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Google's Sitelinks Search Box: What You Need to Know


Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

Several months ago, Google announced a new sitelinks search box. Almost immediately, the sitelinks search box markup became one of the fastest growing Schema implementations on the web.

According to the folks at SimilarTech (part of the SimilarWeb family) the SearchAction markup now dominates all other Schema types on the top 1 million sites that they monitor.

Moving beyond the top million sites to the entire Internet, the SearchAction Schema is the 12th most popular Schema out of the 49 types that SimilarTech measures.

Despite such strong adoption, until now we have had very little evidence to understand the effects of the sitelinks search box. After Google dropped support for authorship photos in search results, many webmasters are weary of investing in each new initiative Google announces.

Sitelinks search box basics

The box appears in Google's search results for certain branded and navigation queries such as:

  • adobe
  • apple website
  • nytimes dot com

The box all allows users to refine searches to within a particular site, as in this example below when a user searches for "Moz" and refines their search to "keyword research".

By default, searches performed in the sitelinks box sends users to a second set of Google results, refined to include to results from the target website (using Google's site: operator.) The second page also typically includes additional Google ads, giving the searcher a chance to click on an ad instead of visiting your website.

At the same time, Google also gives webmasters a chance to bypass this second page of results and send searchers directly to their own internal search results if they implemented special Schema code on their homepage. 

Not every site qualifies. Typically, Google reserves sitelinks search box for those sites with a high volume of branded queries. To see if your site is eligible, check Google Webmaster Tools. Google typically sends messages to eligible site owners.

If you qualify, and Google finds the correct code on your homepage, Google directs visitors to your website's internal search results.

The advantage is obvious: by directing visitors to your own search results instead of another Google page filled with ads from third party websites, you potentially gain more clicks and visits and better control the visitor experience.

How to implement the sitelinks markup

Compared to other types of markup, implementing the sitelinks code is easy and straightforward.

1. Determine if your site qualifies

This question is actually harder to answer than it appears. Not every site qualifies for the sitelinks search box, and Google isn't overly transparent about the requirements.

If you can answer "yes" to any of these questions, it's quite possible your site qualifies.

  • Does your site receive a high volume of navigational or branded search traffic?
    For example, keyword phrases such as 'moz' and 'moz.com' send this website thousands of visits per week. Branded and navigational search volume is a good, but not perfect, indicator of the likeliness of the sitelinks search box to appear.
  • Did you receive a message via Google Webmaster Tools?
    Google often sends notifications to verified, eligible sites through Webmaster Tools. Here's a screenshot of one such message.
  • Does the sitelinks search box already appear for your site in Google search results?
    Try searching for your site using the most common branded and navigational search queries that your visitors might use. If the sitelinks search box already appears, then you most likely qualify to take advantage of adding the SearchAction Schema on your site and directing visitors to your own search results page.

Keep in mind that if you don't qualify, it's not necessary a negative. If you do qualify, continue with the steps below.

2. Leverage your own internal search engine

Most internal search engines work perfectly fine, including the default WordPress search function. If your website doesn't have internal search, it's easy to get started with a free Google Custom Search engine.

For websites that use Google's default Custom Search engine, Google also has the chance to make money on ad clicks, because the free version of the Customer Search engine includes Google ads. Google offers a paid version known as Site Search that allows an ad-free experience.

3. Add SearchAction Schema to your homepage

Place the following snippet in the source code of your homepage, editing the "url" and "target" fields to match your website information.

<script type="application/ld+json">
{
   "@context": "http://schema.org",
   "@type": "WebSite",
   "url": "https://www.example-petstore.com/",
   "potentialAction": {
     "@type": "SearchAction",
     "target": "https://query.example-petstore.com/search?q={search_term_string}",
     "query-input": "required name=search_term_string"
   }
}
</script>

Source: Google Developers.

4. Opting out

Google doesn't advertise it well, but there is a way for you to prevent Google from displaying the sitelinks search box altogether if you'd like to opt out. Menashe Avramov first noticed an additional Google meta tag that prevents the search box from displaying.

<meta name="google" content="nositelinkssearchbox" />

Can you guess which major publisher opts out of Google's Sitelinks Search Box? Amazon.

Interestingly, Google displays no sitelinks search box for the most popular website on the planet, Facebook, even though no such meta tag is apparent on Facebook's site.

Results: How the sitelinks search box impacts traffic

Below are landing page visits to Moz's search results page before and after adding the sitelinks markup.

While it looks like a significant jump, the increase only equaled 150 visits per week. This represents just 0.05% of all organic search sessions Moz sees on a weekly basis (around 300,000 sessions).

Several SEOs who manage large sites reported similar results when we spoke with them. Although the search results page sees a small rise in sessions, it's always nearly impossible to identify a statistically significant increase in overall search traffic.

I'm glad we implemented this because I think it provides a better user experience, but I would not say that it has sent much traffic our way. 

- Rob Leslie, Website Usability & SEO Administrator at George Fox University

In other words, implementing the SearchAction Schema is "optimized" and may result in a small boost in traffic and an improved experience for users. Based on the evidence, most publishers shouldn't expect big traffic gains.

Our best advice is to add the SearchAction Schema if it is easy to implement, but keep your expectations in check.

As for opting out, like Amazon, it's likely best to experiment on your own site before committing to a course of action. Keep in mind that many SERP features such as review stars and breadcrumbs have been associated with higher click-through rates, and having a giant search box next to your result may help you stand out.

Have you implemented the code for Google's sitelinks search box? Share your experience in the comments below.


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How to Approach Owned and Earned Media


Posted by SamuelScott

content-collage.jpg

Image: Flickr user nickrate

We all know content is king, but if your content marketing plan consists of blindly publishing daily blog posts on your website or submitting countless bylined articles (i.e., guest posts) to random outlets, your king will turn into the court jester.

Marketing must have a sound strategy behind it to be successful. To help the Moz community maximize the return on investment of their content, I want to share a strategy I used in my prior position as a senior director at a global agency, and continue to use as a digital marketing and communications consultant.


What is content, exactly?

First, it is important to know that content is not simply something used to get links. As I explained in a Mozinar and a subsequent blog post on integrating digital marketing and public relations, content is essential to any business's overall marketing and communications strategy. Its functions include: 

  • Goal Identification
  • Audience Research
  • Messaging and Positioning
  • Channel Research
  • Content Creation
  • Campaign Execution
  • Measuring Results

To use an example from the earlier post: 

A sender decides upon a message. The message is packaged into a piece of content. The content is transmitted via a desired channel. The channel delivers the content to the receiver. Marketing is essentially sending a message that is packaged as a piece of content to a receiver via a channel.

Content is merely the vehicle that contains a desired marketing message that is then transmitted via a channel to an audience.


The big idea

In case you haven't heard, the newest thing is for brands to become publishers that create content.

While I was visiting SMX West in 2014, I heard this wonderful talk from Brian Clark of Copyblogger (see the SlideShare here):

The core message: Brands that become online media companies will dominate the Internet Age. One of Clark's examples: Netflix went from merely distributing content (in the form of TV shows and movies) to creating content.

The strategy makes sense because the more content brands produce, the more likely it is that their content will be shared on social media, the more brand awareness they will generate and the more chances there are for the content to garner links. In the end, the act of becoming a media company is a way to increase overall online engagement, which is an important ranking factor many SEOs are neglecting.

As more and more brands become publishers, marketers have more and more places to publish. However, we cannot effectively target all of these places, especially when our own websites need content.

The key is to develop a strategic approach to content marketing.


The different types of content

In general, there is owned media and earned media. (There is also paid media, but that mainly refers to paying to get earned content placement on a website.)

  • Owned media is content you publish on outlets you own (e.g., your website)
  • Earned media is content other outlets freely give you (e.g., bylined articles and news coverage)

Here is the central question I wish to address: When should you use owned versus earned media? In other words: Say you create a great piece of content. When should you publish it on your website and when should you publish it somewhere else? Owned and earned media have their benefits and drawbacks.

For an in-depth look on online branding and the different types of media, I invite you to read this detailed essay by Will Critchlow on Moz.

Why you should use owned media

  1. You will own the content forever. If you publish, say, a blog post on your company website, then you will own and have access to that document for as long as you own your website. However, you have no guarantee of how long your content will remain on another website.
  2. Your website can rank in the search engines. Why should another website receive the search benefits of your hard work? If I write an e-book that targets a keyword theme addressing informational queries, I want my website to rank for those search terms for the foreseeable future to generate top-of-the-funnel awareness.
  3. It enhances brand building. The more you pub­lish (and promote), the more your brand authority will grow over time as the content gets traf­fic, news coverage, men­tions, and ­links. 

Why you should use earned media

  1. You can use someone else's audience. A bylined article or news coverage about you on a website or publication read by 100,000 people provides invaluable exposure.
  2. You can earn links. As Jen Lopez explained here, you should not be submitting countless, short guest posts to random websites to get links. A targeted post on a respected website can gain numerous links for your brand. 
  3. You can likely build brand awareness more quickly. Building a brand on your own can take a long time, especially if you are a new business or startup with few readers and social followers. At my prior agency, we got an unknown CEO interviewed or published in what the public relations industry refers to as "Tier 3 outlets." Then, we took those interviews to "Tier 2 outlets" as proof that he was an influencer worthy to quote or be published in their outlets. From there we went to "Tier 1 outlets" for coverage. This had a tremendous positive impact for the business overall. 

How to decide?

content-marketing.jpg

Image: Flickr user ralphpaglia

Obviously, there are benefits to using both owned and earned media. But a lot of the time, a single piece of content can only be used in one or the other channel. (See the last part of this article for important exceptions!) 

Here is the rule I use for both clients and for myself:

Owned media is used for your long-term mar­ket­ing goals. Earned media is used for your short-term mar­ket­ing goals.

Now, graphic design is not one of my strong points (I'm personally more of a writer), but I've created a simple guide to illustrate that rule:

answer-these-questions.jpg

Here are some specific examples I've seen and used:

Owned media

  • Is it an attempt to rank highly in search results for a certain keyword theme over time? An example would be an essay that addresses a pain point your target customers have, one they would attempt to address by searching Google. At my prior agency, I wrote a guide to international SEO a few years ago. Last I checked, the agency still ranked in the top four for searches relating to "international SEO strategy" because of that document.
  • Is it part of your sales funnel? Perhaps the sidebar of your website includes a call-to-action to download an e-book. Of course, people would have to provide an e-mail address, and the e-book could contain links to product pages and sales representatives.

Earned media

  • Is it meant to introduce and/or brand yourself to a targeted audience? A client at my prior agency was a mobile advertising network. We had gotten bylined opinion articles for the CEO on major websites that are all about mobile devices and Internet advertising. Over time, the CEO received more and more attention from larger and larger publications, which helped his personal brand and that of the company's as well. (This is the real reason for so-called guest posting.)
  • Is it meant to generate more immediate sales and/or social media followers? If your company is in a B2B industry, for example, then LinkedIn is an obvious platform on which to publish. By posting on LinkedIn Pulse, you can get more followers of the author's profile (see an important thought below on company versus individual branding) business connections, leads, and thought leadership.

Internal content strategy for companies

conversations-in-pr.jpg

Image: Flickr user fletcherprince

With LinkedIn, internal branding decisions need to be made because the platform allows only individuals to publish content. So, if your business has a great piece of content for a B2B audience for LinkedIn Pulse or another similar outlet, you must decide who publishes it.

Here's a brief outline of the strategy I recommend:

  • Determine who can or should represent the company in some public capacity
  • Decide what specific area each person will focus on based on his or her interests and expertise
  • Determine who should produce the content

As a hypothetical example, imagine a startup has a mobile app that helps companies create and manage online communities. Here is how duties could be divided up: 

  • The CEO would discuss topics that relate to founding and running a high-tech startup
  • The vice president of products would focus on technology and cater his discussions to such matters
  • The vice president of marketing would write and speak about community management

It's crucial that your business divides content and PR duties among the senior staff. Plus, if multiple people are representing the company, there's greater potential for coverage and exposure.


How to combine owned and earned media

Of course, a lot of your content might not fit neatly into one of the two buckets above. You don't always have to choose one or the other.

The important point to understand is every third-party publisher is different and has its own rules. It's crucial to know them so that you do not violate their policies and thereby risk losing the resulting exposure.

When you cannot republish earned media

Moz has a rule that contributors cannot republish posts on their own websites. So, whenever I publish an article here, I do the following:

  • Publish a post on my blog with an excerpt (usually the first paragraph or two) with a call-to-action to visit  Moz for the full article
  • Set the post on my blog to no-index and the canonical URL to that of the Moz post
  • If someone clicks the Twitter share widget on the specific post on my website, the share dialogue uses the canonical URL (to Moz)

This way, we both benefit. Moz gets the due credit (from Google and more), and my blog's subscribers see that I have published the article (on Moz). I would use this strategy when publishing content on third-party networks that do not allow republishing.

When you can republish earned media

LinkedIn Pulse, for example, allows anyone to publish a lengthy essay, and the website seems to use a combination of algorithms and human editors to decide which essays to promote on specific channels (such as Marketing Strategy or Social Media) and on the website's homepage.

While LinkedIn does allow you to publish content that has already been published elsewhere, the brand tends to more actively promote original content.

Here's what I do to maximize the benefits from LinkedIn Pulse:

  • I publish the content on my personal blog
  • Then I immediately post the content to Google+
  • Both of those actions "tell" Google that my website was the original publisher (see this post by Cyrus Shepard on how quickly Google indexes content that is posted to Google+)
  • After about 15 to 30 minutes, I post the content to LinkedIn Pulse
  • LinkedIn is more likely to promote the content then because it is not yet detectable in Google's SERPs

Here is just one example of an essay I published on my website and on LinkedIn—my website gets the credit in Google search and Google News. LinkedIn also promoted the post to thousands of users:

google-news-post.png

linkedin-pulse-promotion.png

linkedin-post.png

Images: Personal screenshots

This strategy can be used to your advantage. If you publish content on a third-party website, you might be able to convince them to set a canonical tag to your original post on your website. 

Note: the rel=canonical tag is only a suggestion to Google. If another website publishes a post with a canonical tag to your website, the search engine may still choose to make that website the authoritative copy. I would also add a text link somewhere in the body of the post with wording such as "Originally published...". Matt Cutts has also recommended that the tag be placed as close to the top of <head> section of code as possible.

But even in cases where the canonical tag is not an option, you can still publish the same content in multiple locations, provided one of several provisions is in place. 


The main takeaway

The content marketing strategy for your own website (owned media) should focus on organic search and your sales funnel. The content marketing strategy for publishing and getting coverage elsewhere (earned media) should focus on your public relations and publicity goals (see my Moz essay on the basic principles of PR).

Both inbound and outbound marketing are crucial in any overall marketing strategy. Strategic deployment is the key. 


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A Universal SEO Strategy Audit in 5 Steps - Whiteboard Friday


Posted by randfish

When it comes to building an SEO strategy, many marketers (especially those who don't spend a significant amount of time with SEO) start off by asking a few key questions. That's a good start, but only if you're asking the right questions. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand puts the usual suspects on the chopping block, showing us the five things we should really be looking into when formulating our SEO strategy.

For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard!

Universal SEO Strategy Audit Whiteboard

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're chatting about building an SEO strategy and having a universal set of five questions that can get you there.

So number one: What keywords do you want to rank for?

Number two: How do we get links?

Number three: Site speed. Mobile? Doesn't even seem like a question.

Number four: What about Penguin and Panda?

Number five: When do I get money?

This is bologna. That's not a strategy. Some of those go to tactics you might invest in an SEO, but this is not an SEO strategy. Unfortunately, this is how a lot of conversations about SEO start at teams, with CMOs, with managers, with CEOs, with clients or potential clients, and it's very frustrating because you can't truly do a great job with SEO just in the tactical level. If you don't start with a compelling strategy, doing all of these things is only going to produce a small amount of potential return compared to if you ask the right questions and you get your strategy set before you begin an SEO process and nailing your tactics.

So that's what I want to go through. I spend a lot of time thinking through these things and analyzing a lot of posts that other people have put up and questions that folks have put in our Q&A system and others, on Quora and other places. I think actually every great SEO strategy that I have ever seen can be the distilled down to answers that come from these five questions.

So number one: What does our organization create that helps solve searchers' questions or problems? That could be, "Or what will we create in the future?" It might be that you haven't yet created the thing or things that's going to help solve searchers' questions or problems. But that thing that you make, that product or service or content that you are making, that expertise that you hold, something about your organization is creating value that if only searchers could access it, they would be immensely thankful.

It is possible, and I have seen plenty of examples of companies that are so new or so much on the cutting edge that they're producing things that aren't solving questions people are asking yet. The problem that you're solving then is not a question. It's not something that's being searched for directly. It usually is very indirect. If you're creating a machine that, let's say, turns children's laughter into energy, as they do in the film "Monsters, Inc.", that is something very new. No one is searching for machine to turn kids laughing into energy. However, many people are searching for alternative energy. They're searching for broader types of things and concepts. By the way, if you do invent that machine, I think you'll probably nail a lot of that interest level stuff.

If you have a great answer to this, you can then move on to, "What is the unique value we provide that no one else does?" We talked about unique value previously on Whiteboard Friday. There's a whole episode you can watch about that. Basically, if everyone else out there is producing X and X+1 and X+2, you've either got to be producing X times 10, or you've got to be producing Y, something that is highly unique or is unique because it is of such better quality, such greater quality. It does the job so much better than anything else out there. It's not, "Hey, we're better than the top ten search results." It's, "Why are you ten times better than anything on this list?"

The third question is, "Who's going to help amplify our message, and why will they do it?" This is essential because SEO has turned from an exercise, where we essentially take content that already exists or create some content that will solve a searcher problem and then try and acquire links to it, or point links to it, or point ranking signals at it, and instead it's ones where we have to go out and earn those ranking signals. Because we've shifted from link building or ranking signal building to ranking signal earning, we better have people who will help amplify our message, the content that we create, the value that we provide, the service or the product, the message about our brand.

If we don't have those people who, for some reason, care enough about what we're doing to help share it with others, we're going to be shouting into a void. We're going to get no return on the investment of broadcasting our message or reaching out one to one, or sharing on social media, or distributing. It's not going to work. We need that amplification. There must be some of it, and because we need amplification in order to earn these ranking signals, we need an answer to who.

That who is going to depend highly on your target audience, your target customers, and who influences your target customers, which may be a very different group than other customers just like them. There are plenty of businesses in industries where your customers will be your worst amplifiers because they love you and they don't want to share you with anyone else. They love whatever product or service you're providing, and they want to keep you all to themselves. By the way, they're not on social media, and they don't do sharing. So you need another level above them. You need press or bloggers or social media sharers, somebody who influences your target audience.

Number four: What is our process for turning visitors from search into customers? If you have no answer to this, you can't expect to earn search visits and have a positive return on your investment. You've got to be building out that funnel that says, "Aha, people have come to us through channel X, search, social media, e-mail, directly visited, referred from some other website, through business development, through conference or trade show, whatever it is. Then they come back to our website. Then they sign up for an e-mail. Then they make a conversion. How does that work? What does our web-marketing funnel look like? How do we take people that visited our site for the first time from search, from a problem or a question that they had that we answered, and now how do they become a customer?" If you don't have that process yet, you must build it. That's part of a great SEO strategy. Then optimization of this is often called conversion rate optimization.

The last question, number five: How do we expose what we do that provides value here in a way that engines can easily crawl, index, understand, and show off? This is getting to much more classic SEO stuff. For many companies they have something wonderful that they've built, but it's just a mobile app or a web app that has no physical URL structure that anyone can crawl and be exposed to, or it's a service based business.

Let's say it's legal services firm. How are we going to turn the expertise of our legal team into something that engines can perceive? Maybe we have the answers to these questions, but we need to find some way to show it off, and that's where content creation comes into play. So we don't just need content that is good quality content that can be crawled and indexed. It also must be understood, and this ties a little bit to things we've talked about in the past around Hummingbird, where it's clear that the content is on the topic and that it really answers the searchers' underlying question, not just uses the keywords the searcher is using. Although, using the keywords is still important from a classic SEO perspective.

Then show off that content is, "How do we do a great job of applying rich snippets, of applying schema, of having a very compelling title and description and URL, of getting that ranked highly, of learning what our competitors are doing that we can uniquely differentiate from them in the search results themselves so that we can improve our click-through rates," all of those kinds of things.

If you answer these five questions, or if your customer, your client, your team, your boss already has great answers to these five questions, then you can start getting pretty tactical and be very successful. If you don't have answers to these yet, go get them. Make them explicit, not just implicit. Don't just assume you know what they are. Have them list them. Make sure everyone on the team, everyone in the SEO process has bought into, "Yes, these are the answers to those five questions that we have. Now, let's go do our tactics." I think you'll find you're far more successful with any type of SEO project or investment.

All right gang, thanks so much for joining us on Whiteboard Friday, and we'll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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