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With the recent release of Google Home in the U.S., voice-activated devices are a big topic du jour lately. But which personal assistant tools are the most helpful? What do you need for each one? And how much do they cost?

While a simple search for “personal assistant apps” seems to yield countless results, shifting through them can be a task.

Today, consider us your digital personal assistant. We narrowed the options down to our very own top five. Read on, and discover which ones will best fit your needs.

5 Personal Assistant Tools That Actually Make Life Easier

1) Operator

  • Price: Free
  • Requirements: iOS

Vacations are great. Holiday parties are, too. But scheduling the former immediately after the latter? Well, it’s a prescription for stress. There are people to feed, wines to buy, and bags to pack.

But wait. There’s an app for that. With a packed work schedule, who has the time to deal with the aforementioned items, let alone to find special decorative lights? The experts at Operator — that’s who.

Once you download Operator, you’ll see a blue dialogue bubble in the lower right corner of your screen. Tap that, then choose where you need help.

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From there, you’ll be asked a series of questions about what exactly you need. Here’s a chat that I had with a real person — Holly — when I needed help finding some decorative lights for that party.

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Holly later went on to ask me about my price range, shipping preferences, and sent me several lighting options. And look, she even laughed at my joke.

2) Charlie

  • Price: Free
  • Requirements: Google Calendar, iOS

Knowing your audience is something on which we place great importance. That’s why we do things like create buyer personas and perform other user research.

That’s important in marketing — and in meetings. After all, if an important contact with whom you’re not completely familiar agrees to meet with you, it’s best to avoid walking in without any knowledge of what the person does. That’s where Charlie comes in.

Charlie connects to your calendar to see who you have meetings with over the next week. Then, it identifies the person and asks if you’d like some background information on them.

It’s not as creepy as it sounds, though. The only information it finds is what’s publicly available online, like on LinkedIn and Twitter. For example, here’s what it would look like if someone had a meeting with me:

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Notice that there’s a section on “ways to start the conversation.” That contains news pieces about the person that can help you open a dialogue with the person. Plus, in case you’ve been in touch with this contact before, Charlie allows you to review any previous communication you’ve had with him or her.

3) Google Home

  • Price: Allo (free), Google Home ($ 129)
  • Requirements: Android 4.1 and higher, iOS 8 and higher (only available in English and for purchase in the U.S.)

When I asked my team for personal assistant app recommendations, HubSpot’s Web Team Tech Lead, Dmitry Shamis, immediately pointed to Google Home.

What does he love about it? Well, it does the same thing that a lot of similar devices on the market do — things like responding to hands-free voice prompts, for example — but it also incorporates many elements of Google that many we use day-to-day, including search.

“The real benefit is how it integrates into my Google life,” Shamis told me. “My trips, my calendar, my shopping list.”

Google Home is less of an app, however, and more of a device. It’s powered by Google Assistant — the technology used to answer questions in the search engine’s Allo app, which is configured to respond to search queries, set reminders, and engage in everyday chit chat. Have a look:

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Imagine if I could have that entire conversation without all the typing. Sure, the Assistant technology alone is great, but the whole hands-free help thing offered by Google Home? That’s just awesome. I mean, just look at its list of features.

4) Amazon Echo

  • Price: $ 179
  • Requirements: Wi-Fi. Compatible with Fire OS, Android, and iOS devices and accessible via web browser.

Before there was Google Home, there was Amazon Echo — which Shamis tells me is what he used first. The Echo is powered by Alexa, Amazon’s voice recognition technology, which is used less for search engine capabilities, and more for instant information like sports scores, weather, and news.

Despite his happiness with Google Home, there are still some things about the Amazon Echo that Shamis misses. He’s particularly nostalgic, he told me, for the ability to quickly buy things with the Echo. For example, he told me, “Things like, ‘Alexa, buy more dog food’ were extremely helpful.”

And another key differentiator for him? Echo’s Spotify integration. “‘Alexa, play Spotify’ would pick up where I left off on my phone,” he explained. “‘Hey Google, play Spotify’ will play something completely random.”

But when I asked Shamis if he’d advise someone to get both, his answer was a resounding “no.”

“It’s one or the other,” he said, since “there’s enough overlap that you don’t need both. I think it becomes a personal preference.”

That’s not to say it’s impossible to use both, especially for one’s personal entertainment — like in this video of the two devices speaking to each other.

 

5) Julie Desk

  • Price: Pro ($ 99.99 month/per user), Manager ($ 149.99 month/per user), Executive ($ 199.99 month/per user)
  • Requirements: Any email client

Visit the official website for Julie Desk, and you’ll be faced with a question: “Want to get back 1 hour in your work day?”

Um, yes. That’s what Julie Desk was created to do — to save us the countless time we spent on managing our respective calendars. And admittedly, for me, that’s a lot.

But starting with that question, Julie Desk’s website is a compelling example of great user experience — which hints at its capacity to work on behalf of, well, you, the user. Have a look:

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There are are few things about Julie Desk that delight us. To start, there are no downloads required, since Julie — as she’s casually called — works with your existing email client.

When you first sign up for the service, you’ll be asked for your meeting preferences, like time of day, location, and mode of transportation.

It takes about 24 hours for Julie to get you completely enrolled in the service, probably because there’s a human element — the service is constantly monitored by actual people to make sure nothing goes awry. But once you’re set up, that’s when the fun begins. Every time you receive an email requesting a meeting, just copy Julie on your reply — she’ll take it from there.

Here’s more on how it works:

 

Appy, Healthy, More Productive

From online human interaction, to digital voice recognition, to a virtual meeting scheduler, these apps might not cover everything, but they certainly make life easier.

Sure, it would be nice if there was a tool out there to, say, virtually clean the entire house. Until that becomes available, we’re not entirely far off. And some of these resources could at least provide information on home-cleaning-made-easy hacks — but only if you ask.

Remember when any of these tools seemed like “a thing of the future”? They’re here — and we can’t wait to see what’s next.

What are your favorite personal assistant apps? Let us know in the comments.

Productivity Guide


HubSpot Marketing Blog

Uploaded by FeliciaCrawford In almost the blink of an eye, 2016 is ending. But as fast as it went, this year definitely brims with memories. Since we’re full-swing into the season of warm, fuzzy feelings and also excruciatingly lengthy lines at the shop, the time is ripe to mirror back on all that’s passed. And in traditional Web style, what much better way to mirror compared to with a fast quiz?

1. So, just how are you really feeling about this year’s wintry period (also called Q4)?

2. When was the last time you took a vacation, even if it was simply a cozy weekend alone with an excellent book?

3. Just how did you spend your last day off?

4. When I claim the word “website traffic,” just what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

How ‘d you do? If you answered “B” or “C” to any kind of of the inquiries above, we assume you might should hear a little vacation story …

Numerous many thanks to our amazing video clip specialist,< a href="https://twitter.com/itsmikebird"target="_ blank "> Michael Bird, our gifted celebrity, Rachel Moore, Sadie the Goldendoodle, and also a touch of superb Mozzer extras for this emotional vignette!

Despite your technique of relaxation– be it excitedly waiting for Season 2 of Westworld, settling Catan with a couple of buddies, baking cookies with your niblings, or a twelfth reread of Harry Potter– we believe you’ve gained yourself a breather. You work hard at just what you do. You stuck to us with thick and also slim this year, grinning as well as commenting as well as thumbs-up-ing right. We couldn’t be below without you, therefore we urge: Saturate in all the goodness this period needs to provide and also take a moment to treat on your own as well as those you like. You deserve it!

Happiest of vacations from Roger Mozbot and also every person at Moz!Sign for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the leading 10 most popular items of SEO news, tips, and also rad web links uncovered by the Moz group. Think of it as your special digest of things you do not have time to hound yet wish to read!

The Moz Blog

ThinkstockPhotos-493335634-608582-edited.jpgDid you know that the search result in #1 position on Google gets 33% of search traffic? And that page 1 search engine results resulted in 92% of all traffic, dropping off by 95% for page 2?

Numbers don’t lie. If you want to climb to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), well-written, engaging content alone won’t cut it. You also need to focus on writing SEO-driven, keyword-focused content that attracts not only website traffic, but the right kind of traffic. You might be thinking, “That sounds great, Courtney! But, how do I get started?”

We’re sharing 5 essential tips for creating SEO-friendly blog posts without sacrificing user experience and engagement, tips you can start using today: 

1) Pick highly-effective keywords

Google handles over 40,000 search queries a second. Staggering, right? If you want to cut through search result clutter and outrank your competitors, you need to target the specific keywords and phrases your potential customers are searching. How else will they find your content and website?

To identify those hot keywords, head on over to the social platforms your target audience frequents and see what’s trending. Pay close attention to the exact phrases they use and monitor popular industry terms and topics.

Google Trends can also give you a feel for what keywords are popular at any given time. If you see searches are steadily declining over time for a specific keyword, you know that’s probably not the right keyword to target for your marketing and vice versa for increasing trends.

If you’re ever running low on keyword ideas, get inspiration from your competition. Use tools to see what keywords they’re currently ranking for — if these keywords are relevant to your business, consider using them too! SEMRush lets you enter a competitor and see the keywords they’re ranking for, their position in search results, traffic received for that keyword and other key metrics.

Keep in mind that the most obvious keywords aren’t always the best keywords. Searchers tend to use very specific “long-tail” keywords, keyword phrases and questions when they’re looking for something. Long-tail keywords comprise up to 70% of all search traffic and can unlock the door to successful SEO. When WPBeginner, the largest WordPress resource site for WordPress beginners, adopted a long-tail SEO strategy, they increased their organic search traffic by 20% in just two months!

Because you face fierce competition for shorter, more general keywords, you often have a better chance of ranking in the top results for long-tail keywords. And, long-tail keywords allow you to zero in on higher quality website traffic that often knows what they’re looking for and may be farther along in the buyer’s journey.

Once you’ve done your research and built a list of what you think are the most valuable, relevant keywords, plug them into a keyword research tool like Google’s Keyword Planner, Moz’s Keyword Explorer, Ubersuggest, Keyword Tool and so on. Many keyword research tools give you the monthly volume for any given keyword. Test out different keyword tools — marketers are drawn to different ones for different reasons.   

Depending on your business or industry (or budget or bandwidth for SEO efforts), it may be important to rank for high competition, short tail keywords. Still, try to also optimize for a healthy dose of long-tail keywords that are high in search volume but low in competition. You may find it’s much easier to rank for these words.

Remember that your focus keywords will evolve over time as trends shift, terminology changes or your product/service line changes. Be sure to conduct keyword research periodically to ensure you’re still focusing on the right keywords for your target audience and not missing out on vital ranking opportunities.

2) Naturally integrate keywords throughout your posts

Once you’ve decided on a list of target keywords, it’s time to write a blog post focused on one of these keywords. Brainstorm blog topics with your team and decide on a topic that will entice and engage your target audience.

Keep your buyer personas, their motivations, challenges, interests, etc. in mind throughout the brainstorming process. Choose a topic that will emotionally resonate with your potential customers and their needs, desires or pains.

As you write your blog, your keyword and natural variations should be regularly interspersed throughout the post. Your primary keyword should appear in these key places:

  • Title
  • Headings and subheadings
  • URL if possible
  • Image alt text (search engines can’t read images)
  • Meta description
  • Throughout the content

Remember that you’re writing for humans, not search engines. Focus on engaging readers with a natural writing style that takes their needs and interests into account.

Be sure to avoid overusing any keyword (also known as “keyword stuffing”) at all costs. Keyword stuffing may lead to a website being penalized or banned in search engine results pages either temporarily or permanently. But even more importantly, if your keyword appears too often and feels forced, you sacrifice a reader’s experience, insult their intelligence and compromise the article’s quality. Don’t give readers any reason to hit the back button and turn to a competitor’s blog for answers.

3) Link to influencers

As you build out your blog post, don’t be afraid to link to other articles or blogs. Linking to applicable and reputable websites not only offers blog readers additional reading material to expand their knowledge, but it also shows Google and other search engines that you’ve done your research. And the blogger or writer may even return the favor and link to your site.

Nothing strengthens a blog post like hard-to-argue-with, research-backed statistics from influential websites. Compelling stats help you build a more convincing and concrete argument that will get your readers thinking (especially when they’re from trustworthy sites they know and love).

4) Aim for scannable, longer posts

In an age of short attention spans (average of 8 seconds for humans), you would think shorter blog posts are the way to go. But search engines actually prefer longer, in-depth blog posts.

The longer your blog post, the greater its chance of appearing in the top search engine results. SerpIQ found that the 10th position pages have 400 fewer words than 1st position pages. Longer posts will rank more easily for your target keyword.

Think about it: the more content on the page, the more clues search engines have to figure out what your blog is about. We recommend writing a minimum of 300 words per blog post. This length gives search engines plenty of keywords and text to crawl and helps them understand what your blog is about.

The downside to longer blogs is that they may scare off your readers. We live in a world of skimmers and scanners. In a heat map analysis, CoSchedule learned that only 10-20% of their readers were making it to the bottom of their posts. So, the million dollar question is, how can longer blog posts appeal to today’s online readers?

You can write scannable, readable blog posts that hook online readers by tightening up your sentences and paragraphs. Turn a long-winded sentence into two. Keep your paragraphs to 2-3 sentences max.

Also, take full advantage of bulleted lists and subheadings that grab reader’s attention. By following these tactics, you’ll create blogs that are easier to read (especially on a mobile device!) and less intimidating to the scanner’s eye.

5) Don’t forget internal links

Linking to other pages or blog posts on your website helps search engines crawl your website and create a more accurate sitemap. It also helps your audience discover more of your content and get to know you as a trustworthy, credible source of information. Internal links to other valuable content keep users on your site longer, reducing bounce rate and increasing your potential for a conversion (and isn’t that what it’s all about?).

When linking to any pages on your website, or even outside sources, use natural language for your anchor text. Avoid using spammy or generic text such as “top-rated cheap laptops” or “click here.” Instead, use descriptive keywords that give readers a sense of what they will find when they click on the hyperlink, such as a search engine optimization guide.

Never force feed links to your top webpages, featured products or discounted items. These types of links will only turn off readers and could lead to search engines penalizing your website.

A word of caution: don’t overdo your internal linking or any linking. We know it’s tempting to link to all of your blogs and webpages, but only choose the ones that best enhance the point or insight you’re writing about in any particular blog. Always think about whether or not these links naturally tie in with the subject matter and if they will offer significant value to your readers.

Bottom Line

If you want your blogs to rank at the top of page one (and why wouldn’t you?), your main focus should be on creating blogs that both users and search engines will love. By optimizing your blogs for both, you can earn higher rankings in SERPs, get more qualified web traffic and increase conversion rates. And wasn’t that the exact reason you started blogging to begin with?

What are your strategies for optimizing your blogs for SEO? Did we miss any? Share with us in the comments below.

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HubSpot Marketing Blog

Posted by MiriamEllis

In our ongoing quest for local prominence, are we leaving anybody out in the cold? For years, a fundamental message I’ve shared with almost every incoming local business client is that they need local SEO, specifically, because they need to be found on the web by local people. I’d estimate that 98% of everything our industry writes about is tied to this concept, and while this focus is sensible, today I’d like to highlight an underserved (but enormous) target local market: non-local people.

Consider these statistics:

These numbers create a context in which there are literally millions of consumers arriving in unfamiliar towns on a daily basis, in need of a variety of local resources they’ll discover using the Internet. In this article, I’d like to help your local business get discovered with a welcoming, supplementary local SEO strategy based on the understanding that newcomers matter. We’re going to dive into location data management, attribution, and reviews, with an eye to newcomer needs.

What do newcomers really need?

Residents of your city or town have likely already established their favorite restaurant, grocery store, doctor, school, place of worship and pet supply shop. While there are certainly tactics you can employ for trying to edge out the competition to become someone’s new favorite destination, chances are good that longtime locals won’t have too much trouble actually locating you at 123 Main St. if you’re doing good, essential local SEO.

They already know where Main St. is in relationship to other streets, how long it will take to get there and, if they’re established neighbors, what the parking situation is like in that part of town.

Non-locals know none of this. Your city is a blank slate to them, and they’ll be using their desktop and mobile devices to start filling in that slate to create a picture of their destination, both before and after they arrive in town. If you’re not providing the necessary signals to foster transactions with newcomers, if they never learn that your local business exists, it’s a direct hit to your wallet, week after week, year after year.

Which types of local businesses need to appeal to new neighbors and travelers to avoid foregoing desirable revenue? Let’s break that down by industry:

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As we can see, a significant number of industries can serve either new neighbors or travelers, and in some cases, both. Let’s look at three intelligent ways to put out the welcome mat for these important consumers.

1. Basic location data management

While settled residents may be able to parse out that your business is actually located on 5th Street rather than 5th Avenue when encountering inconsistent data about your company on the web, don’t expect newcomers to inuit this. Step one in welcoming this user group is to ensure that you’ve got your core name, address, and phone number (NAP) correct in two places:

A) Your website

For the single-location business, this should be easy. Audit every page and element (like the header and footer ) of your website where you mention any part of your NAP for accuracy. Correct any errors. Pay particular attention to your branding. Don’t be The Tree Restaurant on your Contact Us page, The Green Tree Restaurant on your About page, and Green Trees Cafe in your logo. You want to make a cohesive brand impression on your website so that consumers can clearly match it to your real-world signage as they drive through town.

For multi-location businesses, things are a little more complex. In addition to checking that NAP is correct on each of the landing pages you create for each location, be certain those pages are accessible via a well-functioning store locator widget which enables users to search by city (not just by zip code, as most newcomers will not know local zip codes).

B) Your local business listings

Hopefully you’re already engaging in active location data management of your local business listings/citations to help local consumers find you, but know that inconsistencies on major platforms could result in particularly heavy newcomer losses as users get misdirected, lost, and drift away, never to return.

You want a clear NAP dataset on the most important platforms, keeping in mind that even if a particular platform isn’t that popular in your own city, it may be significant in the regions from which newcomers hail. You can do a speedy citation health check for free using the Moz Check Listing tool, which audits your listings on foundational platforms like Google My Business, Bing, Apple Maps, Yelp, Facebook, etc. Correct any inaccurate data the tool surfaces for you, and back up this work with a manual check of any niche directories that apply to your city or industry.

If you find you’ve got significant inconsistencies, or have a large number of locations to manage, you may want to consider purchasing an automated location data management service like Moz Local.

Beyond basic NAP

In addition to managing the NAP on your website and citations, there are 5 elements that are crucial to ensuring newcomers connect with your business:

  1. Driving directions
    Be sure directions and map place markers are accurate on your major citations and, for newcomers, put additional effort into writing up the best possible set of driving directions on your website. Write them out coming from the four cardinal directions and be sure you are associating your business with any major local landmarks that are easily seen from the road. Alert consumers to the presence of hazardous road conditions they may encounter coming from a particular direction and offer detours or shortcuts. Don’t leave out how to navigate large shopping centers if you’re located in one.
  2. Hours of operation
    It’s especially important if your business has seasonal/holiday hours to ensure that you are updating all relevant pages of your website and all of your major local business listings to reflect this for newcomers. If your business is seasonal (like a farm stand or pumpkin patch), set your Google My Business hours when you open for business, and when your season closes, remove them so that they appear ‘un-set,’ with the plan to re-set them next open season. If you have special hours for Christmas or other holidays, follow these directions to avoid Google stamping your listings with a warning that the hours may be inaccurate.
  3. Parking information
    Urban parking can be so appallingly complicated that it has led to the launch of booking services like Parkwhiz, but be sure you’re detailing parking information on your own website, regardless of city size. Don’t forget RV parking accessibility for travelers, whether parking is free, or if paid, the forms of payment local meters/lots accept. Parking info can be especially helpful for people with health concerns, so if on-site parking is unavailable, estimate how far the consumer will have to walk to reach your destination. A lack of parking data once caused me to have climb over cement barriers in a split-level parking lot in search of a salad on a 90+ degree day — it would have been courteous for the grocery store to have saved me from this silly situation with clear directions.
  4. Description
    Google may have replaced their former owner-authorized business description display with their in-house custom description, but most other local business listing platforms still allow you to pen your own. To play to a newcomer audience, which may be forming a very fast impression from your listings via a mobile device, pack your descriptions with the most persuasive information you can think of to help them make a decision. Is it that you’re kid-friendly, carry a certain brand, won a best-in-city award? In the fewest words possible, highlight the most impactful elements of your business to connect with high conversion, targeted newcomers.
  5. Forms of payment
    Failing to inform travelers that your business is cash-only is a deal-breaker, and many major retailers now even refuse to accept checks (which can come as an inconvenient surprise to out-of-towners). Numerous local business listings enable you to specify forms of payment accepted, and you should also at least include a visual representation of supported transaction methods on your website. For your most sophisticated consumers, if you support digital wallets, Bitcoin, or other popular payment alternatives, be sure to highlight this fact.

I recommend that you give first priority to getting your basic location information into beautiful shape on your website and local business listings so that the process of finding your business is as foolproof as possible for newcomers. Now let’s look at some elements that can influence being chosen once you’ve been found.

2. Attribution

It’s no secret in the local SEO industry that Google, Yelp, and other powerhouses are now actively crowdsourcing attribution from reviewers, but if local business attributes are new to you, let’s summarize.

Basically, attributes are snippets of descriptive content that differentiate the nature or features of a given business. Some of the data in the previous section would actually be considered attributes, such as whether a business features free parking, accepts Apple Pay, or offers 24-hour services. In practice, attributes are valuable to search engines in helping them determine the relevance of a result to a given user, and they’re valuable to users in helping to make decisions about whether a specific business provides exactly what they’re seeking.

Significantly, in May of 2016, Google rolled out version 3.0 of the Google My Business API, a new feature of which is the ability for developers to directly add attributes to Google My Business listings. And, as the year closes out, many users are finally seeing promised attribute functionality within the Google My Business dashboard. We can take all this as a clear signal that Google is zooming in on attribution, which they base on business categories. While dashboard attribution is still limited as of writing this, I predict we’ll see it expanding in 2017.

To conceptualize the practical application of attributes, I find it’s helpful to imagine consumer personae. Let’s hypothesize that our restaurant franchise is hoping to win a transaction from a group of six travelers on a family vacation. They are on the road a bit late one evening near one of our locations and are hungry for supper:

  • Dad would be glad to find an all-you-can eat buffet.
  • Mom would love to hear some live music.
  • There are three children; one is gluten-intolerant, one is a vegetarian, and one is a toddler who needs a booster seat and can’t eat full portions.
  • Grandmother urges that they find a salad bar because everyone has been eating too much fast food on this trip.
  • The dog would prefer not to be left in the car all evening.

Look through this very abridged list of Google My Business API attributes applicable to restaurants to see if you can match them to the family members (hey, this is like a game!):

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If some or all of these attributes describe our restaurant location, and we’ve either added them to Google My Business or are earning them from our reviewers on Google, Yelp, or Trip Advisor, we’re making a strong case for being shown as a relevant answer to the family’s search query, and to being chosen by them. Good start! But, I’d like to take the concept of attribution one step further as it relates to local SEO.

I’m not privy to the methodology Google used to come up with their extensive list of attributes for all sorts of business categories, but I’d invite local enterprises and agencies to view attributes as a fascinating roadmap to website content development. Imagine taking the above set of descriptors and writing something like this, in natural language, on the website landing page for our restaurant’s location in Santa Fe:

salsa.jpg

What we’ve done here is to take Google’s attribute hints as to what consumers are looking for and have turned them into a statement that helps a newcomer make a quick, informed mobile decision (call it a ‘micro-moment’ and you’re really being cool!).

For thoroughness, I would recommend combining Google’s attributes with those you are personally prompted to enter when leaving your own reviews on various platforms, and fine-tune it all based on your unique expertise drawn from serving your customer base. It could be that a driving motivation for newcomers to your city and business would be proximity to a point-of-interest, accepting mobile payments, or serving organic food. Think of attributes as clues from search engines, review sites, and directories that you can pass along to customers to qualify your business as the answer to their needs.

Finally, I’d like to take the exploration of attributes one step further. I reached out to TouchPoint Digital Marketing owner, David Deering, who is one of our industry’s foremost experts on local business Schema. I asked if there was a direct relationship between attributes and Schema, and he explained:

“Unfortunately schema.org does not have corresponding properties and values for local business attributes. But there are ways to mark them up anyway. Some are rather straightforward and others take a little more coding but they all can be marked up in one way or another.

Schema.org recently added the “amenityFeature” property for the Place type (which includes the LocalBusiness type) and for LodgingBusiness of which Hotel is a subtype of. So a local business can do something like this to say that it offers free parking, free wifi, that it’s wheelchair accessible and so on:

"amenityFeature": [       {       "@type": "LocationFeatureSpecification",       "name": "Free Parking",       "value": "True"       },       {       "@type": "LocationFeatureSpecification",       "name": "Free WiFi",       "value": "True"       },       {       "@type": "LocationFeatureSpecification",       "name": "Wheelchair Accessible",       "value": "True"       },       {       "@type": "LocationFeatureSpecification",       "name": "Serves Breakfast",       "value": "True"       },      {       "@type": "LocationFeatureSpecification",       "name": "Has All-You-Can-Eat Buffet",       "value": "True"       }        ], 

By the way, that is the structure that would need to be used if a business was marking up more than one amenity or attribute.

A hotel could also do something like this to mark up the fact that they have an indoor swimming pool that is open everyday from 7 AM to 10 PM. It’s possible that a similar structure could be used to mark up, say, Happy Hour (I guess that depends if a restaurant’s Happy Hour could be considered an “amenity” or not. I’m not sure.).

"amenityFeature": {        "@type": "LocationFeatureSpecification",        "name": "Indoor Swimming Pool",        "hoursAvailable": [        {             "@type": "OpeningHoursSpecification",             "dayOfWeek": "http://schema.org/Sunday",         "opens":  "07:00:00",         "closes": "22:00:00"             },         {             "@type": "OpeningHoursSpecification",         "dayOfWeek": "http://schema.org/Monday",         "opens":  "07:00:00",         "closes": "22:00:00"             },         {             "@type": "OpeningHoursSpecification",         "dayOfWeek": "http://schema.org/Tuesday",         "opens":  "07:00:00",         "closes": "22:00:00"         },         {         "@type": "OpeningHoursSpecification",         "dayOfWeek": "http://schema.org/Wednesday",         "opens":  "07:00:00",         "closes": "22:00:00"         },         {         "@type": "OpeningHoursSpecification",         "dayOfWeek": "http://schema.org/Thursday",         "opens":  "07:00:00",         "closes": "22:00:00"         },         {         "@type": "OpeningHoursSpecification",         "dayOfWeek": "http://schema.org/Friday",         "opens":  "07:00:00",         "closes": "22:00:00"         },         {         "@type": "OpeningHoursSpecification",         "dayOfWeek": "http://schema.org/Saturday",         "opens":  "07:00:00",         "closes": "22:00:00"         }         ], 

And schema.org does have a direct and simple way to mark up the fact that a restaurant accepts reservations and whether or not smoking is allowed. It would simply be:

  "acceptsReservations": "True",   "smokingAllowed": "False",    

The same goes for if a hotel or lodging business allows pets:

 "petsAllowed": "True", 

Now how much of this Google and the other search engines will use, it’s hard to say. But it certainly can’t hurt for a business to mark up their attributes and amenities on their site. If a website’s markup matches the attributes they’ve included on their Google My Business listing, I think that can only help. And we never know what Google will begin pulling out of a site’s structured data to use for something, so I stick by my motto: Mark up as much as possible and be as thorough as possible.”

In sum, in markets where you are looking for a competitive edge, exploration of thorough Schema amenity markup can dovetail, and might sometimes even correlate, with attribution development, enabling you to define features of your business is way your competitors may be overlooking.

3. Reviews

Here on the Moz Blog, we’ve previously discussed the vital importance of giving special treatment to reviews and testimonials on your website. And, as for reviews on third-party websites, I’m going to make a guess that you’ve already seen studies like this one indicating that a whopping 92% of consumers now read online reviews. Most recently, we’ve covered how to make maximum use of the owner response function available on many review platforms as a form of customer service, reputation management, and free marketing.

But there’s a subject we haven’t yet broached regarding reviews that is highly relevant to serving newcomers, and which recently came up in an exchange I had with Phil Rozek surrounding his excellent article, If Nobody in Your Area Cares About Yelp, Should You Still Bother Getting Reviews There?.

Phil brainstormed 7 great reasons for caring about review giant Yelp, including the visibility of Yelp in-SERP stars for your brand searches in Google, and the fact that Yelp feeds reviews to a number of other important platforms like Apple Maps and Bing Places. What I added to Phil’s list is that, even if Yelp isn’t big in your town, it may be huge in the cities from which your newcomer customers hail.

Surveys have repeatedly cited that Yelp is a much bigger deal on the coasts than in the interior United States. Yet, imagine a large hotel located within 3 miles of the newly-built Minnesota Viking’s U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Local people may not be leaving a ton of Yelp reviews of this hotel. Now, imagine that the San Francisco 49ers (having a MUCH different season than this one) are playing in the NFC Championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium on their way to Superbowl glory. San Franciscans are about to pour into Minneapolis, and they’ll be looking at Yelp in extraordinary proportions to find a hotel. If our hypothetical lodging facility has neglected Yelp because it’s no big deal in their home city, they could be losing out on a very lucrative moment.

This scenario is applicable to all third-party review platforms and all relevant local businesses located near major points-of-interest or event sites. This past summer, Wesley Young used his hometown of Frisco, TX to estimate that that 33% of local commerce was generated by non-locals. Meanwhile, here’s an interesting map of the places Americans were moving to and from in 2016. I would recommend that all local businesses consider gathering intel as to the cities that send them the most newcomers, and the review platforms most used in those cities of origin, to be sure a strong reputation is being developed there.

Completing the welcome

In addition to utilizing local business listing data management, attribute-driven website content, and city-of-origin review management to attract newcomers, here are a few more things you can do to round out the welcome message:

  • If you’ve discovered that certain cities tend to send your city of location a significant amount of newcomers, geotarget paid advertising to be shown to that demographic.
  • Your resident local customers may have the leisure to research your business from their desktop computers, but most of your traveling customers will be on their mobile devices. The quality of the mobile experience your website provides is especially critical to this user group.
  • Most good-sized towns and nearly all cities have welcome centers or tourism boards, many of which produce print materials for visitors. Consider advertising in these publications if your industry is included in my above infographic on local needs. And, if you print your own brochures, seek to have them included in the lobbies of as many local hotels and other businesses as possible.
  • Consider offering a new neighbor discount if you’d like to capture this demographic. Businesses like the Welcome Wagon have been facilitating this form of advertising for almost a century. Or, be your own welcoming committee utilizing both print and social media to promote one-time discounts for new homeowners in your area.
  • Look for tie-in opportunities with other local businesses. If our hypothetical family of 6 vacationers dines at Salsa Roja restaurant, could your auto garage, pottery shop, or swim center advertise on the back of the menu, alerting the family to your existence for tomorrow’s things-to-do agenda? How about getting a coupon code included in that ad, or doing some other form of cross-promotion with the restaurant?
  • Speaking of things-to-do, realize opportunities for publishing best-in-city guides to a particular subject that ties into your business model. For example, a gift shop specializing in nature-themed merchandise near a state or national park could write a wild bird guide listing species to be spotted in the area. A gym could publish a guide to the healthiest restaurants in the city or the best places to run. A pediatrician could write about fun places to take kids in their town. A cell phone store could map out areas of highest connectivity in a rural area. A key benefit to this type of relational topic development will be brand discovery by new neighbors and travelers while they are engaging with the useful content.

If your business is tourism-based (like a hotel chain), it’s likely you are already implementing most of these techniques, but it’s my hope that this article will have helped many more industries consider how crafting an appeal to new or non-locals is both applicable and savvy.

At the opening of this piece, I called this a ‘supplemental’ local SEO strategy, to be implemented as appropriate in addition to all you are already doing well to serve your resident population. The amount of resources you devote to this supplemental effort should be based on a) research as to the number of newcomers and tourists your city receives annually and b) the need for your business to distance itself from competitors with a superior effort.

If your findings are good and your need to compete is strong, why not make 2017 the year you extend a well-planned welcome to your share of those millions of consumers who will be on the move?

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


The Moz Blog

ultimate-list-content-creation-tools.jpg

Creating content isn’t always a walk in the park. (In fact, it can sometimes feel more like trying to swim against the current.)

While other parts of business and marketing are becoming increasingly automated, content creation is still a very manual job.

That being said, there are plenty of tools out there to make creating content much easier.

Click here to download our full collection of content creation templates for blog posts, ebooks, infographics, and more.

Below, you’ll find a list of 36 fantastic tools and resources to help you research, write, edit, and design content more easily. (You’ll notice there are a lot of design tools in here — that’s because visual content is often the part of the content creation process where people get the most nervous and frustrated. So don’t worry, we’ve got a ton in there for you.)

Let’s get started.

36 Free Tools & Resources to Make Content Creation Easier

For Researchers

1) Google Drive Research Tool

Google recently added a tool to Drive that allows you to conduct Google searches without ever leaving your Drive window. All you have to do is click “Tools” from the menu bar and choose “Research” from the dropdown menu.

google-drive-research-tool.png

2) Site:search

This is a handy Google hack I use every day. Basically, it allows you to do a Google search that’s limited to a particular website.

For example, if I wanted to search HubSpot’s blog for marketing resources so I can cite one of our old blog posts, I’d do a site:search for blog.hubspot.com with the search term marketing resources. The formula for site search is site:samplewebsite.com [search query]. So my example would be site:blog.hubspot.com marketing resources.

googlesitesearch.png

3) Google Webmaster Tools

Doing SEO and keyword research? Your marketing software should be able to help. But if it can’t (or you’d like to augment your data), Google’s Webmaster Tools can be a great help. You can check things like the number of indexed pages on your website, submit your site to Google so you’re getting crawled and indexed, and even disavow bad inbound links. It also can give you information on search queries that have a large volume of impressions but low clickthrough rate.

Within Google Webmaster Tools, go to “Your site on the web” and choose “Search queries.” You’ll see a table showing a search query, impressions, clicks, and clickthrough rate (CTR). Comparing this data to your other analytics data can help uncover some opportunities.

4) Percentage Change Calculator

I can’t even begin to tell you how useful this little calculator is when looking for and analyzing data. Ever want to know the percentage change of two values without having to remember the formula? Simply enter the two values into this calculator, and it’ll spit out the percentage change. Trust me, you’ll want to bookmark this one.

Here are a few other handy calculators:

  • 3-Way Percentage CalculatorCalculates answers to these questions: What is X% of Y? X is what percent of Y? X is Y% of what?
  • Conversion Rate Calculator Spits out a conversion rate when you enter the total visitor count during a specific time frame and the number of times during that time frame those visitors took a specific action.
  • A/B Test CalculatorWorks for a basic scenario with two groups of people (A & B) who get to see one version of your website and for whom you track the number of conversions or goals (purchases, downloads, clickthroughs, etc.).
  • ROI Calculator Analyzes your website’s monthly sales and lead generation efforts to determine ways in which marketing efforts can be optimized.

5) Atlas

Atlas is Quartz‘s data center, and it’s chock-full of graphs, charts, and data visualizations. You can search for almost any topic or keyword, and Atlas will have a graphic based on recent research data for you. This is a great tool to get background information on a topic you’re researching, or to find fresh data to use in a project you’re working on. Here’s a chart based on data from early 2016:

atlas dogs.pngSource: Atlas

6) Search in a Giphy

You know that coworker who always seems to find the perfect animated GIFs for your social posts or internal chat client? With the free Giphy Chrome extension, you’ll be able to find great GIFs just as quickly.

To use the tool, all you have to do is open the extension in Chrome, search, choose a GIF, and drag and drop. So far, the tool works in Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, and more — and they’re constantly expanding support.

search-in-a-giphy.png

For Writers

7) Evernote

I use the free version of Evernote every single day. From to-do lists and research notes to writing entire chunks of articles, it’s proven helpful at every step of the writing and editing process.

One great feature? Its mobile, desktop, and web apps sync automatically as long as you have an internet connection. (And if you work offline, it’ll sync the next time you have internet.) Plus — and this is super important for content creators like us — it’s constantly saving and syncing your work automatically, making it a safe place to write and store ideas.

Use it to keep a running list of ideas, take notes, store inspiring articles or ebooks, or plan your editorial and social media publishing calendars.

evernote-screenshot.png

8) Word2CleanHTML

If you like drafting blog posts in programs like Microsoft Word, Evernote, or Google Drive instead of your content management system (CMS), then this simple tool can be your best friend. Why? Because when you copy a document from Microsoft Office and paste it into your CMS, lots of little, weird formatting issues can crop up in your HTML.

Word2CleanHTML applies filters to fix all those things added into the HTML, resulting in well-formatted HTML you can paste directly into a web page CMS. Simply paste in your draft, click one button, and then copy the resulting HTML straight from the tool. When you paste that into your CMS (most will have buttons reading “HTML” or “</>” in their tool bar above your draft), it will appear nice and clean. No hair-pulling or swimming through code required.

9) WordCounter

There is no “right answer” for how long a blog post should be. As long as it serves its purpose — whether that’s thought leadership, driving leads, explaining a new concept, or something else — length doesn’t matter. But although we don’t recommend writing blog posts with a word count in mind, sometimes word count can come in handy. WordCounter works exactly the way you think it does: Paste in your content and it’ll spit out exactly how many words you have.

10) Cofftivity

According to a study out of the University of Chicago, “A moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition.” In other words, being the tiniest bit distracted actually helps you be more creative. That’s why for many people, myself included, white noise helps promote focus.

There are a lot of white noise generators out there, but my favorite is Cofftivity. This particular one offers non-stop café background sounds at varying intensities, from “Morning Murmur” and “University Undertones” to “Lunchtime Lounge” and “Brazil Bistro.” It’s available on the web and as an app on iOS and Android.

11) & 12) Zerys & eLance

Need to start creating content but don’t have the bandwidth? We hear about this roadblock a lot. One way to get around it is by hiring freelancers from reputable marketplaces like Zerys or eLance. These resources give you access to skilled freelance writers who can write blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers, and other pieces of written content for you.

13) HTML Hacks for Marketers

While this isn’t strictly a writing resource, basic coding knowledge is quickly becoming a must-have skill for the modern marketer — bloggers and written content creators included. But learning from scratch can be daunting. Where on earth do you start?

If you’re a total beginner, start with HTML Hacks for Marketers, which my colleagues at HubSpot created with Codeacademy. It’ll teach you quick but useful hacks anyone — regardless of coding knowledge — can use in their marketing. For example, you’ll learn how to make small changes to HTML like altering headers and spacing, creating text in block-quote form, and inserting social share links. My personal favorite is the hack to change font colors.

Once you’ve mastered these basic HTML skills, move on to Codeacademy’s free interactive courses. They found a way to make learning HTML and CSS actually fun — and you can go through each lesson at your own pace.

14) Blog Topic Generator

If you need to get to writing blog posts but aren’t sure of an angle or title to get your creativity moving, HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator can do the work for you. Simply enter a few keywords that your blog focuses on, and the Blog Topic Generator will produce a week’s worth of titles and topic ideas for you. It might not produce the final title of your blog post, but it helps get you thinking about creative new angles for topics you’ve written about before.

Here are the blog post titles I received when I entered “content,” “inbound marketing,” and “blogging”:

generator_contentcreation.png

15) Blog Post Templates

All blog posts aren’t created equal, but we’ve found that there are steps you can take to make your posts comprehensive and shareable. With these blog post templates, we’ll walk you through an outline to write successful how-to, listicle, newsjack, and curation blog posts. Instead of starting from scratch, you’ll save time and, hopefully, nail your blog goals.

For Content Editors

16) Editorial Calendar Template

Creating a balanced editorial calendar can be tough, especially if you don’t have one centralized calendar that you and your team can refer to. To save you time and headache, we’ve created editorial calendar templates for Google Calendar, Google Sheets, and Excel that you can fill in and share with your team to start the next month or year off on the right foot.

17) & 18) Grammarly & Correctica

While human editors will be able to catch most grammatical errors, editing tools like Grammarly and Correctica are great tools for triple-checking before you press “publish” or “send.” Both free tools check for grammatical errors — and Grammarly even checks for plagiarism.

19) Hemingway App

Ernest Hemingway, admired for his succinct writing style, is the namesake for this handy editing app. Want to make your written content easier to read? Paste your content into this free web app, and it’ll assess your writing and identify opportunities to make it simpler.

My favorite features include identifying passive voice and hard-to-read sentences. Check out the right-hand side of the screenshot below, where the tool has summed up how readable my writing is with a grade. (Some room for improvement here.) Their suggestion to improve readability overall? Shoot for lower than a 10th grade reading level.

hemingway-app-screenshot.png

20) Headline Analyzer

Here’s a scary stat for you: Only 60% of people who click into an article end up reading past the headline. That makes your headline both the first and possibly the only chance for you to compel readers to keep reading — so it’s totally worth it to spend the extra few minutes coming up with a really good one.

What does a really good headline look like? The free tool Headline Analyzer by CoSchedule can tell you. It scores your headline quality and rates its ability to drive social shares, traffic, and SEO value. In my experience, its strength is helping you strengthen specific components of your title. For example, it reports on perceived sentiment and commonality of word types. It’ll even show you how it will appear in search results.

So although you should take these scores and grades with a grain of salt, you can use this to give your headlines a “once-over.” (And read this blog post to learn more about writing awesome headlines.)

For Designers

21) Nimbus Screenshot

This is another tool I use every day. Sure, you can capture a screenshot of your entire screen or part of your screen using the old keyboard shortcut method. But what if you want your screenshot to include stuff that’s not visible on your screen?

Nimbus Screenshot lets you capture the visible part of a web page, a selected area, a selected scroll (my personal favorite), the entire page, or the entire browser window — including everything below the fold.

nimbus-screenshot.png

Once you’ve taken the screenshot, you can crop, edit (like adding notes and callouts), and choose to print or save to your desktop or Google Drive.

22) Canva

If you like creating beautiful visual content in a really short amount of time, you’ll love Canva. The time and resources it takes to learn design, pay for design assets, and/or get inspired to create beauty from scratch can be really difficult when you’re staring at a long list of to-dos — but Canva offers a huge library of pre-made templates and assets that you can manipulate while also adding your own imagery.

Best of all, they have so many assets and graphics available for free that you won’t have to pay a cent if you don’t want to. If you want to use more “premium” assets and graphics found through their image search, they’ll charge you $ 1 for each. But there’s plenty of value for free.

Here’s an example of something you could make:

hubspot_canva_example

23) ThingLink

Ever wanted to make an image (or infographic) clickable? ThingLink lets you upload an image and add little icons to it that appear when a person hovers their cursor over the image. These icons allow users to visit links, watch videos, or read messages you’ve written. Plus, it’s easy to share: Users can easily embed ThingLink images. (Click here for step-by-step instructions.)

Below is part of a a clickable infographic from Thinglink my colleague Ginny Mineo created for another post:

24) Skitch

Skitch is a free app by Evernote that helps you communicate more visually. It lets you mark up images, digital assets, PDFs, and other files with arrows, callout boxes, text, and more all in one place.

In the example below, I opened the program on my desktop and used the “Screen Snap” button to take a screenshot of a web page — which then opened right in Skitch for editing and exporting.

skitch-by-evernote.png

Although it’s free, it does require you to open an Evernote account — but that’s also free (see above).

25) Infogram

While similar to Canva, Infogram is a visual content tool that focuses on helping you create infographics, charts, and data visualization. If you like to create charts using Microsoft Excel, you’re in luck — it also offers compatibility with Excel through Infogram Charts. Also, their infographics are responsive with mobile devices.

26) Infographic Templates

As a content marketer, you might feel more comfortable creating written content than visual content, but that’s no excuse to exclude infographics from your strategy. Visual content is growing in demand from your audience, and infographics are particularly shareable. We’ve created the backbones of 15 different templates that you can easily play around with to customize for your content and audience — here’s a sneak peek of one template, and you can grab the rest here

IGtemplate_datageek.png

Source: 15 Free Infographic Templates in PowerPoint

27) Google Fonts

Want to spruce up your site pages, presentations, ebooks, and other content with cool and different new fonts? Little-known fact: Google has a directory of 600 free fonts ready for you to download and use.

Simply find and select the fonts you like from their directory, then click “Use” to get the HTML code you can copy and paste onto your site. Alternatively, you can download the fonts to your desktop and use them when making new marketing content by clicking “Add to Collection.” (Click here for step-by-step instructions for doing this in the HubSpot software.)

google-web-fonts.png

28) Image Color Picker

Remember that time you wanted to match your call-to-action design to that color you were using on all your event swag … but the one person who would know what that color was didn’t work at your company anymore? Next time that happens, snag a picture of that swag and upload it to ImageColorPicker.com, or use any image URL to do the same thing. Select any point of the picture, and immediately see its corresponding HEX, RGB, and HSV values.

29) PowerPoint Templates

Is there anything more boring than a PowerPoint presentation featuring black text on a white background? With the help of these templates, you’ll be able to put together compelling, visually appealing presentations. Whether you’re driving lead generation or reporting on your blog’s growth to your team, keep your audience’s attention with these eye-catching presentations.

30) SlideShare Templates

SlideShare doesn’t need to be daunting. You can easily create shareable, embeddable SlideShare presentations in PowerPoint with the help of these templates — no need to start from scratch or hire a freelancer. Once you’ve created your first presentation, check out our guide to marketing SlideShares successfully.

31) Haiku Deck

If you’ve ever had to create a PowerPoint or SlideShare presentation in a pinch, you’ll wish you knew about Haiku Deck. This tool helps you quickly find simple layouts, beautiful images, and great fonts. It’s available for the web and for iPad.

Want to see what one looks like? Below’s an example I pulled from their list of featured decks. Note the simplicity of the design — if you want to create super detailed slides, this may not be the right tool for you.


Snowed In? – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

32) HubSpot’s Free Stock Photos

Searching for and buying stock imagery can be a pain in the you-know-what — especially when it comes to deciphering legalese for different use cases. I have a liberal arts degree, and Nietzsche was easier to read than whatever legalese stock imagery companies tended to give me. All I wanted to know is whether to cite or not cite a stock image of a laptop. Why was it so hard?

That’s why our team decided to create a library of 550+ free and royalty-free stock photos. Whether it’s a unique image needed for an ebook or that perfect photo you want to add to a blog post, that collection should have you covered. Here’s one of our “around the kitchen” stock photos — yum.

candy-3.jpg

Source: The Free Stock Photos You’ve Been Searching For

33) PlaceIt

PlaceIt serves a very specific purpose: It allows you to upload images of your site or product into real-world environments of people holding phones, tablets, and laptops. PlaceIt will automatically alter the image to make it appear natural with the angle of the phone’s screen — which will save you time learning and/or editing in more advanced software to get the angle right.

place-it-example.png

You’ll have to pay per image to get really large or high-resolution versions, though I’ve found free images work just fine for blog posts and product page content. The paid downloads also remove that PlaceIt watermark from the bottom right.

34) LICEcap

Looking for the perfect GIF to include in your blog post? If it doesn’t already exist on Giphy, you can make one yourself using LICEcap. Film a screenshot and turn it into a GIF using this handy, free tool — we use LICEcap for our blog posts, too. 

35) & 36) The Noun Project & HubSpot’s Resizable Icons Collection

Like with stock photos, another challenge content creators face is finding elegant icons that resize without getting all fuzzy. There are a few resources out there for great, resizable icons.

The Noun Project is an extensive library of thousands of icons uploaded by contributors. With a free account, you can use icons as long as you either give credit to the creator or purchase them royalty-free for $ 1.99 apiece.

HubSpot has a library of resizeable icons, too, which you can download for free and without any licensing or attribution. The kit comes with a free guide for how to change the color of the icons using PowerPoint, Photoshop, and Illustrator.

To that, we say …

general-icons-26

(From HubSpot’s Free Icon Collection.)

It’s Not the Wand, It’s the Wizard

The tools and resources listed above can help you create, but it’s ultimately up to you to control the quality of your content. You still need to know your customer incredibly well, understand what challenges they face that your product or service solves, and create content that helps them address those challenges.

The brains and heart behind the content creator trump the code behind any tools and technology — and that’s a good thing for succeeding in marketing today.

What other tools or apps do you use to create content more easily? Leave them in the comments so we can extend this list right here!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

free content creation templates


HubSpot Marketing Blog

Uploaded by Dr-Pete You have actually been listening to a great deal about featured snippets from us at Moz recently, including just how they power answers on the most up to date technology wish-list product, Google Residence. I wish by now that you understand the value of ranking “# 0,”but you may be left questioning where to start. Exactly how do you find concerns, figure out if they have showcased bits, as well as track them gradually?

I more than happy to say that, between Keyword phrase Traveler and also Moz Pro, we currently have every one of the devices you have to practically deal with highlighted bits in a means that will certainly know for almost any type of SEO. This message takes you through the full featured bit discovery and also tracking cycle, from beginning to finish.

Step 1– Searching for questions

Locating concern expressions that could cause featured snippets is, most importantly, a keyword research study trouble. So, let’s fire up Keyword phrase Explorer and also examine out some key words for”search engine optimization.” Click on”Key phrase Suggestions” and you’ll see a list like this one … The 3rd phrase on this list–“how you can do seo”– certainly looks promising. Indeed, if I run a Google search for that expression, I see a featured snippet from Internet search engine Land: < p class="full-width">

This is all well as well as good, but it’s going to take a great deal of hands-on excavating via key phrases to find inquiries. Isn’t really there a simpler means? Luckily, yes. On the pull-down on the upper left, the last option is [are inquiries] Offer it a shot, and you’ll obtain back something like these results …

< img src="http://smyrnathemes.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/583de15926a6a4.14224848.png"style= "border: 0px;"> I have actually filtered the listing to consist of only expressions with search quantities of 101 +, as well as currently we have actually got a quite solid checklist. These concerns are a mix of machine-gathered as well as machine-generated, so a few of them will need a human touch, but it’s a terrific starting factor.

Step 1b– More questions

Here’s an additional trick to try. What happens if you’re interested in a details sort of concern, like “Why …?” concerns? Attempt going into a common question into Keyword phrase Traveler, such as “why search engine optimization.” You’ll come back suggestions like these:

Non just do several of these questions show featured snippets, but this kind of study is likewise fantastic for content thinking. These are exactly the type of inquiries individuals want answered, including prospective customers.Step 2– Picking questions So, let’s put our very first checklist to work. You

might desire to validate the existence of highlighted snippets by hand, sometimes, yet given that I have actually only got 38 inquiries to deal with, I’m mosting likely to proceed and track every one of the ones that seem reasonable. So, I’ll pick what I want from my list, and also then, making use of the pull-down over the keyword list, I could add those key words to a checklist in Search phrase Explorer: In this situation, I have actually selected 20 keyphrases of the 38 I removed. Provide the

list a little time to accumulate stats, then you could visit the checklist web page directly. Initially glance, we have actually currently obtained some good news on the checklist web page– 16 of 20 phrases are revealing featured fragments: Scroll down to the full list details, and also you could see even more statistics for the keywords/questions. You can utilize these stats to filter your alternatives down a lot more, yet given that I’ve just obtained 20 in this listing, I’m going to proceed as well as include them all to among my Moz Pro campaigns. Just select “I wish to …” at the top-left and then [Include … to project]:

You’ll obtain a pop-over (which is ideally self-explanatory)

asking you to choose a campaign. Action 3– Tracking inquiries This is where the enjoyable truly starts. When we have actually collected campaign data on the brand-new key words, go to your campaign, select the “Rankings” food selection, and afterwards go to “SERP Features.” I have actually added the label “inquiries” to my new keywords, just to make tracking simpler. You’ll see a graph of all features throughout the top, and after that a search filter and below. I’m going to filter on my label, and also I finish up with something such as this:

From here, I could quickly see which keyword phrases have which attributes (included fragments are noted by the scissors icon ). For featured snippets, the shade codes also show which snippets my campaign is represented in vs. my campaign rivals. For instance, the snippet for “how to do Search Engine Optimization” is inhabited by a competitor I track. Notice, though, that I also rank # 2 for that inquiry, and also there’s an extra option identified “Insights” next to the position. Click that, as well as you’ll see a message from our lead SEO, Britney Muller:

Included bits are organic outcomes that Google aesthetically improves as well as positions above natural position 1. Therefore they appear more authoritative to individuals as well as experience higher click-thru prices. Given that you remain in the top 5 organic outcomes, you could have a possibility to win this highlighted bit and raise your traffic.

We have actually determined that, if you rate in the top 5 and also don’t presently occupy the featured snippet, this is an excellent chance to buy revising your web content to much better target that question as well as potentially take the “# 0” spot. Looking throughout my whole list, which I trimmed down to only 20 questions, I could quickly spot a solid handful of opportunities– specific query/page combos to target for featured bits.

Step 4– Reaching work

I’ve written a lot more in various other posts regarding ways to win highlighted fragments, as well as Ronell Smith had a great article just recently on keeping those hard-won snippets. The following step is doing the job as well as continuouslying track your inquiry key phrase list till thescissors finally turn blue: I want to say that featured snippets are something you get to maintain permanently, however like organic positions, they’re granted in real-time and also are an ongoing battle. Fortunately, with Moz Pro, you can< a href=" https://moz.com/mozpro/lander/serp-features"target=" _ blank"> screen featured fragments equally as you would certainly natural rankings. You can try some concern study in Search phrase Traveler for cost-free( also if you’re not a Moz Pro consumer), so offer it a spin and start thinking concerning just how you can supply far better responses for search customers.< br/ > Enroll in The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer upgrading you on the top 10 hottest items of Search Engine Optimization

news, pointers, and also rad web links discovered by the Moz group. Think about it as your unique digest of stuff you do not have time to pursue yet intend to review! < a rel ="nofollow"href=" http://tracking.feedpress.it/link/9375/5001849"> The Moz Blog

BestOOOmessages-1.png

When it comes to the final days before vacation, people tend to fall into one of two camps: 1) those who watch the clock incessantly, and 2) those who are so busy before they leave, they might even forget to put up an out-of-office email message.

If you’re anything like I am, you probably fall into team two. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to get creative. But if you plan ahead, you might be able to craft some hilarity.

Out-of-office messages run the gamut. From funny, to clever, to snarky, we’ve come across some of the best — from Google, and from colleagues.

Subscribe to one of HubSpot's Blogs here to access our extended collection of  hilarious and entertaining OOO email templates. 

Here are some of the gems we found. And once you’re back from vacation? Well, not to rush you, but this email productivity guide can help you get back on track after your out-of-office time.

10 Funny Out-of-Office Messages

1) The Not-So-Tropical Getaway

We’ll give this guy first place, since we almost feel bad for him. Almost. Rather than using an out-of-office message for a tropical vacation, he used one to explain his absence during what would likely be a snow storm. Not only did it give us a chuckle, but it also generated a certain amount of empathy — which is often the key to good content.

Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 11.16.36 AM.png

Source: New Relic

2) The Sorry-I’m-Not-Sorry

If your email client allows it, you could always just use an image to express your out-office-sentiment, like this one. After all, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words — and, visual content is still essential to successful marketing.

32b136f.jpg

Source: Barry Moroney

3) The Popular Film Reference

Are you familiar with the film Field of Dreams? If not, allow us to fill you in. It centers around baseball and a family in Iowa, but saying any more might spoil the plotline. 

Movie synopses aside, the opening line of this out-of-office message was taken directly from the Field of Dreams script — fitting, given the sender’s travels to Iowa. So before you leave, research some famous quotes about the place you’re visiting. It might test the recipient’s knowledge, but more likely, it’ll just make them smile.

Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 11.32.32 AM.png

Source: New Relic

4) The Scavenger Hunt

When my colleague Sam Mallikarjunan went on vacation, he set an out-of-office message that was both clever and smart. First, he sent the recipient on an imaginary scavenger hunt to “the highest peak of the tallest mountain.” He used humorous absurdity to make it clear that he would not be checking email while he was away.

Plus, he incorporated a delightful technique to let people know that if they really wanted him to read their emails, they should probably send them again after his return. Not only does that keep the sender accountable by saying, “If this is really important, you know when to reach me,” but it also helps Mallikarjunan truly vacate his work while he’s away. And that’s hard to do — And if you struggle with it, check out these tips.

SMOOO2

Source: Sam Mallikarjunan

5) The Blunt Approach

Josh Kopelman, we salute you.

Not only did Kopelman manage to turn his out-of-office message into an epic poem of sorts, but also, he actually went through the trouble of creating a delightfully snarky, vacation-specific email address for his recipients.

Giving the option to contact an email address containing “interruptyourvacation” provides two things — 1) A dose of humor, and 2) discouragement from actually doing what the name suggests. Plus, he prefaces it with a request for empathy, by explaining that he promised quality time to his family.

Here’s where honesty is a helpful device. Sure, Kopelman is truthful about the fact that he’s on vacation, but he also lets the recipient know that he or she would be interrupting important family time if the first option is chosen. It states a point simply, and uses humor to avoid making it sound like he wants the reader to feel guilty.

Josh Kopelman OOO.png

Source: Gizmodo

6) The Third Person

When HubSpot Marketing Manager Karsten Köhler is out of the office, he doesn’t mess around. In fact, he’s turned his auto-responses into a running series of commentary for fictional cartoon character Troy McClure.

Each time McClure makes an appearance in these out-of-office messages, he “speaks” on behalf of Köhler and alludes to the previous auto-responses in which he starred. It’s a mild form of self-deprecating humor — as if to say, “I know, I’m out of the office again” — made only funnier by the made-up teaser title included in the last line.

As with the Field of Dreams example, don’t be afraid to use a pop cultural reference that audience would recognize. Instead of bemoaning your absence, they’ll have something fun and familiar to laugh at.

Karsten OOO

Source: Karsten Köhler

7) The Twitter Method

… and then, there was the out-of-office tweet. We’re not entirely sure where it originated, but it has two sides.

If you actually want people to be able to reach you, and you’re more likely to be checking Twitter than email while out of the office, it might be an effective way for people to reach you.

But if you tend to use social media during vacation and really do want to be left alone, we would suggest offering a different communication method in your auto-response.

8) The Lack of Filter

There seems to be a widespread belief that you’re not allowed to brag in your out-of-office message. But if you ask HubSpot Marketing Director Ryan Bonnici, who needs a filter when you’ve got a great vacation?

We love about this auto-response because of the marketing humor it injects with hashtags like #TMI and #SorryNotSorry. And, it’s not trying to hide anything, making it clear that Bonnici is on vacation and doesn’t really want to read your email while he’s away. But don’t worry, he says, soon you’ll be on vacation, too, which will fill him with his own karmic envy.

This message also pays tribute to the colleagues who are keeping matters in order during his absence. He specifically lists the best contact for each issue, along with a fun fact about them. Not only do I know who to ask about Field & Events, but I can ask for her dip recipe.

So don’t just be honest in your out-of-office — give credit to the people who are handling things while you’re gone.

RyanBooo

Source: Ryan Bonnici

9) The Liquid Update

We wish we could find the original source of this one. It’s made several lists, and its author is likely a legend within his or her network.

That said, even though we’ve been preaching honesty as the best policy, be careful with messages that are this transparent. Make sure you’re familiar enough with your audience — and your boss, for that matter — to know that this sort of out-of-office message will be met with a snicker, and not with concern.

I am currently out of the office and probably out-of-my-mind drunk. Enjoy your work week.”

10) The Sneak Preview

I have a confession to make. I’m writing this post on the dawn of my own vacation.

Perhaps I had ulterior motives for seeking these examples, in that I was hoping to find inspiration for my very own out-of-office message. And if you ask me, they all have great elements that I’d like to borrow.

So, without further ado — Sorry to have missed you.

AZW_OOO2 

What clever out-of-office replies have you come across? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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HubSpot Marketing Blog

SEO and Digital Trends in 2017

Posted by gfiorelli1

Disclaimer: This post, as with every post that aims to predict the future, should be taken with a grain of salt — no matter how authoritative the author.

The main purpose of this post is to offer ideas and open a constructive discussion around the future of SEO and digital marketing over the next 12 months.

Days of Future Past

2016 is, finally, close to its end.

It was an intense year, especially when it came to SEO and Google in particular. Because I’m deeply convinced that we cannot attempt any preview of the future without considering what happened in the past, I invite you to look back at the events that have marked the evolution of Google in the past 10 months.

It is important to note that, contrary to more classic Google timelines, I prefer to see all Google-related events in the same place. I believe it’s the only way we can escape from a too-narrow vision of where Google is headed:

Click to view a larger image

Blue: Official Google Updates
Red: Businesses/companies acquired by Google/Alphabet
Green: Main posts in Google Webmaster Blog
Purple: Main Google patents published
Brown: Products Google launched in the market

What we can learn from this timeline?

This:

  1. Google is steadily moving to a mobile-only world. Mobile-first indexing seems like the inevitable consequence of a year (or more) almost exclusively dedicated to evangelizing and forcing a change of mindset from desktop to mobile.
  2. Albeit links are still essential for rankings (see Penguin 4.0), Google’s investigative efforts seem almost fully devoted to entity, predictive, and personalized search. Again, quite logical if we consider deeply personal devices like mobile and home assistants.
  3. For the same reason, voice search seems to be the next frontier of search, partly because Bing — using a different business strategy than Google — may represent a big competitor in this arena.
  4. Since John Giannandrea has become the Senior Vice President of Search at Google, machine and deep learning began to be used by default in every facet of Google Search. Thus, we should expect them to be used even more in 2017, perhaps with specific algorithms improving Hummingbird at every phase.
  5. In a mobile-only world, the relevance of local search is even higher. This seems to be the strategic reason both for an update like Possum and all the tests we see in local, and also of the acquisition of a company like Urban Engines, whose purpose is to analyze the “Internet of Moving Things.”
  6. The acquisition of startups like MoodStock and EyeFluence (but also Anvato and Famebit) seems to suggest that video/images and video/images marketing will be a central focus for Google, perhaps also because YouTube is struggling against Facebook (and not just Facebook) when it comes to videos/images and their monetization.

The shift from desktop-first to mobile-first

Until now, SEOs have considered mobile search to be one of the many specializations of SEO, on the same level as local search or international SEO.

That mentality did not change much when, back in 2015, Google announced AMP. Moreover, us SEOs considered AMP just another (often annoying) “added task” to our implementation checklist, and not as a signal of the real intentions of Google: Mobile search is all search.

With the announcement of mobile-first indexing, though, these intentions are now 100% clear, and somehow they represent a Copernican Revolution: After 18 years of prioritizing desktop, now we have to prioritize mobile.

The reason for this epochal change is evident if we look at the source of the search traffic (both organic and paid) for our sites:

Click to view a larger image

I designed this chart using the search traffic data Similarweb offers us. For all the industries categorized by Similarweb, I took the first five websites per search traffic volume in the USA during last November, and saw for each one of them how much traffic was from desktop and how much from mobile during the past three months.

Even though this analysis cannot be considered exhaustive and granular, as I hadn’t considered the industries subcategories and I hadn’t considered the “long-tail websites,” surely it’s indicative of a trend.

The results are clearly telling us that mobile search is bringing more traffic to websites than desktop: 20 industry niches out of 24 see mobile as their first source of traffic.

The four industry niche exceptions to this general rule are important ones, though:

  1. Computer & Electronics
  2. Internet & Telecom
  3. Science
  4. Travel

A good example of a website that still sees desktop search as its main source of search traffic is Tripadvisor.com:

  • Desktop search traffic represents 71% of all traffic from desktop
  • Mobile search traffic represents “only” 55.79% of all traffic from mobile

However, these same percentages should also make us reflect. They don’t mean that TripAdvisor isn’t visited on mobile, but that other channels are relevant traffic sources on mobile more than desktop (such as direct, not to mention the mobile-only app).

AMP, then, was the main character in the Google Search-branded storytelling about mobile this year.

Google announced AMP in October 2015, and by April already 37% of news sites’ articles had an AMP version, according to a study by the GDELT Project.

However, the same study reported that, globally, only 40% of all news sites articles had a mobile version of any kind.

It must be underlined that the GDELT Project study refers only to news sites and not ecommerce or other kinds of websites, which see heavier use of mobile or responsive versions. Nevertheless, it can still be considered a good barometer of the reality of the web overall.

Speaking of “barometers,” the Consumer Barometer with Google for 2016 is showing us important trends for the USA, like this one:

The percentage of people mainly using a smartphone is growing, while the percentage of people mainly using desktop is decreasing with respect to 2015 (or is stable if we consider the last 5 years).

Beware, though: If you analyze the trends in other countries, like some Asian or European ones, the percent of people using mainly smartphones is even greater.

Does this mean that we should neglect desktop search? No! If wid, it would be a big mistake, especially if our website were an ecommerce site.

The chart below, based on the same Consumer Barometer with Google data, tells us clearly that desktop is still by far the most-used device for product research (desktop is in orange):

Click to view a larger image

This insight must be considered if we’re planning to redesign our site, to find a balance in terms of site usability for both desktop and mobile… and I cannot help but think that the subtle (and recently not-so-subtle) suggestion from Google of moving from mobile/responsive to PWA is also influenced by this reality.

What to plan for 2017?

Prepare for mobile-first indexing

When Google announced mobile-first indexing last November 4th, it did not say that the change would happen that same day, or even after a few days.

Google, instead, said this:

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first.

This means that we are still in a desktop-first index, but it’s almost sure that it’ll switch to mobile-first in 2017.

As happened with Mobilegeddon in 2015, Google is giving us plenty of time for:

  1. Creating a mobile version with any possible format (m. site, responsive, adaptive, PWA) of our site if we still haven’t (remember how few news sites’ articles have a mobile version?).
  2. Making the content and pages presented both in mobile and desktop versions the same. Be aware that this is the only possible way to really lose rankings, because if in desktop search we have visible content and pages that were discarded in our mobile version, when mobile-first deploys, it will lose that SEO visibility. For this reason, Google suggests responsive as the easiest way to avoid this problem.
  3. Implementing structured data in our mobile versions, because it’s usually neglected in the interest of speed (and Google needs that information!).
  4. Eventually — and hopefully — reconsidering all the user experience and conversion optimization we offer on desktop and mobile (check out this deck by Talia Wolf from MozCon). For instance, in recent months — because of the Google demotion of tabbed content — many websites started to get rid of tabs and present all their content at once. This limitation won’t apply anymore once mobile-first comes.
  5. Rethinking and planning a new link building strategy if we have a separate m. mobile site. This is more of a defensive strategy suggestion, though, because we still don’t know what will happen to inbound links to desktop versions in a mobile-first indexing world. It may happen that Google will find a way to make the Link Graph independent from the nature of the sites.

In light of what Google has told us about mobile-first indexing, and that you can find finely discussed here in this Q&A on Search Engine Land, If I had to give an extreme suggestion, it would be this:

if you have a very bad mobile version, and if you know that you’re not going to have a new, fully functional one in time for the end of 2017, then (absurdly) it could be better for you to have a desktop-only site.

In fact, Google has repeatedly said that mobile-first does not mean that it won’t index the desktop version of a site. To the contrary: If a site doesn’t have any mobile version, Google will index and consider for rankings its desktop one. And this will be the case even if that same website has an AMP version.

Finally, I strongly urge you to update (or download, if you still don’t use it) Screaming Frog.

In its very recent 7.0 version, Screaming Frog allows us to fetch and render crawled pages, something that before was only possible (and with a painful one-by-one URL process) via Google Search Console. Obviously, remember to set up Screaming Frog to emulate the Googlebot smartphone crawler.

Moreover, Screaming Frog now also alerts us to any blocked resource that could impede the correct rendering of our pages, again just as GSC does — but without the pain.

AMP

Despite some concerns AMP is generating amongst some bigs news sites, web owners, and SEOs, it doesn’t seem that Google will reduce pressure for a large number of websites to adopt it.

On the contrary! In fact, if AMP was at first directed to news websites (and blogs), recently Google started presenting AMP results for recipe sites too:

And for an ecommerce website like Ebay (one of the founders of the AMP Project):

Therefore, if your website is already receiving a great volume of traffic from mobile search, you might start scheduling the creation of an AMP version.

This should be a priority for a blog, a news site, or a recipe site.

However, if you have an ecommerce site, it could be interesting to AMP-lify a category to test the performance and ROI of creating an AMP version of it, as the AMP Project suggests here. Not every functionality that’s standard in ecommerce is possible with AMP, but if I had to bet, this is the niche where the AMP Project will see its biggest enhancements; Google and Ebay are too deeply involved to ignore it.

That said, if you are an ecommerce site, while it can be exciting to experiment with AMP, your real strategic choice should be going PWA.

Resources about AMP

Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

I am quite confident that If there’s a main trending topic for 2017, it will be Progressive Web Apps.

Not only has Google already started evangelizing it publicly via its Webmaster blog and developer website, but Googlers are informally suggesting it in conferences and private chats.

As we’ve seen above, ecommerce websites are not yet fully AMP-lifiable.

Moreover, three seconds is the new fast, according to this study Google presented last September. Even a very well-optimized responsive or m. site can barely perform with an average SiteSpeed like that if we consider how heavy web pages are right now.

Then comes the other obsession of Google: security… and PWA only works with HTTPS.

So, it’s as easy as summing 1+1 to foresee how Google will push websites’ owners to go PWA.

The only setback to this evangelization, ironically, could be mobile-first indexing, which is still very uncertain in all its details, hence causing people to hold off.

However, if you’re an ecommerce site, don’t have an app, or are reconsidering the opportunity of constantly maintaining two apps (iOS and Android) because of the need to rationalize costs, then Progressive Web Apps can be your best choice, as they allow a website to work as if it were an app (and offline, too).

Again, as we sometimes forget, SEO’s future will be determined on a macro- and micro-scale by business decisions.

Resources about PWA

Understanding language is the holy grail of machine learning

This phrase is the headline of the Natural Language Understanding Team page page on Google’s Research website. The author of this phrase? John Giannandrea, Senior Vice President for Search at Google.

On that same page, we also find this:

Recent research interests of the Google NLU team include syntax, discourse, conversation, multilingual modeling, sentiment analysis, question answering, summarization, and generally building better learners using labeled and unlabeled data, state-of-the-art modeling, and indirect supervision.

With that declaration in mind, we have a better understanding of what Google is doing by simply looking at some patents this team has published:

Context, as you can see, tends to be recurrent, and — as anyone who’s studied linguistic and semantics knows — this is a very easy thing to understand.

A classic example is how “carro” means “car” in Mexico and means “carriage” or “wagon” in Spain. The meaning of a world can radically change because of context, in this case cultural context.

Context is fundamental for understanding the meaning of the implicit and compound facets of any conversation, which is fundamental for the successful development of completely new search environments like Google Assistant and Google Home. Will Critchlow (with the collaboration of Tom Anthony) explained this well at The Inbounder last May:

Finally, context and natural language are partly the basis (for what we know) of the infamous RankBrain, as vectors too are contextual (and contexts by themselves), as Bill Slawski explains in this post.

Moreover, Google finally seems serious about understanding one of the most common (and most complex) aspects of natural language: metaphors. And once they’re able to understand the meaning of metaphors, understanding the meaning of all the other rhetorical figures people use when talking (and writing) will be an easy incremental step for Google.

Why does Google have this irresistible interest in natural language?

Sure, on an ideal level, it’s because Google wants “to provide the better answer to users’ needs,” and to do that, Google must:

  1. Understand what each web document is about (semantics);
  2. Understand what users are actually searching for, now more and more using their voice and typing in the search box (natural language processing).

Another ideal reason is that “You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer“.

But then there are more earthly (aka: business) reasons:

  1. Voice Assistants adoption is growing, as reported by MindMeld;
  2. 40% of Voice Assistant users started using it only 6 months ago, which is a sign that the “early adopters” phase seems passing testimony to the “mainstream users” phase;
  3. Already 20% of mobile queries are Voice Search (and will be 50% in 2020, according to Microsoft);
  4. The primary setting for voice search is our home (followed by our car), according to a KPCB study;
  5. Already in 2014, Google was reporting that the biggest percentage of voice search users were teens. Those teens are growing, getting jobs, and becoming parents;
  6. Amazon sold about 5 million Amazon Echo in the last two years, and Amazon reported that “Echo Dot and Echo Tap, two smaller and cheaper versions of the traditional Echo device, accounted for at least 33 percent of sales in the past six months” (source: Geekwire).

These are some of the reasons why Google developed Google Assistant (a completely new search environment, as defined by Google itself at Google I/O) and Google Home, and that’s why Google announced that Voice Search reporting will come to Google Search Console in the future.

As in the past with Android, Google is entering in the market when all its competitors are already established. Let’s see, thanks to the adoption of Android as a mobile OS, if it will be able to recover its position and eventually become the market leader.

What to plan for 2017?

When it comes to natural language, voice search, and intelligent voice assistants, what SEOs can do is more related to optimizing for the parsing and indexing phases of the Google algorithm than to rankings themselves.

I talked about this idea in my last post here on Moz — Wake Up, SEOs – the NEW New Google is Here — so I won’t repeat myself, but I do suggest you go read it (again).

More concretely, I would plan these tasks for the first month of 2017:

This is needed not only because Google will eventually use mobile-first indexing and these usually don’t have schema implemented, but also because structured data is one of the fundamental tools Google uses for understanding the meaning of a web document. Moreover, Google is really pushing rich cards for mobile search, somehow replicating the incentivization strategy used in the past with rich snippets.

Are you worried about performance? Then it’s time to adopt JSON-LD (paranoiac thought: is this also a reason why Google strongly insisted on JSON-LD for structured data?).

Featured snippets are even more prominent on mobile search, and also used by Google Home to offer answers, even though — as wisely said by Dr. Pete here on Moz — it’s still not clear how that will translate into a click to our website.

Right now there are several tools that allow us to investigate and know what queries fire up a featured snippet (apart from all the other SERPs features). The ones I use are these:

    • GetStat
    • Moz, both Keyword Explorer (SERPS Analysis) and Moz Pro Campaigns (SERP Features and Analyze Keywords in the Rankings section)
    • SEMRush, in the Positions page of the Organic Research section of its Domain Analysis, which also offers to visualize a snapshot of the SERP for each keyword

SEMRush SERP snapshot, and an example of how a featured snippet can be generated from an ecommerce category page (the SEO for Amazon must be very happy, I bet).

  • Start using the Google Assistant API and experiment with custom voice commands
  • RankBrain is one of the fundamental bricks toward a natural language based search engine, so if you have not already done it, start rethinking keyword research, and stop generally talking about “topics” with no real actionable strategy behind it.
  • Consider branding as an SEO strategy
  • One of main characteristics of Google, enhanced by entity search and context, is personalized search.

    Personalization, then, seems to be even more important if we consider personal assistants.

    Personalization means that Google will more often present content from websites that are in our search history or — through search entities — linked from websites already present in our search history.

    This means that if, on a short, tactical level it’s important to target long-tail queries, on a longer, strategic level the ideal is making our brand synonymous with our products and services. This can be achieved by targeting higher up the funnel with the right content in the right format, published and promoted at the right moment to the right people. This is very well described Jono Alderson at Searchlove London in 2015 (here’s the video recording):

    Searching higher up the funnel from Jono Alderson

  • Reconsider Bing!

If you think that Bing is only “that search engine with cool background photos,” it’s time to change your mind. Bing is fueling the search of Siri and Alexa, apart from being the default search engine of Cortana. If you calculate how many iOS/OS X, Windows 10, and Amazon Echo devices are used, then you have a rough idea of how Bing could be important as voice search grows. You can read more about voice search, Cortana, and Bing in this post by Purna Virji.

SE.LO.MO (Search Local Mobile)

Only a few years ago digital marketers used to talk a lot about SO.LO.MO. (SOcial, LOcal, and MObile).

We were all talking about Foursquare marketing. Then Foursquare changed to Swarm, and we no longer talk about SO.LO.MO., partly because the marketing philosophy behind it has become a default practice.

However, now with mobile as the first search traffic source and the unstoppable success of personal assistants and chatbots (I invite you to look this deck by Jes Stiles), the idea of doing marketing locally and mobile is even more pressing and promising, although there are technologies like beacons that don’t seem able to conquer the market, maybe because they’re too advanced with respect to consumer behavior.

Returning to TripAdvisor as an example, if we look at which queries bring more organic traffic from mobile (and excluding branded searches), we see these:

Click on the image to see a larger version

Apart from telling us that people in the USA really like to go out for dinner without any clue on where to go, what this simple analysis shows is that people search on the go more and more. They’ve finally understood that searches are localized and they don’t need to explicitly indicate their location. Perhaps even more important, they now fully know that their results pages are personalized.

What this snapshot above is not telling us, though, is a trend that could become the new normal in the next future: longer verbose queries because of voice search.

In fact, if we dig into the Similarweb mobile keyword report, we can start finding these kind of queries:

The SERPs answering these queries, though, also show us one problem and one opportunity:

  1. The problem is that these SERPs, while having a clear local intent, quite often do not present any local search pack.
  2. The opportunity is that, despite these queries indeed being “local,” Google fails to offer relevant results able to answer them (see the “five star restaurants like salvatores in western new york” as an example).

Therefore:

  1. Thinking of local search only as MyBusiness optimization may limit the opportunities businesses (especially local businesses) can have to earn SEO visibility and traffic.
  2. Also, local business websites should start working to intercept the potential traffic generated by those kinds of queries. There is a real opportunity in those kind of queries, simply because (still) nobody is really thinking about them (apart fromTripAdvisor, as its result for “where to get breakfast near grand hotel francais paris” testifies).

How to achieve that?

Probably not by trying to target all the infinite possible combinations of local searches a user can do in relation to our kind of business and our location. That would be equal to creating content of very poor quality, when thinking about how Hummingbird and, in many aspects, RankBrain work.

This leads me to redirect you back to the previous chapter of this post about semantics, natural language, and context.

David Mihm advises to Think of your website (or your client’s websites) as an API, adding that:

Even if you’re not a publisher in the traditional sense of the word, you should prepare for a time when no one ever visits your website. Awareness, research, and conversion will all happen in search results, and the companies whose websites facilitate that paradigm on the leading edge will be rewarded with more customers while competitors scramble to catch up. This means as much Schema.org and JSON-LD markup as possible, and partnering with third parties that have cut deals with Google to facilitate transactions (see: OpenTable and ZocDoc).

Because David is surely more expert in local search than I, if you want to dig into what could be the trends in this very important SEO area, I invite you to read his predictions in the Tidings blog.

THE IRRESISTIBLE ASCENT OF VIDEO (and the images strike back)

Video

This post by Content.ly is old (July 2015), but it shared still-interesting stats via an Emarketer study about the growth of video consumption online.

Consumption of video online is growing, even though — apparently — it’s not really stealing time away from TV.

Things look different if we look at “generations” (I don’t really like marketing segmentations such as “millennials,” but we can still use them for brevity):

What this chart is forgetting, though, is the youngest audience (from 4–13 years old). If you have a child around those ages, you’ll agree that she consumes video mostly online. For instance, my kids’ idols are Iron Man, Aragorn, Luke Skywalker, and DanTDM, a YouTuber, who shares his videos while playing games like Minecraft.

Let’s add a final stat about what device is used the most for watching videos online:

Laptop & desktop are still the most-used devices, but smartphone is quickly growing.

Consider that:

  1. The average age kids start owning a smartphone is 10.3 years;
  2. Children from 5 to 13 years old (and also young people up to 20 years old) tend to me more visual than textual;
  3. Their influence on the buying habits of their parents has been known for many years and, in 2012, it was equal to $ 1.2 trillion USD in spending.

I talk a lot about kids because they are the most crystal-clear example of why every technological platform is so devoted to video and video live streaming right now (Instagram being the last one announcing it on 11/21). However, this trend in consuming videos online (and YouTube still is the most-used channel) is common to almost every age group of Internet users.

Finally, if we pair to this video frenzy the equally irresistible rise of native advertising (pro tip: follow Melanie Deziel), then see that Google acquired companies like Anvato (a “video platform that guarantees video playback and monetization from signal to every screen” as it describes itself) and Famebit (an “Influencer Marketing Platform for YouTube, Instagram, and More”, as its title tag recites) is not a surprise at all.

Google needs to find new ways of monetizing videos… and YouTube is not enough anymore.

More concretely, if we think about our 2017 SEO and digital marketing strategy, video seems to be a channel that we should start exploring more seriously, if we did not consider it before.

And when it comes to digital PR, we should start considering online videos stars as much (if not more) influencers as any classic blogger.

Images

In 2017, for almost the same reasons explained above for video, we should expect a return in interest for images marketing, especially in Google search.

Let’s be honest: Images search, as it is right now, is the dinosaur of Google search. For us SEOs it hasn’t been useful in bringing traffic to our websites for many years and, for Google, it’s not profitable.

Maybe this is one of reasons why Google bought Moodstock and invests so much intellectual and machine learning efforts in image recognition.

People do showrooming… They go into a store, take photos of products with their smartphone, and then search for online offers for those same products.

It should not be silly to think that Google could “help” this search thanks to image recognition, because it already does it quite well with its reverse image search feature.

Moreover, with Schema.org/Product, we can tag the images of our products so that Google can easily pair product images to other characteristics like prices, offers, and stock availability.

With this data, it could start monetizing the Images vertical once for all.

[NOTE: As I was writing this, Google announced that it will start showing product schema rich snippets in image search results… so this is no longer a risky preview, but partly a reality!]

VR

What is the last company did Google acquire? Eyefluence.

What physical product did Google launch in October? The DayDream VR headset.

What was the most exciting feature that YouTube (and other platforms) rolled out? 360.

I’ll let you fantasize about the opportunities VR represents for the smart digital marketers.

Maybe in 2017 VR will still be an “early adopters” technology, but if I were you, I’d start preparing myself and clients to it.


Credits: The images in this post, if you didn’t guess it already, are from the HBO show Westworld.

The captions in the photos are from sci-fi movies and TV series titles (have fun discovering them)

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The Moz Blog

snapchat-spectacles-compressed.jpg

A great storyteller once said, “brevity is the soul of wit.” And although William Shakespeare wasn’t alive for the invention of video, we think he would agree with our marketing spin: “Brevity is the soul of video content.”

Video content has exploded on social media: Videos are watched by 82% of Twitter users, and 100 million hours of video are watched on Facebook every day.

But those platforms aren’t the only ones engaging users through video: Snapchat video views jumped to 10 billion per day, more than doubling in less than a year. And Snapchat users now watch nearly 800 hours of video content per second. Download our free Snapchat guide to learn how to use it for your business. 

In an effort to keep that growth moving forward, Snap Inc. (Snapchat’s parent company) unveiled Spectacles — sunglasses with a built-in video camera to easily record Snaps and transfer them seamlessly to the mobile app — in September 2016.

Looking for the inside scoop on this launch? You’re in luck, because I just got my hands on a pair of Spectacles to experiment with for this blog post. I’ll tell you everything you need to know about Spectacles and their potential for impact on social media and content marketing — featuring a few videos I recorded while taking them on a test run.

What Are Spectacles?

Spectacles are sunglasses with an integrated camera that records videos and syncs with the wearer’s Snapchat account via Bluetooth for easy capturing and sharing. Check out the video below of yours truly trying on the Spectacles for the first time (I was a little excited):

Users wear Spectacles like sunglasses and record video from their perspective in a new circular, interactive video format that lets viewers rotate their phones while viewing. As shown above, a white LED light will rotate to indicate that video is being recorded live. Check out the videos recorded using Spectacles below (and keep reading to see original footage I recorded using my Spectacles):

spectacles_final2.gif

Source: Spectacles

Spectacles battery life allows for an average of 100 10-second video recordings per day, and the device can charge inside of its case several times to allow for wireless charging on-the-go. Spectacles come in black, teal, or coral and can be adjusted for fit or prescription lenses.

Wait, Isn’t This the Same Thing as Google Glass?

Spectacles might take you back to 2012, when Google announced Google Glass — a wearable, hands-free computer system. That project was halted in 2015, after Google faced barriers to widespread adoption, including privacy concerns and pop culture mockery.

Luckily, Snapchat Inc. seems to be following a different playbook when it comes to the positioning of Spectacles. Most notably, the product is dedicated solely to video capturing instead of functioning as a wearable computer system like Google Glass. As a result, the cost is significantly less: Spectacles can be purchased for just $ 129.99.

Sure, the specs are certainly a bit silly looking — the large lenses, bold frames, etc. — but, at the very least, they align with the brand’s colorful image.

snapchat selfie_SB.jpg

At the end of the day, they’re far more wearable than Glass, which received plenty of less than positive feedback in terms of the design.

How to Get Spectacles

If you’re chomping at the bit to get your hands on a pair, we’ve got some bad news: Spectacles aren’t sold at a traditional storefront. Instead, they’re available in limited quantity for $ 129.99 at Snapbot vending machines that spontaneously pop up around the country. Yes, that’s right, a Snapbot.

BotBlink_v3-877852825.gif

Source: Spectacles

Pretty interesting concept, right?

Now there’s a lot to be said about this unorthodox strategy, as Snap Inc. is disrupting both how video is recorded and how new technology brought to market.

Instead of shopping online or heading to a store, these Snapbots are being dropped without announcement or fanfare. Instead, buyers find out about Snapbot sightings via Twitter, Instagram, and word-of-mouth, then rush to queue in line in hopes that the Spectacles aren’t sold out by the time it’s their turn. Additionally, if you’re near a Snapbot, a Geofilter will appear in Snapchat letting you know:

Laguna-09-246132239.jpg

Source: Spectacles

If you visit the “Find a Bot” page now, you’ll either see a map to the current location of the vending machine, or this image:

snapbot.gif

Source: Spectacles

The strategy behind this interesting distribution method? Aside from the obvious appeal to exclusivity, “It’s about us figuring out if it fits into people’s lives and seeing how they like it,” Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel told the Wall Street Journal.

Spectacles are currently being resold for hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars on sites like eBay (admittedly, that’s where we snagged ours) and Amazon, leaving the rest of us to wonder whether or not this approach errs more on the side of frustrating or brilliant. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s that the buzz — both positive and negative — around this launch has inevitably created an interesting sounding board for ideas and iterations.

Why Are Spectacles Such a Big Deal?

Between the unusual launch and the unique video perspective, it’s easy to understand why Spectacles have the tech industry talking. But what does the introduction of a product like this mean for marketers? How might this launch shape the way brands approach their go-to-market strategies in the future? What impact will this have on the Snapchat app?

Let’s walk through some of the biggest takeaways here.

A New Way to Watch and Record Video

Have you ever had a moment that you wished you had captured on video, but you didn’t have the time to grab your phone, open your camera up, and delete enough photos to make room for storage?

Spectacles allow for (almost) hands-free video recording, granting wearers the freedom to record from their point of view. This adds a new level of ease for the “videographer” to live stream an event, go behind-the-scenes, record a how-to video, or even interview someone. It also creates a new, interesting experience for the viewer: Imagine watching a video from the eyes of your favorite brand or personality.

Here are a couple of Snaps I recorded hands-free using Spectacles:

The camera utilizes circular video, which plays full screen on any device, in any orientation. And the lens is designed to capture the human perspective, offering a 115 degree field of view. This opens Snapchat to a variety of new video content: Previously, users had to record Snaps in vertical format, and the display wouldn’t auto-adjust if videos were recorded horizontally.

Here’s a (very meta) video of me watching my Snapchat Story and experimenting with the circular video format — recorded using Spectacles, of course:

I had fun experimenting with the Spectacles for this article, and I’m excited to keep using them to record unique video content. I especially love the battery-charging case that keeps the Spectacles safe and ready to record at a moment’s notice. 

A Unique Distribution Strategy

If you’re a social media marketer, take note: Snap Inc. does a great job of turning its product into a viral social media moment. The secrecy and exclusivity involved in the rollout make Snapchat users excited and curious — FOMO is real, people.

The larger lesson for marketers here? Use secrecy and exclusivity to generate buzz and make your audience more interested than ever in what you’re up to. For Snapchat Inc., that meant introducing wearable technology vending machines. For your company, that might mean serving up limited-time offers or creating an exclusive ambassador program.

A Platform-Specific Video Format

It’s still too early to analyze how Spectacles will perform, but broadly, Spectacles could impact social media and video marketing in few big ways.

Consumers want more video content, especially on social media. Spectacles answered that call by creating a new video recording format that can only be viewed on Snapchat. Spectacles are effectively helping create more video content on Snapchat while increasing their user base’s engagement with their mobile app. (In 2016, four-year-old Snapchat overtook ten-year-old Twitter’s user base with 150 million daily active users.)

From a brand perspective, this could make Snapchat a more desirable channel for advertising, as shoppers are nearly twice as likely to purchase a product if they’ve seen a video first. (Think: Showcasing your product through the lens of an authentic, human perspective.)

Additionally, if you’re an event marketer, this new video format offers an interesting avenue for showcasing what it’s like to actually be in attendance — something that regular video content or photos can’t capture.

What’s Next?

We can’t tell you much more about data on the Spectacles … yet. But we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop with more circular videos on our Snapchat Story.

And while you wait in line to get your pair, be sure to check out our other Snapchat content, like this hidden features piece, this guide to Snapchat Stories, and this roundup of brands nailing their Snapchat strategies.

What’s your favorite feature of Snapchat? Share with us in the comments below.

Snapchat for Business


HubSpot Marketing Blog

Posted by Dr-Pete

Summary: RankBrain represents a more advanced way of measuring relevance, built on teaching machines to discover the relationships between words. How should RankBrain change our approach to SEO and specifically to keyword research?

This story starts long before RankBrain, but the action really kicked in around May of 2013, when Google announced conversational search for desktop. At the time, voice search on desktop may have seemed like a gimmick, but in hindsight it was a signal that Google was taking natural language search seriously. Just a few months later the Hummingbird update rewrote Google’s core engine, and much of that rewrite was dedicated to dealing with natural language searches.

Why should you care about voice? For most sites, voice is still a relatively small percentage of searches, and you’ve got other priorities. Here’s the problem, illustrated by the most simplistic Google algorithm diagram I’ve ever created…

If there were two algorithms – one for text search and one for voice search – then, yes, maybe you could drag your feet. The reality, though, is that both text and voice search are powered by the same core algorithm. Every single change Google has made to adapt to natural language searches impacts every search, regardless of the source. Voice has already changed the search landscape irreversibly.


Natural language in action

You may be skeptical, and that’s understandable. So, let’s take a look at what Google is capable of, right now, in 2016. Let’s say you wanted to find the height of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. As a seasoned searcher, you might try something short and sweet, like this…

“Space Needle height”

Google understands this question well enough to attach it to the corresponding Knowledge Graph entity and return the following:

The corresponding organic results appropriately match the informational query and are about what we’ve come to expect. Google serves this search reasonably well.

“What is the height of the Space Needle?”

Let’s try to shake off our short-form addiction and try a natural language version of the same search. I won’t repeat the screenshot, because it’s very similar, as are the organic results. In 2016, Google understands that these two searches are essentially the same.

“How tall is the Seattle Space Needle in meters?”

Let’s try another variant, switching the “What” question for a “How” question, adding a location, and giving it a metric twist. Here’s what we get back:

Google understands the question and returns the proper units. While the organic results vary a bit on this one, reflecting the form of the question, the matches remain solid. Natural language search has come a long way.


Build great concepts!

This all may be a bit alarming, from a keyword research perspective. Natural language searches represent potentially thousands of variants of even the simplest queries. How can we possibly operate on this scale as search marketers?

The popular notion is that we should stop targeting keywords and start targeting concepts. This approach has a certain logic. The searches above share a general notion of “tallness,” which might look something like this:

“Tall” and “height” are fairly synonymous, words like “size” and “big” are highly related, and units like “feet” and “meters” round out this concept. In theory, this makes perfect sense.

In practice, the advice to target concepts is a bit too much like saying “build great content.” It’s a good goal, in theory, but it’s simply not actionable. How do we build great concepts? We all intuitively understand what a concept is, but how does this translate into specific search marketing tactics?

There’s an even bigger problem, and I can illustrate it with one box:

Ok, one box, a logo, and two buttons. At the end of the day, you can’t type a concept. Search users, whether they’re typing or speaking, have to put words into that box. So, how do concepts, which we all agree exist and are useful, translate into keywords, which I hope we can all agree are still unavoidably necessary?


Language in action, part 2

We need to take a side path on this journey for a moment. Part of rethinking keyword research is understanding that we’re no longer bound by an exact-match world. This isn’t a bad situation to be in, just a complex one. I’d like to tell a story with examples, showing just how far Google has come in understanding the ways that different keywords relate to each other…

Plurals (“scarf” & “proxies”)

While we all know the dangers of keyword stuffing, it originated out of a certain necessity. Search engines simply weren’t capable of equating even simple terms, like plurals. Those days are long behind us. Google understands, for example, that a search for “scarf” should also return results for “scarves”:

In these examples, I’ll be using Google’s own highlighting (the bold text; I’ve added the green boxes) to show where Google seems to understand equivalence or related concepts. Of course, Google’s core relevance engine and highlighting engine are not exactly the same, but I think it’s safe to say that the latter is a useful window into the former.

Google is also fully capable of understanding the reverse. Let’s say, for example, that a “friend” of mine wants to buy proxy IPs. He might search for “proxies”:

Google can easily understand even irregular plurals in both directions.

Stemming (“ballroom dancer”)

Plurals are relatively easy. Let’s step it up a little. Another frequent problem in search is dealing with stemming, which relates to root words and the forms they can take, such as “run” vs. “running.” Here’s a sample search for “ballroom dancer”:

Google is perfectly capable of equating “dancer” to other forms of the word, including “dances,” “dance,” and “dancing.” Once again, keyword stuffing is at best outdated thinking.

Abbreviations (“Dr. Who”)

Can Google recognize common abbreviations? Let’s try a search for our second-favorite doctor (hint, hint, wink), “Dr. Who”:

Google easily makes the connection between “Dr.” and “Doctor.” Interestingly, none of the organic titles or snippets I see on page one contain the word “Dr.”

Acronyms (“SNL skits” & “TARDIS”)

How about acronyms? Here’s a search for “SNL skits”:

Google has no problem interpreting “SNL” as equivalent to “Saturday Night Live.” Interestingly, they also understand that “skits” is synonymous with “sketches.” What if we spell out an acronym that isn’t usually spelled out, such as “Time And Relative Dimension In Space”?

Here, Google is happy to tell us “Hey, nerd, just say ‘TARDIS’ like everyone else.” The six-letter acronym is interchangeable with even the much longer search string.

Acronyms+ (“NJ DMV”)

This is where things get interesting. Here’s a search for “NJ DMV.” Look closely:

Not surprisingly, Google understands that “NJ” equals “New Jersey.” There’s a problem with this search, though – New Jersey doesn’t call their motor vehicle office the DMV, they call it the MVC (Motor Vehicle Commission). Google understands not only how to expand an acronym, but that the acronyms DMV and MVC are conceptually equivalent.

Synonyms (“discount airfare”)

The flip-side of no longer being confined to exact-match keywords is that you might just be finding yourself faced with a lot more competition for any given keyword. Let’s look at a competitive, commercial query, such as “discount airfare”:

Here, “discount airfare” gets matched to “airfare deals,” “discount tickets,” and “cheapest flights,” with even more variations on the rest of page one.

Synonyms+ (“upscale department stores”)

Wait, it gets worse. Google can go beyond traditional synonyms. Consider this search for “upscale department stores” (run from my home-base in the Chicago suburbs):

Not only does Google recognize that “upscale” is synonymous with “luxury,” but they’ve matched on actual examples of luxury department stores, including Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, and more.

Answers (“Doctor Who villains”)

We’ve moved from simply synonyms to a world of answers. Here’s another example, a search for “Doctor Who villains”:

It’s a parlor trick to tell you that “villains” is synonymous with “monsters” and “enemies.” What you really want to know is that Doctor Who’s rogue’s gallery includes Daleks, Cybermen, and Weeping Angels. Google can make this connection.

These aren’t just exceptions

It’s easy to cherry-pick examples, but are these edge cases or the new normal? I ran an analysis on 10,000 keywords (page one only) and found that only 57% of results had the search phrase in both the title and snippet. I used a pretty forgiving match (allowing for plurals, for example) and the keyword set in question is mostly shorter terms, not long-tail queries. I also allowed the terms to occur in any order. Keep in mind, too, that display snippets aren’t always META descriptions – they’re chosen by Google to be good matches.

All of this is to say that, even with a fairly forgiving methodology and a loose definition of a “match,” just over half of page-one results in my data set matched the search query. The examples above are not outliers – they are our immediate, unavoidable SEO future.


The Algorithm is learning

This deep into the article, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with RankBrain. There’s been a lot of speculation around RankBrain, and so I’m going to do my best to work from the facts as we understand them. You’re going to need some essential background information…

What, exactly, is deep learning?

First, the one thing we all seem to be able to agree on is that RankBrain uses machine learning, thus the “brain” part. Specifically, RankBrain uses “deep learning.” So, what is deep learning? According to Wikipedia:

Deep learning is a branch of machine learning based on a set of algorithms that attempt to model high-level abstractions in data by using a deep graph with multiple processing layers, composed of multiple linear and non-linear transformations.

Crystal clear, right? To understand deep learning and the state of modern machine learning, you have to understand neural networks. Let’s start with a simple neural network, the kind that were popular in the early 1990s:

Neural networks were built on a basic understanding of the human brain as a system of “nodes” (neurons) and connections between those nodes. At scale, the human brain is capable of learning incredibly complex ideas using this system of nodes and connections.

So, how do we put this model to work? Let’s start with what’s known as “supervised learning.” In a neural network like this, we have a known set of inputs and a desired set of outputs. Given a certain X, we want to teach the system to return Y. We use these inputs and outputs to train the system, gradually weighting the connections. The hidden layer adds computational complexity, giving the machine enough connections to encode interesting data.

Training itself uses methods that are cousins of linear regression (at the risk of oversimplification). Over a large set of inputs and output, we want to minimize the error of our model. In some cases, we work backward from the output(s) back to the input(s), in much the same way you might work a difficult paper maze from the finish back to the start.

Why go to all this trouble? If we know the inputs and outputs (sticking just to supervised learning, to keep this simple), why don’t we just have a lookup table? If X, then Y – simple. What happens when we get an input that isn’t in the table? The system fails. The magic of neural networks is that, if the system is properly trained, it can return outputs for completely new inputs.

To make a very long story only medium-long, these simple neural networks were interesting playthings, but weren’t capable of solving many complex problems. So, we put them aside. Then, the inevitable happened – computing power increased exponentially and got cheaper (thanks, Gordon Moore!). Specifically, we invented the GPU. You might think of the GPU as something built for gamers, but it is, in essence, a very powerful math machine.

At some point, simple neural networks scaled up massively, and I mean massively – on the order of 1,000,000X larger. These new machines were able to perform much more interesting tasks, and a new age of neural networks was born. These new machines required more complex methods, and thus, at the risk of oversimplifying a very complex topic, deep learning was born.

How does Google use deep learning?

Fortunately, we know a bit more about RankBrain. In Steven Levy’s excellent article about Google’s machine-learning ambitions, he quotes the following from Jeff Dean, head of the broader Google Brain group…

By early 2014, Google’s machine learning masters believed [Amit’s approach] should change. “We had a series of discussions with the ranking team,” says Dean. “We said we should at least try this and see, is there any gain to be had.” The experiment his team had in mind turned out to be central to search: how well a document in the ranking matches a query (as measured by whether the user clicks on it). “We sort of just said, let’s try to compute this extra score from the neural net and see if that’s a useful score.”

Amit Singhal, the head of Google’s Search team until early 2016, pioneered the heuristic approach – what we might call the “ranking factors.” Machine learning (ML) advocates at Google eventually were able to convince the team to test ML in a ranking context. By all accounts, that experiment went very well and the score was indeed useful.

It’s also worth noting that Amit, who was reported to be skeptical of using ML in organic search, left Google and was replaced by John Giannandrea, who was instrumental in many ML projects at Google. I won’t speculate on Amit’s motivations, but the shift in leadership to a strong ML advocate clearly implies that Google considered the RankBrain experiment a success.

Of course, it begs the question: How exactly are ML and deep learning in play in organic search? Google teaches a deep learning course on Udacity, and I was intrigued to find this screenshot in a quiz. The quiz asked how Google might use deep learning in rankings, and this was the answer:

When we train an ML model, the “classifier” is essentially the resulting decision machine. In this case, that classifier takes in a search term and web page as inputs and decides how relevant they are to each other.

Two things are worth noting in this deceptively simple screenshot. First, ML is being used as a relevance engine. I think it’s safe to say that the quiz is not entirely hypothetical. Second, notice the query and the matching page. The query is “Udacity deep learning”, but the matching result title contains the related phrases “machine learning” and “supervised learning.” This is starting to look like some of the examples we saw earlier.

Another resource we have is the original Bloomberg article about RankBrain, which is still one of the more comprehensive pieces on the subject. The article quotes senior Google research scientist Greg Corrado and makes the following very specific claim:

RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities – called vectors – that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.

Again, RankBrain is being called out as essentially a relevance engine, a machine for better understanding the similarities and relationships between words. What are these vectors the article mentions, though? In the general sense, vectors are a mathematical concept – a point in space with both direction and magnitude. Vectors are a way of encoding complex information.

Thankfully, we have another clue, from Google’s public ML project, TensorFlow. One of Google’s side projects is a library called Word2Vec that, as the name implies, uses ML to convert words into vectors. Traditional methods of encoding words for information retrieval can deal with simple problems like pluralization and stemming, but have little or no sense of relationships. Word2Vec and similar models are capable of learning relationships like the examples below (Source: Tensorflow.org, ©2016 Google):

Here, Word2Vec has learned that the relationship between man and woman is the same as the relationship between king and queen (encoded in the direction of the vector). Similarly, the relationship between the verb tense walking to walked is the same as the relationship between swimming and swam. More importantly, these rules didn’t need to be specified. The machine learned them by studying large collections of real words in context.

Google’s actual algorithms are almost certainly more complex than the publicly available Word2Vec library, and researchers have combined vector-based approaches with other approaches, such as the more familiar LDA (latent dirichlet allocation), but it seems very likely that an approach like this is in play in RankBrain.

RankBrain is NOT query translation

It’s easy to mistakenly jump to the conclusion that RankBrain simply translates unfamiliar queries into more familiar ones, or long queries into short queries. This is not the case. RankBrain seems to operate in real-time and can compare multiple versions of a search phrase at once.

If I mistakenly type a search like “Benedict Crumblebatch,” Google will tell me this:

In this case, Google has tried to interpret my intent and has replaced my query with what it thinks is a better version. This is query translation. In this case, all of the results match the translated query and it overrules my original search.

Revisiting an example from above, if I search for “scarf,” I can get back matches on both “scarf” and “scarves” (even in the same result):

Google is not translating “scarf” –> “scarves” and then returning matches on the new term. Google is applying a powerful relevance engine that recognizes these matches in real-time.

Are we sure it’s RankBrain?

Let me be clear on one thing – relevance is a very complex process, and it’s hard to know for sure where traditional information retrieval methods end and RankBrain begins. I can’t say with certainty that all of the examples I showed previously represent RankBrain in action.

However, there is one more piece of evidence. Remember the “NJ DMV” example? Google was able to understand that “DMV” (Department of Motor Vehicles) and “MVC” (Motor Vehicle Commission) are equivalent concepts in New Jersey.

Our data science team, led by Matt Peters, put together an ML prototype that uses a method similar to Word2Vec. If you input search terms into this tool, it looks at the corresponding Google results and calculates the similarity between those results and the original query:

This screenshot has been edited, but the data is real. What the tool is saying is that a page with the title “State of New Jersey – Motor Vehicle Commission” is a good match (93%, although the system is a little forgiving) for “NJ DMV.” The fact that we can train an ML system to perform this task doesn’t prove RankBrain does it, but it does at least show that it is well within Google’s ML capabilities.

When did RankBrain roll out?

Please note that RankBrain is often tied to the announcement date in October of 2015, but that article also says that RankBrain was in play “for the past few months.” Steven Levy’s article on ML in Google gives a date of April 2015 for the rollout, and we believe that timeline is accurate. RankBrain has probably been in play for at least 1 1/2 years at the time of this writing.


How do we adapt to RankBrain?

In a world where Google can understand stemming, synonyms, and even answers, how do we approach keyword research? Let’s go back to our Space Needle example. I’m going to use Moz’s Keyword Explorer as a backdrop for the rest of this discussion. Let’s say I fire up my trusty keyword research tool and enter the phrase “space needle height”:

Even out of the gate, we’ve got 1,000 keywords to deal with, many of which are fairly similar. How do we go about targeting these 1,000 variations?

Option 1 is to write 1,000 pages, each laser-targeted at a single phrase. We know, practically, that either this is going to be a huge amount of work or is going to lead to thin content. Sites filled with templated pages that only vary by a few keywords are a lousy user experience and prime bait for Google’s Panda algorithm.

Option 2 is to take as many of these phrases as possible and just stuff them into a single paragraph. I’ve done this for you, and here’s the kind of result you can expect:

SPACE NEEDLE HEIGHT
The Space Needle height (Seattle) is 605 feet. The Space Needle height in stories is just over 60. It’s interesting to note that the Space Needle height comparison to the Empire State Building is about half as high. In contrast, the Seattle Space Needle height comparison to Chicago’s Willis Tower is only about one-third the height.

The bolded phrases are my target phrases. I hope we can all agree that this isn’t optimal content crafting if our goal is to convince our audience that we’re a credible source of information.

I propose a third option. You may have noticed a pulldown in Keyword Explorer for [Group Keywords]. This does exactly what it sounds like it does. Let’s take all of these very similar keywords (and you could do this by hand as well, if you’re willing to put in the time) and try to group them. We end up with something like this:

The system has tried to bucket the keywords into broader, more useful groups, allowing us to ignore some of the minor variants. So, let’s pick three groups from this list:

  1. “space needle height”
  2. “space needle height in stories”
  3. “space needle how tall”

What if we chose representative, natural language phrases within each of these groups? Think of them as exemplars of the group. We might pick something like this:

  1. “height of the Space Needle”
  2. “Space Needle is ___ stories”
  3. “How tall is the Space Needle?”

Now, let’s craft a paragraph around these more natural, diverse phrases:

HOW TALL IS THE SPACE NEEDLE?
The height of the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington is 605 ft. (184 m), including the antenna. Interestingly, while the Space Needle is approximately 60 stories tall, it only occupies 6 floors, with most of the tower being structural. While it was once the tallest building in Seattle, the Space Needle now ranks only 7th.

Not only have we written a paragraph that might actually be valuable to humans, but we’ve covered our three target phrases and even had room for a fourth (“tallest building in Seattle”). What’s more, each of these phrases represent groups of dozens or hundreds of similar keywords. By writing to the groups or broader concepts instead of narrowly targeted phrases, we’re able to cover many keyword variants efficiently.


3 Gs: Gather, Group, Generate

I’ve taken to calling this approach to keyword research the 3 Gs, and it goes likes this:

  1. Gather keywords
  2. Group keywords into clusters
  3. Generate exemplars

Another way to think of this process is that we’re grouping keywords into concepts, and then converting each concept back into a representative keyword/phrase: Keyword –> Concept –> Keyword*. The result is a specific search phrase to target, but that phrase represents potentially dozens or hundreds of similar keywords.

Let’s work through another example, but one with commercial intent. Pretend you’re working in the Seattle apartment space and are looking to write an article about rental costs. Just to pick a starting point, you enter “Seattle rental prices” into your keyword research tool of choice and gather your keyword list:

Naturally, we get back a list of related but sometimes very similar keywords. Even in this list, we can start to see some interesting variations (“average rent”, prices by year, mapped prices, etc.), but let’s take it to step two and group these keywords:

In a real-world keyword research scenario, we’d want to thoroughly explore all of the groups, but I’ve picked three for now that caught my eye (underlined in green). They are:

  1. “Seattle average rent by neighborhood”
  2. “Seattle housing prices skyrocket”
  3. “cheapest Seattle apartments”

How do we go about generating an exemplar from each group? Sometimes, intuition is fine. For example, the keywords our system has grouped under #2 turn out to be a bit of an odd mix, but I really like how “skyrocket” resonates and “housing prices” is a good keyword variant, so I’ll pick a phrase. For something like #3, we may choose to just see what variation has the highest potential for traffic. In Keyword Explorer, we can simply expand that group, select the keywords, and add all of them to a list, like this:

Once the stats for the list are collected, we can take a look and see that “cheapest apartments in Seattle” has both the highest traffic volume and Keyword Potential, according to our metrics:

For the final group (“Seattle average rent by neighborhood”), I browsed the grouped keywords, and one caught my eye: “average rent downtown seattle.” I like this one because it’s specific to an actual neighborhood, although we might choose to craft content around some kind of neighborhood-by-neighborhood theme as well. What I like about trying to understand our keywords as groups/clusters is that it’s also a great process for generating content ideas.

So, let’s put some exemplars against our three groups. We might end up with something like this:

  1. “average rent in downtown Seattle”
  2. “Seattle housing prices are skyrocketing”
  3. “cheapest apartments in Seattle”

These are all rich phrases that we can use to craft content, and they’re built on a logical framework of keyword research. Even using just this single list, our system claims these three groups represent at least 64 keyword phrases. Factoring in the long-tail, they potentially represent hundreds more.

Eventually, we may have ML tools that can take large groups of related phrases and help find the perfect exemplar. Even now, Keyword Explorer’s grouping engine is built on ML. There will come a time very soon when ML is part of our everyday work as SEOs.

There’s a fourth, unofficial G: Gap. As our British friends might say, mind the gap. The exemplars you build in this process are meant to be natural-language phrases that represent dozens of keywords, but our understanding of a concept and Google’s won’t always match, and some searches you hoped you’d rank for will fall through the cracks. It’s important to continue to monitor and track a large set of keywords. If you see that some aren’t improving, consider generating new exemplars or targeting them separately. This is an iterative process, and we still have to get our hands dirty with real searches every day.


Bonus: Keyword brainstorming

Here’s something fun to try. In Keyword Explorer, you can specifically request keyword phrases that contain none of the words in your original phrase. Why would you want to do this? It can help you find related concepts that you might not have considered.

From the [Display keyword suggestions that] pulldown, select “exclude your query terms to get broader ideas.” Here are some of the results I get on a search for “Seattle rental prices” with grouping on (I’ve edited this list a bit just to show some of the more interesting results in the space allowed):

Some of these are obvious (although still interesting), like searches that use specific neigbhorhood names (e.g. “best Capitol Hill apartments”). Some are less obvious and open up some new avenues. “Kirkland apartments under $ 1000” reminds us that both neighborhood and price sensitivity matter in similar searches. These are aspects we can’t ignore in our broader keyword research on this topic.

The second to the last is really interesting, IMO: “apartments near Amazon headquarters.” Being such a big employer (we know all too well, given the competition for talent in Seattle), a content focus on just apartments near Amazon’s headquarters could get a lot of traction. Finally, while it’s not the most useful topic or keyword to target, “too damn expensive” is certainly a good headline phrase to tuck away.


Why not just write for people?

If Google is really understanding natural language searches and becoming more intelligent, why don’t we just write content for people and forget about this whole process? It’s a fair question. If your choices are 2005-era keyword stuffing and thin content or writing for people, then please, for the love of all that this is holy, write for your human site users (and, by extension, search users).

There’s a problem, though, and it’s probably easier to show than tell…

Google has come a long way in their journey from a heuristic-based approach to a machine learning approach, but where we’re at in 2016 is still a long way from human language comprehension. To really be effective as SEOs, we still need to understand how this machine thinks, and where it falls short of human behavior. If you want to do truly next-level keyword research, your approach can be more human, but your process should replicate the machine’s understanding as much as possible.

I hope you’ll give the 3 Gs a try and let me know what you think. I’ll freely admit I’m biased and hope you’ll also give Keyword Explorer a try, if you haven’t yet (and if you have, test out some of the new tricks I’ve talked about).

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