apple Publishes First AI Research Paper on Using Adversarial Training to Improve Realism of Synthetic Imagery

Earlier this month Apple pledged to start publicly releasing its research on artificial intelligence. During the holiday week, Apple has released its first AI research paper detailing how its engineers and computer scientists used adversarial training to improve the typically poor quality of synthetic, computer game style images, which are frequently used to help machines learn.

The paper’s authors are Ashish Shrivastava, a researcher in deep learning, Tomas Pfister, another deep learning scientist at Apple, Wenda Wang, Apple R&D engineer, Russ Webb, a Senior Research Engineer, Oncel Tuzel, Machine Learning Researcher and Joshua Susskind, who co-founded Emotient in 2012 and is a deep learning scientist.

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-10-03-16-am

The team describes their work on improving synthetic images to improve overall machine learning:

With recent progress in graphics, it has become more tractable to train models on synthetic images, potentially avoiding the need for expensive annotations. However, learning from synthetic images may not achieve the desired performance due to a gap between synthetic and real image distributions. To reduce this gap, we propose Simulated+Unsupervised (S+U) learning, where the task is to learn a model to improve the realism of a simulator’s output using unlabeled real data, while preserving the annotation information from the simulator.

We developed a method for S+U learning that uses an adversarial network similar to Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), but with synthetic images as inputs instead of random vectors. We make several key modifications to the standard GAN algorithm to preserve annotations, avoid artifacts and stabilize training: (i) a ‘self-regularization’ term, (ii) a local adversarial loss, and (iii) updating the discriminator using a history of refined images. We show that this enables generation of highly realistic images, which we demonstrate both qualitatively and with a user study.

We quantitatively evaluate the generated images by training models for gaze estimation and hand pose estimation. We show a significant improvement over using synthetic images, and achieve state-of-the-art results on the MPIIGaze dataset without any labeled real data.

Conclusions and Future Work

“We have proposed Simulated+Unsupervised learning to refine a simulator’s output with unlabeled real data,” says the Apple AI Scientists. “S+U learning adds realism to the simulator and preserves the global structure and the annotations of the synthetic images. We described SimGAN, our method for S+U learning, that uses an adversarial network and demonstrated state-of-the-art results without any labeled real data.”

They added, “In future, we intend to explore modeling the noise distribution to generate more than one refined image for each synthetic image, and investigate refining videos rather than single images.”

View the research paper (PDF).

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