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What Readers Want During COVID-19: Content Ideas for Every Niche

Posted by amandamilligan

This is a stressful time to say the least. Everything is impacted by COVID-19 in some way, including our work.

Once we’ve taken time to acknowledge how lucky we are to work in digital, it’s time to assess if our current content strategy needs any adjusting based on current events.

Many marketers are finding themselves:

  • Wanting to write about something topical
  • Needing to add more content to their calendars
  • At a loss for how to contribute at a time like this

So, I spent hours using Ubersuggest, putting myself in the shoes of various Americans. I tested a variety of keywords to see which ones have exhibited a trend during the COVID-19 outbreak and might warrant some attention from content marketers.

The results below are for the term “Coronavirus,” so for the other keywords identified, I looked for a noticeable spike in the months of January, February, and March to make sure they matched up accordingly.

My findings reveal potential topic ideas for several primary industries. See if any provide inspiration for high-quality content you can create in the coming months.

Travel

I’ll start with one of the industries hardest hit by this pandemic: travel. This was a tough one, as more and more people are understandably opting for driving, walking, or biking to get around, and are no longer relying on air travel or public transportation as trips and work get cancelled. However, I identified a few key opportunities.

Travel insurance

While it had an increase in the summer months, interest in the topic of travel insurance has risen back up again. Perhaps those who have to travel want to make sure they’re covered if they get sick, or maybe those who canceled travel want to see what their insurance covers.

In either case, people are looking for information about travel insurance and how it can help them.

Train travel

It seems that train travel falls into an ambiguous category that people are asking about. I’m not here to say whether it’s safe or not (as that is obviously not my area of expertise). As we’ve all heard, it’s best not to travel at all, but perhaps your brand can offer some clarity in this regard and offer alternatives.

Virtual travel

For everyone stuck at home but still grappling with wanderlust, how can they still explore from the couch? Virtual travel seems to be gaining popularity as more people find themselves stuck at home.

Work and education

In some cases, companies and schools have gone from in-person to virtual nearly overnight. It’s been a huge shakeup across the board, and relevant topics are trending accordingly.

Homeschooling

Many kids are home from school, and their parents are suddenly and unexpectedly in the position of teaching them. They’re sure to have a lot of questions! Note how the search level now is the same as the summer months, when kids are also home.

Free online courses

With all plans essentially cancelled as a result of “social distancing,” people are looking for ways to spend their time at home. If you offer online courses, consider amplifying them and explaining their value. If you don’t, consider whether it makes sense to create one.

Working from home tips

Executives and staff alike are looking for advice on how to improve productivity while working from home, perhaps for the first time. Consider creating content with suggestions on how to set up a home office or maintain a schedule while dealing with at-home distractions.

How to stay focused

Whether it’s because people are working or studying at home for the first time or because they’re anxious and distracted by the developing events, more and more people are struggling to stay focused. Can your brand offer anything by way of motivation or tools for focus and efficiency?

Entertainment

Everyone’s at home either trying to distract themselves from the stressful reality of the world or looking to cure their boredom. As a result, online entertainment is on the rise. Can you offer the entertainment itself, or maybe guides on how to choose the best entertainment?

Free streaming

We’re stuck with digital for now, and people are looking for new media to consume. What can your brand provide? Also trending: “cheap digital games” and “best multiplayer video games”.

Learn to play piano online

Some folks are using their newfound free time to work on hobbies and skills they haven’t had the chance to pursue in the past. Can your brand teach them anything?

Best online shopping deals

This is particularly interesting to me. Keyword rates for this term are as high as they were over the holidays. I’m wondering if people who still have disposable income will pass the time online shopping, while others who are more financially impacted will cut back, leaving things at a net equal?

Finance

Aside from the health and safety of the population, finance cuts most to the emotional core of this pandemic. Many people are laid off or can’t work, and financial worry is skyrocketing. What can you do to provide guidance or relief?

Unemployment

Many people are unexpectedly looking to file unemployment, and plenty of those people have no idea how to do it, how much money they’ll get, or how to get that information. Informative guides and tips could be hugely helpful in this area.

Budgeting tips

With layoffs and pay cuts, people are scrambling to find new ways to save money. Also trending with the same graph results: “How to invest money wisely” -- most likely because of the fluctuating stock market. Can you provide insight?

Relationships

When tensions run high, it’s important to pay attention to all the relationships in your life, meaning several subtopics in this vertical can be of vital importance.

At home date ideas

Couples stuck inside are looking for ways to keep up their romantic lives. Does it make sense for your brand to provide dating or relationships tips at an unprecedented time like this?

Reconnecting with friends

Physically, we’re all practicing social distancing, but we shouldn’t be virtually disconnecting from the people in our lives. It looks like people are wondering if they should take advantage of this free time to reconnect with old friends. Can your brand offer advice on the topic, or possibly a forum for those connections to happen?

How to make your parents understand how you feel

There are a lot of jokes going around about Gen Zs and Millennials trying to convince their Boomer parents to stay inside. But the jokes are for a reason: Many people are having tough conversations for the first time with family that they aren’t entirely sure how to navigate. Could you provide some helpful tips to approach these conversations?

Health and fitness

Health is, unsurprisingly, a vital category right now. Rather than getting into some of the most obvious things (like hand washing, hand sanitizer, etc.), I’ll try to cover some other popular topics that might be useful.

How to get health insurance

Similar to “unemployment” above, this is probably a response to people losing their jobs who are now unsure how they can get health insurance. What other concerns might these people have that you can help with?

Indoor workouts

People might have to stay home, but they’re also trying to stay healthy. How can you assist them in this endeavor?

Also trending: “how to start running”, indicating that solitary outdoor exercise is key, too.

How to strengthen immune system

People are concerned about their health and want to do whatever they can to protect themselves from COVID-19. However, only dive into this subject matter if your brand is a legitimate medical expert. False information can damage lives.

Also trending: “healthy diet”.

Journaling

Don’t forget about mental health, which is also being affected by the pandemic. People are stressed, anxious, worried, and, well, scared. Does it make sense for your brand to provide guidance on how to emotionally or mentally approach this day and age?

Also trending: “meditation”.

Home and family

In many cases, entire families are at home, every day, for the first time since the kids were old enough to be in school. That can lead to some interesting challenges.

Natural cleaning products

In an effort to keep the house clean, people may be looking for guidance on the best type of supplies to use. Could you make a list of the most effective products?

Also trending: “organic cleaning products”.

Family recipes

Everyone’s at home for all their meals and trying to avoid restaurants, so they probably need more recipes in their arsenal. Maybe your employees have favorite family recipes you could share with your readers.

Games to play with kids

Parents are used to this over the summer, but not when it’s sprung on them for an indefinite period of time. How can your brand give them ideas and tools to entertain their kids while they’re home?

Also trending: “family conversation starters”.

Conclusion

To round out this study, I want to show the results for “uplifting stories.”

If you’re not responsible for delivering breaking news or important COVID-19 updates, look for opportunities to amplify joy, gratitude, hope, or any other positive emotion. People are looking for health and safety updates, but they’re looking for inspiration, too.

Consider how any of these topics might apply to your brand, do some further exploring in the Moz Keyword Explorer, and focus on creating a content plan you feel confident in.


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Operating During COVID-19: Helpful Tips for Local Businesses

Posted by MiriamEllis

Local businesses know better than any other model what it means to fully participate in community life. You are the good neighbors who are there to serve, inspire, and sustain the people and traditions that make your town a unique and enjoyable place to call home.

As we explore this topic of what local businesses can do during the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to honor all that you have always done to take care of your community as a local business owner or marketer. Thank you.

In this article, you will find local SEO tips that could make a difference for your business in the coming weeks, innovative resources for support, advice from my own tight-knit community of some of the world’s best local SEOs, and some serious thinking about building a better local future.

Adhere to all regulations

First and foremost, start each day with a review of both local and national news to be sure you are complying with the evolving regulations for your city, county, and country. Policies designed to mitigate the harm of COVID-19 vary widely from region to region, and your business must keep informed of which forms of service you are allowed to offer in this dynamic scenario.

And, while social media can be a great connector within your community at any time, beware of misinformation and, sadly, scams in the days ahead. Get your news from sources you trust, and if you are not certain about interpreting a guideline, directly contact local authorities. This article does not take the place of laws and regulations specific to your community.

Communicate abundantly

The most helpful thing any local business can do right now, whether it’s deemed an essential or non-essential service, is to provide accurate information to its community. There are three key places to do this:

Google My Business

“More than ever, your Google Business Profile is a critical communication nexus with your customers”. —Mike Blumenthal, GatherUp

Local businesses know just how big a role Google plays as intermediary between brands and the public. This remains true during this difficult time however, Google’s local product is not running at full strength. Joy Hawkins’ article for Local University on March 23 details the limited support for or complete discontinuation of Google Q&As, posts, descriptions, reviews, and owner responses. It’s an evolving scenario, with local SEOs reporting different outcomes each day. For example, some practitioners have been able to get some, but not all, Google posts to publish.

As of writing this, there are four fields you can utilize to communicate current information to customers via GMB, but please be aware that some edits may take several days to go into effect:

Name

Google is allowing businesses to edit their business name field to reflect that they are offering curbside service, takeout, and delivery. For example, if your current name is “John’s Grill”, you are allowed to temporarily change your name to “John’s Grill — Delivery Available”.

Phone number

If regulations are keeping you at home but you still want customers to be able to reach you on your home or cell phone for information, update your work answering machine to reflect the changes and edit your GMB phone number to the appropriate new number.

Hours of operation

The discussion on how best to show that your business either has no hours or limited new hours is ongoing. I believe the best route for the present is to use Google’s method of setting special hours. This option should be especially useful for multi-location enterprises who can set special hours via the API.

Be advised, however, that there are some instances of agencies setting special hours for clients and then clients receiving emails from Google asking if the business has closed. This can alarm those clients. However, to date, it appears that when Google receives responses to this prompt that yes, the business is closed, they simply put a message about this on the listing rather than remove the listing entirely.

On March 25, Google implemented a “temporarily closed” button inside the “Info” tab of the GMB dashboard, as reported by Joy Hawkins. Utilizing this button may temporarily decrease your rankings, but you will be able to remove the label in the future and I strongly hope (but cannot guarantee) that this will remove any effects of suppression. I recommend using this button if it applies to your business because we must put safety first over any other consideration.

COVID-19 update posts

Google has newly created a Google posts type that you’ll see as an option in your GMB dashboard. While other post types have been published sporadically, I am seeing examples of the COVID-19 Update posts going live. Try to fit as much information as you can about the changed status of your business into one of these posts.

In addition to the edits you make to your GMB listing, update your most visible local business listings on other platforms to the best of your ability, including on:

  • Bing: A “Temporarily closed” business status is available in the Bing Places dashboard. This is currently not available in the API.
  • Yelp: Yelp has introduced a new field called “temporarily closed”. This is meant to be used by businesses which are or will be closed (but not on a permanent basis) due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses need to indicate the “end date” for when this business status will end. Given the uncertainty surrounding timelines, Yelp is allowing users to provide an “estimate” for the end date which they can always update later. Special opening hours can be added on Yelp itself, too. Neither field is available in the API.

Website

Google My Business may be experiencing support issues right now, but thank goodness you still have full control of your website as a home base for conveying important information to the public. Here’s a quick checklist of suggested items to update on your site as soon as you can:

  • Put a site wide banner on all pages of the website with key information such as “temporarily closed”, “drive-up service available 9-5 Monday - Friday” or “storefront closed but we can still ship to you.”
  • Provide the most complete information about how your business has been affected by COVID-19, and detail any services that remain available to customers.
  • Edit location landing pages in bulk or individually to reflect closures, new hours, and new temporary offers.
  • Be sure hours of operation are accurate everywhere they are mentioned on the website, including the homepage, contact page, about page, and landing pages.
  • If your main contact phone number has changed due to the situation, update that number everywhere it exists on the website. Don’t overlook headers, footers, or sidebars as places your contact info may be.
  • If you have a blog, use it to keep the public updated about the availability of products and services.
  • Be sure your website contains highly visible links to any social media platforms you are using to provide updated information.
  • It would be a worthy public service right now to create new content about local resources in your community for all kinds of basic needs.

Social media and email

“Make it clear what you're doing, such as things like home delivery or curbside pickup. And mention it EVERYWHERE. The companies that are being successful with this are telling people non-stop how they can still support them. Additionally, don't be afraid to reach out to people who have supported you via social media in the past and ask them to mention what you're doing.” —Dana DiTomaso, Kick Point

Whether your customers’ social community is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or another platform, there has never been a more vital time to make use of the instant communication these sites provide. It was Fred Rogers who famously said that in times of crisis, we should “look for the helpers.” People will be looking to your brand for help and, also, seeking ways that they can help, too.

If you can make the time to utilize social media to highlight not just your own services, but the services you discover are being provided by other businesses in your city, you will be strengthening your community. Ask your followers and customers to amplify information that can make life safer or better right now.

And, of course, email is one of the best tools presently at your disposal to message your entire base about changed conditions and special offers. My best practice advice for the present is to be sure you’re only communicating what is truly necessary. I’ve seen some examples of brands (which shall remain nameless) exploiting COVID-19 for senseless self-promotion instead of putting customers’ concerns and needs first. Don’t go that route. Be a helper!

Beyond your local business listing, websites, social media platforms, and email, don’t overlook offline media for making further, helpful informational contributions. Call into local radio shows and get in touch with local newspapers if you have facts or offers that can help the public.

Operate as fully as you can

“Find out what support is being made available for you at [the] government level, tap into this as soon as you can — it's likely there will be a lot of paperwork and many hoops through which you'll need to jump.” —Claire Carlile, Claire Carlile Marketing

While the social safety net differs widely from country to country, research any offers of support being made to your business and make use of them to remain as operational as possible for the duration of this pandemic. Here are six adjustments your business should carefully consider to determine whether implementation is possible:

1. Fulfill essentials

If your business meets local, state, or federal regulations that enable it to continue operating because it’s deemed “essential”, here are the ways different business models are adapting to current conditions:

  • Some healthcare appointments can be handled via phone or virtual meetings, and some medical facilities are offering drive-up testing.
  • Drivethrough, delivery, and curbside pickup are enabling some brands to offer takeout meals, groceries, prescriptions, and other necessary goods to customers.
  • Supermarkets and grocery stores without built-in delivery fleets are contracting with third parties for this service.
  • Farms and ranches can offer honor system roadside stands to allow customers to access fresh produce, dairy products, and meats with proper social distancing.
  • Companies that care for vulnerable populations, banking, laundry, and fuel can implement and communicate the extra steps they are taking to adhere to sanitation guidelines for the safety of customers and staff.
  • Brands and organizations that donate goods and services to fulfill essential needs are taking an active role in community support, too.

2. Evaluate e-commerce

If your local business already has an e-commerce component on its website, you’re many steps ahead in being well set up to keep selling via delivery. If you’ve not yet implemented any form of online selling, investigate the following options:

  • If you have a credit card processing machine, the most basic solution is to take orders over the phone and then ship them, allow curbside pickup, or deliver them.
  • If you lack a credit card processing service, PayPal invoicing can work in a pinch.
  • If your site is built on WordPress and you’re quite comfortable with that platform, Moz’s own Sha Menz highly recommends the ease of the WooCommerce plugin for getting online shopping set up with PayPal as a built-in payment option. It allows easy setup of flat rate or free shipping and local pickup options. WooCommerce automatically sends order confirmation emails to both owner and customer and even supports creation of discount coupons.
  • Pointy is a simple device that lets you scan product barcodes and have them catalogued online. Read my 2019 interview with the company’s CEO and determine whether Pointy plus shipping could be a solution to keep you in business in the coming months.
  • If you’ve determined that robust investing in e-commerce is a wise move for the present and future, I found this 2020 overview of options from Shopify to Volusion to Magento very useful. Don’t overlook the Moz blog’s e-commerce category for free, expert advice.

3. Connect virtually

In my very large family, one relative has transitioned her yoga studio to online classes, another is offering secure online psychotherapy appointments, and another is instructing his orchestra on the web. While nothing can replace in-person relationships, virtual meetings are the next-best-thing and could keep many business models operating at a significant level, despite the pandemic. Check out these resources:

4. Use downtime for education

If COVID-19 has somewhat or completely paused your business, it’s my strong hope that there will be better days ahead for you. If, like so many people, you find yourself with much more time on your hands than usual, consider using it to come out of this period of crisis with new business knowledge. Please make use of this list of resources, and I want to give special thanks to my friend, Claire Carlile, for contributing several of these suggestions:

Begin working towards a stronger local future

“I would say generally it's critical for business owners to connect with one another. To the extent they can join or form groups for support or to share ideas, they should. This is a terrible and scary time but there are also potential opportunities that may emerge with creative thinking. The 'silver lining', if there is one here, is the opportunity to reexamine business processes, try new things and think — out of necessity — very creatively about how to move forward. Employees are also a great source of ideas and inspiration.” —Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land

I’d like to close with some positive thinking. Local SEO isn’t just a career for me — it’s a personal belief system that well-resourced communities are the strongest. Every community, town, and city shares roughly the same needs, which we might depict like this:

In this simple chart, we see the framework of a functional, prepared, and healthy society. We see a plan for covering the basic needs of human existence, the cooperation required to run a stable community, contributive roles everyone can play to support life and culture, and relief from inevitable disasters. We see regenerative land and water stewardship, an abundance of skilled educators, medical professionals, artisans, and a peaceful platform for full human expression.

COVID-19 marks the third major disaster my community has lived through in three years. The pandemic and California’s wildfires have taught me to think about the areas in which my county is self-sustaining, and areas in which we are unprepared to take care of one another in both good times and bad. While state and national governments bear a serious responsibility for the well-being of citizens, my genuine belief as a local SEO is that local communities should be doing all they can to self-fulfill as many data points on the chart above as possible.

While it’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and it certainly makes sense that the present moment would be driving us to invent new solutions to keep our communities safe and well, I find models for sane growth in the work others have already contributed. For me, these are sources of serious inspiration:

  • Learn from indigenous cultures around the world about stewardship and community. Here is just one example of how knowledge is being applied by tribes in the Pacific Northwest during the pandemic. In my own state of California, a number of tribes are leading the way in mitigating wildfires via cultural burning, addressing what has become an annual disaster where I live.
  • Look at the policies of other countries with a higher index of human happiness than my own. For example, I am a great admirer of Norway’s law of allemannsrett which permits all residents to responsibly roam and camp in most of the country, and more importantly, to harvest natural foods like mushrooms and berries. In my community, most land is behind fences, and even though I know which plants are edible, I can’t access most of them. Given current grocery store shortages, this concept deserves local re-thinking.
  • Study the Economic Bill of Rights US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced but didn’t live to see passed. Had this been implemented, my local community would not now be suffering from a shortage of medical providers and denial of medical care, a shortage of nearby farms for complete nutrition, homelessness and unaffordable housing, and a widespread lack of education and essential skills. From a purely commercial standpoint, FDR’s bill could also have prevented the collapse of “Main St.”, which local search marketers have been fighting every day to reverse.
  • Join organizations like the American Independent Local Business Alliance which exist to build more resilient local communities via methods like the Buy Local movement and community education. I strongly encourage you to check in with AMIBA for guidance in these times.

Other models and examples may personally inspire you, but I share my friend Greg Sterling’s opinion: now is the time to bring creativity to bear, to connect with fellow local business owners and community members, and to begin planning a more realistic and livable future.

For now, you will have to make those connections virtually, but the goal is to come out of this time of crisis with a determination to make local living more sustainable for everyone. You can start with asking very basic questions like: Where is the nearest farm, and how many people can it feed? What do we need to do to attract more doctors and nurses to this town? Which facilities could be converted here to produce soap, or bathroom tissue, or medical supplies?

I don’t want to downplay the challenge of forward-thinking in a time of disruption, but this I know from being a gardener: new seeds sprout best where the earth is disturbed. You have only to visit the margins of new roads being laid to see how digging is quickly followed by verdant crops of fresh seedlings. Humanity needs to dig deep right now for its best solutions to serious challenges, and this can begin right where you are, locally.

Please allow me to wish many better days ahead to you, your business, and your community, and to work by your side to build a stronger local future.


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Generating Local Content at Scale - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by rjonesx.

Building local pages in any amount can be a painful task. It's hard to strike the right mix of on-topic content, expertise, and location, and the temptation to take shortcuts has always been tempered by the fact that good, unique content is almost impossible to scale.

In this week's edition of Whiteboard Friday, Russ Jones shares his favorite white-hat technique using natural language generation to create local pages to your heart's content.

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

Video Transcription

Hey, folks, this is Russ Jones here with Moz again to talk to you about important search engine optimization issues. Today I'm going to talk about one of my favorite techniques, something that I invented several years ago for a particular client and has just become more and more and more important over the years. 

Using natural language generation to create hyper-local content

I call this using natural language generation to create hyper-local content. Now I know that there's a bunch of long words in there. Some of you are familiar with them, some of you are not. 


So let me just kind of give you the scenario, which is probably one you've been familiar with at some point or another. Imagine you have a new client and that client has something like 18,000 locations across the United States.


Then you're told by Google you need to make unique content. Now, of course, it doesn't have to be 18,000. Even 100 locations can be difficult, not just to create unique content but to create uniquely valuable content that has some sort of relevance to that particular location. 


So what I want to do today is talk through one particular methodology that uses natural language generation in order to create these types of pages at scale.

What is natural language generation?

Now there might be a couple of questions that we need to just go ahead and get off of our plates at the beginning. So first, what is natural language generation? Well, natural language generation was actually originated for the purpose of generating weather warnings. You've actually probably seen this 100,000 times.

Whenever there's like a thunderstorm or let's say high wind warning or something, you've seen on the bottom of a television, if you're older like me, or you've gotten one on your cellphone and it says the National Weather Service has issued some sort of warning about some sort of weather alert that's dangerous and you need to take cover.

Well, the language that you see there is generated by a machine. It takes into account all of the data that they've arrived at regarding the weather, and then they put it into sentences that humans automatically understand. It's sort of like Mad Libs, but a lot more technical in the sense that what comes out of it, instead of being funny or silly, is actually really useful information.

That's our goal here. We want to use natural language generation to produce local pages for a business that has information that is very useful. 

Isn't that black hat?

Now the question we almost always get or I at least almost always get is: Is this black hat? One of the things that we're not supposed to do is just auto-generate content.

So I'm going to take a moment towards the end to discuss exactly how we differentiate this type of content creation from just the standard, Mad Libs-style, plugging in different city words into content generation and what we're doing here. What we're doing here is providing uniquely valuable content to our customers, and because of that it passes the test of being quality content.

Let's look at an example

So let's do this. Let's talk about probably what I believe to be the easiest methodology, and I call this the Google Trends method. 

1. Choose items to compare

So let's step back for a second and talk about this business that has 18,000 locations. Now what do we know about this business? Well, businesses have a couple of things that are in common regardless of what industry they're in.

They either have like products or services, and those products and services might have styles or flavors or toppings, just all sorts of things that you can compare about the different items and services that they offer. Therein lies our opportunity to produce unique content across almost any region in the United States.

The tool we're going to use to accomplish that is Google Trends. So the first step that you're going to do is you're going to take this client, and in this case I'm going to just say it's a pizza chain, for example, and we're going to identify the items that we might want to compare. In this case, I would probably choose toppings for example.

So we would be interested in pepperoni and sausage and anchovies and God forbid pineapple, just all sorts of different types of toppings that might differ from region to region, from city to city, and from location to location in terms of demand. So then what we'll do is we'll go straight to Google Trends.

The best part about Google Trends is that they're not just providing information at a national level. You can narrow it down to city level, state level, or even in some cases to ZIP Code level, and because of this it allows us to collect hyper-local information about this particular category of services or products.

So, for example, this is actually a comparison of the demand for pepperoni versus mushroom versus sausage toppings in Seattle right now. So most people, when people are Googling for pizza, would be searching for pepperoni.

2. Collect data by location

So what you would do is you would take all of the different locations and you would collect this type of information about them. So you would know that, for example, here there is probably about 2.5 times more interest in pepperoni than there is in sausage pizza. Well, that's not going to be the same in every city and in every state. In fact, if you choose a lot of different toppings, you'll find all sorts of things, not just the comparison of how much people order them or want them, but perhaps how things have changed over time.



For example, perhaps pepperoni has become less popular. If you were to look in certain cities, that probably is the case as vegetarian and veganism has increased. Well, the cool thing about natural language generation is that we can automatically extract out those kinds of unique relationships and then use that as data to inform the content that we end up putting on the pages on our site.

So, for example, let's say we took Seattle. The system would automatically be able to identify these different types of relationships. Let's say we know that pepperoni is the most popular. It might also be able to identify that let's say anchovies have gone out of fashion on pizzas. Almost nobody wants them anymore.

Something of that sort. But what's happening is we're slowly but surely coming up with these trends and data points that are interesting and useful for people who are about to order pizza. For example, if you're going to throw a party for 50 people and you don't know what they want, you can either do what everybody does pretty much, which is let's say one-third pepperoni, one-third plain, and one-third veggie, which is kind of the standard if you're like throwing a birthday party or something.

But if you landed on the Pizza Hut page or the Domino's page and it told you that in the city where you live people actually really like this particular topping, then you might actually make a better decision about what you're going to order. So we're actually providing useful information. 

3. Generate text

So this is where we're talking about generating the text from the trends and the data that we've grabbed from all of the locales.

Find local trends

Now the first step, of course, is just looking at local trends. But local trends aren't the only place we can look. We can go beyond that. For example, we can compare it to other locations. So it might be just as interesting that in Seattle people really like mushroom as a topping or something of that sort.

Compare to other locations

But it would also be really interesting to see if the toppings that are preferred, for example, in Chicago, where Chicago style pizza rules, versus New York are different. That would be something that would be interesting and could be automatically drawn out by natural language generation. Then finally, another thing that people tend to miss in trying to implement this solution is they think that they have to compare everything at once.

Choose subset of items

That's not the way you would do it. What you would do is you would choose the most interesting insights in each situation. Now we could get technical about how that might be accomplished. For example, we might say, okay, we can look at trends. Well, if all of the trends are flat, then we're probably not going to choose that information. But we see that the relationship between one topping and another topping in this city is exceptionally different compared to other cities, well, that might be what gets selected.

4. Human review

Now here's where the question comes in about white hat versus black hat. So we've got this local page, and now we've generated all of this textual content about what people want on a pizza in that particular town or city. We need to make sure that this content is actually quality. That's where the final step comes in, which is just human review.

In my opinion, auto-generated content, as long as it is useful and valuable and has gone through the hands of a human editor who has identified that that's true, is every bit as good as if that human editor had just looked up that same data point and wrote the same sentences.

So I think in this case, especially when we're talking about providing data to such a diverse set of locales across the country, that it makes sense to take advantage of technology in a way that allows us to generate content and also allows us to serve the user the best possible and the most relevant content that we can.

So I hope that you will take this, spend some time looking up natural language generation, and ultimately be able to build much better local pages than you ever have before. Thanks.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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Help Your Community from Six Feet Away: Non-Marketing Tips from Mozzers

Posted by morgan.mcmurray

For the last few weeks, you’ve probably experienced an influx of emails from companies detailing how COVID-19 is affecting them and thus you, their customer. It's... a lot, isn't it? So today, we want to take a departure from the world of "how this affects us" and focus instead on actionable things we can all do to make things brighter for ourselves and our communities. This won't be your regularly scheduled programming — we won't be discussing SEO or marketing. Instead, we're sharing ideas and advice from the folks at Moz who've been finding ways to be helpers as we all navigate this new normal.

Donate and shop

For those who have steady income during this time of economic uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to support local businesses and charitable organizations. Many employers, Moz included, offer charitable donation matching to make use of as well.

Food banks, shelters, and charities

You can donate money or call local organizations (like homeless shelters, food banks, and animal rescues) to see what items they most need. Mozzers have found several creative ways to contribute, including a super helpful spreadsheet of all the food banks in our area shared by Britney Muller. A few of us have volunteered to be pet foster parents, and Skye Stewart has even seen neighbors turn their “little free libraries” into pantries for those in need! 

Skye has seen little free libraries stocked as pantries throughout the Wallingford and Fremont neighborhoods of Seattle. This one belongs to Clay and Elli Stricklin.

Blood banks

If you’re healthy and able, consider signing up to donate blood. The blood banks in our area have received so many volunteers that they’re scheduling appointments weeks in advance — what a fantastic show of community support!

Buy gift cards or shop online

All of our favorite local salons, restaurants, bars, or home goods stores are likely suffering from recent closures. Gift cards give them support now and give you the option to shop later (or have your holiday shopping done a little early). Many local businesses also have online shops for you to browse from home. Shipping times are likely impacted, though, so be understanding!

Order take-out

Local restaurants are shifting to take-out and to-go order business models. If you can’t go pick up food, apps like DoorDash and Grubhub are offering no-contact delivery options.


Grocery shop

Stock up only with what you need for two or three weeks for yourself. You can also volunteer, like Mozzer Hayley Sherman, to make grocery runs for at-risk friends or family.

Stay healthy

This sounds like a no-brainer — of course we’re all trying to stay healthy! But it has to be said, as now we have to be a bit more creative to keep up our healthy habits.

Online workouts

With recent closures, local gyms and studios are offering online classes. Have you ever wondered what a yoga or dance class is like via Zoom? A few of us at Moz have found out, and it’s definitely different — but also surprisingly fun — to connect with all the other students in this new way.

Walk or run

We’ve been enjoying some unseasonable sunshine in the Pacific Northwest, making it the perfect time to fight cabin fever with a walk or run outside. Weather permitting, you can do the same! Just make sure to maintain social distance from other walkers and runners (even if they have a cute puppy with them — tough, we know).

Meditate

Meditation can help calm the anxiety many of us might be feeling right now. Dr. Pete recommends the Ten Percent Happier app for assistance, and apps like Insight Timer and Calm have dozens of free meditation options for you to choose from, too.

Keep eating fresh fruits and veggies

While it’s tempting to only stock up on non-perishable food like mac and cheese (I’m guilty of having several boxes stored in my pantry) and rely on supplements or Emergen-C, fresh produce is still one of the best options to get necessary vitamins and boost your immunity.

Go offline

Several of us at Moz have found it helpful to disconnect from the news cycle for a while every day, and we try to only pay attention to news from reputable sources. With so many voices in the conversation, this can be hard, which is why going offline can be so helpful.

Stay connected

Human connection remains important for maintaining morale and good humor, even if we can’t share the same physical space.

Check in

Call people you would normally see regularly, and reach out to those you haven’t seen in awhile. Mozzers are staying connected by calling into morning coffee hangouts and virtual team lunches — it’s been great to see everyone’s smiling faces!

You might start a weekly virtual happy hour or book club using free video conferencing software like Google Hangouts or Skype, or schedule some time to watch movies together with the new Netflix Party extension.

Join online communities

Social media groups or apps like Nextdoor allow you to meet your neighbors, share memes, and check to see if anyone needs anything like a grocery run, medicine, or just a virtual hug.

We’ve created channels in our company Slack for topics like parenting, wellness, gardening, and just general fun. These groups have really helped bring light and friendship to our shared situation. In the parenting channel, specifically, Moz parents have banded together to share resources and suggestions to help support each other in this new world of homeschooling.

Lean into empathy

We're living through an unprecedented time, and one of the best things we can do is understand that sometimes, humans just need to be human. If you're leading a team that's working from home, you might find your employees keeping unorthodox working hours with school closures, disrupted schedules, and technical difficulties. Flex your empathy muscle, and consider enacting flexible policies that will reduce stress on your employees while making sure the work still gets done.

Let everyone know it’s okay to sign off during normal working hours to prioritize family time and child care. You can also schedule non-work-related check-ins, or build relaxation time into your schedules. Moz CEO Sarah Bird gave all employees a “Take a Breather” day to give everyone time to relax, make “quarantinis”, and adjust to our current reality. We all really appreciated that time!

What we're doing

We're committed to keeping as much normalcy in the routines of our community as possible, and that includes minimizing the impact of this crisis on our customers and employees. There will be no interruptions to our tool functionality or to our support team’s ability to serve our customers. We will also continue to publish helpful, actionable content — even if that means you see a few Whiteboard Fridays from the living rooms of our experts!

Employees at Moz have already been trained as a distributed team, which has prepared us well for a life of working from home — now a mandatory policy. We're also given paid time off, including sick leave, and are encouraged to sign off from work when we’re feeling under the weather to rest and recuperate.

This list of ways to help is by no means exhaustive, and we’d love to hear your ideas! Leave a comment or send us a tweet. We’re in this together.


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How to Handle Temporarily Out-of-Stock Product Pages

Posted by Dr-Pete

The next few months are going to be uncharted territory for all of us, with serious challenges for both brick-and-mortar and online businesses. Many e-commerce sites are already facing a unique situation right now, and it looks something like this:

These are hand sanitizer results from Staples.com, and this screenshot is just a portion of the first page. I'm not picking on Staples — this page is representative of a problem across every major e-retailer right now. While there are many ways to handle out-of-stock and discontinued items under normal conditions, this situation is very specific:

  1. Multiple similar items are out-of-stock at the same time
  2. Retailers may not know when they'll be back in stock
  3. These products may not stay back in stock for long
  4. Demand is high and continuing to rank is critical

From an SEO standpoint, it's essential that these pages continue to rank, both for consumers and retailers, but in the short-term, the experience is also frustrating for consumers and can drive them to other sites.

Is this a technical SEO problem?

The short answer is: not really. We want these pages to continue to rank — they're just not very useful in the short-term. Let's take a quick look at the usual toolbox to see what applies.

Option #1: 404 (Not Found)

This one's easy. Do not 404 these pages. These products are coming back and you want to sell them. What's more, you want to be able to act quickly when they're back in stock. If you remove the page and then put it back (and then, most likely, remove it again and put it back again), it can take Google a lot of time to reconcile those signals, to the point where the page is out of sync with reality. In other words, by the time the page starts ranking again, the product might already be out of stock again.

Option #2: 301 (Permanent Redirect)

As tools go, 301s still have a special place in our tool belts, but they're not a good bet here. First, the product still exists. We don't really want to move it in any permanent sense. Second, reversing a 301 can be a time-consuming process. So, just like with 404s, we're likely to shoot ourselves in the foot. The only exception would be if a product went out of stock and that prompted the manufacturer to permanently replace it with a similar product. Let's say Acme Essentials ran out of the 10-ounce Mountain Fresh hand sanitizer, so decided just to do away with that product and replace it with the 12-ounce option. In that case, by all means 301-redirect, but that's going to be a fairly rare situation.

Option #3: 302 (Temporary Redirect)

This has got to be the one, right? Unfortunately, we're still stuck with the timing problem if this product comes back in stock for a short period of time. Let's say you're out of the Acme Essentials 10-ounce Mountain Fresh, but you've got the Trapper Moe's 10-ounce Spring Breeze in stock. Could you temporarily swap in the latter product from a search perspective? Maybe, if you could get the timing right, but now imagine the visitor experience. People would potentially still be able to search (on-site) for the Acme Essentials product, but then would be redirected to the Trapper Moe's product, which could seem deceptive and is likely to harm conversion.

Option #4: ItemAvailability Schema

You can use the [availability] property in product-offer schemas to set options including: InStock, InStoreOnly, OutOfStock, and SoldOut. Google may choose to display this information as part of your organic result, such as this one (thanks to Claire Carlisle for this great example):

Good news — sloths are still in stock. Unfortunately, there are two challenges to this approach. First, while searchers may appreciate your honesty, you may not be keen to display "Out of stock" on your search result when everyone else is displaying nothing at all. Second, we've still got the timing issue. You can automate flipping from "In stock" to "Out of stock" in real time, but Google still has to crawl and update that information, and that takes time.

So, it's basically hopeless?

If it seems like I've just ruled out all of the options, it's because fundamentally I don't believe this specific case is an SEO problem. Removing or redirecting pages in a volatile situation where products may go out of stock and come back into stock on a daily basis requires timing Google's processes in a way that's extremely risky.

So, if we're going to keep these pages indexed and (hopefully) ranking, the key is to make sure that they continue to give value to your search visitors, and this is primarily a user experience problem.

Here's an example of what not to do (sorry, unnamed big-box retailer):

Shipping is unavailable, but at least I can pick this up in the store, right? Nope, and for some reason they've auto-selected this non-option for me. If I accept the pre-selected unavailable option, I'm taken to a new screen telling me that yes, it is in fact unavailable. There's absolutely no value here for a search visitor.

Here's another example that might not seem so different, but is much more useful. Please note, while all of these elements are taken from real e-commerce sites, I've simplified the pages quite a bit:



The product is out of stock at my local store and not available for delivery, but it is available at a nearby store. That's not ideal, and under normal circumstances I'd probably go somewhere else, but in the current environment it's at least a viable option. A viable option is a potential sale.

Here's an approach that gives search visitors another viable option:

It's not the most visually-appealing layout, but that [Notify Me] button expands into a quick, single-field email form that gives visitors an immediate alternative. Even if they don't buy from this store today, they might still enter their email and end up ordering later, especially at a time when supplies are low everywhere and people want alternatives.

This same page had another option I really like, an "Also available in" pull-down:

Unfortunately, these other options were also out of stock, but if this feature could be tuned up to only reflect similar, in-stock products, it could present an immediate purchase option. In this unique scenario, where demand massively outpaces supply, consumers are going to be much more amenable to similar products.

Obviously, these features represent a lot more work than a few 301 redirects, but we're looking at a situation that could last for weeks or months. A few enhancements that give visitors viable options could be worth many thousands of dollars and could also help maintain search rankings.

What about internal search?

Obviously, the experience at the top of this post is less than ideal for internal search users, but should you remove those products from being displayed temporarily? From an SEO perspective, this is a bit tricky. If you block those products from being shown, then you're also blocking the internal link equity temporarily, which could impact your rankings. In addition, you may end up with a blank page that doesn't accurately represent your usual inventory. I think there are two options that are worth considering (both of which will require investment):

1. Let people filter out-of-stock products

I know that e-commerce sites are reluctant to hide products and want to maintain the perception of having a lot of available items, but they're useless if none of those items are actually available. If you allow customers to easily filter out out-of-stock products, you address both problems above. First, visitors will get to see the full list initially and know which products you normally carry. Second, you can make the filter unavailable to search bots so that they continue to pass link equity to all products.

2. De-prioritize out-of-stock products

I'm not usually a fan of overriding search filters, as it can be confusing to visitors, but another option would be to push out-of-stock products to the bottom of internal search results, maintaining filters and sorts within the stocked and out-of-stock groups. This lets people see the entire list and also gives search bots access, but brings available products to the forefront. Visitors aren't going to wade through pages of out-of-stock inventory to find the one available item.

No, really, what's the secret?

I wish I could give you the magic HTML tag or line of .htaccess that would solve this problem, but when the situation is changing day-by-day or even hour-by-hour, many of our best practices fall apart. We can't apply ordinary solutions to extraordinary problems.

In this unique case, I think the most important thing, from an SEO standpoint, is to maintain the ranking power of the page, and that probably means leaving it alone. Any technical wizardry we can perform ends at the point that search bots take over, and the process of re-crawling and re-caching a page takes time. Our best bet is to provide an experience that gives search visitors options and maintains the page's value. While this will require investment in the short-term, these changes could equate to thousands of dollars in revenue and will continue to produce benefits even when life returns to normal.

What challenges are you facing?

As a Seattle-based company, Moz is painfully aware of the disruptions so many businesses and individuals are facing right now. How can we help you during this difficult period? Are there unique SEO challenges that you've never faced before? In the spirit of we're-all-in-this-together, we'd like to help and commit content resources toward addressing the immediate problems our customers and readers are facing. Please tell us about your current challenges in the comments.


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You Can Now Take Moz Academy Courses for Free

Posted by Roger-MozBot

The well-being of our community — from our customers to our readers to our team members — is of the utmost importance to us here at Moz. The ongoing situation around the spread of COVID-19 is ever-changing. Many of you are experiencing the impact of this pandemic, and we want to address the difficulties you’re facing and acknowledge how you might be feeling.

The state of the world and current events bring significant, often crushing, impact to businesses large and small. While it can be really hard to focus on work and on what is happening in the SEO industry during this difficult time, we also know that your work can’t stop.

Whether you’re reading this as a small business owner concerned about your traffic, or an agency with clients who are hurting financially — we’re here to support you.

Today through May 31, you’ll be able to access the courses in Moz Academy for free. Hopefully you can use this resource to level up your skills, learn a new discipline, or simply channel your energy into a productive distraction.

There's something for everyone:

  • SEO Fundamentals
  • Local SEO Fundamentals
  • Keyword Research
  • Page Optimization
  • Backlink Basics
  • Reporting on SEO
  • Technical SEO Site Audit
  • Backlink Audit & Removal
  • The Fundamentals of SEO Client Prospecting
  • Finding Potential SEO Clients
  • Prepare for the SEO Client Pitch
  • Selling the Value of SEO
  • Client Onboarding
  • How to Use Moz Pro

If you’re already a Moz customer or community member, you can head straight to academy.moz.com. As long as you’re logged in, you’ll be good to go. Just pick the courses you want to take part in and apply promo code “wegotthis” at checkout.

If you’re not a Moz customer or community member, simply create a free account with us to get started.

We love you, we’re here for you, and we’re in this together.


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Getting Smarter with SERPs - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by rjonesx.

Modern SERPs require modern understanding. National SERPs are a myth — these days, everything is local. And when we're basing important decisions on SERPs and ranking, using the highest quality data is key. Russ Jones explores the problem with SERPs, data quality, and existing solutions in this edition of Whiteboard Friday.

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

Video Transcription

Hey, folks, this is Russ Jones here again with another exciting edition of Whiteboard Friday. Exciting might be an exaggeration, but it really is important to me because today we're going to talk about data quality. I know I harp on this a whole lot.

It's just, as a data scientist, quality is really important to me. Here at Moz, we've made it a priority of the last several years, from improving the quality of our Domain Authority score, improving Spam Score, completely changing the way we identify the search volume in particular keywords. Quality is just part of our culture here.

Today I want to talk about a quality issue and probably the most important metric in search engine optimization, which are search rankings. Now I know there's this contingent of SEOs who say you shouldn't look at your search rankings. You should just focus on building better content and doing better outreach and just let it happen.

But for the vast majority of us, we look at our rankings for the purposes of determining how we're performing, and we make decisions based on those rankings. If a site stops performing as well for a very important keyword, well, then we might spend some money to improve the content on that page or to do more outreach for it.

We make important decisions, budgetary decisions on what the SERPs say. But we've known for a while that there's a pretty big problem with the SERPs, and that's personalization. There just is no national search anymore, and there hasn't been for a long time. We've known this, and we've tried different ways to fix it.

Today I want to talk about a way that Moz is going about this that I think is really exceptional and is frankly going to revolutionize the way in which all SERPs are collected in the future. 

What's wrong with SERPs?

1. Geography is king

Let's just take a step back and talk a little bit about what's wrong with SERPs. Several years back I was a consultant and I was helping out a nonprofit organization that wanted to rank for the keyword "entrepreneurship."

They offered grants and training and all sorts of stuff. They really deserved to rank for the term. Then one day I searched for the term, as SEOs do. Even though they rank track, they still check it themselves. I noticed that several local universities to where I live, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Duke, had popped up into the search results because they were now offering entrepreneurship programs and Google had geolocated me to the Durham area.

Well, this wasn't represented at all in the rank tracking that we were doing. You see, the nationalized search at that time was not picking up any kind of local signals because there weren't any colleges or universities around the data center which we were using to collect the search results.

That was a big problem because that one day Google rolled out some sort of update that improved geolocation and ultimately ended up taking a lot of traffic away for that primary keyword because local sites were starting to rank all across the country. So as SEOs we decided to fight back, and the strategy we used was what I call centroid search.

2. Centroid search sucks

The idea is pretty simple. You take a town, a city, a state, or even a country. You find the latitude and longitude of the dead center of that location, and then you feed that to Google in the UULE parameter so that you get a search result from what would happen if you were standing right there in that specific latitude and longitude and perform the search.

Well, we know that that's not really a good idea. The reason is pretty clear. Let me give an example. This would be a local example for a business that's trying to perform well inside of a small city, a medium town or so. This is actually, despite the fact that it's drawn poorly, the locations of several Italian restaurants in South Bend, Indiana.

So as you can see, each little red one identifies a different Italian restaurant, and the centroid of the city is right here, this little green star. Well, there's a problem. If you were to collect a SERP this way, you would be influenced dramatically by this handful of Italian restaurants right there in the center of the city.

But the problem with that is that these blue circles that I've drawn actually represent areas of increased population density. You see most cities, they have a populous downtown, but they also have around the outside suburban areas which are just as population dense or close to as population dense.

At the same time, they don't get represented because they're not in the middle of the city. So what do we do? How do we get a better representation of what the average person in that city would see? 

3. Sampled search succeeds

Well, the answer is what we call sampled search. There are lots of ways to go about it.

Right now, the way we're doing it in particular is looking at the centroids of clusters of zip codes that are overlapping inside a particular city. 

As an example, although not exactly what would happen inside of Local Market Analytics, each one of these purple stars would represent different latitudes and longitudes that we would select in order to grab a search engine result and then blend them together in a way based on things like population density or proximity issues, and give us back a result that is much more like the average searcher would see than what the one person standing in the center part of the city would see.

We know that this works better because it correlates more with local search traffic than does the centroid search. Of course, there are other ways we could go about this. For example, instead of using geography, we could use population density specifically, and we can do a lot better job in identifying exactly what the average searcher would see.

But this just isn't a local problem. It isn't just for companies that are in cities. It's for any website that wants to rank anywhere in the United States, including those that just want to rank generically across the entire country. You see, right now, the way that national SERPs tend to be collected is by adding a UULE of the dead center of the United States of America.

Now I think pretty much everybody here can understand why that's a very poor representation of what the average person in the United States would see. But if we must get into it, as you can imagine, the center part of the United States is not population-dense.

We find population areas throughout the coastlines for the most part that have a lot more people in them. It would make a lot better sense to sample search results from all sorts of different locations, both rural and urban, in order to identify what the average person in the United States would see.



Centroid search delivers you a myopic view of this very specific area. Whereas sampled search can give you this blended model that is much more like what the average American or in any country or county or city or even neighborhood would see. So I actually think that this is the model that SERPs in general will be moving to in the future, at least SERP collection.

The future of SERPs

If we continue to rely on this centroid method, we're going to continue to deliver results to our customers that just aren't accurate and simply aren't valuable. But by using the sampled model, we'll be able to deliver our customers a much more quality experience, a SERP that is blended in a way that it represents the traffic that they're actually going to get, and in doing so, we'll finally solve, to at least a certain degree, this problem of personalization.

Now I look forward to Moz implementing this across the board. Right now you can get in Local Market Analytics. I hope that other organizations follow suit, because this kind of quality improvement in SERP collection is the type of quality that is demanded of an industry that is using technology to improve businesses' performance. Without quality, we might as well not be doing it at all.

Thanks for hearing me out. I'd like to hear what you have to say in the comments, and in the SERPs as well, and hopefully we'll be able to talk through some more ideas on quality. Looking forward to it. Thanks again.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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