Welcome to a new series we are launching— SEMrush Q&A. This series will answer questions we get from social media, via email, in private conversations with customers, in blog comments, and in webinars. We will gather community questions and find experts with the knowledge and experience to answer them and publish their responses each month. So if you have questions, let our team know, and perhaps we can get an answer for you.
For today, we are focusing on SEO questions from our webinar team. They get a ton of questions before, during, and after webinars, and unfortunately, our guests can't answer them all. So, we chose some questions and asked experts to provide useful answers for our community. Below you will see some notable and brilliant people that took some time to answer questions for us.
Question: "What are some strategies that we can use to bring visitors from the snippet, and closer to our brand?"
Barry: Google has given us more control over our snippets in its search results over the years. The most obvious control we have are the rich results schema. There are tons of different markup types you can use, based on the type of content on a specific page, and most of them help make your snippet stand out from your competitors.
You can also try to tailor your title tags and meta descriptions to encourage the user to click from the Google search results page to your page. Some of that might require testing to ensure your rankings stay high, but your CTR also improves.
You can track these clicks and impressions in detail using Google Search Console’s performance reports. Google used to let you embed emojis, HTML entities, Unicode, and other tricks to make your snippets stand out, but those don’t last long and are often disabled by Google quickly. Ultimately, you want your snippet to give enough information to the searcher for the query and encourage the searcher to click off of Google and on to your web site.
Question: "These days, is there anything else of value, other than an article, that might entice another site to provide a link?"
Marie: In my opinion, the only links that Google really wants to count towards rankings are those that truly are recommendations for your company or website. The problem though is that that type of link is hard to get.
In the past, I could write ten guest posts, farm them out, and voila — I have made ten links. In most cases, I have even chosen the anchor text of those links. But are those links really recommendations of my site? No, they are self-made, and as such, Google likely doesn't want to count them towards helping me rank better.
In my opinion, Penguin 4.0, which was released in late 2016, was when Google first started being able to truly ignore the vast majority of self-made links. A full explanation on how to get links that Google wants to reward would fill an entire book. But for now, here are some thoughts to get you started:
- Look at what content of yours has actually attracted some natural recommendations. Can you do more of that? Can you modify it in ways to get even more people wanting to link?
- Create a tool that people love to use. You can hire a developer off of a marketplace like Upwork to help with this. Tools attract links.
- Have the company do something truly press-worthy that journalists would love to write about. Make it easy to link. For example, you could create a petition for something people are passionate about and spread the word to journalists. If it takes off, journalists will write an article and include a link to your petition.
The ultimate goal though is to figure out what you can do, and potentially what your competitors can do, to get people to recommend your content.
Question: "My best performing posts are still ranking in Google at an average position of 2.3, but my impressions for those posts are down 30%. How do I find out why and how do I correct it? These posts are my moneymakers."
As a diagnostician, I like to approach the "why" by ruling-out all possible causes. There are a few reasons why impressions can decrease while maintaining the same SERP position, but before we can get into the diagnostics part of all this, we need to first triage the symptoms.
Let’s first ask, “Did the decrease in impressions affect clicks?” Did the clicks decrease at the same time as the impressions, or did you continue to get the same amount of clicks while the impressions dropped off?
It is worth noting that my recommendations/answers below will change depending on how you are viewing this data in GSC (by page URL or by query).
You also need to keep in mind that position averages change based on the date range.
If your clicks for these queries remained the same, I would call this a reporting issue. And if they are affected, I would look into the following:
1. Seasonality is typically at the root of this. Take a look at the monthly trend for these keywords to see if the demand has decreased due to the time of year/month. At the same time, run a "standard deviation" analysis of your traffic to see if this a normal fluctuation.
2. Overall demand for these queries has shifted. It is possible that the topic that you covered has lost its appeal over time. Which means fewer people are performing these searches and results in lower impressions. Use a tool like Google Trends to explore this further. Often seen in eCommerce, a shift happens in the way users begin their discovery journey for certain products/topics. Frequently people will bypass Google and go directly to Amazon.
3. Mobile vs. Desktop - Go into your Search Console and run a comparison between devices to see if more queries are now being performed on mobile than desktop. It is possible to retain the same positions across both device types while having completely different impression counts.
4. Different ranking URLs - this may be the least likely scenario - it is also possible that Google is testing/selecting different URLs on your site as matches for these queries. While one of the URLs could be ranking on page 1, the other could be on page 2. The one on page 2 could have been ranking a few times during the time period, so while not greatly affecting your average position, this could indeed affect your impressions and clicks.
Question: "Is backlinking a good strategy for syndicated content across multiple branded domains?"
Julie: I think backlinking is a good strategy for any content, period. I do think that relying on syndicated content alone is not good though, so you should still try and get links from sites outside of those syndicated networks.
There seem to be two schools of thought with regards to syndication, with one believing that all the links gained from syndication should "count" as links, and the other believing that only the main one should count.
If you look at the syndicated links, you could say that you got 100 links in one day when maybe you just got the one link on a site, and then the syndicated sites grabbed the content. I am in the "it's just one good link" camp. That is why I wouldn't rely on it, as I would much rather keep pursuing unique domains that aren't in that network.
Question: "What are your top tips for link building for small local businesses?"
Greg: The most important tip is to remember that local link building is a different animal. It is perfectly OK if the link is from a business not related to yours, or has low authority, or even if it is nofollow. Google’s local algorithm looks at links differently.
BUT, the easiest way to build local links is to get involved in the local community. Do old school, grass-roots marketing, and you will find it is pretty easy to get awesome links. Sponsor local events, donate time to local causes, find local bloggers, there are tons of effective tactics.
If you want more info and ideas, check out the presentation I gave at SMS Sydney this summer.
Question: "What is the most common thing you see missed or not utilized by business owners on Google My Business?"
Brodie: One of the most overlooked areas would have to be the imagery added to listings (or lack thereof). Adding high quality and engaging images to GMB is such a good way to stand out from your competitors, and you best believe customers scrolling through is a signal Google takes into consideration – it only makes sense that they would.
If a client doesn't have high-quality imagery on hand, then help them through the process of getting a photographer. You can do this cheaply through Snappr, where they can then use any images taken for plenty of other purposes like on their website or in their newsletter, so it ends up being a very worthwhile task.
If you are a local business, then upload photos such as high res headshots of your team members, your business interior and exterior, tools used to complete your work, and products sold.
Another area worth considering is ways to encourage your customers to upload photos to your listing; this would also be a great signal for Google with respect to the quality of your listing. GMB now also gives you more control over the feature image that you can set within the dashboard, which is a great opportunity to stand out with an image that represents the brand best. People love browsing through images on GMB listings, so give them a memorable experience.
Question: "My competition has thousands of spammy backlinks, but their domain authority is still so high. Is there something I can do to compete with that?"
Ross: I would recommend that you stop using domain authority as a metric. It is an arbitrary score from a 3rd party and doesn't have an effect on your ability to rank — it should be used more as an indicator of top-level domain health.
Regarding the spammy backlinks, it is likely that Google is already discounting a lot of them, so there isn't a lot to worry about. However, if you are in a PPC niche (pills, porn or casino), then this advice goes out the window as all sorts of spam, and low-end links are needed to compete in those verticals.
If you are looking to compete in link building and you need to achieve scale, you are going to need a large budget to hire an in-house team to do manual outreach around the clock, or you need to spend some time making a linkable asset that you can pitch to journalists all over the globe. If you are looking to do the second one you should do some research on a local level so you can pitch local journalists your story.
In the US, there are 2500 local outlets, all with very high link metrics. If you can create an interactive piece of content that changes the data based on location, you can legitimately pitch 2500 at once with the same asset as the content is designed to change for each of them. It is definitely an advanced way of doing things, but it pays off long term.
Question: "How do you determine the best keywords to focus on for a local business? For example, a Health Center that offers Adult Medicine, Pediatric, Optometry, etc. What do I focus on for the homepage?"
Make a list of keywords you are targeting for the page based on what is getting searched according to Search Console and Google My Business Insights (search queries) but narrow it down to 3-5 (similar/related).
Make sure you don’t include keywords that are super generic and will never convert. Example: “cheating spouse” was one that came up for our private investigator but someone searching that could be looking for a dozen different things and not a private investigator.
The homepage should always use the keyword that is the “money keyword” and most likely to drive the most traffic & conversions (ex: dentist + city, criminal lawyer + city, lawn care + major area).
One way to find good keywords is to get your location to the business zip code using GS Location Changer, then search one of the primary keywords using the Keywords Everywhere Chrome Extension to get more related ideas/words based on the related terms & the “people also ask” section. (Source Local SEO training)
Question: "A lot of external citations can't be used by manufacturers' e-commerce sites, is that a necessity for featured snippets?"
Jason: Citations are not necessary for a Featured Snippet. Supporting evidence is a big help, though - in the form of links out to reliable, trustworthy sources that confirm the information you are providing.
If your brand is sufficiently authoritative and trustworthy in the eyes of Google, then you will be eligible for featured snippets. So, pursue a strategy that builds your E-A-T (a strategy that I recommend for every brand). Then also make sure your answer to the question is clear, concise, and correct. And that is good advice for any content, whether for search engines or for users.
Search engines thrive on clear and concise since their level of language understanding is relatively simplistic. But also, in a world where people are more and more impatient and are less and less willing to spend time digging to get to the solution to their problem / answer to their question, clear and concise also makes a lot of sense. Correct is, of course, a given if you want to keep your good reputation :)
Do you have a digital marketing question you would like answered?
You can let our team know your question, add comments on the blog or you can use the "Send Feedback" button above to submit a question — be sure to let us know it is for the Q&A series, and we will add your question to the list.