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5 Surprising SEO Test Results — Whiteboard Friday



5 Surprising SEO Test Results — Whiteboard Friday

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

SEO testing expert Emily Potter joins us once again to wrap up this season of Whiteboard Friday! Today, she takes you through a few tests that generated unexpected results for her team at SearchPilot, and what those results mean for SEO strategy.

Enjoy, and stay tuned for the next season of Whiteboard Friday episodes, expected later this summer!

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans. I’m Emily Potter. I’m Head of Customer Success at SearchPilot. If you haven’t heard of us before, we’re an SEO A/B testing platform. We run large-scale SEO tests on enterprise websites.

So that’s websites in industries like travel, e-commerce, or listing websites, anything that has lots of traffic and lots of templated pages. Today I’m here to share with you five of our most surprising test results that we’ve run at SearchPilot. Part of a successful SEO testing program is getting used to being surprised a heck of a lot, whether that’s because something you really thought was going to work ends up not, an SEO best practice test that ends up actually hurting your organic traffic, or something that you’ve tested just because you could that ends up being a winner.

All of our customers and us as well get surprised all the time at SearchPilot, but that’s what makes testing so important. If you’re a large enterprise website, then testing is what gives you a competitive edge. It helps you find those things that your competitors maybe wouldn’t, especially if they’re not testing, and it helps you stop yourself from rolling out changes that would harm your organic traffic that you maybe would have had you not been able to test them.

Or sometimes it’s as simple as giving you a business case to get the backing that you need to roll out something on your website that you were going to do anyway but maybe didn’t have the buy-in from other stakeholders. If you want to learn more about how we run tests at SearchPilot and how we control for things like seasonality, algorithm updates, and all that, go to our website and there’s lots of resources there.

1. Using ‘data-nosnippet’ to force Google to show custom meta descriptions

Okay, the first test I’m going to share with you today is a customer that used the data-nosnippet attribute to force Google to respect its meta descriptions. As you probably know, Google now overwrites meta descriptions as well as title tags, and this can be really frustrating. In the case of meta descriptions, sometimes it brings in text that’s strung together with ellipses, it’s not very readable, it doesn’t have good grammar, and a lot of SEOs find this frustrating.

So to get Google to show our meta descriptions instead, our customer added the data-nosnippet attribute to the body tag. What the data-nosnippet attribute does is it tells robots, like Googlebot, I don’t want you to scrape any of this content. So by putting it on the body tag, we effectively forced Google to use what was in the head, i.e., the meta description.

As you can see, this was negative. It led to a 3% loss in organic traffic. As far as SEO tests go, that’s actually a pretty small loss, but that’s still not something you want to deploy and why would you lose any traffic at all if you know that’s something going to hurt. So in this case, it turns out Google maybe is actually better at writing meta descriptions than we are.

So maybe meta descriptions aren’t a thing we should be spending so much time on as SEOs. Meta descriptions we’re finding at SearchPilot are very hard to ever come up with something that’s positive, and oftentimes, we’ve run this a couple times on different industries and different websites, actually Google is better at writing them than we are anyway.

So maybe let’s just let the robots do the work. 

2. Increasing the number of related article links

Our second test was on an e-commerce website. This was on the blog portion of their website, where they had blog content related to their products. At the bottom of every article, there were two related article links. In this test, we increased that from two to four.

Now running internal linking experiments is complicated because we’re impacting both the pages where we’re adding the links and we’re impacting the pages that receive the links. So we have to make sure that we’re controlling for both. Again, if you want to learn more about how we do that, you can check out our website or follow up with me after. Now, in this case, this was an 11% increase in organic traffic, which maybe doesn’t seem surprising because it’s links, we know that they work.

Why do I have this included on five surprising test results then? I have this included because actually this was to the donor pages. So by that I mean the pages where we added the links. The pages that were receiving the links, actually we didn’t see any detectable impact for organic traffic. That was really surprising, and it goes to show that links do more than just pass on link equity.

They actually help robots understand your page better. They can be a way to associate different bits of content together. So they actually might have benefit to both pages. This is also why it’s so important to make a controlled experiment if you’re doing internal linking tests. One, if we were just measuring the impact on the pages that were receiving them, we wouldn’t have found this one at all.

Or oftentimes, not often but sometimes at SearchPilot we’ve actually seen this be positive for one group and negative for another. So it’s really important to find out the net impact. 

3. Localizing product content on U.S. e-commerce website

Our third test that I’m going to share with you today is when we localize content on product pages for an e-commerce website in the U.S.

So that was changing things like trousers to pants. This was a website that was originally based in the UK. They rolled out in the U.S. market, and they just kept the UK content when they did that. So we wanted to figure out what would happen if we updated that and made it actually fit the market that we were in. This was a 24% increase in organic traffic.

Now, to me, that was surprising the magnitude of how much of a difference that made. But I suppose that isn’t surprising if you think about it. If trousers doesn’t get very many searches per month in the U.S. but pants does, then I guess you would expect localizing that content to improve your organic traffic.

So places where this content existed was like the meta title, the meta description, H1, and things like that. If nothing else, this is just a nice indication that sometimes normal SEO recommendations actually work, and this was a great example of one that they were able to make a business case to get their devs to implement a change that they might not have been able to convince them was very important otherwise.

4. Adding prices to title tags

Test number four, adding prices to the titles. Again, an e-commerce website. You would think best practice recommendation have the price in the title. That’s something users want to see. But, as you can see here, this was actually negative, and it was a 15% drop to organic traffic, so pretty substantial.

Important context here though. One of our hypotheses was our competitors in the SERP weren’t using prices in the title tag but instead had price snippets that were coming from structured markup. So maybe users just didn’t respond well to seeing something different to what other competitors had in the SERP.

It’s also possible that our prices weren’t as competitive, and putting them front and center in our title tag didn’t help us because it made it clear that some of the other search competitors we had had better prices. In any case, we didn’t deploy this change. But this is an important lesson in no two websites are the same.

We’ve run this test a lot of times at SearchPilot, and we’ve seen positive, we’ve seen negative, and we’ve seen inconclusive results with this. So there is no one-size-fits-all approach with SEO, and there’s nothing that’s an absolute truth and even something as simple as adding prices to your title tags.

5. Adding keyword-rich alt text

The final test I’m going to share with you today was when we added keyword rich alt text to images on the product page. As you can see, this had no detectable impact, which this is a common SEO recommendation. This is a common thing that comes up in things like tech audits or big deliverables that you give to a potential new customer.

Here, we found it actually didn’t have much of an impact. That suggests that alt text doesn’t have much impact on rankings. However, there are other really important reasons we would implement alt text, and we decided to deploy this anyway. Number one being accessibility.

Alt text helps your images become more accessible for those that maybe can’t see them, and it helps bots be able to explain what’s on the page. Or if something is just not rendering, then it helps people be able to still know what they’re looking at. So alt text, although maybe not a big winner for SEO traffic, is still an important implementation and not something we want to forget about.

That’s all that I have to share with you today. If you thought this was interesting and you want to get more case studies like these, you can sign up to our case study email list, which every two weeks we release a case study email and that includes a different case study. You can also find all the ones that we’ve done in the past on our website. So even if you can’t run SEO tests or you’re not a large enterprise website, you can still use the learnings that we have to help you make some business cases at your company.

Thanks for having me. Bye, Moz.

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State of Content Marketing in 2023



State of Content Marketing in 2023

I just pressed send on the manuscript for my book to be released in September. It’s called Content Marketing Strategy (snappy, eh?), and Kogan Page will publish it.

Last week, marketing professor Philip Kotler wrote the foreword. I won’t spoil it, but he mentioned the need for a strategic approach to owned media.

He writes, “(T)he company doesn’t carry an account of showing these marketing assets and their value. As a result, the company cannot show the CEO and company board members a return on owned assets or content.”

Luckily, my upcoming book shows exactly how to do that. Funny how that works out.

In any event, all this struck me that now is an opportune time to look at where the beloved practice of content marketing stands today.

First, let’s go back to 1999 when Kotler published Kotler On Marketing, one of his more than 70 books. The latter 1990s – a time of tumultuous change – fueled most of the thinking for the book. But he knew that it was merely the beginning.

Kotler concluded the book with a section called “Transformational Marketing.”  In the next decade, he wrote, “marketing will be re-engineered from A to Z. Marketing will need to rethink fundamentally the processes by which they identify, communicate, and deliver customer value.”

Well, it’s taken over two decades, but it’s finally happening.

Consumers have changed, but marketing operations are just starting to

In case you didn’t notice, almost every marketing conference these days starts with the same four or five requisite slides:

  • Digital technologies, such as search and social media, empower consumers today.
  • Consumers research, engage, buy, and stay loyal to brands in ways that have fundamentally changed.
  • First-party data and privacy are of the utmost importance.
  • Artificial intelligence begins to threaten the idea of the usefulness of search and pressure companies to deliver better and more personalized experiences.

You get it. Consumer expectations in the age of the social, mobile, and AI-driven web are different than they were.

However, the continuing challenge in 2023 is that content and/or marketing operations in enterprise companies are only beginning to evolve. Most marketing departments have remained as they were when Kotler wrote his book — they still work from mid- to late-20th century hierarchies, strategies, and processes.

Most marketing departments still work with mid- to late-20th-century hierarchies, strategies, and processes, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Content marketing isn’t new, but a content marketing strategy is

For hundreds of years, businesses have used content to affect some kind of profitable outcome. But the reality is this: Whether it was John Deere’s The Furrow from the 1800s, Michelin’s guide to car maintenance in the early 1900s, or even Hasbro’s GI-Joe partnership with Marvel in the 1980s, content was not — and is not for the most part now — a scalable, repeatable practice within the function of marketing. In short, companies almost always treat content marketing as a project, not a process.

That fundamental change will finally take hold in 2023. It could happen because of the digital disruption and ease by which you can now publish and distribute content to aggregate your own audiences. It could happen through the natural evolution that the ultimate outcome – more than the marketing – matters more.

As we roll through 2023 and beyond, content — and the exponentially increasing quantities of it produced by every organization — deeply affects not just your marketing strategy, but your business strategy. Content in marketing is now bigger than simply content marketing, and it should be dealt with as a component of that business strategy throughout the enterprise.

#Content in marketing is bigger than #ContentMarketing. Treat it as a component of the business strategy, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In 2023, the No. 1 focus of my consulting and advisory practice these days: help companies transform content into a repeatable, scalable, and measurable function that drives value through a multi-channel strategy. It’s bigger than publishing a blog, creating a lead-generating resource center, or sending an email newsletter. Today’s content marketing team is being absorbed into marketing because marketing and its various operations are fundamentally transforming into a content-producing machine.

It is not good enough to produce content “like a media company would.” The goal must be to operate as a media company does. Your job is not to change content to fit new marketing goals. Rather, your job in 2023 is to change marketing to fit the new business content goals.

Your job in 2023 is to change #marketing to fit the new business #content goals, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The unaware builds a case for the aware

The term “content marketing” continues to evolve. Even today, I run across those who still call it “brand publishing,” “custom content,” or “inbound marketing.”

My take matches with what Kotler described in 1999. I always thought the term “content marketing” would become part of “marketing” more broadly. In 2023, that happened. So, returning to the lexiconic debates of 2013, 2014, or 2015 doesn’t seem terribly productive. Content marketing is just good marketing, and marketing is just good content marketing.

That said, two kinds of companies do well at the broader view of content marketing. Some of them, such as Cleveland Clinic, Red Bull, Arrow Electronics, HubSpot, and REI, have purposely devised content marketing strategies as differentiating approaches to their marketing. They are succeeding.

Others, like Amazon, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and Peloton, backed into a smart content marketing strategy. But executives at those companies probably don’t recognize it as such. If asked (and some have been), they would say acquiring or launching a media company operation was just a smart business strategy to diversify their ability to reach their consumers consistently.

They’re right, of course. Many have yet to read books about content marketing, been influenced by the Content Marketing Institute, or even recognize content marketing as a separate approach (as far as I know). And they are also succeeding.

Consider this proof: As I write this article, six companies have a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion. Four of the six wholly or partially use the business model of media creation to further marketing and business strategies. Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon are all, in part, media companies that also sell products and services.

Why would you not avail yourself of that same model?

The future looks cloudy and bright

As for the overall state of enterprise content marketing, it’s in transition, as all marketing is. As a focused project-based approach, working in ad-hoc ways across a business, content marketing appears to have proven its worth. Hundreds of entries every year to the Content Marketing Awards feature myriad case studies using content marketing techniques in strategic ways to profitably affect business results.

And yet, it remains to be seen whether you can make content marketing a scalable, repeatable, measurable function within marketing.

As to what the discipline’s future holds? At last year’s Content Marketing World, one of my favorite events, the Executive Forum gathered senior leaders from brands succeeding with content marketing. As we talked about the future, one participant said: “The only certainty is change. I can’t tell you where or when, but I do know there will be change, and this is the principle we build on now.”

As for my take, Kotler’s idea of transforming the marketing function seems to have gotten lost along the digital road traveled by marketers. In so many cases, marketing – and especially content – remains just an on-demand service function within the business. Its sole job is to produce ever more voluminous amounts of content that describe the value of the brand (or its products or services) so that sales can sell more efficiently, customer support can serve more effectively, and all manner of customer interfaces are more beneficial to both sides.

However, and maybe because I need to rationalize now that my book is finished, I passionately believe it’s finally time for marketing to reclaim its ability to create value — not just reflect it in the polished shine of your traditional products and services.

Almost 27 years ago today, Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote an essay called Content is King. In it, he said that “(C)ontent is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

It certainly was one of his more prescient moments. Nearly three decades later, his words have proven true. The essay title has become the rallying cry for thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs who now make their living on creating, managing, optimizing, and measuring content on the internet. (A Google search for “content is king” nets more than 1.7 million results.)

But it’s the last line of his essay that I find the most visionary: “(T)hose who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products – a marketplace of content.”

That’s what content marketing is for me in 2023. It’s just marketing – optimizing the value of ideas, experiences, and products in a marketplace of content.

Time to get to work.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just five minutes:

Watch previous episodes or read the lightly edited transcripts.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 


Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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27 Best About Us and About Me Page Examples [+Templates]



Your about page summarizes your history, values, and mission — all in one place. That’s a tall order for just a few paragraphs. If you’re feeling stuck, turn to these about-page examples for inspiration. 

about us page example: laptop held in palm of hand


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MarTech’s marketing operations experts to follow



MarTech's marketing operations experts to follow

Marketing operations is what makes the magic happen. These are the folks who see that your martech stack doesn’t get stuck. They are the maestros, modelers and makers who make sure the trains run, the data is digestible and that you have the programs you need. Where would we be without them? That’s too scary to think about. Here’s our list of MOps experts who have the ear of the profession.

Darrell Alfonso

Darrell is director of marketing strategy & operations at Indeed and the former global marketing ops leader for AWS. He’s the author of “The Martech Handbook: Build a Technology Stack to Acquire and Retain Customers.” In addition to speaking at many conferences, Darrell was named one of the Top Marketers in the US by Propolis 2022 and among the “Top Martech Marketers to Follow” in 2020 by Martech Alliance. He’s a regular and popular contributor both to MarTech and the MarTech conference; you can find all of his articles at this link.

Eddie Reynolds

Eddie has been in business a long time, starting his first company when he was 14. “A pretty minimal enterprise,” he told one interviewer. “I had a tax ID number, a legal entity, and a company name. I even had the IRS coming after my dad for sales tax that I failed to report properly.” Today he is CEO and revenue operations strategy consultant of Union Square Consulting. He publishes The RevOps Weekly Newsletter and the podcast RevOps Corner. Eddie’s large LinkedIn following attests to the quality of the insights he shares there on  sales, marketing, service, and admin roles. 

Sara McNamara

Sara is an award-winning marketing and sales operations professional whose work has been recognized by awards from the likes of Salesforce (Pardot), Adobe (Marketo), Drift, and LeanData. She is a Senior Manager, Marketing Operations at Slack and a martech stack (+ strategy) solution architect. That and her passion for leveraging technology and processes to improve the experiences of marketers, sales professionals, and prospects, explains why she’s a regular guest on MOps podcasts.

Ali Schwanke

Ali is the CEO and founder of Simple Strat. The firm specializes in helping companies get the most out of HubSpot — from CRM strategy and setup to marketing automation and content creation. She is also host of HubSpot Hacks, “the #1 Unofficial YouTube show for HubSpot Tutorials” and has been a guest speaker at the MarTech conference.

Mike Rizzo

Mike’s career in marketing operations showed him that there is a real and significant MOps community. That’s why he founded MO Pros/, the fast-growing online community for people in marketing operations. He is also co-host of Ops Cast, a weekly podcast. 

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman

Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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