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What’s New in Search?: Google’s SMITH vs. BERT

Most SEOs know that Google has a way of quietly rolling out algorithm updates without a big announcement. Early last month, rumor had it that Google was testing out it’s newest natural language processing (NLP) model, SMITH.

Google quickly denied the rumors on Twitter, but still —  those of us trying to rank websites should pay attention to the role SMITH could potentially play in Google’s never-ending quest to improve the quality and relevance of their search results. 

So what is SMITH? Just like BERT helps Google understand words better in the context of sentences, SMITH helps Google understand passages within the context of entire documents.

What does this mean for site owners? Not much is different. If you’re focused on creating the highest-quality content for users, SMITH will simply help Google understand your content more holistically, just like humans do. Here is a breakdown of the essentials.

What you need to know:

How SMITH may impact search:

  • As Google improves its understanding of complete documents, good information architecture will be even more important
  • SMITH will improve the areas of news recommendations, related article recommendations, and document clustering
  • We know that Google already likes long-form content, but when SMITH is live, Google will understand longer content even more effectively

Another interesting feature of SMITH is that it can function as a text predictor. There are other companies that have been making big waves with NLP (think of Open AI’s infamous GPT-3 beta last year). Some of these technologies could help others build their own search engines. Therefore, SMITH is likely just one of many iterations in Google’s long-term goal of maintaining their dominance in NLP and machine learning technology. 

So this month, the mantra should remain the same: Focus on content, focus on quality. Whether or not Google launches SMITH tomorrow (or whether they already did), high-quality websites are the best situated to benefit from the update.

A Brief Guide to Mobile Ad Types

Smartphones are everywhere, and they are the primary way many people access the internet. As a society, we can now do nearly anything on our phones, from watching videos and talking to friends to ordering groceries and online shopping. With 40% of all online transactions being completed using a smartphone, mobile devices are becoming an ever-more important part of the digital marketing landscape.

Mobile phones are changing the way consumers view brands and make purchasing decisions. Businesses are spending more money than ever before creating mobile-responsive websites and advertisements, with the goal of reaching their customers first before their competitors. In fact, within the past year, mobile search ad spending was estimated at 28.12 billion, which represents a 24% increase from 2018. Businesses are getting more mobile-savvy, meaning more reasons to understand the nuances of mobile advertising so your advertisements can perform better and drive more clicks and revenue for your brand.

Due to the overwhelming popularity of mobile ads, it is important that any business owner stays ahead of the game when it comes to different mobile ad types and their best practices. Here’s a brief guide on everything you need to know about the best mobile ad types and how to utilize them properly for your business needs.

What is Mobile Advertising?

Simply put, mobile advertising is the practice of creating an advertisement that consumers see only on their smartphones. This is not to be confused with mobile marketing, which is an umbrella term for any digital marketing that targets mobile users and can include SMS marketing. Mobile advertising, on the other hand, utilizes various data points to specifically target people who use their phones to access the internet, search engines, or social media platforms.

Top Mobile Ad Types

Not all mobile ad types are created equally. Here’s a quick list of the top mobile ad types you can use in your ad campaign.

Banner Ads

By far the most common form of mobile advertising, banner ads use a non-obtrusive banner at the top of the page to promote their brand and products. These ads are embedded in the web ad server or the mobile app. Banner ads are designed to quickly grab the attention of consumers with high-quality images, bright colors, and/or quick blurbs of text with a call to action.

Since there is limited space for content, mobile banner ads tend to rely on brand awareness and recognition for the most value considering that the small ad format doesn’t allow for detailed information. The end goal is to pique the customer’s interest and cause them to click over to the brand’s webpage and convert.

Native Advertising

Native ads are quite unique in that they don’t look like your typical mobile ad in an ad network. These ads look  “native” to the content on the page, meaning they look like organic pieces of content written for that specific page. To do this, the ad format is the same as the content around it; so if that page is a quiz, a blog, or an infographic, the native ad content is virtually indistinguishable. Plus, since they are embedded in the mobile web environment, they cannot be blocked and taken out of the content.

Major players in the ad community choose native display ads as they fit seamlessly into the customer’s user experience without any forced interruptions.

Interstitial Ads

Interstitial ads are interactive ad types that display across the entire page while the page is loading. They catch the user’s eye, and often give no other choice to the user than to interact with the mobile ad format. Users have to close out of the mobile ad before they can proceed with their content.

For example, say you are playing a game on your mobile phone. When you are in between levels, a short video ad pops up advertising another product, game, or service. These are interstitials, and since they take up the entire mobile and desktop screen, they offer unique advertising options that result in increased engagement, clicks, and conversion.

Mobile Video Ads

Video ads are exactly what they sound like but they can be exceptionally complex in their execution. They simply show videos about the brand in question when a consumer clicks or interacts with the page. A good example of this is on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook or in between video views with Youtube ads.

While video ads are one of the most expensive digital advertising options, it is a great way to gain a high conversion rate and impressions. Many businesses choose this form of ad placement as most consumers are visual learners; if they post a video explaining the uses of their product, then there’s a higher chance their conversion rate will increase.

Rich Media Ads

Rich media ads are interactive, highly dynamic ads that are most often limited by a brand’s advertising budget. A brand would choose a rich media ad because they want to engage with their target audience in a more creative way while benefiting from a high CTR. These ad types grab the consumer’s attention simply because the ad targets them in a convenient and more captivating way.

The Benefits of Mobile Advertising

With the sheer versatility of mobile ad types, there are plenty of benefits that come with investing in mobile advertising. But in order to benefit, you need to understand how your target audience is using their mobile devices. Do they use their phones to browse the internet, engage with their friends on Facebook, or to access certain apps or games? Having a solid understanding of where your target audience is will help you understand what platforms to advertise on and which ad types to use. Once you are actively running mobile ads, there are so many benefits in comparison to traditional digital ad types.

Mobile Ads Reach a Broader Audience Network

At the end of 2019, mobile advertising accounted for 72% of the entire digital ad spending in the United States. This means that mobile audiences are larger than desktop and tablet audiences, resulting in opportunities for more impressions and a wider group of people to reach. If you have the ability to target these consumers with different forms of mobile interactive ads, why wouldn’t you?

Geotargeting is a Big Plus

If you really want to hone in on a potential client via geotargeting, the mobile ad network is the way to do it. Any business can easily geotarget a consumer by using the location data that comes from having a smartphone. If you’re a local business, geotargeting can make it so your mobile ad impressions only go to those people who are in a certain radius of your brick-and-mortar store. This is an advantage that can lead to more foot traffic and a higher ROI on your digital marketing spend.

Versatility is a Big Incentive

As mentioned before, each mobile ad type can be customized depending on your target audience and your specific business goals and needs.  Since mobile ads integrate seamlessly with multiple different ad platforms like social media channels, web platforms, and mobile apps, the creativity it brings you is endless. Knowing where your audience is and using hyper-targeted creative and copy can help improve conversions and lower your overall customer acquisition costs.

Accessibility is the Name of the Game

Nearly half of the world’s population now has a smartphone. Social media and mobile phones have become the communication norm, and not only are consumers tied to their mobile phones, but they also spend quite some time investing in the latest technology and updating their apps. The accessibility of mobile ads is that you can instantly deliver targeted ad campaigns right to your consumers, without hassle.

Better Understand User Experience and Customer Habits

Mobile phones offer advertisers a plethora of data and customer information, which in turn gives them insight into user experience and customer habits that they wouldn’t be privy to with traditional forms of advertising. And who doesn’t like a ton of information? With all these insights, you’ll be able to translate your data into a beneficial marketing campaign that results in higher clicks and a faster monetization of your ad campaign.

Cost-efficiency Leads to a Better ROI

While yes, certain ad types are more expensive than others, as a whole, mobile advertising costs just a fraction of other traditional media options such as TV or radio ads. So with all these cost-savings, businesses are able to double-down on their mobile ad campaigns and target consumers more efficiently.

The Top Mobile Advertising Platforms

Now that you know about the benefits and different types of mobile ads, what platforms do you use? Here are some of the most common mobile advertising platforms available.

Google Display Network

Google is the powerhouse of digital marketing, and that dominance also extends over mobile ad types. Many smartphones offer Google as the default search engine, and almost 60% of all searches come from mobile devices. Utilizing Google Display Ads is a great way to publish banner ads on publishers across the internet and within specific smartphone apps.

Facebook

Facebook and Instagram have launched one of the most popular forms of mobile advertising, the Audience Network. This ad platform makes it easy for marketers to choose from a variety of different ad types all in one place. Additionally, Instagram offers an incredible benefit – as it is the first mobile platform that was built just for the smartphone audience.

AdMob

AdMob is a platform, owned by Google, that focuses specifically on mobile app advertising. It is an all-in-one place where businesses can monetize their mobile apps by using one of the largest global advertiser demand networks. For those companies that have a mobile app, this platform can help you find those target users who are already using apps that are similar to yours.

AdColony

Where AdMob was meant specifically for stagnant ads on mobile apps, AdColony is a mobile video ad network where advertisers can put up short videos about their brand. What’s cool about AdColony is that you are able to micro-target users based on the specific mobile device they are using, their operating system, the connection type, and the customer’s demographics and geography. So for example, AdColony gives a company the ability to target female iPhone 12 users with an iOS operating system, using 5G data in Boston, Massachusetts.

TubeMogul

TubeMogul is a mobile ad platform that helps to differentiate between fraudulent traffic from bots and traffic from real people. Founded by Adobe back in 2016, this platform created the non-human traffic credit program back in 2016 to help weed out “fake” traffic so your ad campaigns can perform to the best of their ability. They use a sensor to detect fake traffics from bots and web crawlers – so you can be confident that the money you are spending on mobile ads is being seen by actual consumers looking to convert.

It is important to know that just because there are plenty of mobile ad platforms available out there, doesn’t mean you have to use them. Choosing which platform works best for your business goals is what is most important.

Optimizing Your Mobile Ads for Conversion

Now that you have the right mobile ad type and the right advertising platform chosen, there are a few things you can do to ensure your ads convert to the best of their ability. Here are some optimizing mobile advertising tips and tricks that will help to convert your target audience.

Write Device-Specific Ad Copy

Consumers see tons of advertisements all day, and so they want to read something that is personalized to them. Simply writing “contact us on your iPhone today,” or click to learn more on your tablet” can result in a higher CTR than if you were to simply write “call us today to learn more.”

Optimize for Local

Use geo-targeting to your advantage! Local and small businesses should use geographic data as much as possible. Targeting a potential consumer based on their location can seem more personal while piquing the user’s interest and connection to the brand.

Get as Granular as Possible

Do not be afraid to get as specific in your targeting. While generic targeting such as “all users in New York City on iPhones” surely isn’t a bad thing, it may not provide you as many customers in the bottom level of the funnel, ready to convert. So use modern options like micro-targeting due to demographic, device type, and time to grab those customers right when they are ready and waiting.

Don’t Forget About Social Media

Most companies are advertising on Google and Facebook at the bare minimum. It can be overwhelming to figure out exactly what mobile ad platform to use for your ad campaign, so you can get the biggest bang for your buck by targeting both the largest social media platform and the largest search engine out there. Once you start with these two options, you’ll be able to get some data on your customers’ habits. The more you know about your target audience, the easier you can double-down on targeting them properly on other platforms. 

Mobile advertising is one of the best ways to target consumers at all levels of the marketing funnel. With our digital world growing every single day, it is becoming more and more clear how business owners need to adapt to the digital landscape to focus on mobile customer experience.

How to Make Your Website Faster for Better Google Rankings

How quickly does your website load for desktop and mobile users? If the answer is more than two or three seconds, you may be losing business as visitors move on to more responsive sites. 

When it comes to website speed, time is money. A few extra seconds of page load time could have a major impact on your ability to engage visitors, make sales, and boost your overall conversion rate. Studies have shown that a page load time of four seconds loses 25 percent of the web traffic initially accessing a site. Plus, page load time is a Google ranking factor, so improving your site speed is essential if you want to see your site ranking for more keywords.

 

How Website Speed Impacts Your Business and Your SEO

It should be no surprise that the longer the delay in page load time, the more traffic a site will lose. A slow website can result in lost sales opportunities, lost revenue, and lost growth potential. 

Slow page speed also disrupts the user experience, often impacting buying decisions. Conversely, increasing site speed can mean higher conversion rates, increased revenue, and better brand credibility. Here are some examples of how page speed impacted some well-known, enterprise-level websites:

  • Amazon: Reported a loss in revenue of 1% for every 100 milliseconds of page load delay
  • Walmart: Saw a 2% increase in conversion rate for every second of page speed improvement
  • Mozilla: Increased page load speed by 2.2 seconds, and Firefox downloads increased by 15.4%, or 10 million in a year
  • Shopzilla: Decreased load time from 7 to 2 seconds and saw a 50% decrease in operational budget

There are multiple examples from companies of all sizes that experienced positive business results related to increasing site speed. Even for smaller sites, improving load times needs to be a priority in your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.

Search Engines Look for Fast Websites

Website speed figures significantly into the algorithms used to rank sites in search engine results. The faster your site loads – especially with mobile searches – the better your position in the SERPs. 

bounce probability

Site load time is part of Google’s search ranking algorithm. And, because of its mobile-first policy, load times on mobile sites now take precedence over desktop systems. Google offers benchmarks to help site owners set the bar for page speed:

  • Average speed index (how quickly a mobile page displays to a user): 3 seconds
  • Average request count (number of content pieces needed to display the entire mobile page): Fewer than 50
  • Average page weight (total size of a mobile web pages in bytes): Less than 500K

The bottom line is that site speed, SEO, and business growth are directly related. If your site gets penalized by Google due to page speed issues, your rankings will drop, and so will your page views. This loss of visibility can translate to lower ad revenue, fewer conversions, fewer sales, and all the other negative consequences that poor search engine performance brings. 

Improving your site speed is a key business growth strategy that needs your focus now.

How to Improve Your Desktop and Mobile Site Speed

Test Your Current Website Speed

There are a number of online tools to test how fast your website runs. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool (PSI) is the one most commonly used by site owners.

When you enter a URL into the PageSpeed Insights tool, it returns a report on that page for mobile and desktop devices. It also offers suggestions for ways to improve desktop and mobile page load times. 

Key outputs of a PageSpeed Insights report include:

  • A performance score that summarizes the page’s overall performance. A score of 90 or above is “fast,” between 50 and 90 is “moderate,” and lower than 50 is “slow.”
  • Evaluation of your site’s core web vitals, or the unifying quality signals Google uses to measure a quality user experience
  • URL analysis and performance scores for each field area in a range of metrics
  • Data-based audits that provide diagnostics for best web development practices and suggestions for improving page speed metrics 

For more information on how to utilize PageSpeed Insights, check out this video tutorial.

Tips for Improving Your Site Speed (and Google Rankings)

There are many options available on the quest for fast site speed. If you wonder where to start, these are some actionable, simple steps you can take to see improvements right away.

Consider changing your web host  

If you have a shared hosting plan, consider switching to a dedicated server or cloud hosting. Though shared hosting invariably comes with a lower price tag, it can also affect site speed because resources like memory and bandwidth are shared across a number (and sometimes quite a larger number) of websites. Switching to a dedicated server or cloud hosting as the sole website owner can increase site speed because resources are no longer being tapped by multiple sites. This is especially important for enterprise-level organizations that have a high bandwidth requirement in order to serve a robust amount of content.

Consider changing your website theme

If you use a content management system like WordPress, research current themes that are optimized for speed. Such themes are light and flexible, and some are focused only on including elements that support search engine optimization best practices.

Minimize HTTP requests

HTTP requests occur when a user visits your site. They are sent to your server (on your hosting platform), requesting the files needed to render your site on the user’s screen. The more new requests made in order to get all the files needed for your site, the more time that web page will take to load. 

Reduce redirectsdo redirect mapping for site

Redirects are code instructions that forward your user from one location on your site to another. Redirects are commonly used for site migrations, website redesigns, or when content pruning, but each redirect adds to how long it takes for a web page to load. It’s best to avoid redirects when you can, but if you do have some, Google advises that you:

  • Never require more than one redirect to get to any of your resources; and 
  • Never link to a page that you know has a redirect on it.

Compress your files 

Compressing your site files helps reduce HTTP requests. You may see response time decrease by as much as 70 percent. Gzip is a free tool used by web developers to effectively compress site files and improve how quickly a website loads.

Optimize your images 

Save site images in the smallest possible file size without reducing image quality on the user’s end. Some recommendations for optimizing images include:

  • Using JPEG format for colorful images, PNG for simple images, and GIF for animated images.
  • Reducing file dimensions to suitable size that is visible and clear on multiple devices
  • Using an image compression tool like TinyPNG or JPEG Mini to compress images.

Consider using a content delivery network (CDN)

 

A CDN is a network in close geographic proximity to your web server that delivers content. Close proximity decreases transmission time, which can improve the user experience by increasing the speed of desktop and mobile sites.

Check your plugins 

Each plugin you have on your site shaves time off your page speed. Review your plugins and ditch the ones you don’t use. If better-optimized plugins can replace the ones you want to keep, make the switch.

Clean up your site

Do some content pruning by removing outdated content, pages, and files. Additionally, fix or remove broken links to boost how fast your website loads.

Enable browser caching 

This tactic is a benefit for returning visitors. Static page elements are held in cache after the first visit, so page load speed is revved up on subsequent visits.

Put Some Vroom into Your Website 

Like most if not all SEO strategies, this is not a “one and done” task. It’s important to monitor your website speed – especially on mobile devices – on a regular basis. At a minimum, track your desktop and mobile search ranking results, and check your PSI score if you see your site rankings lower on the SERPs.

You can use these steps to make continuous speed improvements:

  1. Use your initial speed test as your baseline metric and test current speed on mobile and desktop devices.
  2. Check PSI suggestions for suggested improvements.
  3. Based on your results and PSI recommendations, decide which tactics to use to improve the speed of your desktop and mobile site.
  4. Retest your page speed after completing each tactic to assess results.

Rinse and repeat as often as necessary to keep improving your page speed.

Content Length and SEO: Does it Really Matter?

One of the debated topics among marketing professionals is the role that content length plays in search engine performance. Many SEO experts argue that longer content is better, and rightly so. There is a breadth of research that shows a direct correlation between word count and rank.

For the most part, the data is consistent: The higher the average content length, the higher the spot in the SERPs.

However, we have all spent time clicking through a search engine results page only to discover a top-ranking url that has minimal word count or little-to-no useful information. Even worse, some of us have taken the time to read through a long piece of content only to find the text repetitive, obvious, or so, so boring.

What’s with that? For anyone who has done the work to create a piece of high-quality, in-depth content, seeing shorter content still climb into those top spots can be frustrating. But it’s important to remember that although lengthy content tends to perform better in search engine results, word count is not a primary ranking factor in Google’s algorithm.

For those of you who took 10th grade statistics, remember the phrase: Correlation does not equal causation?

To those of you who were asleep in the back row, it means there might just be something else going on.

Content Length and Ranking

There are a variety of ranking factors that search engines consider when ranking our web pages. There’s no magic looking glass to see through the SERPs into what exact combination of factors went into Google’s placements.

We also can’t know whether the users who arrive to our websites via search have time for a lengthy or brief answer. But what we can do is examine their search terms, clicks, session times, and conversions, and with a little inference, get a sense of the kind of content they like, and whether they have eyes for the long or the short stuff.

Depending on your industry niche or what you’ve been reading, you may already have a firm stance on whether you think longer content is an important factor in your content marketing strategy or whether you think it’s all been stretched a bit out of proportion.

One thing is indisputable: Google consistently shows its searchers longer content. But the more important question is why, and what that answer means for your own content creation practices.

What we Know for Sure About Content Length

In 2018, Search Engine Journal asked their users what word count they perceived as a good rule-of-thumb when trying to get content to rank. As you can see, their answers were not unanimous.

Recommended Content Length - SEJ Survey Says Poll Results

Despite the disagreement on the word count sweet spot, plenty of user science has been completed to measure the relationship between content length and search engine performance. 

In summary, here are the conclusions we can confidently make about the outcomes long form content has in relationship to search.

Better Ranked Sites Tend to Have Longer Content

If we look to Google to give us a hint into the ideal word count for online content, it provides us a much clearer answer than the content creators above. In a study of more than 20,000 keywords, serpIQ found that the average number of words for the #1 url was 2,416.

serp iq content length

Although we know there are other ranking factors that likely attributed to the top websites earning those coveted rankings–such as domain authority, website performance, and backlinks–the correlation to longer posts is undeniable. 

However, it’s important for content creators to remind themselves that it isn’t necessarily the length–but the topical authority that those long articles and blog posts exhibit–that qualifies it for those top spots in the search rankings (more on this later).

Long Copy is More Likely to Earn Backlinks

Research shows that lengthier content also earns more backlinks.

Why? Because everyone from bloggers, to journalists, to academics, now use hyperlinks as a form of citation. If you provide a long piece of in-depth, valuable content, other webmasters and online writers will want to link to it as evidence of their arguments, ideas, or interests.


graph of word count vs average linking domains

Unlike word count, backlinks are actually one of the primary ranking factors Google uses to determine search results, because backlinks show that websites have proved themselves to have expert credentials and knowledge. 

The length of the content, then, allows more space for writers to provide the quality, in-depth material that other sites want to link to.

Longer Content Establishes Expertise that Leads to Conversion

Longer, high-quality content also generally leads to better conversions. In experiments of longer and shorter home pages, Marketing Experiments found that the longer content converted better by approximately 45%.

This data can feel counterintuitive, because we humans have been getting accused more and more often of having shorter attention spans due to mediums like the internet.

But in reality, users, algorithms, and content marketers are all becoming more sophisticated and efficient in how they search. When users come across a page with a lot of content, they don’t usually read it all. 

They scan.

Long copy gives the impression of expertise, credibility, and extensive knowledge on a topic. When users are scrolling, they are also scanning, and more content gives them something to scan through. For this reason, webmasters are more likely to project in-depth expertise through long posts and landing pages.

Users are always more likely to convert when they feel a website is an authority on the product or service they provide. Lengthy content will always project the authoritative image that boosts conversion rates (unless it lacks topical relevance).

People Engage More Regularly with Longer Content

Finally, the data also tells us that people are more likely to engage with and share longer content. According to CopyHackers, long-form content of more than 1000-words consistently gets higher average social shares.

To understand this, imagine how you spend your time on social sites in comparison to search engines. When you enter search queries into Google, you are more likely looking for a specific solution or answer to a need, desire, or problem.

But on social media sites, you are more likely browsing.

Imagine the difference between running into the store to quickly pick up something during the workweek versus leisurely enjoying the outdoor mall on a Saturday afternoon.

Longer content thrives in social media shares because like those webmasters linking back to authoritative content, social media users also want their social shares to be perceived as valuable and useful to their followers.

Essentially, longer content makes everyone look good.

What We Know About the Short Stuff

Despite all the credential-building and keyword-including that long copy allows for, shorter content can still, and does often, rank well.

Since the Panda update, Google has made it harder for thin content to rank. But again, correlation does not equal causation. Short-form content isn’t always thin, and can include valuable, useful information to searchers.

And because search engines still crawl and index short posts and web pages, we do know that search engines are paying attention to short content. Therefore, short-form content will sometimes appear in the top spots of certain queries. 

For example, enter in the name of a popular writer or journalist into the search bar, and the Google search results will likely include recent highlights of their Twitter feed. 

Yes, Google crawls and indexes those tiny 280-character tweets.

However, it’s much more difficult for short content to accomplish the SEO tasks that long-form content can, such as earning backlinks, boosting conversions, or establishing credentials and expertise. Combined, these factors all have the long-term benefit of building the domain authority and google ranking of a site over time, and of increasing that site’s likelihood of consistently appearing in SERPs across a variety of search terms.

So, if short content is going to rank, it needs to be unique or extremely valuable to users.

Sites with Higher Domain Authority can Get Away With Shorter Content

If Buzzfeed or Forbes decides to share a shorter article, it’s likely that their content could still make it to the first page of the search results.

Because again, content length is not actually a ranking factor.

This means that websites with higher domain authority can ride off their past history of backlinks, relevant keywords, and topical authority shown through previously published longer articles and blog posts. The reality is, every time a site with high domain authority creates new content, they carry the advantage of their past credentials with them into the rankings.

This is why when you are crafting content, it’s ideal to target those long-tail and conversational search phrases that are less competitive to rank for. Until you build up your own site authority, optimizing content for more reachable search terms is a far more useful strategy.

Featured Snippets are the New “Short Stuff” of Search

Ever since Google introduced Featured Snippets in 2014, it now provides short summary answers to question-based keywords.

When Google highlights answers to users specific questions, searchers who only need a quick fix can get the information they need without ever having to click through search results. 

This makes search much better for users, but doesn’t necessarily help webmasters striving to get organic traffic (unless you are the website that happens to make it into the coveted “Position 0” spot). According to a study of 2 million featured snippets by Ahrefs, 8.6% of all clicks go to the featured snippet.

Until recently, urls that were in featured snippets also occupied the number one ranking in the SERPs, giving them the opportunity to capture loads of traffic. But Google introduced an update in January of 2020 that removes these duplications of position 0 and position 1, meaning the previous clearcut advantages of Position 0 might soon change.

Other Ways Google Handles the Short Stuff

There are other ways that Google tries to give short, easy answers to its users.

  • Rich Answers are direct factual answers at the top of the search page
  • Knowledge Graphs are infoboxes with information gathered from a variety of sources
  • Rich Snippets appear as normal search results but with additional data displayed, like ratings, prices to products, or ingredients in a recipe

Like featured snippets, all of these provide short answers that prevent searchers from ever having to actually leave Google’s url.

Google is continually discovering ways to give users quick answers in those moments when users want them, and it will only get better at doing so. 

Currently, only about 12% of search queries result in featured snippets, meaning there are plenty of moments when users still need to click through the urls presented to them in SERPs to get the answers they need. It also means there are plenty of moments where users want to do the work of exploring good content in the form of longer, in-depth material.

But overall, Google will continue to get better at knowing when searchers prefer a quick answer, and not necessarily a wide range of search results with long content. For this reason, prioritizing longer content is continually going to be the best way for webmasters to approach content creation, as Google is on track to handle the short stuff entirely on its own.

What This Means for Your Content Creation Practices

The challenge for the average webmaster is that they don’t have an entire department of bloggers and content writers to pump out long form content in a steady stream. It takes time to generate a lot of content, and if SEO success equals a daily blog or article of 2000 or more words, the average webmaster may not feel like they can accomplish it.

Not right away, at least. But the more you see the power that consistent and longer posts play in helping you appear in search results, the more you may prioritize diverting resources to hiring a content writer or content marketing team. 

But until then, here are a few ways to think about content length in relationship to the SEO resources and capabilities you can implement right now.

It Always Comes Back to Target Keywords

It’s hard to make it through any SEO article without some mention of keywords. The keywords we choose to incorporate into our content, and the target keywords we choose to optimize for, need to be strategic. If you are going to invest the time it takes to produce in-depth material for your website, you want to make sure you have a smart keyword strategy.

Creating a cluster or list of relevant keywords to your website’s niche is an important part of giving options for your content team to work from. Doing keyword research to learn which given keywords are more or less competitive to rank for will also help, because the content you do have time to create will do more work for you once its published.

Think Less About Content Length and More About Topical Authority

Although content length is correlated with higher rank, it doesn’t cause it. What really matters to Google is topical authority, and it’s much easier to show that authority through long articles and blog posts with multiple headers and keywords.

Topical authority is how well and in-depth your website covers a particular niche. So if you cannot realistically write 2000-word articles every week, why not try for a weekly post of 800-1000 words that cover a variety of topics that are within your keyword cluster?

For example, an interior design company could create a content calendar using topics and keywords within their niche: How to choose the right paint color, the pros and cons of decorating with wallpaper, whether or not to install your own flooring, or how to remodel your bathroom on a budget. Even if these weekly posts are only 1000-words, Google indexes them and begins to see the website as a place of a niche focus with relevant, valuable content.

Get Excited About Your Potential for Backlinks

As mentioned earlier, long-form content earns an average of 77.2% more links than shorter content.

Long-form content generates more backlinks than short blog posts

So instead of trying to fluff up your content to the 2000-word mark, analyze whether the way you have composed, structured, and written the content makes it worthy of linking back to. Readability is important to your users and to search engines, and articles that have compelling headlines, easy structures, and a creative use of images, videos, or infographics are more likely to be seen as valuable to other webmasters as well.

As you begin to get in the habit of consistent content practices, producing 2000-3000 word articles may become more realistic. Until then, don’t stretch out your posts just to hit a magic number. The reality is, 1 good backlink is more valuable to your search engine performance than a 1000 unnecessary words–every time.

If You’re Just Starting Out, Avoid Shorter Content

Websites with low domain authority should avoid short content, including a shorter homepage and landing pages. You don’t want to run the risk of Google flagging you for thin-content or duplicate content right off the bat, and those early decisions you make in your website content creation have a lot to do with your ability to drive consistent traffic in the long-term. 

In general, you still want to prioritize readability and quality over word count, however, waiting two weeks to publish a longer article may be more valuable than pushing out 250 word pieces on a day-to-day basis. In the early stages of SEO, you need longer legs to get over the initial hurdles.

Achieving higher rankings will never occur overnight. One piece of long content is not going to catapult you straight to the first page of Google results. It’s just not going to happen.

But a steady stream of long-form content will significantly serve your goals in the long-term. If you put in the effort and have some patience, you’re bound to see results.

So…What’s the Ideal Content Length Already?

The first rule of negotiation is don’t follow the rules, so we’re not going to.

Sorry to disappoint. But as we mentioned 2,711 words ago, you should be thinking less about the number of words and more about whether you have satisfied both your target audience and search engines’ needs. 

In the end, it’s always quality that matters. As long as that is your end goal, your content length can vary along the way.

Link Building Strategies Proven to Work in 2021

The success of any online business hinges on good SEO (search engine optimization) practices, and webmasters need to understand its importance.

At its most basic, SEO is a set of practices for optimizing a website so that it can achieve higher rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs).

To put the importance of rankings into perspective, the top result in Google gets approximately 33% of all search traffic, and the numbers rapidly decrease for all lower results. SEO can be broken down into three basic categories.

On-site SEO: This refers to practices applied to your own site to make it as search engine friendly and as appealing to users as possible.

Off-site SEO: This is how you promote your site and content on other websites to increase your traffic.

Technical SEO: This is how you make it convenient for search engines to crawl and index your site so it’s easy to rank.

SEO is a complex and constantly evolving practice. Industry publications sometimes offer minor suggestions to improve your SEO strategy, but will always come secondary to link building.

Link building is the practice of acquiring links, usually through content, on other websites. In every correlation analysis study of the factors influencing rankings, links and link-related metrics have always had the highest correlation with ranking better on Google.

In this post we will dig into our favorite strategies for building backlinks to your site, but first it’s let’s unpack how rankings work and how they affect your site.

Link Building Methods

There are several methods of obtaining links, some of which are more effective than others. All of the methods we advocate are white-hat methods which will stand the test of time because they align with what search engines value long-term and Google compliant. Be wary of black hat methods, which are shortcuts that look to manipulate search rankings in spammy and unethical ways. Strategies like keyword stuffing, cloaking, forum posting, comment section spamming, content spinning, spammy link building with exact match anchor text, and other black-hat methods were once strategies that worked but now can get your website blacklisted or algorithmically penalized. At LinkGraph, we’ve had to help webmasters through challenging remediations when these strategies have resulted in high-value websites getting a rankings drop and losing over 50% of their traffic. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s go through some winning strategies.

Healthy Link Building Techniques

Contextual Links On Reputable Publications

A contextual link is a link that appears inside relevant content that enhances or informs the reader. One of the most common examples of high-quality contextual links are hyperlinks within articles on blogs or publications with an engaged audience.

Well placed contextual links can greatly improve a site’s trustworthiness. LinkGraph’s outreach-based link building campaigns are directed at emailing the editors and webmasters of high-quality publications with good organic traffic and pitching them content.

Effective content marketing requires a large sample size of authoritative sites as well as high-quality linkable collateral that is attractive to publishers. This is easily the most effective link building strategy today and will continue to stand the test of time because it adds value to the publications, readers, and the internet.

Creating High-Quality Linkable Assets On Your WordPress Blog

This strategy is all about creating valuable content that other websites will find and link to. Doing original research, like publishing whitepapers, technical case studies, free software tools or analyzers, and long-form well researched and keyword-targeted content are all effective strategies.

Promoting these assets on social media to increase social signals through facebook likes, comments, and shares are effective ways to grow your audience and increase your link velocity around these assets. Many SEOs claim that creating content on your blog on a regular basis is very important, but we would argue that posting on a regular basis is only a good idea when the content you’re creating is actually getting traffic and social media engagement.

One great strategy to guide content strategy is the “skyscraper technique” of identifying a piece of content in your niche that has received a lot of engagement across social media as well as with links, and redeveloping and improving upon it. Make sure to do your keyword research when creating a new piece of content, to make sure you’re building content that targets a target keyword that actually has search volume and low organic difficulty. We suggest using our content optimizer to make sure you include all relevant terms within your content and are targeting a keyword with a low enough organic difficulty that you actually have a chance to show up in search results.

HARO: Help A Reporter Out

(HARO) is a free database of sources for stories and a great way for potential sources to get media coverage. Once you sign up as a source, you’ll start receiving three plus emails per day containing topics you can potentially contribute to.
Any reply you send should answer all questions asked by the reporter in detail to raise your chances of being credited as a source. You’ll also need to include an author bio and link to your site to secure some exposure. Backlinks from high authority news sites are among the best you can get, which makes HARO an extremely important resource.

Contributor Opportunities and Guest Posting

If you’re an industry expert with specialized knowledge, look for publications in your niche that could benefit from having you write pieces for them. TechCrunch, Forbes, and several other sites accept contributors and will often permit you a link from your author byline.

This strategy can help you secure some very high authority links that are otherwise very challenging to acquire, but also requires hard work and perseverance. In this age of the internet, high-quality journalistic outlets are inundated with myriad pitches each day from brands looking for press coverage. Nevertheless, it’s one that we’ve worked over the years to develop successfully at LinkGraph.

One important disclaimer here is to make sure you’re targeting sites that get meaningful organic traffic, link out to websites with do-follow backlinks that provide at least some referral traffic, and are relevant to your niche… otherwise you might not see as much return.

Sites that use nofollow links are also going to have less of a positive impact on your search rankings. Remember that with each link you secure from the same domain there are diminishing returns, so focus more on improving the number of referring domains in your backlink profile over the total number of backlinks (read more on the “dampening factor” in PageRank).

LinkGraph’s link building campaigns focus on securing only a single topically relevant link from trustworthy publications because of this. There are loads of sites on the internet that look great but get no traffic from search engines, social, or direct traffic (potentially because they were penalized or aren’t creating useful original content).

Broken Link Building

This is a technique where you find a broken (dead) link and recreate content for the link. You then reach out to each site linking to the missing content that they can fix the broken link on their site by linking to your asset which has the same or similar information. For every webmaster that accepts, you’ve created a new backlink for your site. The process of finding worthwhile dead links can be a bit cumbersome and time-consuming, but it’s still less effort than creating a new offsite piece for each backlink you want to earn. Bonus effect: adding additional content to your own site is likely to increase the number of keywords you rank for, and improve your relevancy as it increases your content depth.

Quora Response

Quora is basically a question and answer site, and while it may not be the best for traditional SEO methods, it still has indirect benefits. Links for Quora are no-follow, meaning they won’t build your backlink profile, but they can be useful for long term traffic. You can create a profile representing your business on Quora and look for questions with high view counts that you can offer solutions to. Creating highly detailed responses shows your expertise on the topic, and you can leave a link to your site for additional information.

Directories

A directory is simply a cataloging system that contains references to relevant resources. Some popular online directories include Yelp, LinkedIn, Google My Business, and Facebook. In SEO, directories are websites that accept submissions that allow you to create backlinks to your website. Directories are great for local or niche marketing, and targeting your site toward relevant directories with detailed descriptions can be great for your traffic.

While there are some web directories that do provide do-follow backlinks, these are generally low-impact because the links they provide are low quality and transfer a minimal amount of PageRank. Directories are a cornerstone of local SEO as they help a business get discovered by users using those directories — but compared to the potential traffic from Google, most directories are low-impact and low-return.

Local SEO

Local SEO, as the name suggests, refers to optimizing your website to rank better in local searches. Countless local searches are made every day, particularly on mobile devices, and 50% of customers who conduct local searches visit a store that same day. Local searches are most frequently done to check the hours of a location or to search for specific services in the area.

To start taking advantage of local SEO, you’ll need to create a local landing page with keywords optimized for your area in the headline. The content of your landing page will generally include your opening hours, address, phone number, and a brief description of the products or services you provide.

To start gaining backlinks for your landing page, you’ll need to create a listing in Google My Business. This gives you a chance to appear in the top three results in a local search, and these spots dominate all other search results. You can also gain backlinks from local news sources, by sponsoring local businesses, or by listing your business in local directories.

Image Link Building

These are popular for a variety of reasons. Firstly, users generally love images that can break down complex content into easy to absorb chunks. Content creators also tend to like using images as much as possible for this reason. You can build your backlink portfolio by contributing images to other sites that link back to your page. You can create new images by either revamping outdated ones or by converting content into images yourself. Providing unique and valuable images to big influencers can be a great way to promote your content. This Moz guide can show you more on how to create image links.

Links to AVOID

Link Swaps (BAD!)

Also known as link exchange, this is a situation where you work with another site to provide backlinks for each other. While there may be some rare instances where this isn’t a bad idea, such as if they are a high-quality site that is relevant to your niche, the practice is generally best avoided. Sites asking for link swaps are often low quality or will be unrelated to your topic, and backlinks like this do more harm than good.

Forum/Comment Spam (BAD!)

Forum and comment spam doesn’t necessarily have a strict definition, but spam is largely considered anything that doesn’t ask a relevant question or provide any appropriate information. It’s easy for bloggers and site owners to try and promote their sites with spam in forum threads to get some free links, but the practice isn’t a good one. Firstly, it won’t provide particularly valuable links for your profile, and secondly, it’s disruptive to the forums you’re spamming on. Stopping comment spam is a top priority for many forum moderators, and any links you do make are likely to be removed.

Exact Match Anchor Text Links (BAD!)

Anchor text is simply the clickable text in a hyperlink, typically appearing blue and underlined. Anchor text can say anything, though it’s generally best if the wording is relevant to the page it’s linking to. An exact match is when the anchor text mirrors the page it is linking to. This is generally considered a bad practice for a few reasons. Firstly, it clearly signals an attempt at link building. The links often don’t look natural, and too many of these could even result in search engine penalties. Also, users don’t respond as well to exact match links anymore, as they see these more like advertising than ways to obtain valuable information. When in doubt, focus on linking to your homepage or blog posts, and use branded anchor-text so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to manipulate rankings for a specific search term, especially ones with high CPC.

Linkable Content

Securing high-quality backlinks requires high-quality linkable assets that are well researched, novel, and add meaningful value for readers and make other sites want to link to you. In today’s SEO world, there are no shortcuts for creating great content. Depending on your industry, this could be in the form of well-researched blog posts, engaging podcasts, writing whitepapers and case studies. Using your unique, relevant, and useful content if you really want your efforts to pay off. You’ll also have to link to outside sources in your own content to support your points and build trust with your audience. The following are some things to keep in mind when choosing content to link.

Relevancy

When making your content, you have to ensure that it’s valuable to your target audience, which requires a deep understanding of your audience and their problems. Anything you link for them in your content should also be relevant to your audience and your efforts. Good links could include anything from reviews of your products/services, material that backs up your points, or stories about events in your industry.

Link authority

Naturally, when choosing your links, you need to make sure they’re actually helpful for your rankings. You’ll want to check the authority of any outside links you’re making because the more high authority sites you can link to, the more your own authority will increase. This goes both for Moz and for the trust your audience places in you.

Site Traffic

It’s long been a matter of debate within the SEO community as to whether linking to pages that have high traffic provides any concrete advantages. On the surface, it would seem that linking a page with a high volume of traffic would increase your authority, and therefore your rankings, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, an ahrefs traffic study found that referring domains with high traffic often didn’t correlate with higher traffic than the total number of referring domains in web pages. This certainly doesn’t mean that referring link traffic isn’t at all important for rankings, but it does suggest it shouldn’t be your main concern.

Tips for Earning Better Backlinks

Earning high quality backlinks can often be difficult, particularly if you’re trying to build them all on your own. Luckily there are some ways that community involvement can help you out, so you don’t necessarily have to purchase any backlink building services. The following are some strategies that won’t cost you anything more than a bit of time and effort to implement.

User-Centric content

As previously stated, it’s crucial that you make all of your content relevant to your target audience, but you can go a step further. Create content specifically designed for the user’s convenience. One great way to do this is by creating video content that’s useful for your audience. Online video is staggeringly popular with 55% of people watching videos online every day. This is especially true of mobile users, and over 90% of mobile users report sharing videos with friends.  Your video content could include tutorials, product demonstrations, or informational videos appropriate for your niche. Shared videos give your brand more exposure and can link back to your site.

It’s also a good idea to put images into your content whenever possible. One easy way to do this is by placing infographics in your written content to sum up concepts and engage your audience. These are simple to make with Adobe Spark or other online infographic makers.

E-conferences and Industry Networking Sites

Arguably one of the best ways to get high quality backlinks is to create guest content on other sites in your industry. Guest blogging is a common method of doing this. Guest blogging on high quality sites can help quickly establish yourself as an authority in your industry as well as boost your traffic. Search specifically for e-conferences in your space, and make a list of networking sites and forum sites used most heavily in your industry. If you’re having trouble take a look at prominent people from your industry on LinkedIn and see what groups they’ve joined and events they’re attending. Conference/networking sites can be a goldmine for content-submission based link building, and can lead to additional opportunities as you network – including guest posting on the blogs of other people you meet, or being interviewed.

Community Involvement

If you want to spread your name around more, it’s a good idea to become more involved in your online community. This can include more activity on social media, but it can be even better to engage more directly. Search forums for questions your business can answer, and start answering them. You might also consider using surveys for multiple purposes. Firstly, surveys can be great tools to gather insights from your current customers/users to gauge their satisfaction and discover ways you can improve. You might also create some surveys with questions relevant to your industry and post them around online to see if your business matches up with your audience’s expectations. You can create your own surveys online with services like Survey Monkey, Typeform, and more.

Link Cleanup

Now that you have some strategies for new backlinks, it’s also important to know how to clean up any bad links you might have. You can use any free backlink checker online to get an idea of how many harmful links your content may have before cleaning them up.

Once you’ve identified your bad links, you have a couple of options for dealing with them. The simplest way is to find the contact information for the webmaster of the site you have a bad link on and request for them to remove it. If they are unresponsive, then you’ll have to resort to using Google’s disavow tool. This is typically seen as a last resort and is only recommended if you’re certain you have bad links. The tool basically tells Google not to count disavowed links toward the ranking of the page. This won’t affect any Google penalties you may have already incurred for toxic links, but it can protect against getting any more.

How your rankings affect your business

Getting higher search visibility on Google brings more visitors to your website. Billions of Google searches are made each day, and for most digitally-focused brands and businesses is the largest source of highly qualified traffic and revenue. Unlike other traffic sources like social or display ads, organic traffic allows you to access traffic with very specific search intent and provide them with highly relevant content.

Of all marketing channels, organic search exhibits the highest ROI because its an earned, long-lasting source of traffic compared to Adwords or Facebook Advertising where marketers rent space at a very high premium. SEO is creative, dynamic, and challenging, making it the preferred growth channel for marketers looking for a differentiated edge.

How your DA impacts your SEO efforts

DA is a measure of a website’s authority and influence. Your DA is important because the higher your score, the more trustworthy your site is considered. Sites with a huge number of high-quality links (like large tech companies like Wikipedia, Yelp, FourSquare, Facebook, Soundcloud, etc) will rank highest in DA, while newer or lesser-known sites, like small businesses, will score on the lower end.

Every site starts with a score of 0 and has to build up from there with backlinks. It’s important to note that DA is a comparative metric. This means that you don’t need to compete with the entire internet for your DA score; you just need to outperform your direct competitors. Looking up the DA score of competing sites will give you the best idea of how much work you’ll need to do.

How is DA determined?

Similar to Google’s algorithm, DA is a PageRank-based algorithm that uses backlink metrics to quantify how search engines may perceive a website’s influence. To make the most out of DA, you’ll need to work on your site’s overall authority, as well as your individual page scores by increasing the amount of pagerank on important landing pages through thoughtful internal linking.

Internal linking, especially through elements on every page of your site like your navigation bar and footer, is how your website distributes its authority across its pages. Moz, like all 3rd party data sources that are attempting to proxy Google’s view of a website’s influence, is fallible and limited by its view of the internet.

Slow crawl speeds, small index sizes, robots.txt crawling rules, and weaknesses with seeing through spammy strategies make it a very fallible metric. That’s why, once again, it’s important to remember that DA should only be used as a comparative metric rather than an absolute statement of quality. Generally the best way to raise your DA is to build up your backlink profile and site’s link equity by building quality backlinks from high authority sites.

Google Rankings and Domain Authority

While users have many options in search engines including Google, Bing, and Yahoo, the fact is that Google is easily the dominant choice with nearly80% of the global search engine market share.

Google became the most used search engine largely because it prioritized the mobile user experience, focusing on getting users to their answers as quickly as possible. Google’s complex algorithm helps produce search results so clear and targeted that users can often reach the goal of their search without even clicking into the search results themselves. These algorithms account for factors such as content quality, relevance, backlink quality, user engagement, brand signals, social signals, total site traffic, and many others.

One of the earliest tools developed for evaluating how influential websites are is domain authority. Moz developed this metric to predict how well a site can rank in SERPs. DA scores are measured on a normalized scale of 0 to 100. The scale is nonlinear, meaning its increasingly hard to increase DA. Google itself doesn’t measure or recognize DA in its algorithms – but uses calculations that are similar enough that DA serves as a very useful proxy for marketers. It’s a helpful indicator of how trustworthy a site is and can give you a good idea of how likely it is to rank. Moz allows a limited number of Domain Authority lookups using its Open Site Explorer tool, and LinkGraph also offers a free bulk domain authority checker, which uses Moz’s API to fetch their metrics for you for up to 100 sites at a time.

Algorithms can change

The way Google perceives content quality and link equity continues to change over time with periodic algorithm updates. Two major updates were the Panda update in February of 2011 and Penguin update in April 2012. Check out our filterable History of Google Algorithm Updates piece for a full history.

Google’s