Image Link Building

Image Link Building — Best of Whiteboard Friday

Posted by BritneyMuller

Last week, we took you into the future with SEO expert Britney Muller to explore link prospecting in 2021. This week, we’re going back in time — all the way to 2017 — for her concrete advice on an important part of building links: image link building.

Image link building is a delicate art. There are some distinct considerations from traditional link building, and doing it successfully requires a balance of creativity, curiosity, and having the right tools on hand. Let’s dive in! 

Image Link Building

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

Video Transcription

Hey, Moz fans, welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we’re going to go over all things image link building, which is sort of an art. I’m so excited to dig into this with you.

Know your link targets

So first and foremost, you need to know your link targets:

I. Popular industry platforms – top pages

What are those top platforms or websites that you would really like to acquire a link from? Then, from there, you can start to understand who might be influencers on those platforms, who’s writing the content, who might you contact, and also what are the top pages currently for those sites. There are a number of tools that give you a glimpse into that information. Moz’s OSE, Open Site Explorer, will show you top pages. SEMrush has a top page report. SimilarWeb has a popular page report. You can dig into all that information there, really interesting stuff.

II. Old popular images – update!

You can also start to dig into old, popular images and then update them. So what are old popular images within your space that you could have an opportunity to revamp and update? A really neat way to sort of dig into some of that is BuzzSumo’s infographics filter, and then you would insert the topic. You enter the industry or the topic you’re trying to address and then search by the infographics to see if you can come across anything.

III. Transform popular content into images

You can also just transform popular content into images, and I think there is so much opportunity in doing that for new statistics reports, new data that comes out. There are tons of great opportunities to transform those into multiple images and leverage that across different platforms for link building.

IV. Influencers

Again, just understanding who those influencers are.

Do your keyword research

So, from here, we’re going to dive into the keyword research part of this whole puzzle, and this is really understanding the intent behind people searching about the topic or the product or whatever it might be. Something you can do is evaluate keywords with link intent. This is a brilliant concept I heard about a couple weeks back from Dan Shure’s podcast. Thank you, Dan. Essentially it’s the idea that keywords with statistics or facts after the keyword have link intent baked into the search query. It’s brilliant. Those individuals are searching for something to reference, to maybe link to, to include in a presentation or an article or whatever that might be. It has this basic link intent.

Another thing you want to evaluate is just anything around images. Do any of your keywords and pictures or photos, etc. have good search volume with some opportunities? What does that search result currently look like? You have to evaluate what’s currently ranking to understand what’s working and what’s not. I used to say at my old agency I didn’t want anyone writing any piece of content until they had read all of the 10 search results for that keyword or that phrase we were targeting. Why would you do that until you have a full understanding of how that looks currently and how we can make something way better?

Rand had also mentioned this really cool tip on if you find some keywords, it’s good to evaluate whether or not the image carousel shows up for those searches, because if it does, that’s a little glimpse into the searcher intent that leads to images. That’s a good sign that you’re on the right track to really optimize for a certain image. It’s something to keep in mind.

Provide value

So, from here, we’re going to move up to providing value. Now we’re in the brainstorming stage. Hopefully, you’ve gotten some ideas, you know where you want to link from, and you need to provide value in some way. It could be a…

I. Reference/bookmark Maybe something that people would bookmark, that always works.

II. Perspective is a really interesting one. So some of the most beautiful data visualizations do this extremely well, where they can simplify a confusing concept or a lot of data. It’s a great way to leverage images and graphics.

III. Printouts still work really well. Moz has the SEO Dev Cheat Sheet that I have seen printed all over at different agencies, and that’s really neat to see it adding value directly.

IV. Curate images. We see this a lot with different articles. Maybe the top 25 to 50 images from this tradeshow or this event or whatever it might be, that’s a great way to leverage link building and kind of getting people fired up about a curated piece of content.

Gregory Ciotti — I don’t know if I’m saying that right — has an incredible article I suggest you all read called “Why a Visual Really Is Worth a Thousand Words,” and he mentions don’t be afraid to get obvious. I love that, because I think all too often we tend to overthink images and executing things in general. Why not just state the obvious and see how it goes? He’s got great examples.


So, from here, we are going to move into optimization. If any of you need a brush-up on image optimization, I highly suggest you check out Rand’s Whiteboard Friday on image SEO. It covers everything. But some of the basics are your…


You want to make sure that the title of the image has your keyword and explains what it is that you’re trying to convey.

Alt text

This was first and foremost designed for the visually impaired, so you need to be mindful of visually impaired screen readers that will read this to people to explain what the image actually is. So first and foremost, you just need to be helpful and provide information in a descriptive way to describe that image.


Compression is huge. Page speed is so big right now. I hear about it all the time. I know you guys do too. But one of the easiest ways to help page speed is to compress those huge images. There’s a ton of great free tools out there, like Optimizilla, where you can bulk upload a bunch of large images and then bulk download. It makes it super easy. There are also some desktop programs, if you’re doing this kind of stuff all the time, that will automatically compress images you download or save. That might be worth looking into if you do this a lot.
You want to host the image. You want it to live on your domain. You want to house that. You can leverage it on other platforms, but you want sort of that original to be on your site.


Source set attribute is getting a little technical. It’s super interesting, and it’s basically this really incredible image attribute that allows you to set the minimum browser size and the image you would prefer to show up for different sizes. So you can not only have different images show up for different devices in different sizes, but you can also revamp them. You can revamp the same image and serve it better for a mobile user versus a tablet, etc. Jon Henshaw has some of the greatest stuff on source set. Highly suggest you look at some of his articles. He’s doing really cool things with it. Check that out.


So, from here, you want to promote your images. You obviously want to share it on popular platforms. You want to reach back out to some of these things that you might have into earlier. If you updated a piece of content, make them aware of that. Or if you transformed a really popular piece of content into some visuals, you might want to share that with the person who is sharing that piece of content. You want to start to tap into that previous research with your promotion.

Inform the influencers

Ask people to share it. There is nothing wrong with just asking your network of people to share something you’ve worked really hard on, and hopefully, vice versa, that can work in return and you’re not afraid to share something a connection of yours has that they worked really hard on.

Monitor the image SERPs

From here, you need to monitor. One of the best ways to do this is Google reverse image search. So if you go to Google and you click the images tab, there’s that little camera icon that you can click on and upload images to see where else they live on the web. This is a great way to figure out who is using your image, where it’s being held, are you getting a backlink or are you not. You want to keep an eye on all of that stuff.

Two other tools to do this, that I’ve heard about, are Image Raider and TinEye. But I have not had great experience with either of these. I would love to hear your comments below if maybe you have.

Reverse image search with Google works the best for me. This is also an awesome opportunity for someone to get on the market and create a Google alert for images. I don’t think anyone is actually doing that right now. If you know someone that is, please let me know down below in the comments. But it could be a cool business opportunity, right? I don’t know.

So for monitoring, let’s say you find your image is being used on different websites. Now you need to do some basic outreach to get that link. You want to request that link for using your image.

This is just a super basic template that I came up with. You can use it. You can change it, do whatever you want. But it’s just:

Hi, [first name].
Thank you so much for including our image in your article. Great piece. Just wondering if you could link to as the source.

Something like that. Something short, to the point. If you can make it more personalized, please do so. I can’t stress that enough. People will take you way more seriously if you have some nugget of personal information or connection that you can make.

From there, you just sort of stay in this loop. After you go through this process, you need to continue to promote your content and continue to monitor and do outreach and push that to maximize your link building efforts.
So I hope you enjoyed this. I look forward to hearing all of your comments and thoughts down below in the comments. I look forward to seeing you all later. Thanks for joining us on this edition of Whiteboard Friday. Thanks.

Video transcription by

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


Daily SEO Fix: Collecting, Organizing, and Tracking Keywords with Moz Pro

Posted by KerryDuggan

So we meet again, keyword research…

Now more than ever, we’re depending on the online world for our day-to-day activities. We’re making use of the web for learning and studying, shopping, paying bills, and for the majority of our entertainment and social needs. This means the need for search engines to provide us with what we’re looking for has never been more relevant.

Google’s algorithm focuses on how to fulfill search intent, and we want Google to see us doing that. We know the accuracy and relevancy of content is imperative so Google thinks we’re the answer to the searcher’s query.

I lead Moz’s onboarding team in Ireland, and keywords are our most discussed topic in one-on-one walkthroughs — you all want to know how to find the best keywords, if you are currently using the most relevant keywords, and what keywords your competitors are using. The Moz Pro tool shows us all this and more.

Book a Moz Pro Walkthrough

We want our customers to know the most effective ways to use Moz Pro to get keyword data, so we’ve put together these Daily Fix videos to help you do just that! I would love to hear your opinion on fulfilling search intent and what has yielded good results for your website, so speak to you in the comments section!

Keyword suggestions groups

Is there any way to find keywords that have a similar meaning or are broadly related in meaning so I can focus on similar keywords? How can I see the volume of a group of similar keywords?

In this Daily Fix, Emilie guides you through how to use the “Grouped keywords” filter in the Keyword Explorer tool.

The “Grouped keywords” filter gives you an idea of the volume for your area of interest, rather than focusing solely on the volume of one keyword.

Content suggestions

Does Moz have anything to help me create better content relating to my keywords, or to help me start my keyword competitive analysis?

In this Daily Fix, Megan shows us how to use the content suggestions section in the Page Optimization tool to help build better content in relation to your keyword topic.

This can also help you get ideas for keywords to research based on the content suggestions provided.

This section is based on a specific URL and keyword pairing, and shows other keywords commonly found in the highly-ranked search results which contain your initial keyword.

Keyword opportunities

What keywords am I ranking for that I’m not aware of?

What if I start ranking for other keywords after I create my campaign, does Moz track this data?

In this Daily Fix, Emilie explains how to find keywords that may be sending your site traffic, and for which your site is already ranking but you’re not tracking.

Click on the “Track” button to add these opportunities to your campaign, and start collecting data to see where you’re ranking for each keyword.

Finding ranking keywords

How do I know what I’m already ranking for?

How can I see what keywords my competitors are ranking for?

In this Daily Fix, I demonstrate how to find any website’s ranking keywords. You can see your website’s ranking keywords, or find those of competitors. You can also see pages associated with ranking positions, which will help with content ideas.

Having this information allows you to start your competitor analysis. You can use your keyword list feature and have a list for each competitor to get a better understanding of potential keyword opportunities available to you. 

The keyword list overview helps to compare metrics across groups of keywords, which will help you see low hanging fruit.

Filtering keywords

Can Moz give me suggestions of keywords I might not have thought of? How do I know what questions my customers could be asking?

In this Daily Fix, Michael shows you how to use the suggestions filter in Keyword Explorer to find useful keywords. This can be a great source for content suggestions, example ideas for your blog, or potential FAQs on your website.

It can also help you find topics that are related to your keyword so you can provide the content your customers really want to see.

Want to try the Moz Pro tool? First sign up for our 30 day free trial and then book a walkthrough with one of our onboarding specialists.

We would love to hear about your SEO goals and how we can help!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


5 SEo tips to maximize internal links

How to Get Backlinks in 2021 [Series Part 2: Prospecting] — Whiteboard Friday

Posted by BritneyMuller

As we head into 2021, the work of reclaiming lost links and building new ones remains crucial. In this week’s brand new episode of Whiteboard Friday, SEO expert Britney Muller is back with the second installment in her link building series, this time walking us through some tips and tricks for an important part of your link building journey: link prospecting. 

5 SEo tips to maximize internal links

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

Video Transcription

Hey, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today me and my space buns are taking you into the future to evaluate link prospecting, a really important part of link building.

This is part of my link building series. If you missed the first video, definitely go check it out. It’s all around no-brainer link building. It’s the easiest thing you can possibly do today to reclaim and score some backlinks for your website. So super helpful. Check that out. 

What are your business goals?

To kick things off, this gets a little overwhelming.

There are so many ways that you can prospect backlinks today that it can get a little intimidating. So if you start to find yourself going down a rabbit hole or getting overwhelmed, fall back on this button here. Just think about your business goals.

What are your website’s goals, and is the path that you’re falling down conducive to that? Is it helpful? So that kind of just helps you course correct. I use it all the time, and I still manage to go down tons of rabbit holes. But it can be quite helpful. 

Link prospecting

So there are really two ways to do link prospecting. One is to evaluate what’s worked well in the past. How have websites in this particular industry gotten links in the past? The second is where are there content gaps? Where are there some opportunities to create wanted or desired content for a particular space?

Explore competitive backlinks

Let’s go down the first one. So one of the more popular ways is to use a backlink tool to evaluate competitive backlinks. So not only are you evaluating the backlinks to Competitor A and Competitor B, but you can start to do some fun things with the intersection of these.

So what we’re looking at is: What are the shared backlinks that Competitor A and Competitor B both have that you don’t? What does that look like? If these websites are linking to both A and B, why couldn’t they also potentially link to you? Those tend to be more promising backlink prospects.

It’s also very easy to use a tool like Link Intersect, my all-time favorite, within Moz Pro to very, very quickly identify what those opportunities are. From there, you can also start to evaluate old or outdated linked to content. This is really just sort of setting the stage and better understanding again what’s worked well in the past.

What are the top pages that are linked to for Competitor B and Competitor A? What kind of content is that? Is there anything that’s incredibly outdated that has a ton of backlinks to it, where you could potentially update it and encourage those sites to link to you? There are tons of very interesting and fun ways to explore that. Link Explorer, I mean, honestly so, so powerful and easy to quickly filter and sort different opportunities there.

Leverage advanced search operators

Third is to leverage advanced search operators. Now I’m not going to go through all the operators I listed here. I got a little nuts. But some important ones to remember is that if you use quotes, those words have to be in the search results. So here I’m looking for dog training, and then it must include statistics, tips, resources, news.

Why am I looking for these first and foremost? Because these keywords, they carry link intent. People doing particular searches around something something statistics are more likely to link to one of those resulting pages than your average dog training search that just might be people putting material together or referencing things.

So it’s really great to sort of bake in your link building plan with keywords that have link intent. It just makes so much sense. You can also use intext:, which just means show me results that include this within the text, and here I have “links.” It sounds super old school, but there are still lots of pages that use links within the page to identify resources moving forward.

You can also use the minus to exclude results from a particular URL. We’re going to link to Moz’s Advanced Search Operator Guide. It’s super helpful. It has all of these and more. Definitely play around. Leave comments down below if you have other suggestions. It’s super fun to kind of come up with different formulas.

Evaluate link propensity

Number four is to really evaluate the link propensity of these potential link targets. What I mean by that is have they linked to websites in the past? Do they never link out? Is that not a thing that these particular websites that you’re finding do? It’s really important, and it will help you in the long run to identify sites that are more likely to link to you. Number five, there are so many fun link discovery hacks and tricks, and it’s one of my favorite conversations at SEO conventions and just in general.

Discover fun hacks

Everyone has really fun kind of things within their industry. One of my new favorites is for local SEO, where local links are so incredibly valuable for local SEO sites. A trick that I’ve discovered recently is the one and only Rand Fishkin’s SparkToro tool will show you, if you put in a topic and a particular area, it surfaces what the top media outlets are for that particular area.

It’s incredible, especially if you’re doing work for a local SEO client that isn’t where you live or you don’t have all that awareness of it. It’s extremely insightful. So a fun little trick there. I want to hear your tricks down below. There are tons of others. Super fun.

Content gaps

Then just to briefly touch on where are the content gaps. This deserves a whole other Whiteboard Friday in and of itself. But I have mentioned them before. I am an insanely huge fan of Fractl and the work that they’re doing. They use old-school journalism tactics, and they discovered that they could pull offline DUI data and bring it online in a really beautiful Tableau interface, and it did very well. They got lots of backlinks. It was very, very useful for users, and it just made sense. So I absolutely love that example.

It’s important to kind of look at both of these. Play around and have fun with it. Again, please leave any tips and tricks down below in the comments. I cannot wait to read them.

I will see you all again soon. Thanks for watching.

Video transcription by

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


Business as Unusual: How to Communicate Your New and Updated Services with Google My Business

Posted by ktaing

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, business owners have had to move quickly to make drastic changes in their services to meet searchers’ new needs in a continuously unpredictable landscape.

While “Near me” searches saw a slight drop in early 2020, since then, have maintained a steady increase, further solidifying the need for brands and businesses of all sizes to be present and discoverable online.

During the pandemic, almost a third of shoppers have purchased from a brand that’s new to them. In this article, we’ll explore tactics for surfacing your new or updated services digitally to guide and convert these new searchers during their decision-making process.

What types of questions are searchers asking?

How can I do business with you?

When thinking about your Google My Business profile and adjustments to your information, the most important element is informing searchers how they can do business with you.

You’ll want to ensure all of your core location data is updated. This includes marking whether or not you’re temporarily closed. If you’re open, you should have the most accurate operating hours published.

Furthermore, you should make it as easy as possible for searchers to get in contact with you if they have any questions. This includes making sure your phone number is accurate, monitoring your Q&A section on Google My Business, and enabling messaging if you have the staff to respond. These are all methods that make customers feel connected to you, which will encourage them to convert and purchase from you.

What type of safety precautions are you taking with your customers and staff?

The health and safety of customers and employees is top of mind for all searchers. As a business, this information should be front and center so potential customers can understand how important this is to your organization.

It should be incredibly clear to anyone looking to engage with your business what types of safety precautions and protocols you’re following, and how this could impact their trip to your business or the delivery of your services. These should include things like social distancing measures which may result in long lines, mask requirements, etc. Surfacing this information as early as possible makes the decision to do business with you that much easier.

What types of services are you offering, and are these different than normal?

Businesses and consumers have had to adjust to so many new normals. In order to capture new customers and grow the evangelism of existing ones, remove as much friction as possible by communicating changes up front.

If you’ve made changes to services or products that users have come to rely on you for, make it clear what has changed and how. This is especially true for essential businesses that are growing particularly busy and facing supply chain shortages.

What can all businesses do to communicate updates about new and changing services on Google My Business?

1. Update your attributes

Google has rolled out dozens of highly visible attributes and will continue to introduce new ones. This includes details like whether you offer in-person or online service and appointments, delivery and pick up, and safety measures for in-person shopping. Keep an eye on these and make sure all relevant attributes are applied to your business.

2. Publish services and products

If you have these available for your category, they are a great way to introduce new services and products or highlight your most popular ones.

3. Add Google Posts

Now that Google has temporarily lifted the limit on API access for chains, businesses of all sizes should be leveraging posts. Posts allow you to share timely and relevant updates spanning temporary closures, product and service updates, promotions, and gift card options.

4. Update your images

If your product, service, or location looks different to returning customers, this can cause confusion or disappointment. Don’t underestimate the power of updated imagery on your Google My Business profile. Most smartphones have a high enough quality camera that even snapping a few pictures each week and uploading these will be enough.

5. Publish additional hours

Publishing additional hours sets helps to surface the supplemental offerings you have. These include senior hours, online operating hours, drive through hours, pickup hours, and more.

Industry-specific considerations


One of the most impacted industries, especially from a digital perspective, has been healthcare. Both sick and healthy patients have been forced to rethink how they can access their healthcare needs.

Healthcare organizations are making adjustments to serve existing and new patients. There’s been a large shift to offer telehealth appointments in lieu of in-person for a number of specialties from internal medicine to therapy. Governmental agencies also reported increases in telehealth visits, with a 154% increase in the last week of March 2020 alone.

Based on this data, in early April, Google rolled out a telehealth link for healthcare categories. This enabled healthcare organizations and providers to surface and convert patients with non-emergency needs who are cautious of visiting an office in-person.

Just as critical as launching telehealth support was the introduction of the coronavirus testing facility information on maps and search. Google My Business partnered with a number of third party health and governmental sources, as well as with Castlight to ingest data for new testing sites. The roll out of COVID-19 testing information was a phased approach and has evolved over the last few months. For healthcare organizations offering COVID-19 testing, this is the most relevant and critical service you can add to your Google My Business listing.


For retail businesses, one of the biggest challenges faced over the last few months has likely been inventory fluctuations and ordering methods. This is why businesses of all sizes have been integrating product shopping features and live inventory on their listings. Google even rolled out free product listings in the U.S. to support businesses.

Once retailers have made it easy to see what products are in stock, they’ve had to adjust to support different methods of ordering and pickup. This includes enabling “buy online, pick up in-store”, curbside pickup, and contactless delivery. Google has rolled out attributes to highlight each of these, so businesses should ensure each location’s offerings are reflected.

Financial services

Banks and businesses within the financial service industry have more limited options due to regulations and the nature of their business. In addition to the safety measures they’re taking at their local branches, banking customers have been relying on drive-up support and virtual banking services. By leveraging drive-through and online appointment attributes, as well as by highlighting unique drive-through hours, financial service providers can better help customers understand the ways they can complete their banking.


Restaurants have had to deal with continual and fluctuating mandates that dictate restrictions on how and when they can open. Depending on where the restaurants are located and the guidelines of the area, they have to communicate whether they offer delivery, takeout, and/or dine-in, and what that looks like. Some dine-in has been restricted to outdoor dining only, while others have been restricted to smaller capacities to allow for social distancing.

There are a number of Google My Business features that you can utilize in order to let customers know what dining features you have available. Restaurants should make sure to keep their dine-in, delivery, and take-out attributes updated. Utilizing posts to describe dining accommodations such as outdoor-only or limited indoor capacity can also be helpful for customers. If you’re offering delivery, online orders, or reservations, make sure you’ve reviewed the Online Ordering feature that activates the blue action buttons on your Knowledge Panel.


Businesses of all sizes and industries have made it easier for consumers to engage with them as this pandemic continues to drive changes in everyday life. Follow these tips to make sure your updates are discoverable on your Google My Business profile, where the majority of “near me” searches are happening.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


The New Best Practices for Native Advertising on Editorial Sites

Posted by MeganRoseM

Digital advertising is different nowadays.

How and when we interact with ads online drastically changed in March when COVID-19 ushered in a new era of rolling global lockdowns, not to mention lifestyle changes that none of us could predict.

And for native advertising in particular, ad performance has always relied on the nature of consumer behavior on the sites where they appear. Because they fit the form and function of their sites, their best practices are directly dictated by how we interact with the organic content that surrounds them.

On editorial sites (think news, niche blogs and online magazines), consumer behavior has shifted quite a bit.

People started interacting with content from different devices, at different times, and reacting to different types of campaign creatives. All of this resulted in a new set of best practices for marketers to follow when it comes to running effective native ads.

We’ll walk you through those new best practices and answer the following:

  • How have native ads been impacted by COVID-19?
  • How has consumer interaction with native ads changed?
  • What campaign messaging is the most effective?
  • What KPIs are other advertisers in your vertical targeting?
  • What creative strategies perform best?

COVID-19’s impact on news sites and native ads

There was a whole lot of uncertainty this past March, and as a result, many companies pumped the advertising breaks. Despite the slowdown, the industry will spend more on native ads in 2020 than they did in 2019, but at a much smaller growth rate.

According to eMarketer, $47.33 billion will be spent on native ads in 2020 — a 4.8% growth spurt. They expect native ad spend to grow by 21% as digital ad spend recovers next year.

The ads that did run, though, saw a lot of attention. The coronavirus news cycle brought a boom of interest to editorial sites across the web from March to April.

Nieman Lab reported that articles about the pandemic increased overall traffic to 350% week over week, totalling 980 million views.

When the dust settled, it was clear consumer priorities had shifted, and where and when they were spending time on editorial sites did, too.

Where and when consumers interact with native ads

Editorial sites have the potential to serve native ads in a lot of different places. They can appear as promoted articles on a homepage or category page, as native display ads in the middle of an article, and at the bottom of the article, to name a few examples.

We partnered with Nielsen using BrainVu, a cloud-based neurocognition technology, to measure consumer reactions to ads on the page, meaning we physically measured people’s brain waves as they interacted with ads on editorial sites.

Immersive AI and virtual reality technology (think headgear with a ton of wires attached) measured when and where they were paying the most attention and had the highest emotional response.

We found that consumers were paying 20% more attention to ads at the bottom of the article and had a 17% higher emotional response than anywhere else on the page.

Plus, research participants displayed an 8% lower cognitive load at the end of an article. Basically, they had more “brain space”, or memory resources, to pay attention to new content or ads.

A follow-up study from Nielsen revealed that these moments occurred most often as we were on our way to bed or just waking up, taking a work break, or using the restroom. Lunch breaks, lines, and commutes had been deprioritized.

When we’re in those moments of next, primed and ready to discover content or advertising from brands, what are the topics engaged with the most?

We’ve seen three major shifts in consumer interest that should shape the messaging for your next native advertising campaigns.

Campaign messaging people engage with the most

The news topics gaining the most attention on editorial sites have changed, which should signal to marketers a need for a shift in native ad messaging.

Long-term trends in news are a reflection of consumers most relevant and immediate concerns. Aligning your campaign messaging with these long-term trends will improve your native ad performance.

So, what are those long-term trends?

First off, content related to the coronavirus and political climate has all but eclipsed consumer attention on editorial sites.

Underneath those high-level basic interests, we’ve identified four trending topics that have emerged since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, and with which we’re seeing a lot of engagement:

  • Investing: The combination of coronavirus and the 2020 election has resulted in some ups and downs in the stock market, and everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. (Nerdwallet pushed a partnership with Fundrise just in time for the trend).
  • Food: Quarantine baking has resulted in a burst of attention to the food category, specifically for topics related to desserts and baking. (Just Egg leaned into marketing as a faux egg alternative when quarantine baking took off.)
  • Racism: George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement have sparked a recent increase in engagement with topics related to racism and equality. (Mint promoted a webinar and video series on how to close the racial wage gap.)
  • Work: How and when we’re getting back to work is on our minds. (Nestlé released a series of content, including this article, about how parents were handling working from home.)

Here’s how interest in these content topics have broken down over the past six months, measured in pageviews:

While specific news stories have created spikes of pageviews for content related to these topics, interest has stayed steady for all four since April.

How coronavirus influenced native advertising KPIs

Native advertising KPIs shifted after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

To illustrate this change, we took a look at the total advertiser spend on our network across each vertical, and broke it down by three high-level KPIs: brand awareness, lead generation, and purchases.

If the percentage of spend allocated to one of those KPIs changed more than 5% after March or April, we included it here.

Brand Awareness

Brand awareness includes campaigns optimized for KPIs like impressions, clicks, and pageviews.

For the fashion and technology verticals, brand awareness became a much higher priority after March 8th.

Lead generation

Lead generation includes KPIs like form fills, engagement on the page, or newsletter subscriptions.

Both the entertainment and auto industries prioritized lead generation just after the pandemic was declared.

They eventually focused more on brand awareness by April, when a need for education and finance products took their place.

As consumers looked to support schooling at home, and make sure their finances were in order, education and finance brands started to prioritize lead generation over other KPIs.


Purchase KPIs include cart checkouts, contacting a sales representative, or any digital step in the funnel that results in a sale.

Directly after the pandemic hit, healthcare and home good brands prioritized purchase KPIs as consumers looked to stay healthy and improve their inside spaces. Healthcare has continued to prioritize purchase KPIs since the pandemic was announced.

Moving into April, more and more education marketers also prioritized purchase KPIs to support homeschooling and professional development needs. Beauty advertisers also filled a need left by closing salons across the globe.

Fashion marketers started prioritizing purchase KPIs again through April as it became clear how consumer priorities had shifted.

Creative best practices since coronavirus

When pen meets paper (figuratively speaking) and it’s time to build your campaign creatives, you’ll want to be sure to include creative elements that consumers find engaging.

Below you’ll find insights for native ads that are either driven by sponsored content (think articles, e-books, photo galleries, and videos on the landing page) and video (think video creatives where a click isn’t necessarily the goal).

Sponsored content

These ads are made up of a headline and photo to entice consumers to click and learn more about what you have to offer. Both require a bit of attention to make sure your ad performs as best as it can.

We’re seeing increases in click-through-rates (CTRs) for the following photo elements:

Photos without text

Photography over illustrations

People over landscapes

Colors over black and white​

Close-ups over photos at a distance

We recommend A/B testing photos with one or two of these elements to see what works best for your campaign.


After your photo catches your eye, your headline has to convince people to click and keep reading. We’ve seen certain keywords give advertisers a better chance at a user clicking through to their landing page.

Over the past month, the following keywords have had a positive impact on CTRs:

These keywords used to have a positive impact on CTR, but are now used in many different ad campaigns, meaning you’ll likely have to bid higher in order to get in front of consumers.

Finally, these keywords haven’t quite made it into the ‘strong engagement’ bucket, but have had a positive CTR impact for a smaller selection of advertiser campaigns and might be worth testing if relevant to your brand.

Video campaigns

When producing video assets, there are specific action types and characteristics to include to make an impact on completion rate and viewability.

High completion rate

Consider showing scenes with swimming, air travel, stretching, and other high-movement related action types to encourage people to watch your video ad all the way to the end.

In addition, video characteristics like winter scenes, men, videos without people, and food are also showing a positive impact on completion rates.

High viewability

When it comes to catching someone’s eye, actions like eating, climbing, and stretching seem to be the most effective.

Male actors, videos that aren’t illustrated, colors, and food are also great characteristics to include to make sure your video isn’t missed.

Main takeaways

​The native advertising landscape has changed since March and the declaration of a global pandemic. Ad spend changed in response to consumer behavior, and we walked away with a new set of best practices to use as a basis for our native advertising campaigns.

When you’re building your next native advertising campaign, ask yourself:

  • Can I incorporate a messaging angle related to investing, food, racial justice or work?
  • Are other advertisers seeing success with my desired KPI in my vertical?
  • Have I considered testing native ad placements at the bottom of the page where people are most likely to be engaged?
  • Am I following creative best practices like including colorful, close-up images of people?

You should always A/B test—best practices should always be taken with a grain of salt. Using these best practices as a basis for testing your native advertising campaigns moving forward will make your optimization process a bit easier, and ultimately lead to better performance marketing.

You can stay up to date on the latest content topics and creative trends at Taboola Trends.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


6 Ways to Build Brand Authority With Content Marketing

Posted by amandamilligan

Becoming an authoritative brand is no easy feat, but the massive benefits are worth the effort.

When you’ve built authority, potential customers and clients begin to count on you and trust you — and it’s hard to imagine that trust not leading to a sale (at some point).

But how exactly can a brand begin to build, or build upon, their authority? Content is an excellent way, and in this article, I’ll go through my tips on how it can be done.

1. Answer your audience’s questions

If you’re not doing this, there’s virtually no way you’ll become an authority. People grow to rely on brands when those brands provide the information they’re looking for, so if your content marketing doesn’t incorporate those answers, you’re not demonstrating to your audience why they should trust you.

By building on-site content that provides this kind of value, you can build authority while simultaneously building more awareness for your brand. In other words, you can position yourself as an expert for those who don’t already know you.

Search is a huge component of why this content tactic works. Google does a significant amount of curation for users, choosing what it thinks is the most appropriate results for a particular query. When users see that you’re ranking at the top for a certain keyword or topic, there’s an assumption you made it through the algorithm for good reason and know what you’re talking about.

As an example, I searched “shoe size chart,” which, according to Keyword Surfer, gets 49,500 monthly searches in the U.S. alone. Here’s one of the top results from Famous Footwear:

Presumably, people are searching for this because they want to buy shoes, but they’re not sure what size to get. If they click this result, not only are they now on the website, but they recognize that this brand provided the answer they were looking for. Perhaps they’ll even browse for shoes while they’re on the site.

How to execute this strategy: Find out what your target audience is curious about by talking to your customer service representatives, performing keyword research, and using tools like Answer the Public and BuzzSumo’s Discover Questions feature. Then see what content already exists and if you can do better. If you can, get to creating!

2. Create newsworthy reports and studies

One of the best ways to demonstrate your authority is to show your continued interest in unearthing new information and insights. You can do this by prioritizing original research.

When you create your own studies, surveys, and reports (aka perform data journalism) based on new data or unveiling new insights, you not only provide value to readers, but also have something you can pitch to the media.

This gives you double benefit: Getting media coverage (and building even more brand authority) and earning high-quality backlinks, which signals to Google that you’re an authority.

We’ve used this strategy for our clients since Fractl first started up in 2012, and we’re convinced it’s one of the best brand authority strategies.

Let’s look at a study we did for The Interview Guys, as an example, which involved analyzing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Requirements Survey to identify the highest-paying jobs that require the least amount of experience. Here’s one of the graphics from the report:

The study got media coverage on CNBC, Reader’s Digest, MarketWatch and more, earning extremely high-value dofollow links. But take a look at how The Interview Guys are mentioned in the articles:

By supplying new insights, The Interview Guys are positioned by the writers as the source of the information, which is an extremely authoritative way to be referenced.

How to execute this strategy: After doing the first tip and analyzing questions, zoom out a bit and consider what general questions in your industry still need answers. How can you answer them with data? Once you’ve created a report that reveals new information, utilize digital PR to pitch writers.

3. Utilize the authority of in-house experts

Some brands are built entirely around a particular persona, like Steve Jobs with Apple, but those examples can intimidate people. Smaller companies and newer companies alike can benefit from a similar strategy if they have subject matter experts (or SMEs) who can show their authority.

A great example of this is Headspace and how it features its founder, Andy Puddicombe. There’s a page all about him on their website where they explain his credentials but also provide what are called authority signals (which I’ll explain more in the next section) and embed his Ted Talk, so you can see for yourself what he knows.

Why is this smart? Headspace probably realized that as the literal voice behind Headspace (Andy does much of the meditation audio himself), Andy started building trust with audiences. It makes sense to double-down on that trust by helping people get to know who he is, and by having him explain even more concepts directly through Radio Headspace and their YouTube channel. After all, if people trust Andy, they’re more likely to trust the Headspace app.

How to execute this strategy: If your internal experts have never shared anything with the public, see if they’re comfortable contributing blog posts or quotes to your website. Pitch them to be on podcasts, or use Help a Reporter Out (HARO) to pitch them as sources for relevant news articles. Help them demonstrate their knowledge in ways that are useful to audiences.

4. Highlight reviews, case studies, and other proof of expertise

There are dozens of types of authority signals, from testimonials to reviews to social media share counts. The key is identifying which ones make sense to highlight for your products or services, and figuring out the best placement for them.

Your goal is to show people you know what you’re talking about by leveraging third-party validation. Your audience doesn’t just have to take your word for it that you know what you’re doing — other people can confirm that you’re great, too!

I like how SquadCast tackles this. On their homepage they have a few authority signals they provide, including testimonials that match with each user persona, which I think is really smart.

Then when you scroll further, they throw in the fact that household names like Spotify, Microsoft, Starbucks, and ESPN trust them.

If you look at the Fractl site, you’ll see we use a similar strategy. Not only do we have case studies showcasing the results we’ve gotten for clients, but we also have logos showing some of the clients we’ve worked with and the publications where our thought leadership appears.

All of this content says to a site visitor: “Others trust us, and you should too.”

How to execute this strategy: If you don’t already have this type of content, ask yourself how you can best collect it. Reach out to your best clients and ask them for a quote. Pull the best reviews you’ve ever gotten for your products. Call out any media mentions you’ve received. Then put this information on your homepage, but also on conversion pages to instill confidence when and where it counts.

5. Associate with other authoritative brands

You know the phrase, “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are?” That can apply in marketing, too.

If you align with other brands you respect and that are doing right by their customers/users, it’s possible some of that same trust will transfer to you if that company’s respect is reciprocated. Additionally, if you collaborate, you’re getting your brand name in front of a new audience.

So, think about which brands it makes sense to collaborate with. There are ways to do this outside of content marketing, like referral programs, but there are content-specific ways to work together, too.

This is an amazing example from Auntie Anne’s and Samuel Adams, who teamed up to create an at-home Oktoberfest kit, complete with Samuel Adams Octoberfest beer, Auntie Anne’s DIY Pretzel Kit, recipe book, a “Prost from Home” playlist you can stream, and more.

This isn’t purely a content strategy, but you can see the overlap between product and building more of an experience. People who love and count on Auntie Anne’s pretzels are exposed to Samuel Adams and vice versa. Through a collaboration like this, fans of one have the potential to become fans of the other, as you can see in this review:

This is a more fun example, but you can also execute a collaboration based on studies and surveys by partnering with organizations interested in answering the same questions or solving the same problems as your brand.

How to execute this strategy: Brainstorm which brands you may have a natural alignment in objectives or values with. How can you work together to provide something of value to both of your audiences?

6. Give away some of your secrets

This can be scary for a lot of marketers and especially for the C-suite. Why should you give away what makes you great?

It’s a valid question, and it won’t always apply. But in some cases, especially for service-based businesses, sharing information and breaking down exactly how you achieve that greatness can actually build trust.

Marcus Sheridan has a wonderful example of this. When my colleague attended Inbound last year, she was impressed by Marcus’s presentation in which he described a single blog post that earned him $2 million in sales. (Heidi Cohen has a great write up about it.)

Why did it work? Because he shared information no one else wanted to share: the actual cost of a fiberglass pool. Rather than hiding the information and revealing it later in the sales process, he was forthright and answered the question people wanted the answer to. Clearly this strategy paid off.

We use the same philosophy at Fractl, explaining exactly how we go about doing our work and building our clients links and brand awareness. There are process details we haven’t disclosed, but all and all, we’ve been very transparent about how we operate, and it’s worked well for us.

In fact, people still recall an Experts on the Wire podcast interview with Kerry Jones, our previous marketing director, in which she walked through our strategies. I’ve had marketing folks tell me that this is how they heard about Fractl in the first place. Years later, it’s still featured on the podcast’s main page:

People appreciate when you’re open and honest. In our case, even if people knew our strategy, clients often partner with us because they don’t have the bandwidth to execute the strategy at scale, as it requires a lot of time and resources. So by knowing how we work, they can trust us to handle it for them.

How to execute this strategy: Consider what information you have that you can share, even if (sometimes especially if) your competitors haven’t shared it. You can leave a big impression of you’re open about your industry in a way others aren’t. Of course, don’t do something that will jeopardize your company, but consider the question and see what might make sense.


The very act of investing in content marketing is a big step in building more brand authority. By creating content that’s beneficial for your audience, you’re demonstrating your own knowledge and utilizing your expertise.

By continuing to build on your strategy with the above tactics, you can greatly improve the chances your audience will not only remember your brand, but begin to trust your brand. Additionally, it’s likely the Google algorithm will recognize your authority, as well, especially after building an impressive link portfolio, and your results will rise in the SERP ranks.

Good luck amplifying your strategy, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


How do sessions work in Google Analytics?

How Do Sessions Work in Google Analytics? — Best of Whiteboard Friday

Posted by Tom.Capper

Google Analytics data is used to support tons of important work, ranging from our everyday marketing reporting, all the way to investment decisions. To that end, it’s integral that we’re aware of just how that data works. In this Best of Whiteboard Friday edition, Tom Capper explains how the sessions metric in Google Analytics works, several ways that it can have unexpected results, and as a bonus, how sessions affect the time on page metric (and why you should rethink using time on page for reporting).

Editor’s note: Tom Capper is now an independent SEO consultant. This video is from 2018, but the same principles hold up today. There is only one minor caveat: the words “user” and “browser” are used interchangeably early in the video, which still hold mostly true. Google is trying to further push multi-device users as a concept with Google Analytics 4, but still relies on users being logged in, as well as extra tracking setup. For most sites most of the time, neither of these conditions hold.

How do sessions work in Google Analytics?

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

Video Transcription

Hello, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I am Tom Capper. I am a consultant at Distilled, and today I’m going to be talking to you about how sessions work in Google Analytics. Obviously, all of us use Google Analytics. Pretty much all of us use Google Analytics in our day-to-day work.

Data from the platform is used these days in everything from investment decisions to press reporting to the actual marketing that we use it for. So it’s important to understand the basic building blocks of these platforms. Up here I’ve got the absolute basics. So in the blue squares I’ve got hits being sent to Google Analytics.

So when you first put Google Analytics on your site, you get that bit of tracking code, you put it on every page, and what that means is when someone loads the page, it sends a page view. So those are the ones I’ve marked P. So we’ve got page view and page view and so on as you’re going around the site. I’ve also got events with an E and transactions with a T. Those are two other hit types that you might have added.

The job of Google Analytics is to take all this hit data that you’re sending it and try and bring it together into something that actually makes sense as sessions. So they’re grouped into sessions that I’ve put in black, and then if you have multiple sessions from the same browser, then that would be a user that I’ve marked in pink. The issue here is it’s kind of arbitrary how you divide these up.

These eight hits could be one long session. They could be eight tiny ones or anything in between. So I want to talk today about the different ways that Google Analytics will actually split up those hit types into sessions. So over here I’ve got some examples I’m going to go through. But first I’m going to go through a real-world example of a brick-and-mortar store, because I think that’s what they’re trying to emulate, and it kind of makes more sense with that context.

Brick-and-mortar example

So in this example, say a supermarket, we enter by a passing trade. That’s going to be our source. Then we’ve got an entrance is in the lobby of the supermarket when we walk in. We got passed from there to the beer aisle to the cashier, or at least I do. So that’s one big, long session with the source passing trade. That makes sense.

In the case of a brick-and-mortar store, it’s not to difficult to divide that up and try and decide how many sessions are going on here. There’s not really any ambiguity. In the case of websites, when you have people leaving their keyboard for a while or leaving the computer on while they go on holiday or just having the same computer over a period of time, it becomes harder to divide things up, because you don’t know when people are actually coming and going.

So what they’ve tried to do is in the very basic case something quite similar: arrive by Google, category page, product page, checkout. Great. We’ve got one long session, and the source is Google. Okay, so what are the different ways that that might go wrong or that that might get divided up?

Several things that can change the meaning of a session

1. Time zone

The first and possibly most annoying one, although it doesn’t tend to be a huge issue for some sites, is whatever time zone you’ve set in your Google Analytics settings, the midnight in that time zone can break up a session. So say we’ve got midnight here. This is 12:00 at night, and we happen to be browsing. We’re doing some shopping quite late.

Because Google Analytics won’t allow a session to have two dates, this is going to be one session with the source Google, and this is going to be one session and the source will be this page. So this is a self-referral unless you’ve chosen to exclude that in your settings. So not necessarily hugely helpful.

2. Half-hour cutoff for “coffee breaks”

Another thing that can happen is you might go and make a cup of coffee. So ideally if you went and had a cup of coffee while in you’re in Tesco or a supermarket that’s popular in whatever country you’re from, you might want to consider that one long session. Google has made the executive decision that we’re actually going to have a cutoff of half an hour by default.

If you leave for half an hour, then again you’ve got two sessions. One, the category page is the landing page and the source of Google, and one in this case where the blog is the landing page, and this would be another self-referral, because when you come back after your coffee break, you’re going to click through from here to here. This time period, the 30 minutes, that is actually adjustable in your settings, but most people do just leave it as it is, and there isn’t really an obvious number that would make this always correct either. It’s kind of, like I said earlier, an arbitrary distinction.

3. Leaving the site and coming back

The next issue I want to talk about is if you leave the site and come back. So obviously it makes sense that if you enter the site from Google, browse for a bit, and then enter again from Bing, you might want to count that as two different sessions with two different sources. However, where this gets a little murky is with things like external payment providers.

If you had to click through from the category page to PayPal to the checkout, then unless PayPal is excluded from your referral list, then this would be one session, entrance from Google, one session, entrance from checkout. The last issue I want to talk about is not necessarily a way that sessions are divided, but a quirk of how they are.

4. Return direct sessions

If you were to enter by Google to the category page, go on holiday and then use a bookmark or something or just type in the URL to come back, then obviously this is going to be two different sessions. You would hope that it would be one session from Google and one session from direct. That would make sense, right?

But instead, what actually happens is that, because Google and most Google Analytics and most of its reports uses last non-direct click, we pass through that source all the way over here, so you’ve got two sessions from Google. Again, you can change this timeout period. So that’s some ways that sessions work that you might not expect.

As a bonus, I want to give you some extra information about how this affects a certain metric, mainly because I want to persuade you to stop using it, and that metric is time on page.

Bonus: Three scenarios where this affects time on page

So I’ve got three different scenarios here that I want to talk you through, and we’ll see how the time on page metric works out.

I want you to bear in mind that, basically, because Google Analytics really has very little data to work with typically, they only know that you’ve landed on a page, and that sent a page view and then potentially nothing else. If you were to have a single page visit to a site, or a bounce in other words, then they don’t know whether you were on that page for 10 seconds or the rest of your life.

They’ve got no further data to work with. So what they do is they say, “Okay, we’re not going to include that in our average time on page metrics.” So we’ve got the formula of time divided by views minus exits. However, this fudge has some really unfortunate consequences. So let’s talk through these scenarios.

Example 1: Intuitive time on page = actual time on page

In the first scenario, I arrive on the page. It sends a page view. Great. Ten seconds later I trigger some kind of event that the site has added. Twenty seconds later I click through to the next page on the site. In this case, everything is working as intended in a sense, because there’s a next page on the site, so Google Analytics has that extra data of another page view 20 seconds after the first one. So they know that I was on here for 20 seconds.

In this case, the intuitive time on page is 20 seconds, and the actual time on page is also 20 seconds. Great.

Example 2: Intuitive time on page is higher than measured time on page

However, let’s think about this next example. We’ve got a page view, event 10 seconds later, except this time instead of clicking somewhere else on the site, I’m going to just leave altogether. So there’s no data available, but Google Analytics knows we’re here for 10 seconds.

So the intuitive time on page here is still 20 seconds. That’s how long I actually spent looking at the page. But the measured time or the reported time is going to be 10 seconds.

Example 3: Measured time on page is zero

The last example, I browse for 20 seconds. I leave. I haven’t triggered an event. So we’ve got an intuitive time on page of 20 seconds and an actual time on page or a measured time on page of 0.

The interesting bit is when we then come to calculate the average time on page for this page that appeared here, here, and here, you would initially hope it would be 20 seconds, because that’s how long we actually spent. But your next guess, when you look at the reported or the available data that Google Analytics has in terms of how long we’re on these pages, the average of these three numbers would be 10 seconds.

So that would make some sense. What they actually do, because of this formula, is they end up with 30 seconds. So you’ve got the total time here, which is 30, divided by the number of views, we’ve got 3 views, minus 2 exits. Thirty divided 3 minus 2, 30 divided by 1, so we’ve got 30 seconds as the average across these 3 sessions.

Well, the average across these three page views, sorry, for the amount of time we’re spending, and that is longer than any of them, and it doesn’t make any sense with the constituent data. So that’s just one final tip to please not use average time on page as a reporting metric.

I hope that’s all been useful to you. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. Thanks.

Video transcription by

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!



Location Data + Reviews: The 1–2 Punch of Local SEO (Updated for 2020)

Posted by MiriamEllis


Get found. Get chosen.

It’s the local SEO two-step at the heart of every campaign. It’s the 1-2 punch combo that hinges on a balance of visible, accurate contact data, and a volunteer salesforce of consumer reviewers who are supporting your rise to local prominence.

But here’s the thing: while managed location data and reviews may be of equal and complementary power, they shouldn’t require an equal share of your time.

Automation of basic business data distribution is the key to freeing you up to focus on the elements of listings that require human ingenuity — namely, reviews and other listings-based content like posts and Q&A.

It’s my hope that sharing this article with your team or your boss will help you get the financial allocations you need for automated listings management, plus generous resources for creative reputation management.

Location data + reviews = the big picture

When Google lists a business, it gives good space to the business name, and a varying degree of space to the address and phone number. But look at the real estate occupied by the various aspects associated with reputation:

If Google cares this much about ratings, review text, responses, and emerging elements like place topics and attributes, any local brand you’re marketing should see these factors as a priority. In this article, I’ll strive to codify your actionable perspective on managing both location data and the many aspects of reviews.

Ratings: The most powerful local filter of them all

In the local SEO industry, we talk a lot about Google’s filters, like the Possum filter that’s supposed to strain local businesses through a sort of sieve so that a greater diversity of mapped results is shown to the searcher. But searchers have an even more powerful filter than this — the human-driven filter of ratings that helps people intuitively sort local brands by perceived quality.

Whether they’re stars or circles, the majority of rating icons send a 1–5 point signal to consumers that can be instantly understood. This symbol system has been around since at least the 1820s; it’s deeply ingrained in all our brains as a judgement of value.

This useful, rapid form of shorthand lets a searcher needing to do something like grab a quick taco see that the food truck with five Yelp stars is likely a better bet than the one with only two. Meanwhile, searchers with more complex needs can comb through the ratings of many listings at leisure, carefully weighing one option against another for major purchases. In Google’s local results, ratings are the most powerful human-created filter that influences the major goal of being chosen.

But before a local brand can be chosen on the basis of its high ratings, it has to rank well enough to be found. The good news is that, over the past three years, expert local SEOs have become increasingly convinced of the impact of Google ratings on Google local pack rankings. In 2017, when I wrote the original version of this post, contributors to the Local Search Ranking Factors survey placed Google star ratings down at #24 in terms of local rankings influence. In 2020, this metric has jumped up to spot #8 — a leap of 16 spots in just three years.

In the interim, Google has been experimenting with different ratings-related displays. In 2017, they were testing the application of a “highly rated” snippet on hotel rankings in the local packs. Today, their complex hotel results let the user opt to see only 4+ star results. Meanwhile, local SEOs have noticed patterns over the years like searches with the format of “best X in city” (e.g. best burrito in Dallas) appearing to default to local results made up of businesses that have earned a minimum average of four stars. Doubtless, observations like these have strengthened experts’ convictions that Google cares a lot about ratings and allows them to influence rank.

Heading into 2021, any local brand with goals of being found and chosen must view low ratings as an impediment to reaching full growth potential.

Consumer sentiment: The local business story your customers are writing for you

Here’s a randomly chosen Google 3-pack result when searching just for “tacos” in a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area:


We’ve just covered the topic of ratings, and you can look at a result like this to get that instant gut feeling about the 4-star-rated eateries vs. the 2-star place. Now, let’s open the book on business #3 and see precisely what kind of brand story its consumers are writing, as you would in conducting a professional review audit for a local business, excerpting dominant sentiment:


It’s easy to ding fast food chains. Their business model isn’t commonly associated with fine dining or the kind of high wages that tend to promote employee excellence. In some ways, I think of them as extreme examples. Yet, they serve as good teaching models for how even the most modest-quality offerings create certain expectations in the minds of consumers, and when those basic expectations aren’t met, it’s enough of a story for consumers to share in the form of reviews.

This particular restaurant location has an obvious problem with slow service, orders being filled incorrectly, and employees who have been denied the training they need to represent the brand in a knowledgeable, friendly, or accessible manner. If you audited a different business, its pain points might surround outdated fixtures or low standards of cleanliness.

Whatever the case, when the incoming consumer turns to the review world, their eyes scan the story as it scrolls down their screen. Repeat mentions of a particular negative issue can create enough of a theme to turn the potential customer away. One survey says only up to 11% of consumers will do business with a brand that’s wound up with a 2-star rating based on poor reviews. Who can afford to let the other 91% of consumers go elsewhere?

The central goal of being chosen hinges on recognizing that your reviewer base is a massive, unpaid salesforce that tells your brand story. Survey after survey consistently finds that people trust reviews — in fact, they may trust them more than any claim your brand can make about itself.

Going into 2021, the writing is on the wall that Google cares a great deal about themes surfacing in your reviews. The ongoing development and display of place topics and attributes signifies Google’s increasing interest in parsing sentiment, and doubtless, using such data to determine relevance.

Fully embracing review management and the total local customer service ecosystem is key to giving customers a positive tale to tell, enabling the business you’re marketing to be trusted and chosen for the maximum number of transactions.

Velocity/recency/count: Just enough of a timely good thing to be competitive

This is one of the easiest aspects of review management to convey. You can sum it up in one sentence: don’t get too many reviews at once on any given platform but do get enough reviews on an ongoing basis to avoid looking like you’ve gone out of business.

For a little more background on the first part of that statement, watch Mary Bowling describing in this LocalU video how she audited a law firm that went from zero to thirty 5-star reviews within a single month. Sudden gluts of reviews like this not only look odd to alert customers, but they can trip review platform filters, resulting in removal. Remember, reviews are a business lifetime effort, not a race. Get a few this month, a few next month, and a few the month after that. Keep going.

The second half of the review timing paradigm relates to not running out of steam in your acquisition campaigns. Multiple surveys indicate that the largest percentage of review readers consider content from the past month to be most relevant. Despite this, Google’s index is filled with local brands that haven’t been reviewed in over a year, leaving searchers to wonder if a place is still in business, or if it’s so unimpressive that no one is bothering to review it.

While I’d argue that review recency may be more important in review-oriented industries (like restaurants) vs. those that aren’t quite as actively reviewed (like septic system servicing), the idea here is similar to that of velocity, in that you want to keep things going. Don’t run a big review acquisition campaign in January and then forget about outreach for the rest of the year. A moderate, steady pace of acquisition is ideal.

And finally, a local SEO FAQ comes from business owners who want to know how many reviews they need to earn. There’s no magic number, but the rule of thumb is that you need to earn more reviews than the top competitor you are trying to outrank for each of your search terms. This varies from keyword phrase, to keyword phrase, from city to city, from vertical to vertical. The best approach is steady growth of reviews to surpass whatever number the top competitor has earned.

Authenticity: Honesty is the only honest policy

For me, this is one of the most prickly and interesting aspects of the review world. Three opposing forces meet on this playing field: business ethics, business education, and the temptations engendered by the obvious limitations of review platforms to police themselves.

I often recall a basic review audit I did for a family-owned restaurant belonging to a friend of a friend. Within minutes, I realized that the family had been reviewing their own restaurant on Yelp (a glaring violation of Yelp’s policy). I felt sorry to see this, but being acquainted with the people involved (and knowing them to be quite nice!), I highly doubted they had done this out of some dark impulse to deceive the public.

Rather, my guess was that they may have thought they were “getting the ball rolling” for their new business, hoping to inspire real reviews. My gut feeling was that they simply lacked the necessary education to understand that they were being dishonest with their community and how this could lead to them being publicly shamed by Yelp, or even subjected to a lawsuit, if caught.

In such a scenario, there’s definitely an opportunity for the marketer to offer the necessary education to describe the risks involved in tying a brand to misleading practices, highlighting how vital it is to build trust within the local community. Fake positive reviews aren’t building anything real on which a company can stake its future. Ethical business owners will catch on when you explain this in honest terms and can then begin marketing themselves in smarter ways.

But then there’s the other side. Mike Blumenthal’s reporting on this has set a high bar in the industry, with coverage of developments like the largest review spam network he’d ever encountered. There’s simply no way to confuse organized, global review spam with a busy small business making a wrong, novice move. Real temptation resides in this scenario, because, as Blumenthal states:

“Review spam at this scale, unencumbered by any Google enforcement, calls into question every review that Google has. Fake business listings are bad, but businesses with 20, or 50, or 150 fake reviews are worse. They deceive the searcher and the buying public and they stain every real review, every honest business, and Google.”

When a platform like Google makes it easy to “get away with” deception, companies lacking ethics will take advantage of the opportunity. Beyond reporting review spam, one of the best things we can do as marketers is to offer ethical clients the education that helps them make honest choices. We can simply pose the question:

Is it better to fake your business’ success or to actually achieve success?

Local brands that choose to take the high road must avoid:

  • Any form of review incentives or spam
  • Review gating that filters consumers so that only happy ones leave reviews
  • Violations of the review guidelines specific to each review platform

Owner responses: creatively turning reviews into two-way conversations

Over the years, I’ve devoted abundant space in my column here at Moz to the fascinating topic of owner responses. I’ve highlighted the five types of Google My Business reviews and how to respond to them, I’ve diagrammed a real-world example of how a terrible owner response can make a bad situation even worse, and I’ve studied basic reputation management for better customer service and how to get unhappy customers to edit their negative reviews.

My key learnings from nearly two decades of examining reviews and responses are these:

  • Review responses are a critical form of customer service that can’t be ignored any more than business staff should ignore in-person customers asking for face-to-face help. Many reviewers expect responses.
  • The number of local business listings in every industry with zero owner responses on them is totally shocking.
  • Negative reviews, when fairly given, are a priceless form of free quality control for the brand. Customers directly tell the brand which problems need to be fixed to make them happy.
  • Many reviewers think of their reviews as living documents, and update them to reflect subsequent experiences.
  • Many reviewers are more than happy to give brands a second chance when a problem is resolved.
  • Positive reviews are conversations starters warmly inviting a response that further engages the customer and can convince them that the brand deserves repeat business.

Local brands and agencies can use software to automate updating a phone number or hours of operation. Software like Moz Local can be of real help in alerting you to new, incoming reviews across multiple platforms, or surfacing the top sentiment themes within your review corpus.

Tools free up resources to manage what can’t be automated: human creativity. It takes serious creative resources to spend time with review sentiment and respond to customers in a way that makes a brand stand out as responsive and worthy. It takes time to fully utilize the opportunities owner responses represent to impact goals all the way from the top to the bottom of the sales funnel.

I’ve never forgotten a piece Florian Huebner wrote for StreetFight documenting the neglected reviews of a major fast food chain and its subsequent increase in location closures and decrease in profits. No one was taking the time to sit down with the reviews, listen, fix problems customers were citing, or offer proofs of caring resolution via owner responses.

And all too often, when brands large and small do respond to reviews, they take a corporate-speak stance equivalent to “whistling past the graveyard” when addressing complaints. To keep the customer and to signal to the public that the brand deserves to be chosen, creative resources must be allocated to providing gutsy, honest owner responses. It’s easy to spot the difference:


The response in yellow signals that the brand simply isn’t invested in customer retention. By contrast, the response in blue is a sample of what it takes to have a real conversation with a real person on the other side of the review text, in hopes of transforming one bad initial experience into a second chance, and hopefully, a lifetime of loyalty.

NAP and reviews: The 1–2 punch combo every local business must practice

Right now, there’s an employee at a local business or a staffer at an agency who is looking at the review corpus of a brand that’s struggling for rankings and profits. The set of reviews contains mixed sentiment, and no one is responding to either positive or negative customer experiences.

Maybe this is an issue that’s been brought up from time to time in company meetings, but it’s never made it to priority status. Decision-makers have felt that time and budget are better spent elsewhere.

Meanwhile, customers are quietly trickling away for lack of attention, leads are being missed, structural issues are being ignored…

If the employee or staffer I’m describing is you, my best advice is to make 2021 the year you make your strongest case for automating listing distribution and management with software so that creative resources can be dedicated to full reputation management.

Local SEO experts, your customers and clients, and Google, itself, are all indicating that location data + reviews are highly impactful and here to stay. In fact, history proves that this combination is deeply embedded in our entire approach to local commerce.

When traveling salesman Duncan Hines first published his 1935 review guide Adventures in Good Eating, he was developing what we think of today as local SEO. Here is my color-coded version of his review of the business that would one day become KFC. It should look strangely familiar to anyone who has ever tackled local business listings management:


No phone number on this “citation,” of course, but telephones were quite a luxury in 1935. Barring that element, this simple and historic review has the core earmarks of a modern local business listing. It has location data and review data; it’s the 1–2 punch combo every local business still needs to get right today. Without the NAP, the business can’t be found. Without the sentiment, the business gives little reason to be chosen.

From Duncan Hines to the digital age, there may be nothing new under the sun in marketing, but striking the right pose between listings and reputation management may be new news to your CEO, your teammates, or clients. So go for it — communicate this stuff, and good luck at your next big meeting!

Check out the new Moz Local plans that let you take care of location data distribution in seconds so that the balance of your focus can be on creatively caring for the customer.

New Moz Local Plans

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


Behind the SEO: Launching Our New Guide — How to Rank

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

Seven years ago, we published a post on the Moz Blog titled “How to Rank: 25 Step Master SEO Blueprint.”

From an SEO perspective, the post did extremely well.

Over time, the “How to Rank” post accumulated:

  • 400k pageviews
  • 200k organic visits
  • 100s of linking root domains

Despite its success, seven years is a long time in SEO. The chart below shows what often happens when you don’t update your content.

Predictably, both rankings and traffic declined significantly. By the summer of 2020, the post was only seeing a few hundred visits per month.

Time to update

We decided to update the content. We did this not only for a ranking/traffic boost, but also because SEO has changed a lot since 2013.

The old post simply didn’t cut it anymore.

To regain our lost traffic, we also wanted to leverage Google’s freshness signals for ranking content.

Many SEOs mistakenly believe that freshness signals are simply about updating the content itself (or even lazier, putting a new timestamp on it.) In actuality, the freshness signals Google may look actually take many different forms:

  1. Content freshness.
  2. Rate of content change: More frequent changes to the content can indicate more relevant content.
  3. User engagement signals: Declining engagement over time can indicate stale content.
  4. Link freshness: The rate of link growth over time can indicate relevancy.

To be fair, the post had slipped significantly in all of these categories. It hasn’t been updated in years, engagement metrics had dropped, and hardly anyone new linked to it anymore.

To put it simply, Google had no good reason to rank the post highly.

This time when publishing, we also decided to launch the post as a stand-alone guide — instead of a blog post — which would be easier to maintain as evergreen content.

Finally, as I wrote in the guide itself, we simply wanted a cool guide to help people rank. One of the biggest questions we get from new folks after they read the Beginner’s Guide to SEO is: “What do I read next? How do I actually rank a page?”

This is exactly that SEO guide.

Below, we’ll discuss the SEO goals that we hope to achieve with the guide (the SEO behind the SEO), but if you haven’t check it out yet, here’s a link to the new guide:

How to Rank On Google

SEO goals

Rarely do SEO blogs talk about their own SEO goals when publishing content, but we wanted to share some of our strategies for publishing this guide.

1. Keywords

First of all, we wanted to improve on the keywords we already rank for (poorly). These are keywords like:

  • How to rank
  • SEO blueprint
  • SEO step-by-step

Our keyword research process showed that the phrase “SEO checklist” has more search volume and variations that “SEO blueprint”, so we decided to go with “checklist” as a keyword.

Finally, when doing a competitor keyword gap analysis, we discovered some choice keywords that our competitors are ranking for with similar posts.

Based on this, we knew we should include the word “Google” in the title and try to rank for terms about “ranking on Google.”

2. Featured snippets

Before publishing the guide, our friend Brian Dean (aka Backlinko) owns the featured snippet for “how to rank on Google.”

It’s a big, beautiful search feature. And highly deserved!

We want it.

There are no guarantees that we’ll win this featured snippet (or others), but by applying a few featured snippets best practices—along with ranking on the first page—we may get there.

3. Links

We believe the guide is great content, so we hope it attracts links.

Links are important because while the guide itself may generate search traffic, the links it earns could help with the rankings across our entire site. As Rand Fishkin once famously wrote about the impact of links in SEO, “a rising tide lifts all ships.”

Previously, the old post had a few hundred linking root domains pointing at it, including links from high-authority sites like Salesforce.

Obviously, we are now 301 redirecting these links to the new guide.

We’ll also update internal links throughout the site, as well as adding links to posts and pages where appropriate.

To help build links in the short-term, we’ll continue promoting the guide through social and email channels.

Long-term, we could also do outreach to help build links.

To be honest, we think the best and easiest way to build links naturally is simply to present a great resource that ranks highly, and also that we promote prominently on our site.

Will we succeed?

Time will tell. In 3-6 months we’ll do an internal followup, to track our SEO progress and see how we measured up against our goals.

To make things more complicated, SEO is far more competitive than it was 7 years ago, which makes things harder. Additionally, we’re transparently publishing our SEO strategy out in the open for our competitors to read, so they may adjust their tactics.

Want to help out? You can help us win this challenge by reading and sharing the guide, and even linking to it if you’d like. We’d very much appreciate it 🙂

To your success in SEO.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


How We Became Digital Marketers in Just One Summer

Posted by rootandbranch

Editor’s note: This blog is from the perspective of five University of Pittsburgh students — Kirsten, Steve, Darcie, Erin, and Sara — who completed a class this summer called “Digital Marketing Search Fundamentals”, taught by Zack Duncan of Root and Branch.


Our digital marketing class this summer did not give us credits that count towards graduation (in fact, some of us graduated in Spring 2020), nor did it give us a grade. Instead, we learned about paid search and organic search along with some of the key concepts central to digital marketing. We also became certified in Google Ads Search along the way. 

We each had different reasons for taking the course, but we all believe that digital marketing will have value for us in our lives.

At the beginning of the term, in June 2020, we were asked, “What is one thing you’re hoping to get out of this class?” Here are some of our responses to that question:

  • I hope to gain a strong understanding of SEO and Google Ads, and to get hands-on experience to understand how both would be used in a work setting.
  • I want to learn something about marketing that I might not learn in the classroom.
  • I’m hoping to become more competitive in this difficult job market.
  • I hope to build on my resume and develop skills for personal use.
  • I want to learn a foundational skill that can be applied in many different aspects of business. 

Now that we’ve completed the class, we wanted to share our thoughts on why we believe digital marketing matters — both for our lives today and as we look ahead to the future. We’re also going to cover five of the most important building blocks we learned this summer, that have helped us see how all the pieces of digital marketing fit together.

Part 1: Why digital marketing matters

Why digital marketing training matters now

To become more competitive candidates in applying for jobs

Some of us are recent grads in the midst of searching for our first jobs after college. Some of us are still in school and are actively looking for internships. We’ve all seen our fair share of job listings for positions like “Digital Marketing Intern” or “Digital Marketing Associate”. Given that the majority of us are marketing majors, you might think it’s safe to assume we would be qualified for at least an interview for those positions. 


Before gaining a solid foundation in digital marketing, we were often quite limited in the listings we were qualified for. But things have been changing now that we can say we’re certified in Google Ads Search and can speak to topics like digital analytics, SEO, and the importance of understanding the marketing funnel.

To help with growing freelance side businesses

Towards the beginning of the pandemic, a few of us were dangerously close to graduation with little to no hope of finding a job in marketing. Instead of binge-watching Netflix all day and hoping some fantastic opportunity would magically come our way, the entrepreneurial among us decided to see how we could use our current skills to generate revenue. 

One of us is especially interested in graphic design and learned everything there was to know in Adobe Creative Suite to become a freelance graphic designer, starting a side business in graphic design, and designs logos, labels, menus, and more.

After this class, finding clients has changed in a big way now. Instead of being limited to looking for clients in social media groups, digital marketing knowledge opens up a whole new world. With a functioning website and a knowledge of both paid and organic search, the process of finding new customers has dramatically changed (for the better!).

A person wearing a suit and tie

Description automatically generated

To be more informed consumers

While a digital marketing background doesn’t instantly translate to job opportunities for everyone, it can help all of us become more informed consumers.

As consumers, we want to pay for quality goods and services at a fair price. Some basic digital marketing knowledge gives us a better understanding of why the search engine results page (SERP) findings show up in the order that they do. Knowing about keywords, domain authority (for organic search) and quality scores (for paid results) can demystify things. And that’s just on the SERP.

Moving off the SERP, it’s helpful to know how nearly every advertisement we see is somehow targeted to us. If you are seeing an ad, there is a very good chance you fall into an audience segment that a brand has identified as a potential target. You may also be seeing the ad due to a prior visit to the brand’s website and are now in a retargeting audience (feel free to clear out those cookies if you’re sick of them!).

The more information you have as a consumer, the more likely you are to make a better purchase. These few examples just go to show how digital marketing training matters now, even if you are not the one actively doing the digital marketing.

How a digital marketing foundation be useful in the future

It’s helpful in creating and growing a personal brand

Your brand only matters if people know about it. You could sit in your room and put together the most awesome portfolio website for yourself and create a solid brand identity, but if no one else knows about it, what’s the point? Digital marketing concepts like understanding SEO basics can help make your presence known to potential customers, employers, and clients.

It would be terrible if your competition got all the business just because you didn’t use the simple digital marketing tools available to you, right? Digital marketing efforts can have many different goals ranging from making sales to just increasing general awareness of your brand, so get out there and start!

To become a more flexible contributor in future career opportunities

One thing we’ve heard consistently in the job search process is employers love flexible, cross functional employees. It seems the most successful and valued employees are often those that are not only experts in their field, but also have a pretty good understanding of other subjects that impact their work. Let’s say you’re an account manager for a digital agency, and you have some great insight that you think could be helpful in driving some new ad copy testing for your biggest client. It’s going to be a whole lot easier talking with your copywriter and media team (and being taken seriously by them), if you have an understanding of how the text ads are built. 

Two people standing in front of a window

Description automatically generated

To see data as an opportunity for action, as opposed to just numbers

Are you someone who enjoys numbers and performance metrics? That’s great! So are we! But those numbers are meaningless without a digital marketing background to provide context for the data. 

Understanding data is a valuable tool for getting to know your audience and evaluating advertising campaigns. Seeing that your Google Search text ad has a poor click-through rate is only actionable if you have the foundation to take steps and improve it. Analyzing your website’s metrics and finding that you have a low average session duration is meaningless if you don’t connect the dots between the numbers and what they mean for your web design or your on-page content.

It’s pretty clear that the numbers don’t give much value to a marketer or a business without the ability to recognize what those metrics mean and the actions that can be taken to fix them. As we advance in our careers and have more and more responsibility for decision making, digital marketing fundamentals can continue to grow our experience with turning data into insight-driven action.

A picture containing person, person, dark, board

Description automatically generated

To optimize for conversions — always

Whatever the goal, it’s important to know if you’re operating efficiently in terms of your conversions. In other words, you need to know if you’re getting a return for the investment (time, money, or both) you’re putting in. When you’re operating to get the most conversions for the lowest cost, you are employing a mindset that will help your marketing efforts perform as well as they can.

Having a digital marketing foundation will allow you to think intelligently about “conversions”, or the kinds of results that you’d like to see your marketing efforts generate. A conversion might be a completed sale for an e-commerce company, a submitted lead form for a B2B software company, or a new subscriber for an online publication.

Whatever the desired conversion action, thinking about them as the goal helps to give context in understanding how different marketing efforts are performing. Is your ad performing well and should it receive more media spend, or is it just wasting money? 

A picture containing text, person, player, sign

Description automatically generated

Thinking about conversions isn’t always easy, and may take some trial and error, but it can lead to making smart, measurable, and cost-effective decisions. And those decisions can get smarter over time as we get more and more familiar with the five key building blocks of digital marketing (at least the five that we’ve found to be instructive).

Part 2: Understanding five building blocks of digital marketing

1. The marketing funnel (customer journey)

The marketing funnel (or the user/customer journey) refers to the process by which a prospective customer hears about a product or service, becomes educated about the product or service, and makes a decision whether or not to purchase the product or service in question.

It encompasses everything from the first time that brand awareness is established to the potential purchase made by the customer. The awareness stage can be known as the “top of the funnel”, and there are lots of potential prospects in that audience. 

From there, some prospects “move down the funnel” as they learn more and get educated about the product or service. Those that don’t move down the funnel and progress in their journey are said to “fall out” of the funnel.

As the journey continues, prospects move closer to becoming customers. Those who eventually “convert” are those that completed the journey through the bottom of the funnel.

Understanding that there is such a thing as a customer journey has helped to frame our thinking for different types of marketing challenges. It essentially boils down to understanding where, why, when, and how your prospects are engaging with your brand, and what information they will need along the way to conversion.

2. Paid search vs. organic search and the SERP

For many of us, one of the first steps in understanding paid vs. organic search was getting a handle on the SERP. 

The slide below is our “SERP Landscape” slide from class. It shows what’s coming from paid (Google Ads), and what’s coming from organic search. In this case, organic results are both local SEO results from Google My Business, and also the on-page SEO results. Here’s a link to a 92-second video with the same content from class.

We learned to look for the little “Ad” designation next to the paid text ads that are often at the top of the SERP. 

These are search results with the highest AdRank who are likely willing to bid the most on the specific keyword in question. Since paid search is based on CPC (cost per click) pricing, we learned that the advertiser doesn’t incur any costs for their ad to show up, but does pay every single time the ad is clicked. 

Although many CPCs might range in the $2 – $3 range, some are $10 and up. With that kind of investment for each click, advertisers really need to focus on having great landing pages with helpful content that will help drive conversions.

Organic search, on the other hand, is “free” for each click. But it also relies on great content, perhaps even more so than paid search. That’s because the only way to get to the top of the organic search rankings is to earn it. There’s no paying here! 

Search engines like Google are looking for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) in content to rank highly on the SERP. In addition to making good local sense for Google, it all comes back to the core of Alphabet’s business model, as the slide below shows.

Understanding Google’s motivations help us understand what drives organic search and the SERP landscape overall. And understanding the basics of paid and organic search is an important foundation for all aspiring digital marketers who want to work in the field.

3. Inbound vs. outbound marketing

Are you working to push a message out to an audience that you hope is interested in your product or service? If so, you’re doing some outbound marketing, whether it be traditional media like billboards, television, or magazines, or even certain types of digital advertising like digital banner ads. Think about it as a giant megaphone broadcasting a message.

Inbound work, on the other hand, aims to attract potential customers who are actively engaged in seeking out a product or service. Search marketing (both paid search and organic search) are perfect examples of inbound, as they reach prospects at the moment they’re doing their research. Instead of a megaphone, think of a magnet. The content that does the best job in solving problems and answering questions will be the content with the strongest magnetic pull that gets to the top of SERPs and converts. 

If you’re going to be here for a while, click the image below for more information on how we think about content in the context of digital marketing efforts.

4. Basic digital marketing metrics

There are some universal metrics that we all need to understand if we’re going to develop a competency in digital marketing. Click through rate (CTR), for example, is a great way to measure how effective an ad unit or organic result is in terms of generating a click. 

But before we can fully understand CTR (clicks divided by impressions), we first need to make sure we understand the component parts of the metric. Here are four of those key components that we learned about during our digital marketing training:

  • Impression: A search result (paid or organic) or an ad shows up on a page
  • Click: A user clicking the search result or ad on a page triggers a recorded click
  • Conversion: After clicking on the search result or ad, the user completes an action that is meaningful for the business. Different types of businesses have different conversion actions that are important to them.
  • Cost: While organic search results are “free” (not counting costs associated with creating content), paid ads incur a cost. Understanding the cost of any paid advertising is a crucial component of understanding performance.

How does it all work in practice? Glad you asked! Check out the example below for a hypothetical advertising campaign that served 10,000 impressions, drove 575 clicks, cost $1,000, and generated 20 conversions:

5. Platforms and tools a beginner digital marketer should use

Our class was focused on search marketing, and we talked about one platform for paid and one platform for organic. 

On the paid side, there is only one name in the game: Google Ads. Google has free training modules and certifications available through a platform called Skillshop. You’ll need a Google-affiliated email address to log in. After doing so, just search for “Google Ads Search” and you can go through the training modules shown below. 

If you’re already a Google Ads pro, you can hop right to the exam and take the timed Google Ads Search Assessment. If you can get an 80% or higher on the 50-question exam, you’ll get a certification badge!

For organic search, we learned about keyword research, title tags, H1s and H2s, anchor text in links, and more through the training available on Moz Academy. The 73-minute Page Optimization course has eight different training sections and includes an On Page Optimization Quiz at the end. Fair warning, some of the content might be worth watching a few times if you’re new to SEO. For most of us this was our first exposure to SEO, and it took some time for most of our brains to sort through the difference between a title tag and an H1 tag!

Another platform that we liked was Google Trends, which can be useful for both paid and organic search, and is just generally a cool way to see trends happening! 

There are many more resources and tools out there in the world. Some of us are aiming to get more comfortable with these fundamentals, while some others have already branched out into other disciplines like social media.


Thanks for coming along with us on this digital marketing journey. We hope it was a useful read!

During the process of putting this together, things have changed for us:

  • Kirsten landed a full-time job.
  • Steve started doing consulting work for a growing Shopify site in Google Ads and Google Analytics, and is planning to make consulting his full-time work.
  • Darcie landed a job as a Paid Search Analyst for a national retailer.

For all of us, we know we’re only taking the first steps of our digital marketing futures, and we’re excited to see what the future holds!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!