Thứ Ba, 13 tháng 11, 2018

The Advanced Guide to Keyword Clustering

Posted by tomcasano

If your goal is to grow your organic traffic, you have to think about SEO in terms of “product/market fit.”

Keyword research is the “market” (what users are actually searching for) and content is the “product” (what users are consuming). The “fit” is optimization.

To grow your organic traffic, you need your content to mirror the reality of what users are actually searching for. Your content planning and creation, keyword mapping, and optimization should all align with the market. This is one of the best ways to grow your organic traffic.

Why bother with keyword grouping?

One web page can rank for multiple keywords. So why aren’t we hyper-focused on planning and optimizing content that targets dozens of similar and related keywords?

Why target only one keyword with one piece of content when you can target 20?

The impact of keyword clustering to acquire more organic traffic is not only underrated, it is largely ignored. In this guide, I'll share with you our proprietary process we’ve pioneered for keyword grouping so you can not only do it yourself, but you can maximize the number of keywords your amazing content can rank for.

Here’s a real-world example of a handful of the top keywords that this piece of content is ranking for. The full list is over 1,000 keywords.

17 different keywords one page is ranking for

Why should you care?

It’d be foolish to focus on only one keyword, as you’d lose out on 90%+ of the opportunity.

Here's one of my favorite examples of all of the keywords that one piece of content could potentially target:

List of ~100 keywords one page ranks for

Let’s dive in!

Part 1: Keyword collection

Before we start grouping keywords into clusters, we first need our dataset of keywords from which to group from.

In essence, our job in this initial phase is to find every possible keyword. In the process of doing so, we'll also be inadvertently getting many irrelevant keywords (thank you, Keyword Planner). However, it's better to have many relevant and long-tail keywords (and the ability to filter out the irrelevant ones) than to only have a limited pool of keywords to target.

For any client project, I typically say that we'll collect anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 keywords. But truth be told, we've sometimes found 10,000+ keywords, and sometimes (in the instance of a local, niche client), we've found less than 1,000.

I recommend collecting keywords from about 8–12 different sources. These sources are:

  1. Your competitors
  2. Third-party data tools (Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush, AnswerThePublic, etc.)
  3. Your existing data in Google Search Console/Google Analytics
  4. Brainstorming your own ideas and checking against them
  5. Mashing up keyword combinations
  6. Autocomplete suggestions and “Searches related to” from Google

There's no shortage of sources for keyword collection, and more keyword research tools exist now than ever did before. Our goal here is to be so extensive that we never have to go back and “find more keywords” in the future — unless, of course, there's a new topic we are targeting.

The prequel to this guide will expand upon keyword collection in depth. For now, let’s assume that you’ve spent a few hours collecting a long list of keywords, you have removed the duplicates, and you have semi-reliable search volume data.

Part 2: Term analysis

Now that you have an unmanageable list of 1,000+ keywords, let’s turn it into something useful.

We begin with term analysis. What the heck does that mean?

We break each keyword apart into its component terms that comprise the keyword, so we can see which terms are the most frequently occurring.

For example, the keyword: “best natural protein powder” is comprised of 4 terms: “best,” “natural,” “protein,” and “powder.” Once we break apart all of the keywords into their component parts, we can more readily analyze and understand which terms (as subcomponents of the keywords) are recurring the most in our keyword dataset.

Here’s a sampling of 3 keywords:

  • best natural protein powder
  • most powerful natural anti inflammatory
  • how to make natural deodorant

Take a closer look, and you’ll notice that the term “natural” occurs in all three of these keywords. If this term is occurring very frequently throughout our long list of keywords, it’ll be highly important when we start grouping our keywords.

You will need a word frequency counter to give you this insight. The ultimate free tool for this is Write Words’ Word Frequency Counter. It’s magical.

Paste in your list of keywords, click submit, and you'll get something like this:

List of keywords and how frequently they occur

Copy and paste your list of recurring terms into a spreadsheet. You can obviously remove prepositions and terms like “is,” “for,” and “to.”

You don’t always get the most value by just looking at individual terms. Sometimes a two-word or three-word phrase gives you insights you wouldn’t have otherwise. In this example, you see the terms “milk” and “almond” appearing, but it turns out that this is actually part of the phrase “almond milk.”

To gather these insights, use the Phrase Frequency Counter from WriteWords and repeat the process for phrases that have two, three, four, five, and six terms in them. Paste all of this data into your spreadsheet too.

A two-word phrase that occurs more frequently than a one-word phrase is an indicator of its significance. To account for this, I use the COUNTA function in Google Sheets to show me the number of terms in a phrase:

=COUNTA(SPLIT(B2," "))

Now we can look at our keyword data with a second dimension: not only the number of times a term or phrase occurs, but also how many words are in that phrase.

Finally, to give more weighting to phrases that recur less frequently but have more terms in them, I put an exponent on the number of terms with a basic formula:

=(C4^2)*A4

In other words, take the number of terms and raise it to a power, and then multiply that by the frequency of its occurrence. All this does is give more weighting to the fact that a two-word phrase that occurs less frequently is still more important than a one-word phrase that might occur more frequently.

As I never know just the right power to raise it to, I test several and keep re-sorting the sheet to try to find the most important terms and phrases in the sheet.

Spreadsheet of keywords and their weighted importance

When you look at this now, you can already see patterns start to emerge and you're already beginning to understand your searchers better.

In this example dataset, we are going from a list of 10k+ keywords to an analysis of terms and phrases to understand what people are really asking. For example, “what is the best” and “where can i buy” are phrases we can absolutely understand searchers using.

I mark off the important terms or phrases. I try to keep this number to under 50 and to a maximum of around 75; otherwise, grouping will get hairy in Part 5.

Part 3: Hot words

What are hot words?

Hot words are the terms or phrases from that last section that we have deemed to be the most important. We've explained hot words in greater depth here.

Why are hot words important?

We explain:

This exercise provides us with a handful of the most relevant and important terms and phrases for traffic and relevancy, which can then be used to create the best content strategies — content that will rank highly and, in turn, help us reap traffic rewards for your site.
When developing your hot words list, we identify the highest frequency and most relevant terms from a large range of keywords used by several of your highest-performing competitors to generate their traffic, and these become “hot words.”

When working with a client (or doing this for yourself), there are generally 3 questions we want answered for each hot word:

  1. Which of these terms are the most important for your business? (0–10)
  2. Which of these terms are negative keywords (we want to ignore or avoid)?
  3. Any other feedback about qualified or high-intent keywords?

We narrow down the list, removing any negative keywords or keywords that are not really important for the website.

Once we have our final list of hot words, we organize them into broad topic groups like this:

Organized spreadsheet of hot words by topic

The different colors have no meaning, but just help to keep it visually organized for when we group them.

One important thing to note is that word stems play an important part here.

For example, consider that all of these words below have the same underlying relevance and meaning:

  • blog
  • blogs
  • blogger
  • bloggers
  • blogging

Therefore, when we're grouping keywords, to consider “blog” and “blogging” and “bloggers” as part of the same cluster, we'll need to use the word stem of “blog” for all of them. Word stems are our best friend when grouping. Synonyms can be organized in a similar way, which are basically two different ways of saying the same thing (and the same user intent) such as “build” and “create” or “search” and “look for.”

Part 4: Preparation for keyword grouping

Now we're going to get ourselves set up for our Herculean task of clustering.

To start, copy your list of hot words and transpose them horizontally across a row.

Screenshot of menu in spreadsheet

List your keywords in the first column.

Screenshot of keyword spreadsheet

Now, the real magic begins.

After much research and noodling around, I discovered the function in Google Sheets that tells us whether a stem or term is in a keyword or not. It uses RegEx:

=IF(RegExMatch(A5,"health"),"YES","NO")

This simply tells us whether this word stem or word is in that keyword or not. You have to individually set the term for each column to get your “YES” or “NO” answer. I then drag this formula down to all of the rows to get all of the YES/NO answers. Google Sheets often takes a minute or so to process all of this data.

Next, we have to “hard code” these formulas so we can remove the NOs and be left with only a YES if that terms exists in that keyword.

Copy all of the data and “Paste values only.”

Screenshot of spreadsheet menu

Now, use “Find and replace” to remove all of the NOs.

Screenshot of Find and Replace popup

What you're left with is nothing short of a work of art. You now have the most powerful way to group your keywords. Let the grouping begin!

Screenshot of keyword spreadsheet

Part 5: Keyword grouping

At this point, you're now set up for keyword clustering success.

This part is half art, half science. No wait, I take that back. To do this part right, you need:

  • A deep understanding of who you're targeting, why they're important to the business, user intent, and relevance
  • Good judgment to make tradeoffs when breaking keywords apart into groups
  • Good intuition

This is one of the hardest parts for me to train anyone to do. It comes with experience.

At the top of the sheet, I use the COUNTA function to show me how many times this word step has been found in our keyword set:

=COUNTA(C3:C10000)

This is important because as a general rule, it's best to start with the most niche topics that have the least overlap with other topics. If you start too broadly, your keywords will overlap with other keyword groups and you'll have a hard time segmenting them into meaningful groups. Start with the most narrow and specific groups first.

To begin, you want to sort the sheet by word stem.

The word stems that occur only a handful of times won’t have a large amount of overlap. So I start by sorting the sheet by that column, and copying and pasting those keywords into their own new tab.

Now you have your first keyword group!

Here's a first group example: the “matcha” group. This can be its own project in its own right: for instance, if a website was all about matcha tea and there were other tangentially related keywords.

Screenshot of list of matcha-related keywords

As we continue breaking apart one keyword group and then another, by the end we're left with many different keyword groups. If the groups you've arrived at are too broad, you can subdivide them even more into narrower keyword subgroups for more focused content pieces. You can follow the same process for this broad keyword group, and make it a microcosm of the same process of dividing the keywords into smaller groups based on word stems.

We can create an overview of the groups to see the volume and topical opportunities from a high level.

Screenshot of spreadsheet with keyword group overview

We want to not only consider search volume, but ideally also intent, competitiveness, and so forth.

Voilà!

You've successfully taken a list of thousands of keywords and grouped them into relevant keyword groups.

Wait, why did we do all of this hard work again?

Now you can finally attain that “product/market fit” we talked about. It’s magical.

You can take each keyword group and create a piece of optimized content around it, targeting dozens of keywords, exponentially raising your potential to acquire more organic traffic. Boo yah!

All done. Now what?

Now the real fun begins. You can start planning out new content that you never knew you needed to create. Alternatively, you can map your keyword groups (and subgroups) to existing pages on your website and add in keywords and optimizations to the header tags, body text, and so forth for all those long-tail keywords you had ignored.

Keyword grouping is underrated, overlooked, and ignored at large. It creates a massive new opportunity to optimize for terms where none existed. Sometimes it's just adding one phrase or a few sentences targeting a long-tail keyword here and there that will bring in that incremental search traffic for your site. Do this dozens of times and you will keep getting incremental increases in your organic traffic.

What do you think?

Leave a comment below and let me know your take on keyword clustering.

Need a hand? Just give me a shout, I’m happy to help.


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 Advanced Guide to Keyword Clustering

Posted by tomcasano

If your goal is to grow your organic traffic, you have to think about SEO in terms of “product/market fit.”

Keyword research is the “market” (what users are actually searching for) and content is the “product” (what users are consuming). The “fit” is optimization.

To grow your organic traffic, you need your content to mirror the reality of what users are actually searching for. Your content planning and creation, keyword mapping, and optimization should all align with the market. This is one of the best ways to grow your organic traffic.

Why bother with keyword grouping?

One web page can rank for multiple keywords. So why aren’t we hyper-focused on planning and optimizing content that targets dozens of similar and related keywords?

Why target only one keyword with one piece of content when you can target 20?

The impact of keyword clustering to acquire more organic traffic is not only underrated, it is largely ignored. In this guide, I'll share with you our proprietary process we’ve pioneered for keyword grouping so you can not only do it yourself, but you can maximize the number of keywords your amazing content can rank for.

Here’s a real-world example of a handful of the top keywords that this piece of content is ranking for. The full list is over 1,000 keywords.

17 different keywords one page is ranking for

Why should you care?

It’d be foolish to focus on only one keyword, as you’d lose out on 90%+ of the opportunity.

Here's one of my favorite examples of all of the keywords that one piece of content could potentially target:

List of ~100 keywords one page ranks for

Let’s dive in!

Part 1: Keyword collection

Before we start grouping keywords into clusters, we first need our dataset of keywords from which to group from.

In essence, our job in this initial phase is to find every possible keyword. In the process of doing so, we'll also be inadvertently getting many irrelevant keywords (thank you, Keyword Planner). However, it's better to have many relevant and long-tail keywords (and the ability to filter out the irrelevant ones) than to only have a limited pool of keywords to target.

For any client project, I typically say that we'll collect anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 keywords. But truth be told, we've sometimes found 10,000+ keywords, and sometimes (in the instance of a local, niche client), we've found less than 1,000.

I recommend collecting keywords from about 8–12 different sources. These sources are:

  1. Your competitors
  2. Third-party data tools (Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush, AnswerThePublic, etc.)
  3. Your existing data in Google Search Console/Google Analytics
  4. Brainstorming your own ideas and checking against them
  5. Mashing up keyword combinations
  6. Autocomplete suggestions and “Searches related to” from Google

There's no shortage of sources for keyword collection, and more keyword research tools exist now than ever did before. Our goal here is to be so extensive that we never have to go back and “find more keywords” in the future — unless, of course, there's a new topic we are targeting.

The prequel to this guide will expand upon keyword collection in depth. For now, let’s assume that you’ve spent a few hours collecting a long list of keywords, you have removed the duplicates, and you have semi-reliable search volume data.

Part 2: Term analysis

Now that you have an unmanageable list of 1,000+ keywords, let’s turn it into something useful.

We begin with term analysis. What the heck does that mean?

We break each keyword apart into its component terms that comprise the keyword, so we can see which terms are the most frequently occurring.

For example, the keyword: “best natural protein powder” is comprised of 4 terms: “best,” “natural,” “protein,” and “powder.” Once we break apart all of the keywords into their component parts, we can more readily analyze and understand which terms (as subcomponents of the keywords) are recurring the most in our keyword dataset.

Here’s a sampling of 3 keywords:

  • best natural protein powder
  • most powerful natural anti inflammatory
  • how to make natural deodorant

Take a closer look, and you’ll notice that the term “natural” occurs in all three of these keywords. If this term is occurring very frequently throughout our long list of keywords, it’ll be highly important when we start grouping our keywords.

You will need a word frequency counter to give you this insight. The ultimate free tool for this is Write Words’ Word Frequency Counter. It’s magical.

Paste in your list of keywords, click submit, and you'll get something like this:

List of keywords and how frequently they occur

Copy and paste your list of recurring terms into a spreadsheet. You can obviously remove prepositions and terms like “is,” “for,” and “to.”

You don’t always get the most value by just looking at individual terms. Sometimes a two-word or three-word phrase gives you insights you wouldn’t have otherwise. In this example, you see the terms “milk” and “almond” appearing, but it turns out that this is actually part of the phrase “almond milk.”

To gather these insights, use the Phrase Frequency Counter from WriteWords and repeat the process for phrases that have two, three, four, five, and six terms in them. Paste all of this data into your spreadsheet too.

A two-word phrase that occurs more frequently than a one-word phrase is an indicator of its significance. To account for this, I use the COUNTA function in Google Sheets to show me the number of terms in a phrase:

=COUNTA(SPLIT(B2," "))

Now we can look at our keyword data with a second dimension: not only the number of times a term or phrase occurs, but also how many words are in that phrase.

Finally, to give more weighting to phrases that recur less frequently but have more terms in them, I put an exponent on the number of terms with a basic formula:

=(C4^2)*A4

In other words, take the number of terms and raise it to a power, and then multiply that by the frequency of its occurrence. All this does is give more weighting to the fact that a two-word phrase that occurs less frequently is still more important than a one-word phrase that might occur more frequently.

As I never know just the right power to raise it to, I test several and keep re-sorting the sheet to try to find the most important terms and phrases in the sheet.

Spreadsheet of keywords and their weighted importance

When you look at this now, you can already see patterns start to emerge and you're already beginning to understand your searchers better.

In this example dataset, we are going from a list of 10k+ keywords to an analysis of terms and phrases to understand what people are really asking. For example, “what is the best” and “where can i buy” are phrases we can absolutely understand searchers using.

I mark off the important terms or phrases. I try to keep this number to under 50 and to a maximum of around 75; otherwise, grouping will get hairy in Part 5.

Part 3: Hot words

What are hot words?

Hot words are the terms or phrases from that last section that we have deemed to be the most important. We've explained hot words in greater depth here.

Why are hot words important?

We explain:

This exercise provides us with a handful of the most relevant and important terms and phrases for traffic and relevancy, which can then be used to create the best content strategies — content that will rank highly and, in turn, help us reap traffic rewards for your site.
When developing your hot words list, we identify the highest frequency and most relevant terms from a large range of keywords used by several of your highest-performing competitors to generate their traffic, and these become “hot words.”

When working with a client (or doing this for yourself), there are generally 3 questions we want answered for each hot word:

  1. Which of these terms are the most important for your business? (0–10)
  2. Which of these terms are negative keywords (we want to ignore or avoid)?
  3. Any other feedback about qualified or high-intent keywords?

We narrow down the list, removing any negative keywords or keywords that are not really important for the website.

Once we have our final list of hot words, we organize them into broad topic groups like this:

Organized spreadsheet of hot words by topic

The different colors have no meaning, but just help to keep it visually organized for when we group them.

One important thing to note is that word stems play an important part here.

For example, consider that all of these words below have the same underlying relevance and meaning:

  • blog
  • blogs
  • blogger
  • bloggers
  • blogging

Therefore, when we're grouping keywords, to consider “blog” and “blogging” and “bloggers” as part of the same cluster, we'll need to use the word stem of “blog” for all of them. Word stems are our best friend when grouping. Synonyms can be organized in a similar way, which are basically two different ways of saying the same thing (and the same user intent) such as “build” and “create” or “search” and “look for.”

Part 4: Preparation for keyword grouping

Now we're going to get ourselves set up for our Herculean task of clustering.

To start, copy your list of hot words and transpose them horizontally across a row.

Screenshot of menu in spreadsheet

List your keywords in the first column.

Screenshot of keyword spreadsheet

Now, the real magic begins.

After much research and noodling around, I discovered the function in Google Sheets that tells us whether a stem or term is in a keyword or not. It uses RegEx:

=IF(RegExMatch(A5,"health"),"YES","NO")

This simply tells us whether this word stem or word is in that keyword or not. You have to individually set the term for each column to get your “YES” or “NO” answer. I then drag this formula down to all of the rows to get all of the YES/NO answers. Google Sheets often takes a minute or so to process all of this data.

Next, we have to “hard code” these formulas so we can remove the NOs and be left with only a YES if that terms exists in that keyword.

Copy all of the data and “Paste values only.”

Screenshot of spreadsheet menu

Now, use “Find and replace” to remove all of the NOs.

Screenshot of Find and Replace popup

What you're left with is nothing short of a work of art. You now have the most powerful way to group your keywords. Let the grouping begin!

Screenshot of keyword spreadsheet

Part 5: Keyword grouping

At this point, you're now set up for keyword clustering success.

This part is half art, half science. No wait, I take that back. To do this part right, you need:

  • A deep understanding of who you're targeting, why they're important to the business, user intent, and relevance
  • Good judgment to make tradeoffs when breaking keywords apart into groups
  • Good intuition

This is one of the hardest parts for me to train anyone to do. It comes with experience.

At the top of the sheet, I use the COUNTA function to show me how many times this word step has been found in our keyword set:

=COUNTA(C3:C10000)

This is important because as a general rule, it's best to start with the most niche topics that have the least overlap with other topics. If you start too broadly, your keywords will overlap with other keyword groups and you'll have a hard time segmenting them into meaningful groups. Start with the most narrow and specific groups first.

To begin, you want to sort the sheet by word stem.

The word stems that occur only a handful of times won’t have a large amount of overlap. So I start by sorting the sheet by that column, and copying and pasting those keywords into their own new tab.

Now you have your first keyword group!

Here's a first group example: the “matcha” group. This can be its own project in its own right: for instance, if a website was all about matcha tea and there were other tangentially related keywords.

Screenshot of list of matcha-related keywords

As we continue breaking apart one keyword group and then another, by the end we're left with many different keyword groups. If the groups you've arrived at are too broad, you can subdivide them even more into narrower keyword subgroups for more focused content pieces. You can follow the same process for this broad keyword group, and make it a microcosm of the same process of dividing the keywords into smaller groups based on word stems.

We can create an overview of the groups to see the volume and topical opportunities from a high level.

Screenshot of spreadsheet with keyword group overview

We want to not only consider search volume, but ideally also intent, competitiveness, and so forth.

Voilà!

You've successfully taken a list of thousands of keywords and grouped them into relevant keyword groups.

Wait, why did we do all of this hard work again?

Now you can finally attain that “product/market fit” we talked about. It’s magical.

You can take each keyword group and create a piece of optimized content around it, targeting dozens of keywords, exponentially raising your potential to acquire more organic traffic. Boo yah!

All done. Now what?

Now the real fun begins. You can start planning out new content that you never knew you needed to create. Alternatively, you can map your keyword groups (and subgroups) to existing pages on your website and add in keywords and optimizations to the header tags, body text, and so forth for all those long-tail keywords you had ignored.

Keyword grouping is underrated, overlooked, and ignored at large. It creates a massive new opportunity to optimize for terms where none existed. Sometimes it's just adding one phrase or a few sentences targeting a long-tail keyword here and there that will bring in that incremental search traffic for your site. Do this dozens of times and you will keep getting incremental increases in your organic traffic.

What do you think?

Leave a comment below and let me know your take on keyword clustering.

Need a hand? Just give me a shout, I’m happy to help.


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!

Thứ Sáu, 9 tháng 11, 2018

The Difference Between URL Structure and Information Architecture - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by willcritchlow

Questions about URL structure and information architecture are easy to get confused, but it's an important distinction to maintain. IA tends to be more impactful than URL decisions alone, but advice given around IA often defaults to suggestions on how to best structure your URLs. In this Whiteboard Friday, Will Critchlow helps us distinguish between the two disparate topics and shares some guiding questions to ask about each.

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

Video Transcription

Hi, everyone. Welcome to a British Whiteboard Friday. My name is Will Critchlow. I'm one of the founders of Distilled, and I wanted to go back to some basics today. I wanted to cover a little bit of the difference between URL structure and information architecture, because I see these two concepts unfortunately mixed up a little bit too often when people are talking about advice that they want to give.

I'm thinking here particularly from an SEO perspective. So there is a much broader study of information architecture. But here we're thinking really about: What do the search engines care about, and what do users care about when they're searching? So we'll link some basics about things like what is URL structure, but we're essentially talking here about the path, right, the bit that comes after the domain https://ift.tt/2yYIvZg.

There's a couple of main ways of structuring your URL. You can have kind of a subfolder type of structure or a much flatter structure where everything is kind of collapsed into the one level. There are pros and cons of different ways of doing this stuff, and there's a ton of advice. You're generally trading off considerations around, in general, it's better to have shorter URLs than longer URLs, but it's also better, on average, to have your keyword there than not to have your keyword there.

These are in tension. So there's a little bit of art that goes into structuring good URLs. But too often I see people, when they're really trying to give information architecture advice, ending up talking about URL structure, and I want to just kind of tease those things apart so that we know what we're talking about.

So I think the confusion arises because both of them can involve questions around which pages exist on my website and what hierarchies are there between pages and groups of pages.

URL questions

So what pages exist is clearly a URL question at some level. Literally if I go to /shoes/womens, is that a 200 status? Is that a page that returns things on my website? That is, at its basics, a URL question. But zoom out a little bit and say what are the set of pages, what are the groups of pages that exist on my website, and that is an information architecture question, and, in particular, how they're structured and how those hierarchies come together is an information architecture question.

But it's muddied by the fact that there are hierarchy questions in the URL. So when you're thinking about your red women's shoes subcategory page on an e-commerce site, for example, you could structure that in a flat way like this or in a subfolder structure. That's just a pure URL question. But it gets muddied with the information architecture questions, which we'll come on to.

I think probably one of the key ones that comes up is: Where do your detail-level pages sit? So on an e-commerce site, imagine a product page. You could have just /product-slug. Ideally that would have some kind of descriptive keywords in it, rather than just being an anonymous number. But you can have it just in the root like this, or you can put it in a subfolder, the category it lives in.

So if this is a pair of red women's shoes, then you could have it in /shoes/women/red slug, for example. There are pros and cons of both of these. I'm not going to get deep into it, but in general the point is you can make any of these decisions about your URLs independent of your information architecture questions.

Information architecture questions

Let's talk about the information architecture, because these are actually, in general, the more impactful questions for your search performance. So these are things like, as I said at the beginning, it's essentially what pages exist and what are their hierarchies.

  • How many levels of category and subcategory should we have on our website?
  • What do we do in our faceted navigation?
  • Do we go two levels deep?
  • Do we go three levels deep?
  • Do we allow all those pages to be crawled and indexed?
  • How do we link between things?
  • How do we link between the sibling products that are in the same category or subcategory?
  • How do we link back up the structure to the parent subcategory or category?
  • How do we crucially build good link paths out from the big, important pages on our website, so our homepage or major category pages?
  • What's the link path that you can follow by clicking multiple links from there to get to detail level for every product on your website?

Those kind of questions are really impactful. They make a big difference, on an SEO front, both in terms of crawl depth, so literally a search engine spider coming in and saying, "I need to discover all these pages, all these detail-level pages on your website." So what's the click depth and crawl path out from those major pages?

Think about link authority and your link paths

It's also a big factor in a link authority sense. Your internal linking structure is how your PageRank and other link metrics get distributed out around your website, and so it's really critical that you have these great linking paths down into the products, between important products, and between categories and back up the hierarchy. How do we build the best link paths from our important pages down to our detail-level pages and back up?

Make your IA decisions before your URL structure decisions

After you have made whatever IA decisions you like, then you can independently choose your preferred URLs for each page type.

These are SEO information architecture questions, and the critical thing to realize is that you can make all of your information architecture decisions — which pages exist, which subcategories we're going to have indexed, how we link between sibling products, all of this linking stuff — we can make all these decisions, and then we can say, independently of whatever decisions we made, we can choose any of the URL structures we like for what those actual pages' paths are, what the URLs are for those pages.

We need to not get those muddied, and I see that getting muddied too often. People talk about these decisions as if they're information architecture questions, and they make them first, when actually you should be making these decisions first and then picking the best, like I said, it's a bit more art than science sometimes to making the decision between longer URLs, more descriptive URLs, or shorter URL paths.

So I hope that's been a helpful intro to a basic topic. I've written a bunch of this stuff up in a blog post, and we'll link to that. But yeah, I've enjoyed this Whiteboard Friday. I hope you have too. See you soon.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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The Difference Between URL Structure and Information Architecture - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by willcritchlow

Questions about URL structure and information architecture are easy to get confused, but it's an important distinction to maintain. IA tends to be more impactful than URL decisions alone, but advice given around IA often defaults to suggestions on how to best structure your URLs. In this Whiteboard Friday, Will Critchlow helps us distinguish between the two disparate topics and shares some guiding questions to ask about each.

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

Video Transcription

Hi, everyone. Welcome to a British Whiteboard Friday. My name is Will Critchlow. I'm one of the founders of Distilled, and I wanted to go back to some basics today. I wanted to cover a little bit of the difference between URL structure and information architecture, because I see these two concepts unfortunately mixed up a little bit too often when people are talking about advice that they want to give.

I'm thinking here particularly from an SEO perspective. So there is a much broader study of information architecture. But here we're thinking really about: What do the search engines care about, and what do users care about when they're searching? So we'll link some basics about things like what is URL structure, but we're essentially talking here about the path, right, the bit that comes after the domain https://ift.tt/2yYIvZg.

There's a couple of main ways of structuring your URL. You can have kind of a subfolder type of structure or a much flatter structure where everything is kind of collapsed into the one level. There are pros and cons of different ways of doing this stuff, and there's a ton of advice. You're generally trading off considerations around, in general, it's better to have shorter URLs than longer URLs, but it's also better, on average, to have your keyword there than not to have your keyword there.

These are in tension. So there's a little bit of art that goes into structuring good URLs. But too often I see people, when they're really trying to give information architecture advice, ending up talking about URL structure, and I want to just kind of tease those things apart so that we know what we're talking about.

So I think the confusion arises because both of them can involve questions around which pages exist on my website and what hierarchies are there between pages and groups of pages.

URL questions

So what pages exist is clearly a URL question at some level. Literally if I go to /shoes/womens, is that a 200 status? Is that a page that returns things on my website? That is, at its basics, a URL question. But zoom out a little bit and say what are the set of pages, what are the groups of pages that exist on my website, and that is an information architecture question, and, in particular, how they're structured and how those hierarchies come together is an information architecture question.

But it's muddied by the fact that there are hierarchy questions in the URL. So when you're thinking about your red women's shoes subcategory page on an e-commerce site, for example, you could structure that in a flat way like this or in a subfolder structure. That's just a pure URL question. But it gets muddied with the information architecture questions, which we'll come on to.

I think probably one of the key ones that comes up is: Where do your detail-level pages sit? So on an e-commerce site, imagine a product page. You could have just /product-slug. Ideally that would have some kind of descriptive keywords in it, rather than just being an anonymous number. But you can have it just in the root like this, or you can put it in a subfolder, the category it lives in.

So if this is a pair of red women's shoes, then you could have it in /shoes/women/red slug, for example. There are pros and cons of both of these. I'm not going to get deep into it, but in general the point is you can make any of these decisions about your URLs independent of your information architecture questions.

Information architecture questions

Let's talk about the information architecture, because these are actually, in general, the more impactful questions for your search performance. So these are things like, as I said at the beginning, it's essentially what pages exist and what are their hierarchies.

  • How many levels of category and subcategory should we have on our website?
  • What do we do in our faceted navigation?
  • Do we go two levels deep?
  • Do we go three levels deep?
  • Do we allow all those pages to be crawled and indexed?
  • How do we link between things?
  • How do we link between the sibling products that are in the same category or subcategory?
  • How do we link back up the structure to the parent subcategory or category?
  • How do we crucially build good link paths out from the big, important pages on our website, so our homepage or major category pages?
  • What's the link path that you can follow by clicking multiple links from there to get to detail level for every product on your website?

Those kind of questions are really impactful. They make a big difference, on an SEO front, both in terms of crawl depth, so literally a search engine spider coming in and saying, "I need to discover all these pages, all these detail-level pages on your website." So what's the click depth and crawl path out from those major pages?

Think about link authority and your link paths

It's also a big factor in a link authority sense. Your internal linking structure is how your PageRank and other link metrics get distributed out around your website, and so it's really critical that you have these great linking paths down into the products, between important products, and between categories and back up the hierarchy. How do we build the best link paths from our important pages down to our detail-level pages and back up?

Make your IA decisions before your URL structure decisions

After you have made whatever IA decisions you like, then you can independently choose your preferred URLs for each page type.

These are SEO information architecture questions, and the critical thing to realize is that you can make all of your information architecture decisions — which pages exist, which subcategories we're going to have indexed, how we link between sibling products, all of this linking stuff — we can make all these decisions, and then we can say, independently of whatever decisions we made, we can choose any of the URL structures we like for what those actual pages' paths are, what the URLs are for those pages.

We need to not get those muddied, and I see that getting muddied too often. People talk about these decisions as if they're information architecture questions, and they make them first, when actually you should be making these decisions first and then picking the best, like I said, it's a bit more art than science sometimes to making the decision between longer URLs, more descriptive URLs, or shorter URL paths.

So I hope that's been a helpful intro to a basic topic. I've written a bunch of this stuff up in a blog post, and we'll link to that. But yeah, I've enjoyed this Whiteboard Friday. I hope you have too. See you soon.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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Thứ Hai, 5 tháng 11, 2018

What the Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019

Posted by MiriamEllis

Everything your brand does in the new year should support just one goal: better local customer service.

Does this sound too simple? Doesn’t marketing brim with a thousand different tasks? Of course — but if the goal of each initiative isn’t to serve the customer better, it’s time for a change of business heart. By putting customers, and their problems, at the absolute center of your brand’s strategy, your enterprise will continuously return to this heart of the matter, this heart of commerce.

What is local customer service in 2019?

It’s so much more than the face-to-face interactions of one staffer with one shopper. Rather, it’s a commitment to becoming an always-on resource that is accessible to people whenever, wherever and however they need it. A Google rep was recently quoted as saying that 46% of searches have a local intent. Mobile search, combined with desktop and various forms of ambient search, have established the local web as man’s other best friend, the constant companion that’s ever ready to serve.

Let’s position your brand to become that faithful helper by establishing the local customer service ecosystem:

Your Key to the Local Customer Service Ecosystem

At the heart sits the local customer, who wants to know:

  • Who can help them, who likes or dislikes a business, who’s behind a brand, who’s the best, cheapest, fastest, closest, etc.
  • What the answer is to their question, what product/service solves their problems, what businesses are nearby, what it’s like there, what policies protect them, what’s the phone number, the website URL, the email address, etc.
  • Where a business is located, where to find parking, where something is manufactured or grown, etc.
  • When a business is open, when sales or events are, when busiest times are, when to purchase specific products/services or book an appointment, etc.
  • Why a business is the best choice based on specific factors, why a business was founded, why people like/dislike a business, etc.
  • How to get to the business by car/bike/on foot, how to learn/do/buy something, how to contact the right person or department, how to make a complaint or leave feedback, how the business supports the community, etc.

Your always-on customer service solves all of these problems with a combination of all of the following:

In-store

Good customer service looks like:

  • A publicly accessible brand policy that protects the rights and defends the dignity of both employees and consumers.
  • Well-trained phone staff with good language skills, equipped to answer FAQs and escalate problems they can’t solve. Sufficient staff to minimize hold-times.
  • Well-trained consumer-facing staff, well-versed in policy, products and services. Sufficient staff to be easily-accessible by customers.
  • In-store signage (including after-hours messaging) that guides consumers towards voicing complaints in person, reducing negative reviews.
  • In-store signage/messaging that promotes aspects of the business that are most beneficial to the community. (philanthropy, environmental stewardship, etc.) to promote loyalty and word-of-mouth.
  • Cleanliness, orderliness and fast resolution of broken fixtures and related issues.
  • Equal access to all facilities with an emphasis on maximum consumer comfort and convenience.
  • Support of payment forms most popular with local customers (cash, check, digital, etc.), security of payment processes, and minimization of billing mistakes/hassles.
  • Correctly posted, consistent hours of operation, reducing inconvenience. Clear messaging regarding special hours/closures.
  • A brand culture that rewards employees who wisely use their own initiative to solve customers’ problems.

Website

Good customer service looks like:

  • Content that solves people’s problems as conveniently and thoroughly as possible in language that they speak. Everything you publish (home, about, contact, local landing pages, etc.) should pass the test of consumer usefulness.
  • Equal access to content, regardless of device.
  • Easily accessible contact information, including name, address, phone number, fax, email, text, driving directions, maps and hours of operation.
  • Signals of trustworthiness, such as reviews, licenses, accreditations, affiliations, and basic website security.
  • Signals of benefit, including community involvement, philanthropy, environmental protections, etc.
  • Click-to-call phone numbers.
  • Clear policies that outline the rights of the consumer and the brand.

Organic SERPs

Good customer service looks like:

  • Management of the first few pages of the organic SERPs to ensure that basic information on them is accurate. This includes structured citations on local business directories, unstructured citations on blog posts, news sites, top 10 lists, review sites, etc. It can also include featured snippets.
  • Management also includes monitoring of the SERPs for highly-ranked content that cites problems others are having with the brand. If these problems can be addressed and resolved, the next step is outreach to the publisher to demonstrate that the problem has been addressed.

Email

Good customer service looks like:

  • Accessible email addresses for customers seeking support and fast responses to queries.
  • Opt-in email marketing in the form of newsletters and special offers.

Reviews

Good customer service looks like:

  • Accuracy of basic business information on major review platforms.
  • Professional and fast responses to both positive and negative reviews, with the core goal of helping and retaining customers by acknowledging their voices and solving their problems.
  • Sentiment analysis of reviews by location to identify emerging problems at specific branches for troubleshooting and resolution.
  • Monitoring of reviews for spam and reporting it where possible.
  • Avoidance of any form of review spam on the part of the brand.
  • Where allowed, guiding valued customers to leave reviews to let the greater community know about the existence and quality of your brand.

Links

Good customer service looks like:

  • Linking out to third-party resources of genuine use to customers.
  • Pursuit of inbound links from relevant sites that expand customers’ picture of what’s available in the place they live, enriching their experience.

Tech

Good customer service looks like:

  • Website usability and accessibility for users of all abilities and on all browsers and devices (ADA compliance, mobile-friendliness, load speed, architecture, etc.)
  • Apps, tools and widgets that improve customers’ experience.
  • Brand accessibility on social platforms most favored by customers.
  • Analytics that provide insight without trespassing on customers’ comfort or right to privacy.

Social

Good customer service looks like:

  • Brand accessibility on social platforms most favored by customers.
  • Social monitoring of the brand name to identify and resolve complaints, as well as to acknowledge praise.
  • Participation for the sake of community involvement as opposed to exploitation. Sharing instead of selling.
  • Advocacy for social platforms to improve their standards of transparency and their commitment to protections for consumers and brands.

Google My Business

Good customer service looks like:

  • Embrace of all elements of Google’s local features (Google My Business listings, Knowledge Panels, Maps, etc.) that create convenience and accessibility for consumers.
  • Ongoing monitoring for accuracy of basic information.
  • Brand avoidance of spam, and also, reporting of spam to protect consumers.
  • Advocacy for Google to improve its standards as a source of community information, including accountability for misinformation on their platform, and basic protections for both brands and consumers.

Customers’ Problems are Yours to Solve

“$41 billion is lost each year by US companies following a bad customer experience.”
-
New Voice Media

When customers don’t know where something is, how something works, when they can do something, who or what can help them, or why they should choose one option over another, your brand can recognize that they are having a problem. It could be as small a problem as where to buy a gift or as large a problem as seeking legal assistance after their home has been damaged in a disaster.

With the Internet never farther away than fingertips or voices, people have become habituated to turning to it with most of their problems, hour by hour, year by year. Recognition of quests for help may have been simpler just a few decades ago when customers were limited to writing letters, picking up phones, or walking into stores to say, “I have a need.” Now, competitive local enterprises have to expand their view to include customer problems that play out all over the web with new expectations of immediacy.

Unfortunately, brands are struggling with this, and we can sum up common barriers to modern customer service in 3 ways:

1) Brand Self-Absorption

“I’ve gotta have my Pops,” frets a boy in an extreme (and, frankly, off-putting) example in which people behave as though addicted to products. TV ads are rife with the wishfulness of marketers pretending that consumers sing and dance at the mere idea of possessing cars, soda, and soap. Meanwhile, real people stand at a distance watching the song and dance, perhaps amused sometimes, but aware that what’s on-screen isn’t them.

“We’re awesome,” reads too much content on the web, with a brand-centric, self-congratulatory focus. At the other end of the spectrum, web pages sit stuffed with meaningless keywords or almost no text as all, as though there aren’t human beings trying to communicate on either side of the screen.

“Who cares?” is the message untrained employees, neglected shopping environments, and disregarded requests for assistance send when real-world locations open doors but appear to put customer experience as their lowest priority. I’ve catalogued some of my most disheartening customer service interludes and I know you’ve had them, too.

Sometimes, brands get so lost in boardrooms, it’s all they can think of to put in their million-dollar ad campaigns, forgetting that most of their customers don’t live in that world.

One of the first lightbulb moments in the history of online content marketing was the we-you shift. Instead of writing, “We’re here, isn’t that great?”, we began writing, “You’re here and your problem can be solved.” This is the simple but elegant evolution that brands, on the whole, need to experience.

2) Ethical Deficits

Sometimes, customers aren’t lost because a brand is too inwardly focused, but rather, because its executives lack the vision to sustain an ethical business model. Every brand is tasked with succeeding, but it takes civic-minded, customer-centric leadership to avoid the abuses we are seeing at the highest echelons of the business world right now. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, and similar majors have repeatedly failed to put people over profits, resulting in:

  • Scandals
  • Lawsuits
  • Fines
  • Boycotts
  • Loss of consumer trust
  • Employee loss of pride in company culture

At a local business level, and in a grand understatement, it isn’t good customer service when a company deceives or harms the public. Brands, large and small, want to earn the right of integration into the lives of their customers as chosen resources. Large enterprises seeking local customers need leadership that can envision itself in the setting of a single small community, where dishonest practices impact real lives and could lead to permanent closure. Loss of trust should never be an acceptable part of economies of scale.

The internet has put customers, staffers, and media all on the same channels. Ethical leadership is the key ingredient to building a sustainable business model in which all stakeholders take pride.

3) Lack of Strategy

Happily, many brands genuinely do want to face outward and possess the ethics to treat people well. They may simply lack a complete strategy for covering all the bases that make up a satisfying experience. Small local businesses may find lack of time or resources a bar to the necessary education, and structure at enterprises may make it difficult to get buy-in for the fine details of customer service initiatives. Priorities and budgets may get skewed away from customers instead of toward them.

The TL;DR of this entire post is that modern customer service means solving customers’ problems by being wherever they are when they seek solutions. Beyond that, a combination of sufficient, well-trained staff (both online and off) and the type of automation provided by tools that manage local business listings, reviews and social listening are success factors most brands can implement.

Reach Out...

We’ve talked about some negative patterns that can either distance brands from customers, or cause customers to distance themselves due to loss of trust. What’s the good news?

Every single employee of every local brand in the US already knows what good customer service feels like, because all of us are customers.

There’s no mystery or magic here. Your CEO, your devs, sales team, and everyone else in your organization already know by experience what it feels like to be treated well or poorly.

And they already know what it’s like when they see themselves reflected in a store location or on a screen.

Earlier, I cited an old TV spot in which actors were paid to act out the fantasy of a brand. Let’s reach back in time again and watch a similar-era commercial in which actors are paid to role play genuine consumer problems - in this case, a family that wants to keep in touch with a member who is away from home:

The TV family may not look identical to yours, but their featured problem - wanting to keep close to a distant loved one - is one most people can relate to. This 5-year ad campaign won every award in sight, and the key to it is that consumers could recognize themselves on the screen and this act of recognition engaged their emotions.

Yes, a service is being sold (long distance calling), but the selling is being done by putting customers in the starring roles and solving their problems. That’s what good customer service does, and in 2019, if your brand can parlay this mindset into all of the mediums via which people now seek help, your own “reach out and touch someone” goals are well on their way to success.

Loyal Service Sparks Consumer Loyalty

“Acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to twenty times more expensive than retaining an existing one.”
Harvard Business Review
“Loyal customers are worth up to ten times as much as their first purchase.”
White House Office of Consumer Affairs

I want to close here with a note on loyalty. With a single customer representing up to 10x the value of their first purchase, earning a devoted clientele is the very best inspiration for dedication to improving customer service.

Trader Joe’s is a large chain that earns consistent mentions for its high standards of customer service. Being a local SEO, I turned to its Google reviews, looking at 5 locations in Northern California. I counted 225 instances of people exuberantly praising staff at just these 5 locations, using words like “Awesome, incredible, helpful, friendly, and fun!”. Moreover, reviewers continuously mentioned the brand as the only place they want to shop for groceries because they love it so much. It’s as close as you can get to a “gotta have my Pops” scenario, but it’s real.

How does Trader Joe’s pull this off? A study conducted by Temkin Group found that, “A customer’s emotional experience is the most significant driver of loyalty, especially when it comes to consumers recommending firms to their friends.” The cited article lists emotional connection and content, motivated employees who are empowered to go the extra mile as keys to why this chain was ranked second-highest in emotion ratings (a concept similar to Net Promoter Score). In a word, the Trader Joe’s customer service experience creates the right feelings, as this quick sentiment cloud of Google review analysis illustrates:

This brand has absolutely perfected the thrilling and lucrative art of creating loyal customers, making their review corpus read like a volume of love letters. The next move for this company - and for the local brands you market - is to “spread the love” across all points where a customer might seek to connect, both online and off.

It’s a kind of love when you ensure a customer isn’t misdirected by a wrong address on a local business listing or when you answer a negative review with the will to make things right. It’s a kind of love when a company blog is so helpful that its comments say, “You must be psychic! This is the exact problem I was trying to solve.” It’s a kind of love when a staff member is empowered to create such a good experience that a customer tells their mother, their son, their best friend to trust you brand.

Love, emotions, feelings — are we still talking about business here? Yes, because when you subtract the medium, the device, the screen, it’s two very human people on either side of every transaction.


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What the Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019

Posted by MiriamEllis

Everything your brand does in the new year should support just one goal: better local customer service.

Does this sound too simple? Doesn’t marketing brim with a thousand different tasks? Of course — but if the goal of each initiative isn’t to serve the customer better, it’s time for a change of business heart. By putting customers, and their problems, at the absolute center of your brand’s strategy, your enterprise will continuously return to this heart of the matter, this heart of commerce.

What is local customer service in 2019?

It’s so much more than the face-to-face interactions of one staffer with one shopper. Rather, it’s a commitment to becoming an always-on resource that is accessible to people whenever, wherever and however they need it. A Google rep was recently quoted as saying that 46% of searches have a local intent. Mobile search, combined with desktop and various forms of ambient search, have established the local web as man’s other best friend, the constant companion that’s ever ready to serve.

Let’s position your brand to become that faithful helper by establishing the local customer service ecosystem:

Your Key to the Local Customer Service Ecosystem

At the heart sits the local customer, who wants to know:

  • Who can help them, who likes or dislikes a business, who’s behind a brand, who’s the best, cheapest, fastest, closest, etc.
  • What the answer is to their question, what product/service solves their problems, what businesses are nearby, what it’s like there, what policies protect them, what’s the phone number, the website URL, the email address, etc.
  • Where a business is located, where to find parking, where something is manufactured or grown, etc.
  • When a business is open, when sales or events are, when busiest times are, when to purchase specific products/services or book an appointment, etc.
  • Why a business is the best choice based on specific factors, why a business was founded, why people like/dislike a business, etc.
  • How to get to the business by car/bike/on foot, how to learn/do/buy something, how to contact the right person or department, how to make a complaint or leave feedback, how the business supports the community, etc.

Your always-on customer service solves all of these problems with a combination of all of the following:

In-store

Good customer service looks like:

  • A publicly accessible brand policy that protects the rights and defends the dignity of both employees and consumers.
  • Well-trained phone staff with good language skills, equipped to answer FAQs and escalate problems they can’t solve. Sufficient staff to minimize hold-times.
  • Well-trained consumer-facing staff, well-versed in policy, products and services. Sufficient staff to be easily-accessible by customers.
  • In-store signage (including after-hours messaging) that guides consumers towards voicing complaints in person, reducing negative reviews.
  • In-store signage/messaging that promotes aspects of the business that are most beneficial to the community. (philanthropy, environmental stewardship, etc.) to promote loyalty and word-of-mouth.
  • Cleanliness, orderliness and fast resolution of broken fixtures and related issues.
  • Equal access to all facilities with an emphasis on maximum consumer comfort and convenience.
  • Support of payment forms most popular with local customers (cash, check, digital, etc.), security of payment processes, and minimization of billing mistakes/hassles.
  • Correctly posted, consistent hours of operation, reducing inconvenience. Clear messaging regarding special hours/closures.
  • A brand culture that rewards employees who wisely use their own initiative to solve customers’ problems.

Website

Good customer service looks like:

  • Content that solves people’s problems as conveniently and thoroughly as possible in language that they speak. Everything you publish (home, about, contact, local landing pages, etc.) should pass the test of consumer usefulness.
  • Equal access to content, regardless of device.
  • Easily accessible contact information, including name, address, phone number, fax, email, text, driving directions, maps and hours of operation.
  • Signals of trustworthiness, such as reviews, licenses, accreditations, affiliations, and basic website security.
  • Signals of benefit, including community involvement, philanthropy, environmental protections, etc.
  • Click-to-call phone numbers.
  • Clear policies that outline the rights of the consumer and the brand.

Organic SERPs

Good customer service looks like:

  • Management of the first few pages of the organic SERPs to ensure that basic information on them is accurate. This includes structured citations on local business directories, unstructured citations on blog posts, news sites, top 10 lists, review sites, etc. It can also include featured snippets.
  • Management also includes monitoring of the SERPs for highly-ranked content that cites problems others are having with the brand. If these problems can be addressed and resolved, the next step is outreach to the publisher to demonstrate that the problem has been addressed.

Email

Good customer service looks like:

  • Accessible email addresses for customers seeking support and fast responses to queries.
  • Opt-in email marketing in the form of newsletters and special offers.

Reviews

Good customer service looks like:

  • Accuracy of basic business information on major review platforms.
  • Professional and fast responses to both positive and negative reviews, with the core goal of helping and retaining customers by acknowledging their voices and solving their problems.
  • Sentiment analysis of reviews by location to identify emerging problems at specific branches for troubleshooting and resolution.
  • Monitoring of reviews for spam and reporting it where possible.
  • Avoidance of any form of review spam on the part of the brand.
  • Where allowed, guiding valued customers to leave reviews to let the greater community know about the existence and quality of your brand.

Links

Good customer service looks like:

  • Linking out to third-party resources of genuine use to customers.
  • Pursuit of inbound links from relevant sites that expand customers’ picture of what’s available in the place they live, enriching their experience.

Tech

Good customer service looks like:

  • Website usability and accessibility for users of all abilities and on all browsers and devices (ADA compliance, mobile-friendliness, load speed, architecture, etc.)
  • Apps, tools and widgets that improve customers’ experience.
  • Brand accessibility on social platforms most favored by customers.
  • Analytics that provide insight without trespassing on customers’ comfort or right to privacy.

Social

Good customer service looks like:

  • Brand accessibility on social platforms most favored by customers.
  • Social monitoring of the brand name to identify and resolve complaints, as well as to acknowledge praise.
  • Participation for the sake of community involvement as opposed to exploitation. Sharing instead of selling.
  • Advocacy for social platforms to improve their standards of transparency and their commitment to protections for consumers and brands.

Google My Business

Good customer service looks like:

  • Embrace of all elements of Google’s local features (Google My Business listings, Knowledge Panels, Maps, etc.) that create convenience and accessibility for consumers.
  • Ongoing monitoring for accuracy of basic information.
  • Brand avoidance of spam, and also, reporting of spam to protect consumers.
  • Advocacy for Google to improve its standards as a source of community information, including accountability for misinformation on their platform, and basic protections for both brands and consumers.

Customers’ Problems are Yours to Solve

“$41 billion is lost each year by US companies following a bad customer experience.”
-
New Voice Media

When customers don’t know where something is, how something works, when they can do something, who or what can help them, or why they should choose one option over another, your brand can recognize that they are having a problem. It could be as small a problem as where to buy a gift or as large a problem as seeking legal assistance after their home has been damaged in a disaster.

With the Internet never farther away than fingertips or voices, people have become habituated to turning to it with most of their problems, hour by hour, year by year. Recognition of quests for help may have been simpler just a few decades ago when customers were limited to writing letters, picking up phones, or walking into stores to say, “I have a need.” Now, competitive local enterprises have to expand their view to include customer problems that play out all over the web with new expectations of immediacy.

Unfortunately, brands are struggling with this, and we can sum up common barriers to modern customer service in 3 ways:

1) Brand Self-Absorption

“I’ve gotta have my Pops,” frets a boy in an extreme (and, frankly, off-putting) example in which people behave as though addicted to products. TV ads are rife with the wishfulness of marketers pretending that consumers sing and dance at the mere idea of possessing cars, soda, and soap. Meanwhile, real people stand at a distance watching the song and dance, perhaps amused sometimes, but aware that what’s on-screen isn’t them.

“We’re awesome,” reads too much content on the web, with a brand-centric, self-congratulatory focus. At the other end of the spectrum, web pages sit stuffed with meaningless keywords or almost no text as all, as though there aren’t human beings trying to communicate on either side of the screen.

“Who cares?” is the message untrained employees, neglected shopping environments, and disregarded requests for assistance send when real-world locations open doors but appear to put customer experience as their lowest priority. I’ve catalogued some of my most disheartening customer service interludes and I know you’ve had them, too.

Sometimes, brands get so lost in boardrooms, it’s all they can think of to put in their million-dollar ad campaigns, forgetting that most of their customers don’t live in that world.

One of the first lightbulb moments in the history of online content marketing was the we-you shift. Instead of writing, “We’re here, isn’t that great?”, we began writing, “You’re here and your problem can be solved.” This is the simple but elegant evolution that brands, on the whole, need to experience.

2) Ethical Deficits

Sometimes, customers aren’t lost because a brand is too inwardly focused, but rather, because its executives lack the vision to sustain an ethical business model. Every brand is tasked with succeeding, but it takes civic-minded, customer-centric leadership to avoid the abuses we are seeing at the highest echelons of the business world right now. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, and similar majors have repeatedly failed to put people over profits, resulting in:

  • Scandals
  • Lawsuits
  • Fines
  • Boycotts
  • Loss of consumer trust
  • Employee loss of pride in company culture

At a local business level, and in a grand understatement, it isn’t good customer service when a company deceives or harms the public. Brands, large and small, want to earn the right of integration into the lives of their customers as chosen resources. Large enterprises seeking local customers need leadership that can envision itself in the setting of a single small community, where dishonest practices impact real lives and could lead to permanent closure. Loss of trust should never be an acceptable part of economies of scale.

The internet has put customers, staffers, and media all on the same channels. Ethical leadership is the key ingredient to building a sustainable business model in which all stakeholders take pride.

3) Lack of Strategy

Happily, many brands genuinely do want to face outward and possess the ethics to treat people well. They may simply lack a complete strategy for covering all the bases that make up a satisfying experience. Small local businesses may find lack of time or resources a bar to the necessary education, and structure at enterprises may make it difficult to get buy-in for the fine details of customer service initiatives. Priorities and budgets may get skewed away from customers instead of toward them.

The TL;DR of this entire post is that modern customer service means solving customers’ problems by being wherever they are when they seek solutions. Beyond that, a combination of sufficient, well-trained staff (both online and off) and the type of automation provided by tools that manage local business listings, reviews and social listening are success factors most brands can implement.

Reach Out...

We’ve talked about some negative patterns that can either distance brands from customers, or cause customers to distance themselves due to loss of trust. What’s the good news?

Every single employee of every local brand in the US already knows what good customer service feels like, because all of us are customers.

There’s no mystery or magic here. Your CEO, your devs, sales team, and everyone else in your organization already know by experience what it feels like to be treated well or poorly.

And they already know what it’s like when they see themselves reflected in a store location or on a screen.

Earlier, I cited an old TV spot in which actors were paid to act out the fantasy of a brand. Let’s reach back in time again and watch a similar-era commercial in which actors are paid to role play genuine consumer problems - in this case, a family that wants to keep in touch with a member who is away from home:

The TV family may not look identical to yours, but their featured problem - wanting to keep close to a distant loved one - is one most people can relate to. This 5-year ad campaign won every award in sight, and the key to it is that consumers could recognize themselves on the screen and this act of recognition engaged their emotions.

Yes, a service is being sold (long distance calling), but the selling is being done by putting customers in the starring roles and solving their problems. That’s what good customer service does, and in 2019, if your brand can parlay this mindset into all of the mediums via which people now seek help, your own “reach out and touch someone” goals are well on their way to success.

Loyal Service Sparks Consumer Loyalty

“Acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to twenty times more expensive than retaining an existing one.”
Harvard Business Review
“Loyal customers are worth up to ten times as much as their first purchase.”
White House Office of Consumer Affairs

I want to close here with a note on loyalty. With a single customer representing up to 10x the value of their first purchase, earning a devoted clientele is the very best inspiration for dedication to improving customer service.

Trader Joe’s is a large chain that earns consistent mentions for its high standards of customer service. Being a local SEO, I turned to its Google reviews, looking at 5 locations in Northern California. I counted 225 instances of people exuberantly praising staff at just these 5 locations, using words like “Awesome, incredible, helpful, friendly, and fun!”. Moreover, reviewers continuously mentioned the brand as the only place they want to shop for groceries because they love it so much. It’s as close as you can get to a “gotta have my Pops” scenario, but it’s real.

How does Trader Joe’s pull this off? A study conducted by Temkin Group found that, “A customer’s emotional experience is the most significant driver of loyalty, especially when it comes to consumers recommending firms to their friends.” The cited article lists emotional connection and content, motivated employees who are empowered to go the extra mile as keys to why this chain was ranked second-highest in emotion ratings (a concept similar to Net Promoter Score). In a word, the Trader Joe’s customer service experience creates the right feelings, as this quick sentiment cloud of Google review analysis illustrates:

This brand has absolutely perfected the thrilling and lucrative art of creating loyal customers, making their review corpus read like a volume of love letters. The next move for this company - and for the local brands you market - is to “spread the love” across all points where a customer might seek to connect, both online and off.

It’s a kind of love when you ensure a customer isn’t misdirected by a wrong address on a local business listing or when you answer a negative review with the will to make things right. It’s a kind of love when a company blog is so helpful that its comments say, “You must be psychic! This is the exact problem I was trying to solve.” It’s a kind of love when a staff member is empowered to create such a good experience that a customer tells their mother, their son, their best friend to trust you brand.

Love, emotions, feelings — are we still talking about business here? Yes, because when you subtract the medium, the device, the screen, it’s two very human people on either side of every transaction.


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