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Crawl Budget

In today’s episode of Whiteboard Friday, Tom covers a more advanced SEO concept: crawl budget. Google has a finite amount of time it's willing to spend crawling your site, so if you’re having issues with indexation, this is a topic you should care about.

Photo of the whiteboard describing crawl budget.
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Video Transcription

Happy Friday, Moz fans, and today's topic is crawl budget. I think it's worth saying right off the bat that this is somewhat of a more advanced topic or one that applies primarily to larger websites. I think even if that's not you, there is still a lot you can learn from this in terms of SEO theory that comes about when you're looking at some of the tactics you might employ or some of the diagnostics you might employ for a crawl budget.

But in Google's own documentation they suggest that you should care about crawl budget if you have more than a million pages or more than 10,000 pages that are updated on a daily basis. I think those are obviously kind of hard or arbitrary thresholds. I would say that if you have issues with your site getting indexed and you have pages deep on your site that are just not getting into the index that you want to, or if you have issues with pages not getting indexed quickly enough, then in either of those cases crawl budget is an issue that you should care about.

What is crawl budget? 

Drawing of a spider holding a dollar bill.

So what actually is crawl budget? Crawl budget refers to the amount of time that Google is willing to spend crawling a given site. Although it seems like Google is sort of all-powerful, they have finite resources and the web is vast. So they have to prioritize somehow and allocate a certain amount of time or resource to crawl a given website.

Now they prioritize based on — or so they say they prioritize based on the popularity of sites with their users and based on the freshness of content, because Googlebot sort of has a thirst for new, never-before-seen URLs. 

We're not really going to talk in this video about how to increase your crawl budget. We're going to focus on how to make the best use of the crawl budget you have, which is generally an easier lever to pull in any case. 

Causes of crawl budget issues

So how do issues with crawl budget actually come about? 

Facets

Now I think the main sort of issues on sites that can lead to crawl budget problems are firstly facets.

So you can imagine on an e-comm site, imagine we've got a laptops page. We might be able to filter that by size. You have a 15-inch screen and 16 gigabytes of RAM. There might be a lot of different permutations there that could lead to a very large number of URLs when actually we've only got one page or one category as we think about it — the laptops page.

Similarly, those could then be reordered to create other URLs that do the exact same thing but have to be separately crawled. Similarly they might be sorted differently. There might be pagination and so on and so forth. So you could have one category page generating a vast number of URLs. 

Search results pages

A few other things that often come about are search results pages from an internal site search can often, especially if they're paginated, they can have a lot of different URLs generated.

Listings pages

Listings pages. If you allow users to upload their own listings or content, then that can over time build up to be an enormous number of URLs if you think about a job board or something like eBay and it probably has a huge number of pages. 

Fixing crawl budget issues

Chart of crawl budget issue solutions and whether they allow crawling, indexing, and PageRank.

So what are some of the tools that you can use to address these issues and to get the most out of your crawl budget?

So as a baseline, if we think about how a normal URL behaves with Googlebot, we say, yes, it can be crawled, yes, it can be indexed, and yes, it passes PageRank. So a URL like these, if I link to these somewhere on my site and then Google follows that link and indexes these pages, these probably still have the top nav and the site-wide navigation on them. So the link actually that's passed through to these pages will be sort of recycled round. There will be some losses due to dilution when we're linking through so many different pages and so many different filters. But ultimately, we are recycling this. There's no sort of black hole loss of leaky PageRank. 

Robots.txt

Now at the opposite extreme, the most extreme sort of solution to crawl budget you can employ is the robots.txt file.

So if you block a page in robots.txt, then it can't be crawled. So great, problem solved. Well, no, because there are some compromises here. Technically, sites and pages blocked in robots.txt can be indexed. You sometimes see sites showing up or pages showing up in the SERPs with this meta description cannot be shown because the page is blocked in robots.txt or this kind of message.

So technically, they can be indexed, but functionally they're not going to rank for anything or at least anything effective. So yeah, well, sort of technically. They do not pass PageRank. We're still passing PageRank through when we link into a page like this. But if it's then blocked in robots.txt, the PageRank goes no further.

So we've sort of created a leak and a black hole. So this is quite a heavy-handed solution, although it is easy to implement. 

Link-level nofollow

Link-level nofollow, so by this I mean if we took our links on the main laptops category page, that were pointing to these facets, and we put a nofollow attribute internally on those links, that would have some advantages and disadvantages.

I think a better use case for this would actually be more in the listings case. So imagine if we run a used car website, where we have millions of different used car individual sort of product listings. Now we don't really want Google to be wasting its time on these individual listings, depending on the scale of our site perhaps.

But occasionally a celebrity might upload their car or something like that, or a very rare car might be uploaded and that will start to get media links. So we don't want to block that page in robots.txt because that's external links that we would be squandering in that case. So what we might do is on our internal links to that page we might internally nofollow the link. So that would mean that it can be crawled, but only if it's found, only if Google finds it in some other way, so through an external link or something like that.

So we sort of have a halfway house here. Now technically nofollow these days is a hint. In my experience, Google will not crawl pages that are only linked to through an internal nofollow. If it finds the page in some other way, obviously it will still crawl it. But generally speaking, this can be effective as a way of restricting crawl budget or I should say more efficiently using crawl budget. The page can still be indexed.

That's what we were trying to achieve in that example. It can still pass PageRank. That's the other thing we were trying to achieve. Although you are still losing some PageRank through this nofollow link. That still counts as a link, and so you're losing some PageRank that would otherwise have been piped into that follow link. 

Noindex, nofollow

Noindex and nofollow, so this is obviously a very common solution for pages like these on ecomm sites.

Now, in this case, the page can be crawled. But once Google gets to that page, it will discover it's noindex, and it will crawl it much less over time because there is sort of less point in crawling a noindex page. So again, we have sort of a halfway house here.

Obviously, it can't be indexed. It's noindex. It doesn't pass PageRank outwards. PageRank is still passed into this page, but because it's got a nofollow in the head section, it doesn't pass PageRank outwards. This isn't a great solution. We've got some compromises that we've had to achieve here to economize on crawl budget.

Noindex, follow

So a lot of people used to think, oh, well, the solution to that would be to use a noindex follow as a sort of best of both. So you put a noindex follow tag in the head section of one of these pages, and oh, yeah, everyone is a winner because we still get the same sort of crawling benefit. We're still not indexing this sort of new duplicate page, which we don't want to index, but the PageRank solution is fixed.

Well, a few years ago, Google came out and said, "Oh, we didn't realize this ourselves, but actually as we crawl this page less and less over time, we will stop seeing the link and then it kind of won't count." So they sort of implied that this no longer worked as a way of still passing PageRank, and eventually it would come to be treated as noindex and nofollow. So again, we have a sort of slightly compromised solution there. 

Canonical

Now the true best of all worlds might then be canonical. With the canonical tag, it's still going to get crawled a bit less over time, the canonicalized version, great. It's still not going to be indexed, the canonicalized version, great, and it still passes PageRank.

So that seems great. That seems perfect in a lot of cases. But this only works if the pages are near enough duplicates that Google is willing to consider them a duplicate and respect the canonical. If they're not willing to consider them a duplicate, then you might have to go back to using the noindex. Or if you think actually there's no reason for this URL to even exist, I don't know how this wrong order combination came about, but it seems pretty pointless.

301

I'm not going to link to it anymore. But in case some people still find the URL somehow, we could use a 301 as a sort of economy that is going to perform pretty well eventually for... I'd say even better than canonical and noindex for saving crawl budget because Google doesn't even have to look at the page on the rare occasion it does check it because it just follows the 301.

It's going to solve our indexing issue, and it's going to pass PageRank. But obviously, the tradeoff here is users also can't access this URL, so we have to be okay with that. 

Implementing crawl budget tactics

So sort of rounding all this up, how would we actually employ these tactics? So what are the activities that I would recommend if you want to have a crawl budget project?

One of the less intuitive ones is speed. Like I said earlier, Google is sort of allocating an amount of time or amount of resource to crawl a given site. So if your site is very fast, if you have low server response times, if you have lightweight HTML, they will simply get through more pages in the same amount of time.

So this counterintuitively is a great way to approach this. Log analysis, this is sort of more traditional. Often it's quite unintuitive which pages on your site or which parameters are actually sapping all of your crawl budget. Log analysis on large sites often yields surprising results, so that's something you might consider. Then actually employing some of these tools.

So redundant URLs that we don't think users even need to look at, we can 301. Variants that users do need to look at, we could look at a canonical or a noindex tag. But we also might want to avoid linking to them in the first place so that we're not sort of losing some degree of PageRank into those canonicalized or noindex variants through dilution or through a dead end.

Robots.txt and nofollow, as I sort of implied as I was going through it, these are tactics that you would want to use very sparingly because they do create these PageRank dead ends. Then lastly, a sort of recent or more interesting tip that I got a while back from an Ollie H.G. Mason blog post, which I'll probably link to below, it turns out that if you have a sitemap on your site that you only use for fresh or recent URLs, your recently changed URLS, then because Googlebot has such a thirst, like I said, for fresh content, they will start crawling this sitemap very often. So you can sort of use this tactic to direct crawl budget towards the new URLs, which sort of everyone wins.

Googlebot only wants to see the fresh URLs. You perhaps only want Googlebot to see the fresh URLs. So if you have a sitemap that only serves that purpose, then everyone wins, and that can be quite a nice and sort of easy tip to implement. So that's all. I hope you found that useful. If not, feel free to let me know your tips or challenges on Twitter. I'm curious to see how other people approach this topic.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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A Statement of Land Acknowledgement, Published Today With Gratitude

From today, if you visit the Contact page of Moz.com to look up our office locations, you will see that we have included the following Statement of Land Acknowledgement with the permission of the Tribes, Nations, and Bands in whose homelands our teams live and work:

We at Moz acknowledge that our offices in Seattle and Vancouver exist in the traditional, ancestral, current, and unceded lands of Tribes, Nations, and Bands including the dxʷdəwʔabš (Duwamish), suq̀wabš/dxʷəq̓ʷabš (Suquamish), bəqəlšuł (Muckleshoot), sdukʷalbixʷ (Snoqualmie), dxʷlilap (Tulalip), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), and Stz’uminus Peoples. We respect their sovereignty, their right to self-determination, and their sacred connection to the land and water. We offer our thanks to the Peoples, the land, and the water.

We are deeply grateful to the many members of the Tribes, Nations, and Bands for the time they generously gave over the past year in consulting with us on the accuracy of this statement and in granting permission to publish it. Thank you.

What is a Statement of Land Acknowledgement?

A Statement of Land Acknowledgement is an oral or written act of honoring the Indigenous Peoples in whose homelands something is taking place.

In the words of the Duwamish Tribe:

It is important to note that this kind of acknowledgement is not a new practice developed by colonial institutions. Land acknowledgement is a traditional custom dating back centuries for many Native communities and nations. For non-Indigenous communities, land acknowledgement is a powerful way of showing respect and honoring the Indigenous Peoples of the land on which we work and live. Acknowledgement is a simple way of resisting the erasure of Indigenous histories and working towards honoring and inviting the truth.”

Why is Moz publishing this statement?

“There have always been Indigenous peoples in the spaces we call home, and there always will be. The acknowledgement process is about asking, What does it mean to live in a post-colonial world? What did it take for us to get here? And how can we be accountable to our part in history?” Kanyon Sayers-Roods (Mutsun Ohlone)

At Moz, our longtime TAGFEE code calls on our company to be transparent, and we consider it essential to speak openly about the factual history of the places we live and work. Colonization, genocide, broken treaties, theft of lands, federal failure to recognize legal status, erasure, and racism are all part of the past and present of the Pacific Northwest. We believe it’s the bare minimum requirement of all local people to speak about this candidly and with a determination to act from a place of truth.

At the same time, we hold in the highest possible regard the Tribes, Nations and Bands who continuously set examples of caring for the human community and for the lands and waters they have protected since time immemorial. We are grateful for this vital leadership on human rights, Climate Change, ethics, sustainability, and so many other foundational matters. In accordance with the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, we at Moz are also thanking the beautiful lands and waters, themselves.

Is your company also thinking of publishing a Statement of Land Acknowledgement?

We’d like to take this opportunity to invite all of our good peers and colleagues in the SEO and SaaS spaces to start team discussions about the importance of acknowledging and honoring the local Tribes, Nations, and Bands whose members are included on your staff or who are your nearest neighbors.

These were the main steps in our own journey:

  • We consulted the map at Native-Land.ca to form a first idea of the traditional homelands in which our offices are located. This map is a work in progress and is not a substitute for direct dialogue with Indigenous Peoples.

  • We visited the websites of each of the Tribes, Nations, and Bands we had seen on the maps, and read any statements they had published regarding Land Acknowledgement protocols. For example, this guide from the Duwamish Tribe was extremely helpful.

  • We searched for Indigenous-authored commentary on the process of Land Acknowledgement to help us become better-informed. Articles like this one taught us a great deal.

  • We looked at statements that had been published by other local businesses, organizations, and educational institutions. For example, the City of Vancouver made this motion, and a nearby YWCA had posted this page.

  • We spent some time learning the decolonized spellings of the names of each of the Tribes, Nations and Bands, where available, and watched their videos on YouTube to hear these names pronounced in hopes of making our address respectful.

  • We phoned or emailed the offices of each Tribe, Nation, or Band to inquire if, given our office locations, it would be appropriate to include them in an acknowledgement and if they had any specific requests as to how they would prefer inclusion. We were so appreciative of the kind responses we received, particularly given how difficult things have been during the pandemic.

It has been such an honor to spend time learning about this process, and we close with our grateful acknowledgement to each of the Tribes, Nations, and Bands for their permission, guidance, and presence.

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The Ultimate Guide to Digital PR

Note: This article was written with the help of Tina Irizarry & RJ Wilson.

A fundamental truth of working in SEO is that link building has become more difficult. As more and more people have devised questionable methods of link building, Google has become much more strict about what constitutes a quality link.

Widget links? Try again

Scholarship links? Considered “a tricky situation.”

Even the sacred guest post is now frowned upon.

So, how is a website supposed to build links? 

While there are still many completely valid ways to build high-quality links, digital PR is beginning to stand out from the rest of the pack. In early 2021, John Mueller infamously praised the efforts of digital PR, which helped further propel its status as a viable form of link building.

Fortunately, our team at Go Fish Digital has a long history of running digital PR campaigns for our clients. Since we’ve developed some great internal processes over time, we wanted to share those with you today.

What is digital PR?

Digital PR is a marketing strategy that combines traditional PR media relations with digital channels such as SEO, social media, and influencer marketing. Digital PR allows brands to develop relationships with influential media outlets in order to earn editorial coverage, thus improving their website backlinks, brand exposure, SEO, and more.

As the world continues to move away from traditional print journalism, brands will need to adapt to develop relationships with influential entities that have large online followings. This is where digital PR comes into play.

The goals of digital PR can undoubtedly differ depending on your brand. Some companies might want to partner with Instagram accounts with large followings containing their target demographics to drive sales. Other companies might like to partner up to an influential entity to generate more brand awareness. However, one of the most common uses of digital PR is to build backlinks.

To obtain editorial backlinks, a lot needs to happen. You need to brainstorm different ideas that a journalist would be interested in covering. You then need to create content that's newsworthy and warrants the journalist's time and attention. Next, you need to research all of the potential journalists interested in covering your content and pitch them. Often, hundreds of pitches are required to place your content successfully.

While this seems like a lot, this is the reality of building backlinks in the present day. For this reason, we wanted to aggregate the various steps in this comprehensive guide to show you how to generate backlinks using digital PR tactics.

Types of digital PR campaigns

In our experience, campaigns that use data points generally work the best in terms of getting coverage. By being data-driven, we’re helping journalists create a story by uncovering fascinating, new data that their readers likely don’t know about.

In addition, taking a data-based approach is a repeatable model. While an organization could partake in some newsworthy event (charitable event, merger, company announcement) these stories are difficult to repeat month after month. However, there is a lot of untapped data out from which to create stories. This approach ensures that you can consistently generate newsworthy campaigns without relying on external, third-party events.

Of course, data campaigns aren’t the only way to generate digital PR and there are many other completely valid methods. However, we find using data tends to be the most consistent and reliable.

Existing data campaign

In an existing data campaign, you’ll want to identify some type of data source you can use to find interesting insights as the premise of your content you’ll be pitching to journalists.

For example, here’s a campaign we created for “The Best US Cities for Baby Boomers”. We gathered data on median home prices, jobs per 100,000 people, and the percentage of population that’s part of the Baby Boomer generation. This campaign ended up getting coverage from The New York Times, Yahoo!, and Reader’s Digest:

There are many instances of public data sources out there that are at your disposal. Want to do a piece of content on the best city to start a career in finance? Use data from LinkedIn Salary to find average salaries within each city. Creating a piece of content around Harry Potter houses? Use Google Trends to find what the most popular house is in every state. Need data on labor cost trends in the US? The Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census.gov have gold mines with potential data to use.

Once you find your data source, you’ll want to collect the raw data and then begin to analyze it for interesting insights that you can use in your campaign.

Survey campaign

Creating surveys is a fantastic way to get data that you can use in your content if you don’t have data readily available. You can do this by using tools such as Google Surveys and getting around 2,500 - 3,500 responses, creating a unique dataset.

For instance, let’s say you’ve decided that you want to create a piece of content around “Cord Cutting”. However, you don’t have any specific data sources that you can find interesting insights from. You could create a survey and ask people about their cord cutting tendencies.

In this survey, you could ask questions such as “How likely are you to cancel your cable subscription in the next two years?” and “At what cable price point would you consider cutting the cord?”.

After the survey is complete, you can analyze the data to find interesting trends. For the question “How likely are you to cancel your cable subscription in the next two years?”, you could analyze the age ranges that are most likely to cut the cord. Below you can see an example of the types of insights you might find from a survey:

From here you can start to draw interesting insights. Using the dummy data, we can see that the groups surveyed in the 65+ age range were the most likely to cut the cord. This would definitely be an interesting (although pretty unlikely) data point that we could use in our content and then pitch to journalists. Of course, you could also look at other demographic data such as gender and location.

When you’re choosing your questions to ask respondents, try to think ahead and ask questions that might yield interesting results. Try to avoid asking questions where the results will be too predictable, and thus not newsworthy. The goal of the survey should be to yield interesting points of data that you didn’t previously have access to.

Map campaign

As the title suggests, a map campaign is a type of digital PR campaign where you overlay your data insights on a map. For example, in this campaign for “The Most Googled Pie In Every State” from Prevention.com, you can see how they overlay a pie icon over every state in the United States.

The data for map campaigns can really be generated from either existing data or surveys. However, the reason we’re giving them their own special category is that they tend to perform really well. With map campaigns, the results are inherently localized to every state. For example, here’s data from a map campaign that we executed that resulted in backlinks from 112 referring domains (81 followed links):

We’ve found that there are many journalists that absolutely love to cover articles that apply to their specific area. This means that map campaigns give you data points where you can pivot the pitch angle for all 50 states (“Texas’s favorite type of pie is pecan”, “Tennessee's favorite type is chess pie”).

The digital PR process

1. Ideation phase

Now that you know the general types of campaigns, it’s time to start thinking about which one you’ll want to create. This starts with the ideation process.

Ideally, you’ll want to ideate anywhere from 3-5 different campaign options. By ideating multiple campaigns, you can then compare them against each other to determine which one will most likely generate the most coverage and backlinks for your brand. To give you more insights on how to ideate multiple topics, you can use the following rules:

Rule #1: Choose a topic tangentially related to your business

It’s important that the topic of your campaign is somehow related to your core business. For instance, it wouldn’t make sense for a gardening retailer to create a piece of content that talks about the most fashionable cities in America and pitch the story to Vogue. A digital PR campaign that covers the cities with the most urban gardeners and pitching to Apartment Therapy will result in much more targeted coverage.

Please note how we used the phrase “tangentially related”. The topic you choose doesn’t have to exactly match your core business. In the flower retailer example above, you might also consider other digital PR campaigns around other outdoor topics, as gardening generally ties into this concept. By not limiting yourself to only campaigns about your products, you’ll open up a large number of campaign possibilities and increase your chances of getting coverage.

Rule #2: Choose a newsworthy topic

Another key point is that in order for your digital PR campaign to be successful, you’ll need to ensure that whatever you create is going to be newsworthy in some way. If it’s not, journalists will have no incentive to cover it, as it won’t help their articles earn clicks and shares.

Choosing a topic that’s newsworthy can be difficult. However, there are strategies that you can employ to come up with campaign that will stand out in the news cycle:

  • Identify your “dream publications”. What types of topics do they tend to cover? For instance, if you identify Cosmopolitan as a dream publication, regularly check in with the site and make a note of the topics and types of content they publish.

  • Choose a campaign that will be topical by the time you’re pitching to journalists. For instance, if you’ll be pitching in March, doing a campaign around March Madness would make sense.

  • Use tools like BuzzSumo and search for keywords related to your industry. Review what types of content tend to get a lot of social shares and interaction.

  • Browse Reddit to find relevant subreddits related to your industry and see what types of content get the most upvotes.

  • If you have a team, brainstorm about potential topic ideas.

Rule #3: Check to see if similar campaigns have been done recently

Before moving ahead with a campaign, you’ll want to make sure that it hasn’t been done too recently. Nothing is worse than going through all of the steps to create and pitch a campaign just to find that journalists have already covered it.

When you come up with your idea, quickly perform a search to see if other similar content like yours exists. If it exists, research how recently it was done. If it was just in the past year and you plan on pitching the same journalists, you might want to choose another idea. It’s unlikely that the journalist will want to cover it again.

Rule #4: Rank your campaigns

Once you’ve brainstormed multiple ideas for digital PR campaigns that you want to move forward with, it can also be helpful to rank them. Not all campaigns will be created equal, and some might be naturally stronger than others. We find it helpful to give each campaign a 1-5 rating across five different criteria:

  • Backlink potential: How likely is this to produce backlinks?

  • Outreach diversity: How many different publications would be interested in covering this?

  • Outreach angles: How likely is it that we can find multiple different angles to pitch this from?

  • Subject topicality: How relevant is this campaign in today’s news cycle?

  • Audience size: How large is the size of the audience for our target publications

You can see an example of how we rate each content campaign below:

2. Publish the campaign: design & blog phase

Now comes the exciting part! You get to transform your campaign from a bunch of raw data in a spreadsheet to beautifully designed graphics that live on a page of your site.

The campaign should be added as a blog post to your site and consist of two components:

  1. Custom graphics that highlight your data insights

  2. Copy that provides more detail about the research and findings

We generally recommend creating 4-6 unique graphics for your most interesting data points. As an example, we did a digital PR campaign for “How Much For A Case Of Beer By State?”. You can see the graphic that we created for it here:

This graphic clearly illustrates the data in a way that’s easy for users to understand, and gives journalists an asset they can very easily use in their own coverage of the article.

For this part, you’ll likely need to work with a graphic designer. When working with graphic designers, we find it’s best to be as specific as possible when it comes to what the graphic should look like. That way, they don’t have to do any of the analysis themselves and can more quickly create what you’re looking for. If you don’t have a graphic designer on staff, you might consider trying to find a reliable freelancer on sites such as Upwork.

Next, you’ll need to create copy. This copy should explain the research method, how the data was collected, and provide further explanations of each graphic included on the page. This doesn’t need to be a huge long-form blog post, but an introduction, 1-2 paragraphs of copy for each graphic, and a conclusion should suffice.

After the graphics are created and the copy is written, you’ll need to find a place for your campaign to live. We generally recommend adding this to your site’s blog as it’s the most natural place for informational content.

3. Build an outreach list

After publishing your campaign, you’re then ready to start the pitching process by finding relevant journalists to pitch to.

The easiest way to do this is to use some type of media database. For journalist research, we rely heavily on Cision. Their powerful search functionality allows you to search for journalists and outlets across a lot of different categories such as name, subject, location, keyword and many more.

For instance, let’s say I’ve determined that I want something to be covered on Forbes.com. Using Cision, I can select “Outlet Name” and then search for Forbes.com. From there, I’ll get a big list of journalists that write for Forbes.

When clicking on each one, you can find contact information for each journalist along with a biography that can be useful in determining if they would be a good fit to cover your campaign:

You’ll want to send your campaign to as many qualified journalists as possible, so build an outreach list of hundreds of contacts that you can reach out to during the next phase of the campaign.

If you don’t have the budget for a media database, there are other (but slightly more difficult) options that can help you find journalist contact information. For example, if we wanted to find authors who write for Forbes, we could take to Twitter and perform a search for “contributor @Forbes”:

You can then use tools such as Hunter.io’s Bulk Email Finder to find the email information for some of the authors.

With Hunter.io, you’ll only pay based on the number of entries you run through the tool. This can be significantly cheaper than paying for a subscription to a media database. Of course, this process will be much more manual and time-consuming.

4. Pitching phase

The final part of any good digital PR campaign is the pitching process, where we take all of the journalist’s contact information we just collected and begin to reach out to them.

The golden rule of the pitch

One key thing to remember when pitching is that the average journalist receives many, many different pitches every day. Part of their job is to wade through all of them and make decisions about which ones will be the most successful. Because journalists are constantly bombarded with potential stories, you’ll want to follow the golden rule of pitching:

Do as much upfront work for the journalist as possible.

This means that your outreach needs to be short, direct, and easy to read. We’ve found that it’s really helpful to use bullet points to keep things succinct.

For instance, here’s what a pitch email could look like for a data study about dogs in apartments:

Email Subject Line: The Most Popular Dog Breeds In Every State

Hello [Contact Name],

My name is Chris Long and I’m with Go Fish Digital. Recently we performed a study on every state’s favorite breed of dog. Our study found some really interesting insights including:

  • The Golden Retriever was the most popular dog breed and was chosen as the favorite by 42% of respondents

  • People in Southern states were 38% more likely to choose larger dog breeds than those in Northern states.

  • Pugs were one of the least popular breeds and were only chosen as the favorite from 6% of respondents.

You can find our full study at the link here; [insert link].

We would love to see this covered on [outlet name]. Please let us know if you think this is something you would be interested in writing about.

This email is short, to the point, and quickly demonstrates our key findings.

For more great tips, check out Amanda Milligan’s Whiteboard Friday on the topic:

Using outreach software

While it’s completely fine to work out of a Gmail inbox for your pitching, outreach software can help you take things to the next level. Our team uses Yesware. Pitchbox is another widely-used option. Both help you organize your outreach, perform A/B tests, and get analytics on your outreach efforts.

For example, Yesware allows us to compare open rates of one email compared to another when pitching the same campaign. This way, we gain greater insights as to what subject lines are more likely to get traction with journalists.

Building relationships with journalists

This is where digital marketers need to truly think like someone in PR. One of the benefits of a traditional PR firm is the media relationships they’ve built over time. These relationships make it much easier for them to get media attention and coverage for their clients. Thus, you need to be making long-term efforts to build relationships with journalists.

As mentioned above, journalists are constantly bombarded with pitches and have many different options when choosing what stories they want to cover. Therefore, if they see an inbox full of pitches, they’re much more likely to cover one from a person that they’ve worked with before — and trust.

Relationships aren’t built overnight and you’ll need to build trust with the journalists by ensuring that your content is accurate, high-quality, and likely to be successful for them. While there is no single “hack” for developing genuine human relationships, here are some things that can help you along the way:

  • Try pitching the same journalists for multiple campaigns. This continued contact can help you establish a relationship with them. Just be sure to space them out.

  • Ensure you’re quick to respond. Journalists are often highly dependent on deadlines, and you need to be sure you’re helping them meet theirs.

  • Always be pleasant and cordial, even if they turn down your campaign. You never know if they’ll be interested in the next one.

  • Ensure that your data is accurate. If a journalist discovers that you provided inaccurate information, this will certainly hurt your chances of an ongoing partnership.

  • Research who you’re pitching to first. You should know what types of content they’re likely to cover.

The results

We’ve been performing digital PR for the better part of a decade now, and we’ve found that it’s one of the most consistent ways to build links in today’s digital ecosystem. While there’s definitely a lot that goes into creating a campaign, they often result in high- quality content that’s actually newsworthy and deserving of coverage. Using these techniques, we consistently get coverage from some of the most trusted publications on the Web:

Digital PR campaigns can help drive immense results over time. For example, below, you can find a client that has been implementing digital PR initiatives since 2015. They have received links from 3,400+ referring domains, including The Washington Post, Inc.com, Fast Company, Entrepreneur.com, and more:

Conclusion

The world of link building is getting more and more challenging. In order to continue to build links and authority, brands may want to consider pivoting to more traditional PR strategies. While digital PR isn’t the only way to build links, we find that it’s one of the most effective and scalable ways to do so.

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Cannibalization

In today's episode of Whiteboard Friday, Tom Capper walks you through a problem many SEOs have faced: cannibalization. What is it, how do you identify it, and how can you fix it? Watch to find out! 

Photo of the whiteboard describing cannibalization.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a larger version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Happy Friday, Moz fans, and today we're going to be talking about cannibalization, which here in the UK we spell like this: cannibalisation. With that out of the way, what do we mean by cannibalization?

What is cannibalization?

So this is basically where one site has two competing URLs and performs, we suspect, less well because of it. So maybe we think the site is splitting its equity between its two different URLs, or maybe Google is getting confused about which one to show. Or maybe Google considers it a duplicate content problem or something like that. One way or another, the site does less well as a result of having two URLs. 

So I've got this imaginary SERP here as an example. So imagine that Moz is trying to rank for the keyword "burgers." Just imagine that Moz has decided to take a wild tangent in its business model and we're going to try and rank for "burgers" now.

So in position one here, we've got Inferior Bergz, and we would hope to outrank these people really, but for some reason we're not doing. Then in position two, we've got Moz's Buy Burgers page on the moz.com/shop subdirectory, which obviously doesn't exist, but this is a hypothetical. This is a commercial landing page where you can go and purchase a burger. 

Then in position three, we've got this Best Burgers page on the Moz blog. It's more informational. It's telling you what are the attributes to a good burger, how can you identify a good burger, where should you go to acquire a good burger, all this kind of more neutral editorial information.

So we hypothesize in this situation that maybe if Moz only had one page going for this keyword, maybe it could actually supplant the top spot. If we think that's the case, then we would probably talk about this as cannibalization.

However, the alternative hypothesis is, well, actually there could be two intents here. It might be that Google wishes to show a commercial page and an informational page on this SERP, and it so happens that the second best commercial page is Moz's and the best informational page is also Moz's. We've heard Google talk in recent years or representatives of Google talk in recent years about having positions on search results that are sort of reserved for certain kinds of results, that might be reserved for an informational result or something like that. So this doesn't necessarily mean there's cannibalization. So we're going to talk a little bit later on about how we might sort of disambiguate a situation like this.

Classic cannibalization

First, though, let's talk about the classic case. So the classic, really clear-cut, really obvious case of cannibalization is where you see a graph like this one. 

Hand drawn graph showing ranking consequences of cannibalization.

So this is the kind of graph you would see a lot of rank tracking software. You can see time and the days of the week going along the bottom axis. Then we've got rank, and we obviously want to be as high as possible and close to position one.

Then we see the two URLS, which are color-coded, and are green and red here. When one of them ranks, the other just falls away to oblivion, isn't even in the top 100. There's only ever one appearing at the same time, and they sort of supplant each other in the SERP. When we see this kind of behavior, we can be pretty confident that what we're seeing is some kind of cannibalization.

Less-obvious cases

Sometimes it's less obvious though. So a good example that I found recently is if, or at least in my case, if I Google search Naples, as in the place name, I see Wikipedia ranking first and second. The Wikipedia page ranking first was about Naples, Italy, and the Wikipedia page at second was about Naples, Florida.

Now I do not think that Wikipedia is cannibalizing itself in that situation. I think that they just happen to have... Google had decided that this SERP is ambiguous and that this keyword "Naples" requires multiple intents to be served, and Wikipedia happens to be the best page for two of those intents.

So I wouldn't go to Wikipedia and say, "Oh, you need to combine these two pages into a Naples, Florida and Italy page" or something like that. That's clearly not necessary. 

Questions to ask 

So if you want to figure out in that kind of more ambiguous case whether there's cannibalization going on, then there are some questions we might ask ourselves.

1. Do we think we're underperforming? 

So one of the best questions we might ask, which is a difficult one in SEO, is: Do we think we're underperforming? So I know every SEO in the world feels like their site deserves to rank higher, well, maybe most. But do we have other examples of very similar keywords where we only have one page, where we're doing significantly better? Or was it the case that when we introduced the second page, we suddenly collapsed? Because if we see behavior like that, then that might,  you know, it's not clear-cut, but it might give us some suspicions. 

2. Do competing pages both appear? 

Similarly, if we look at examples of similar keywords that are less ambiguous in intent, so perhaps in the burgers case, if the SERP for "best burgers" and the SERP for "buy burgers," if those two keywords had completely different results in general, then we might think, oh, okay, we should have two separate pages here, and we just need to make sure that they're clearly differentiated.

But if actually it's the same pages appearing on all of those keywords, we might want to consider having one page as well because that seems to be what Google is preferring. It's not really separating out these intents. So that's the kind of thing we can look for is, like I say, not clear-cut but a bit of a hint. 

3. Consolidate or differentiate? 

Once we've figured out whether we want to have two pages or one, or whether we think the best solution in this case is to have two pages or one, we're going to want to either consolidate or differentiate.

So if we think there should only be one page, we might want to take our two pages, combine the best of the content, pick the strongest URL in terms of backlinks and history and so on, and redirect the other URL to this combined page that has the best content, that serves the slight variance of what we now know is one intent and so on and so forth.

If we want two pages, then obviously we don't want them to cannibalize. So we need to make sure that they're clearly differentiated. Now what often happens here is a commercial page, like this Buy Burgers page, ironically for SEO reasons, there might be a block of text at the bottom with a bunch of editorial or SEO text about burgers, and that can make it quite confusing what intent this page is serving.

Similarly, on this page, we might at some stage have decided that we want to feature some products on there or something. It might have started looking quite commercial. So we need to make sure that if we're going to have both of these, that they are very clearly speaking to separate intents and not containing the same information and the same keywords for the most part and that kind of thing.

Quick tip

Lastly, it would be better if we didn't get into the situation in the first place. So a quick tip that I would recommend, just as a last takeaway, is before you produce a piece of content, say for example before I produced this Whiteboard Friday, I did a site:moz.com cannibalization so I can see what content had previously existed on Moz.com that was about cannibalization.

I can see, oh, this piece is very old, so we might — it's a very old Whiteboard Friday, so we might consider redirecting it. This piece mentions cannibalization, so it's not really about that. It's maybe about something else. So as long as it's not targeting that keyword we should be fine and so on and so forth. Just think about what other pieces exist, because if there is something that's basically targeting the same keyword, then obviously you might want to consider consolidating or redirecting or maybe just updating the old piece.

That's all for today. Thank you very much.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Tackling 8,000 Title Tag Rewrites: A Case Study

I recently dug into over 50,000 title tags to understand the impact of Google’s rewrite update. As an SEO, this naturally got me wondering how the update impacted Moz, specifically. So, this post will be a more focused examination of a site I have deep familiarity with, including three case studies where we managed to fix bad rewrites.

As an author, I take titles pretty personally. Imagine if you wrote this masterpiece:

… and then you ended up with a Google result that looked like this:

Sure, Google didn’t do anything wrong here, and it’s not their fault that there’s an upper limit on what they can display, but it still feels like something was lost. It’s one thing to do a study across a neutral data set, but it’s quite another when you’re trying to understand the impact on your own site, including articles you spent hours, days, or weeks writing.

Moz rewrites by the numbers

I’m not going to dig deep into the methodology, but I collected the full set of ranking keywords from Moz’s Keyword Explorer (data is from late August) and scraped the relevant URLs to pull the current <title> tags. Here are a few of the numbers:

  • 74,810 ranking keywords

  • 10,370 unique URLs

  • 8,646 rewrites

Note that just under 2,000 of these “rewrites” were really pre-update (...) truncation. The majority of the rest were brand rewrites or removals, which I’ll cover a bit in the examples. The number of significant, impactful rewrites is hard to measure, but was much smaller.

Where did Google get it right?

While I have reservations about Google rewriting title tags (more on that at the end of this post), I tried to go into this analysis with an open mind. So, let’s look at what Google got right, at least in the context of Moz.com.

(1) Removing double-ups

Our CMS automatically appends our brand (“ - Moz”) to most of our pages, a situation that’s hardly unique to our site. In some cases, this leads to an odd doubling-up of the brand, and Google seems to be removing these fairly effectively. For example:

While the CMS is doing its job, “Moz - Moz” is repetitive, and I think Google got this one right. Note that this is not simple truncation — the additional text would have easily fit.

(2) Those darned SEOs!

Okay, I’m not sure I want to admit this one, but occasionally we test title variations, and we still live with some of the legacy of rebranding from “SEOmoz” to “Moz” in 2013. So, some areas of our site have variations of “ | SEO | Moz”. Here’s how Google handled one variety:

While it’s a bit longer, I suspect this is a better extension for our Q&A pages, both for us and for our visitors from search. I’m going to call this a win for Google.

(3) Whatever this is…

I have no idea what the original intent of this <title> tag was (possibly an experiment):

While there’s nothing terribly wrong with the original <title> tag, it’s probably trying too hard to front-load specific keywords and it’s not very readable. In this case, Google opted to use the blog post title (from the <H1>), and it’s probably a good choice.

Where did Google get it so-so?

It may seem strange to cover examples where Google did an okay job, but in some ways these bother me the most, if simply because they seem unnecessary. I feel like the bar for a rewrite should be higher, and that makes the gray areas worth studying.

(4) Shuffling the brand

For some of our more evergreen pieces, we put the Moz brand front-and-center. In a number of cases, Google shuffled that to the back of the title. Here’s just one example:

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this rewrite, but why do it? We made a conscious choice here and — while the rewrite might be more consistent with our other content — I’m not sure this is Google’s decision to make.

(5) Double-brand trouble

This is a variation on #4, conceptually. Some of our Whiteboard Friday video titles end in “- Whiteboard Friday - Moz”, and in this example Google has split that and relocated half of it to the front of the display title:

Whiteboard Friday is a brand in and of itself, but I have a feeling that #4 and #5 are really more about delimiters in the title than the brand text. Again, why did this trigger a rewrite?

You might be thinking something along the lines of “Google has all the data, and maybe they know more than we do.” Put that thought on hold until the end of the post.

(6) The old switcheroo

Here’s an example where Google opted for the post title (in the <H1>) instead of the <title> tag, with the end result being that they swapped “remove” for “delete”:

This isn’t really a single-word substitution (so much as a total swap), and I don’t know why we ended up with two different words here, but what about the original title — which is extremely similar to the post title — triggered the need for a rewrite?

One quick side note — remember that Featured Snippets are organic results, too, and so rewrites will also impact your Featured Snippets. Here’s that same post/rewrite for another query, appearing as a Featured Snippet:

Again, there’s nothing really wrong or inaccurate about the rewrite, other than a lack of clarity about why it happened. In the context of a Featured Snippet, though, rewrites have a greater possibility of impacting the intent of the original author(s).

Where did Google get it wrong?

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for — the examples where Google made a mess of things. I want to be clear that these, at least in our data set, are few and far between. It’s easy to cherry-pick the worst of the worst, but the three examples I’ve chosen here have a common theme, and I think they represent a broader problem.

(7) Last things first

Here’s an example of rewrite truncation, where Google seems to have selected the parenthetical over the main portion of the title:

Many of the bad examples (or good examples of badness) seem to be where Google split a title based on delimiters and then reconstructed what was left in a way that makes no sense. It seems especially odd in the case of a parenthetical statement, which is supposed to be an aside and less important than what precedes it.

(8) Half the conversation

In other cases, Google uses delimiters as a cutting-off point, displaying what’s before or after them. Here’s a case where the “after” approach didn’t work so well:

This is user-generated content and, granted, it’s a long title, but the resulting cutoff makes no sense out of context. Standard (...) truncation would’ve been a better route here.

(9) And another thing...

Here’s a similar example, but where the cutoff happened at a hyphen (-). The title style is a bit unusual (especially starting the sub-title with “And”), but the cutoff turns it from unusual to outright ridiculous:

Again, simple truncation would’ve been a better bet here.

I get what Google’s trying to do — they’re trying to use delimiters (including pipes, hyphens, colons, parentheses, and brackets) to find natural-language breaks, and split titles at those breaks. Unfortunately, the examples demonstrate how precarious this approach can be. Even the classic “Title: Sub-title” format is often reversed by writers, with the (arguably) less-important portion sometimes being used first.

Three case studies (& three wins)

Ultimately, some rewrites will be good-to-okay and most of these rewrites aren’t worth the time and effort to fix. Over half of the Moz <title> rewrites were minor brand modifications or brand removal (with the latter usually being due to length limits).

What about the objectively bad rewrites, though? I decided to pick three case studies and see if I could get Google to take my suggestions. The process was relatively simple:

  1. Update the <title> tag, trying to keep it under the length limit

  2. Submit the page for reindexing in Google Search Console

  3. If the rewrite didn’t take, update the <H1> or relevant on-page text

Here are the results of the three case studies (with before and after screenshots):

(1) A shady character

This one was really our fault and was an easy choice to fix. Long story short, a data migration led to a special character being corrupted, which resulted in this:

I’m not blaming Google for this one, but the end result was a strange form of truncation that made “Google Won’t” look like “Google Won”, and made it appear that this was the end of the title. I fixed and shortened the <title> tag, and here’s what happened:

Interestingly, Google opted to use the <H1> here instead of the shortened <title> version, but since it fixed the main issue, I’m going to call this a win and move on.

(2) Change isn’t easy

Here’s another one where Google got it wrong, breaking the <title> tag at a parenthetical that didn’t really make any sense (similarly to the examples above):

Since this was a recent and still-relevant post, we were eager to fix it. Interestingly, the first fix didn’t take. I had to resort to changing the post title (<H1>) as well, and removed the parentheses from that title. After that, Google opted for the <title> tag:

This process may require some trial-and-error and patience, especially since the GSC reindexing timeline can vary quite a bit. Most of these updates took about a day to kick in, but I’ve recently heard anywhere from an hour to never.

(3) Don’t ditch Moz!

Our final case study is a complex, multi-delimiter title where Google decided to split the title based on a phrase in quotation marks and then truncate it (without the “...”):

Although the main portion of the rewrite is okay, unfortunately the cutoff makes it look like the author is telling readers to ditch Moz. (Marketing wasn’t thrilled about that). I opted to simplify the <title> tag, removing the quote and the parentheses. Here’s the end result:

I managed to sneak in all of the relevant portion of the title by switching “And” out with an ampersand (&), and now it’s clear what we should be ditching. Cue the sigh of relief.

While there’s potentially a lot more to be done, there are two takeaways here:

  1. You need to prioritize — don’t sweat the small rewrites, especially when Google might change/adjust them at any time.

  2. The bad rewrites can be fixed with a little time and patience, if you understand why Google is doing what they’re doing.

I don’t think this update is cause for panic, but it’s definitely worth getting a sense of your own rewrites — and especially patterns of rewrites — to make sure they reflect the intent of your content. What I found, even across 8,000 rewrites, is that there were only a handful of patterns with maybe a few dozen examples that didn’t fit any one pattern. Separating the signal from the noise takes work, but it’s definitely achievable.

Are rewrites good or bad?

This is an incredibly subjective question. I purposely structured this post into right/so-so/wrong to keep myself from cherry-picking bad examples, and my observations are that most rewrites (even on a site that I take pretty personally) are minor and harmless. That said, I have some misgivings. If you’re happy with the analysis and don’t need the editorializing, you’re welcome to go make a sandwich or take a nap.

It’s important to note that this is a dynamic situation. Some of the rewrites my research flagged had changed when I went back to check them by hand, including quite a few that had reverted to simple truncation. It appears that Google is adjusting to feedback.

This research and post left me the most uncomfortable with the “so-so” examples. Many of the bad examples can be fixed with better algorithms, but ultimately I believe that the bar for rewriting titles should be relatively high. There’s nothing wrong with most of the original <title> tags in the so-so examples, and it appears Google has set the rewrite threshold pretty low.

You might argue that Google has all of the data (and that I don’t), so maybe they know what they’re doing. Maybe so, but I have two problems with this argument.

First, as a data scientist, I worry about the scale of Google’s data. Let’s assume that Google A/B tests rewrites against some kind of engagement metric or metrics. At Google scale (i.e. massive data), it’s possible to reach statistical significance with very small differences. The problem is that statistics don’t tell us anything about whether that change is meaningful enough to offset the consequences of making it. Is a 1% lift in some engagement metric worth it when a rewrite might alter the author’s original intent or even pose branding or legal problems for companies in limited cases?

If you’re comparing two machine learning models to each other, then it makes sense to go with the one that performs better on average, even if the difference is small. Presumably, in that case, both models have access to the same data. With title rewrites, though, we’re comparing the performance of a model to millions of conscious, human decisions that may have a great deal of context Google has no access to. The risk of rewriting is reasonably high, IMO, and that means that small differences in performance may not be enough.

Second — and this is a more philosophical point — if Google has found that certain patterns or title styles result in better performance, then why not be transparent and publish that data? I understand why Google wants to veil the algorithm in secrecy, but they’ve already told us that title rewrites don’t impact rankings. If the goal is to create better titles across the web, then empower writers and content creators to do that. Don’t make those decisions for us.

Ultimately, I think Google moved too far, too fast with this update. I believe they could have communicated (and still could communicate) the reasons more openly without risk to any major secrets and be more conservative about when and if to make changes, at least until these systems have been improved.

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How Our Website Conversion Strategy Increased Business Inquiries by 37%

Having a website that doesn’t convert is a little like having a bucket with a hole in it. Do you keep filling it up while the water’s pouring out — or do you fix the hole then add water? In other words, do you channel your budget into attracting people who are “pouring” through without taking action, or do you fine-tune your website so it’s appealing enough for them to stick around?

Our recommendation? Optimize the conversion rate of your website, before you spend on increasing your traffic to it.

Here’s a web design statistic to bear in mind: you have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression. If your site’s too slow, or unattractive, or the wording isn’t clear, they’ll bounce faster than you can say “leaky bucket”. Which is a shame, because you’ve put lots of effort into designing a beautiful product page and About Us, and people just aren’t getting to see it.

As a digital web design and conversion agency in Melbourne, Australia, we’ve been helping our customers optimize their websites for over 10 years, but it wasn’t until mid-2019 that we decided to turn the tables and take a look at our own site.

As it turned out, we had a bit of a leaky bucket situation of our own: while our traffic was good and conversions were okay, there was definitely room for improvement.

In this article, I’m going to talk a little more about conversions: what they are, why they matter, and how they help your business. I’ll then share how I made lots of little tweaks that cumulatively led to my business attracting a higher tier of customers, more inquiries, plus over $780,000 worth of new sales opportunities within the first 26 weeks of making some of those changes. Let’s get into it!

What is conversion?

Your conversion rate is a figure that represents the percentage of visitors who come to your site and take the desired action, e.g. subscribing to your newsletter, booking a demo, purchasing a product, and so on.

Conversions come in all shapes and sizes, depending on what your website does. If you sell a product, making a sale would be your primary goal (aka a macro-conversion). If you run, say, a tour company or media outlet, then subscribing or booking a consultation might be your primary goal.

If your visitor isn’t quite ready to make a purchase or book a consultation, they might take an intermediary step — like signing up to your free newsletter, or following you on social media. This is what’s known as a micro-conversion: a little step that leads towards (hopefully) a bigger one.

A quick recap

A conversion can apply to any number of actions — from making a purchase, to following on social media.

Macro-conversions are those we usually associate with sales: a phone call, an email, or a trip to the checkout. These happen when the customer has done their research and is ready to leap in with a purchase. If you picture the classic conversion funnel, they’re already at the bottom.

Micro-conversions, on the other hand, are small steps that lead toward a sale. They’re not the ultimate win, but they’re a step in the right direction.

Most sites and apps have multiple conversion goals, each with its own conversion rate.

Micro-conversions vs. macro-conversions: which is better?

The short answer? Both. Ideally, you want micro- and macro-conversions to be happening all the time so you have a continual flow of customers working their way through your sales funnel. If you have neither, then your website is behaving like a leaky bucket.

Here are two common issues that seem like good things, but ultimately lead to problems:

  1. High web traffic (good thing) but no micro- or macro-conversions (bad thing — leaky bucket alert)

  2. High web traffic (good thing) plenty of micro-conversions (good thing), but no macro conversions (bad thing)

A lot of businesses spend heaps of money making sure their employees work efficiently, but less of the budget goes into what is actually one of your best marketing tools: your website.

Spending money on marketing will always be a good thing. Getting customers to your site means more eyes on your business — but when your website doesn’t convert visitors into sales, that’s when you’re wasting your marketing dollars. When it comes to conversion rate statistics, one of the biggest eye-openers I read was this: the average user’s attention span has dropped from 12 to a mere 7 seconds. That’s how long you’ve got to impress before they bail — so you’d better make sure your website is fast, clear, and attractive.

Our problem

Our phone wasn’t ringing as much as we’d have liked, despite spending plenty of dollars on SEO and Adwords. We looked into our analytics and realized traffic wasn’t an issue: a decent number of people were visiting our site, but too few were taking action — i.e. inquiring. Here’s where some of our issues lay:

  • Our site wasn’t as fast as it could have been (anything with a load time of two seconds or over is considered slow. Ours was hovering around 5-6, and that was having a negative impact on conversions).

  • Our CTA conversions were low (people weren’t clicking — or they were dropping off because the CTA wasn’t where it needed to be).

  • We were relying on guesswork for some of our design decisions — which meant we had no way of measuring what worked, and what didn’t.

  • In general, things were good but not great. Or in other words, there was room for improvement.

What we did to fix it

Improving your site’s conversions isn’t a one-size-fits all thing — which means what works for one person might not work for you. It’s a gradual journey of trying different things out and building up successes over time. We knew this having worked on hundreds of client websites over the years, so we went into our own redesign with this in mind. Here are some of the steps we took that had an impact.

We decided to improve our site

First of all, we decided to fix our company website. This sounds like an obvious one, but how many times have you thought “I’ll do this really important thing”, then never gotten round to it. Or rushed ahead in excitement, made a few tweaks yourself, then let your efforts grind to a halt because other things took precedence?

This is an all-too-common problem when you run a business and things are just… okay. Often there’s no real drive to fix things and we fall back into doing what seems more pressing: selling, talking to customers, and running the business.

Deciding you want to improve your site’s conversions starts with a decision that involves you and everyone else in the company, and that’s what we did. We got the design and analytics experts involved. We invested time and money into the project, which made it feel substantial. We even made EDMs to announce the site launch (like the one below) to let everyone know what we’d been up to. In short, we made it feel like an event.




We got to know our users

There are many different types of user: some are ready to buy, some are just doing some window shopping. Knowing what type of person visits your site will help you create something that caters to their needs.

We looked at our analytics data and discovered visitors to our site were a bit of both, but tended to be more ready to buy than not. This meant we needed to focus on getting macro-conversions — in other words, make our site geared towards sales — while not overlooking the visitors doing some initial research. For those users, we implemented a blog as a way to improve our SEO, educate leads, and build up our reputation.

User insight can also help you shape the feel of your site. We discovered that the marketing managers we were targeting at the time were predominantly women, and that certain images and colours resonated better among that specific demographic. We didn’t go for the (obvious pictures of the team or our offices), instead relying on data and the psychology of attraction to delve into the mind of the users.

We improved site speed

Sending visitors to good sites with bad speeds erodes trust and sends them running. Multiple studies show that site speed matters when it comes to conversion rates. It’s one of the top SEO ranking factors, and a big factor when it comes to user experience: pages that load in under a second convert around 2.5 times higher than pages taking five seconds or more.

We built our website for speed. Moz has a great guide on page speed best practices, and from that list, we did the following things:

  • We optimized images.

  • We managed our own caching.

  • We compressed our files.

  • We improved page load times (Moz has another great article about how to speed up time to first Byte). A good web page load time is considered to be anything under two seconds — which we achieved.

  • In addition, we also customized our own hosting to make our site faster.

We introduced more tracking

As well as making our site faster, we introduced a lot more tracking. That allowed us to refine our content, our messaging, the structure of the site, and so on, which continually adds to the conversion.

We used Google Optimize to run A/B tests across a variety of things to understand how people interacted with our site. Here are some of the tweaks we made that had a positive impact:

  • Social proofing can be a really effective tool if used correctly, so we added some stats to our landing page copy.

  • Google Analytics showed us visitors were reaching certain pages and not knowing quite where to go next, so we added CTAs that used active language. So instead of saying, “If you’d like to find out more, let us know'', we said “Get a quote”, along with two options for getting in touch.

  • We spent an entire month testing four words on our homepage. We actually failed (the words didn’t have a positive impact), but it allowed us to test our hypothesis. We did small tweaks and tests like this all over the site.

  • We used heat mapping to see where visitors were clicking, and which words caught their eye. With this data, we knew where to place buttons and key messaging.

We looked into user behavior

Understanding your visitor is always a good place to start, and there are two ways to go about this:

  1. Quantitative research (numbers and data-based research)

  2. Qualitative research (people-based research)

We did a mixture of both.

For the quantitative research, we used Google Analytics, Google Optimize, and Hotjar to get an in-depth, numbers-based look at how people were interacting with our site.

Heat-mapping software shows how people click and scroll through a page. Hot spots indicate places where people naturally gravitate.

We could see where people were coming into our site (which pages they landed on first), what channel brought them there, which features they were engaging with, how long they spent on each page, and where they abandoned the site.

For the qualitative research, we focused primarily on interviews.

  • We asked customers what they thought about certain CTAs (whether they worked or not, and why).

  • We made messaging changes and asked customers and suppliers whether they made sense.

  • We invited a psychologist into the office and asked them what they thought about our design.

What we learned

We found out our design was good, but our CTAs weren’t quite hitting the mark. For example, one CTA only gave the reader the option to call. But, as one of our interviewees pointed out, not everyone likes using the phone — so we added an email address.

We were intentional but ad hoc about our asking process. This worked for us — but you might want to be a bit more formal about your approach (Moz has a great practical guide to conducting qualitative usability testing if you’re after a more in-depth look).

The results

Combined, these minor tweaks had a mighty impact. There’s a big difference in how our site looks and how we rank. The bottom line: after the rebuild, we got more work, and the business did much better. Here are some of the gains we’ve seen over the past two years.

  • Our site speed increased: we managed to achieve a load time of around 500-600 ms.


  • Our dwell time increased by 73%, going from 1.5 to 2.5 minutes.

  • We received four-times more inquiries by email and phone.

  • Our organic traffic increased despite us not channeling more funds into PPC ads.

  • We also realized our clients were bigger, paying on average 2.5 times more for jobs: in mid-2018, our average cost-per-job was $8,000. Now, it’s $17,000.

  • Our client brand names became more recognizable, household names — including two of Australia’s top universities, and a well-known manufacturing/production brand.

  • Within the first 26 weeks, we got over $770,000 worth of sales opportunities (if we’d accepted every job that came our way).

  • Our prospects began asking to work with us, rather than us having to persuade them to give us the business.

  • We started getting higher quality inquiries — warmer leads who had more intent to buy.

Some practical changes you can make to improve your website conversions

When it comes to website changes, it’s important to remember that what works for one person might not work for you.

We’ve used site speed boosters for our clients before and gotten really great results. At other times, we’ve tried it and it just broke the website. This is why it’s so important to measure as you go, use what works for your individual needs, and remember that “failures” are just as helpful as wins.

Below are some tips — some of which we did on our own site, others are things we’ve done for others.

Tip number 1: Get stronger hosting that allows you to consider things like CDNs. Hiring a developer should always be your top choice, but it’s not always possible to have that luxury. In this instance, we recommend considering CDNs, and depending on the build of your site, paying for tools like NitroPack which can help with caching and compression for faster site speeds.

Tip number 2: Focus your time. Identify top landing pages with Moz Pro and channel your efforts in these places as a priority. Use the 80/20 principle and put your attention on the 20% that gets you 80% of your success.

Tip number 3: Run A/B tests using Google Optimize to test various hypotheses and ideas (Moz has a really handy guide for running split tests using Google). Don’t be afraid of the results — failures can help confirm that what you are currently doing right. You can also access some in-depth data about your site’s performance in Google Lighthouse.

Tip number 4: Trial various messages in Google Ads (as a way of testing targeted messaging). Google provides many keyword suggestions on trending words and phrases that are worth considering.

Tip number 5: Combine qualitative and quantitative research to get to know how your users interact with your site — and keep testing on an ongoing basis.

Tip number 6: Don’t get too hung up on charts going up, or figures turning orange: do what works for you. If adding a video to your homepage slows it down a little but has an overall positive effect on your conversion, then it’s worth the tradeoff.

Tip number 7: Prioritize the needs of your target customers and focus every build and design choice around them.

Recommended tools

  • Nitropack: speed up your site if you’ve not built it for speed from the beginning.

  • Google Optimize: run A/B tests

  • HotJar: see how people use your site via heat mapping and behaviour analytics.

  • Pingdom / GTMetrix: measure site speed (both is better if you want to make sure you meet everyone’s requirements).

  • Google Analytics: find drop-off points, track conversion, A/B test, set goals.

  • Qualaroo: poll your visitors while they are on your site with a popup window.

  • Google Consumer Surveys: create a survey, Google recruits the participants and provides results and analysis.

  • Moz Pro: Identify top landing pages when you connect this tool to your Google Analytics profile to create custom reports.

How to keep your conversion rates high

Treat your website like your car. Regular little tweaks to keep it purring, occasional deeper inspections to make sure there are no problems lurking just out of sight. Here’s what we do:

  • We look at Google Analytics monthly. It helps to understand what’s working, and what’s not.

  • We use goal tracking in GA to keep things moving in the right direction.

  • We use Pingdom's free service to monitor the availability and response time of our site.

  • We regularly ask people what they think about the site and its messaging (keeping the qualitative research coming in).

Conclusion

Spending money on marketing is a good thing, but when you don’t have a good conversion rate, that’s when your website’s behaving like a leaky bucket. Your website is one of your strongest sales tools, so it really does pay to make sure it’s working at peak performance.

I’ve shared a few of my favorite tools and techniques, but above all, my one bit of advice is to consider your own requirements. You can improve your site speed if you remove all tags and keep it plain. But that’s not what you want: it’s finding the balance between creativity and performance, and that will always depend on what’s important.

For us as a design agency, we need a site that’s beautiful and creative. Yes, having a moving background on our homepage slows it down a little bit, but it improves our conversions overall.

The bottom line: Consider your unique users, and make sure your website is in line with the goals of whoever you’re speaking with.

We can do all we want to please Google, but when it comes to sales and leads, it means more to have a higher converting and more effective website. We did well in inquiries (actual phone calls and email leads) despite a rapid increase in site performance requirements from Google. This only comes down to one thing: having a site customer conversion framework that’s effective.

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