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B2B SaaS Marketing: The Ahrefs Guide

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B2B SaaS Marketing: The Ahrefs Guide

What sets B2B SaaS marketing apart from its B2C counterpart is the length of the buyer’s journey.

A buyer’s journey consists of the steps that a customer takes in order to purchase a product or a service. It’s everything from discovering the brand to comparing with competitors, checking the pricing page, chatting with sales, and so on. 

The buyer's journey

B2C products/services typically need less consideration. Therefore, their buyer’s journey is relatively short.

B2B products/services typically need more careful decision-making. There are more decision-makers, and there’s a higher need for educational content. Therefore, the journey is longer and takes more time. 

That’s the theory. But how does B2B SaaS marketing work in practice? In this article, we’re sharing our take on it. 

How to do B2B SaaS marketing, the Ahrefs way

A little bit about Ahrefs. We’re a bootstrapped company founded in 2011, and we recently passed $100M in ARR. Our business is an all-in-one SEO SaaS solution, and our customers are mostly businesses (small and big). We run a relatively small marketing team. 

Here’s what works in B2B marketing from our experience. 

Take a stake in product development 

It’s true that marketers bridge the gap between the company and the customers. They’re constantly balancing between business objectives and what the user wants.

But you can fulfill that role effectively only if you become a power user of the product, aka your own customer. This allows you to do four extremely important things: 

  • Find problems sooner than the customer 
  • Be a true user’s advocate in product development 
  • Help prioritize feature development 
  • Uncover new market segments 

Obviously, the only way to achieve that is to spend a lot of time with the product. But having some kind of process in place helps. In the case of Ahrefs, that’s mainly two things:

  • All marketers begin with one to two months in customer support. You can’t touch any marketing before you complete that.
  • Most marketers take part in our product-led content strategy, which makes them essentially product marketers. And that leads us to the next section. 

Create product-led, SEO content 

Let’s unpack this.

Product-led content is a strategy where you prioritize topics where you can help people solve problems with the help of your product. 

SEO content is content designed to rank in the search engines. 

When you combine those two concepts, you get convincing messaging with a free distribution mechanism. 

What happens when you combine product-led content and SEO

For example, there are tens of thousands of monthly searches for how to do keyword research, and our blog post featuring Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer ranks in the top five for many of them. 

Keyword data from Ahrefs' Site Explorer
Data via Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

Thanks to that, the article generates thousands of visits each month. 

Organic traffic data from Ahrefs' Site Explorer
Data via Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

This strategy allows you to leverage search demand on YouTube too. You can even repurpose the same content

Number of video views on YouTube

So a product-led content piece like that can do three things simultaneously:

  • Create awareness – Searchers are introduced to the brand through content. 
  • Acquire new customers – After reading the content, our solution may be among the ones they’ll consider. 
  • Retain existing customers – Our customers may learn new keyword research processes, which keep them using the product.

And because of that trifecta, we’re not thinking in terms of mapping content to stages of the marketing funnel. Instead, we’re trying to prioritize topics that show a high business potential. 

How we determine Business Potential scores

You can learn how to replicate this strategy in our guide to product-led content or watch our short video.  

Publish original research

Original research is great for two things: backlinks and thought leadership. 

Backlinks are links to your site from other sites. They are important because they help you rank in Google (one of the key ranking factors).

Original research, such as data studies, case studies, industry surveys, etc., attracts backlinks because other authors use them as sources. In turn, pages with a lot of backlinks accumulate authority, which you can guide to other valuable pages on your site to help them rank (see Middleman Method).

For example, our study on why most content on the web gets no organic traffic earned 5.9K backlinks from 2.8K referring domains and still keeps earning them without any effort from our side. 

No. of backlinks and referring domains, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
Data via Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

As for thought leadership, the more competitive your SaaS niche is, the more you need it. 

When other sites mention your research, you start to be viewed as a trusted, highly regarded brand. You’re no longer a “stranger,” and that really helps with sales. 

Ahrefs mentioned in a Forbes article

Here are some ways you can come up with ideas for your research:

  • Study popular topics in your niche and see if you can add to the conversation
  • Challenge the status quo with fresh data
  • Look at others’ research and see if there are any blanks you can fill 

To find popular topics in our niche, we often use our own Content Explorer (again, dogfooding). For example, to find relevant research about SEO, we can look for content that has “study” in the title and at least 200 referring domains (to weed out some less popular ones). 

Finding popular content through Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Retain users by educating them

In SaaS, one of the biggest challenges is churn—the proportion of customers who stop paying for your product or service. 

We never believe in any marketing hacks that supposedly stop people from canceling their plans when they want to. Instead, we’re trying to educate users so that they know how to use Ahrefs and get the most value out of the product. 

Product-led content is one example, but there are more. 

For example, if a user is just starting out with Ahrefs or SEO, they can find complete courses in our Academy.

Ahrefs' Academy

For those customers who prefer live training, we host regular onboarding webinars on our community platform.

A webinar from Ahrefs

And if the user ever feels lost, they will find helpful content right inside the tool.

Tooltips explaining how to use the product

Ideas for educational content can come from different sources: keyword research, support, interviews with customers, competition, or just being a part of the process when introducing a new feature. 

There’s nothing innovative in our approach, but it doesn’t need to be. Educational content is not about originality but the helpfulness and thoroughness of the context itself. 

Network at industry events 

At the startup/small company level, what’s important for SaaS companies at industry events is networking rather than sales. You can learn a lot from other SaaS companies and people who use their products. You may even meet your own users. 

Thing is, you don’t really need a large budget to attend industry events because you don’t really need to be an exhibitor or a sponsor. 

  • You can come up with an interesting topic and pitch as a speaker. Zero cost.
  • You can just go there as a regular attendee. Minimal cost. 
Tim Soulo from Ahrefs speaking at SaaStock
SaaStock Dublin. No booth, not a sponsor, but we’re there.

Partner up with content creators in your niche

Bloggers, YouTubers, TikTokers, and podcast hosts are often open to different forms of partnerships. These can include being featured as a sponsor, sponsored articles, or a shoutout during an interview on a podcast.

The reach and influence of content creators are a great opportunity for brands. Chances are, some creators are already attracting your target audience. 

But should you expect instant sales from this channel? In our experience, that’s a definitive no. Remember about the buyer’s journey—businesses need more time.

What you effectively can do with partnerships is generate brand awareness in a way that your audience can appreciate (you’re supporting their favorite creators). 

Furthermore, you can try promoting something that needs less consideration than your core product. For instance, a free tool or a free course. Think of it as a faster route to your brand. In our case, we usually promote the free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools instead of our premium toolkit.

Ahrefs sponsorship example

I also asked our partnership manager, Igor Gorbenko, for a few tips, and here’s what he said:

You’ll only get the hang of this tactic by diving in and doing it. I mean, your best prospects will probably come through references, which will come to you as you go. Also, a good content creator won’t necessarily make a good partner. You need to do due diligence and invest in those who are willing to invest their time in you. 

By the way, want to see what we learned after spending over $50K on sponsored podcasts

Don’t sleep on sales enablement 

We’re talking about resources that help the sales department engage with bigger accounts and close deals: pitch decks, articles, landing pages, battle cards, brochures for different types of accounts, etc. 

The sales team is going to get a ton of uncomfortable questions related to your competitors, use cases, and every aspect of the product’s functionality. Marketing is usually the best place to answer these questions. 

But to be really helpful to sales, it’s best to answer those questions before they come. 

No need for a complex system here. To start off on the right foot, you need only a few things. These are to:

  • Make a list of strengths and weaknesses of your solution. Strengths will help the sales reps guide the conversation, and knowing the weaknesses will help them address those beforehand. 
  • Ask sales reps what kind of materials were helpful to them before. 
  • Make a commitment to revisit the materials to see if anything needs regular updates.
  • Create a place where sales reps can be notified of product updates. A good idea is something like a channel on Slack because people often have questions and comments about new releases. 

Use local marketing to penetrate key markets 

Promoting your product in English is the best bet to get customers all over the world. But if you’re starting to see non-English-speaking countries becoming regular customers or competitors showing interest in those markets, you may need to invest in local marketing.

For example, increasing our brand’s awareness in Spanish-speaking countries required dedicating one person to just that. My colleague, Erik Sarissky, spends most of his time being physically present in those countries and networking with local communities and influencers.

Erik Sarissky on stage during SEO On The Beach
Erik Sarissky giving a speech at SEO On The Beach.

The reason why this approach works probably won’t surprise you. As Erik puts it: 

This is a market where people prefer to make deals in the local language, despite the fact English is usually not a problem. People also appreciate that we’re making an effort to be closer to them. It really helps to show our commitment. 

The takeaway here is that you may need to take local marketing into consideration while building a global marketing strategy. Think about it next time you’re preparing your budget. Maybe there’s already someone on your team who already has the necessary skills or is native to a key market? 

Things we don’t do (but may work for you)

Marketing is not about pouring everything into one pot. It’s about finding the right mix. 

To find the right mix, you need to experiment. We’ve done our fair share of that, and we still do. Here are some things we tried or seriously considered. It’s possible you’ll find something that might work for your business: 

Here are a few more tactics that tend to work in B2B SaaS: 

  • Account-based marketing – It’s about a close alignment of marketing and sales with the goal of targeting a narrow selection of potential customers. Learn more about ABM.
  • Growth loops – A system where actions of existing users attract new users. For example, referral programs or a marketplace for third-party apps. Learn more about growth loops.  
  • Lead-nurturing workflows It’s about gradually converting leads to customers through a set of automated messages using various channels like email or in-app messages. Learn more about lead-nurturing workflows
  • Advertising We’re not too big on online ads, but some SaaS businesses treat them as one of the main customer acquisition channels. It’s relatively easy to measure, and you can scale it fast. Each platform is different but definitely have a look at Google Ads and Quora

Final thoughts 

There are many tricks in the book, but it’s not about how many you use. Small teams should focus on the true value drivers and then allocate some resources for experimentation. 

So experiment and scale what works. 

Got questions or comments? Ping me on X or Mastodon



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Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint: A Step-By-Step Guide

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Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint: A Step-By-Step Guide

This post was sponsored by DebugBear. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

Keeping your website fast is important for user experience and SEO.

The Core Web Vitals initiative by Google provides a set of metrics to help you understand the performance of your website.

The three Core Web Vitals metrics are:

This post focuses on the recently introduced INP metric and what you can do to improve it.

How Is Interaction To Next Paint Measured?

INP measures how quickly your website responds to user interactions – for example, a click on a button. More specifically, INP measures the time in milliseconds between the user input and when the browser has finished processing the interaction and is ready to display any visual updates on the page.

Your website needs to complete this process in under 200 milliseconds to get a “Good” score. Values over half a second are considered “Poor”. A poor score in a Core Web Vitals metric can negatively impact your search engine rankings.

Google collects INP data from real visitors on your website as part of the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX). This CrUX data is what ultimately impacts rankings.

Image created by DebugBear, May 2024

How To Identify & Fix Slow INP Times

The factors causing poor Interaction to Next Paint can often be complex and hard to figure out. Follow this step-by-step guide to understand slow interactions on your website and find potential optimizations.

1. How To Identify A Page With Slow INP Times

Different pages on your website will have different Core Web Vitals scores. So you need to identify a slow page and then investigate what’s causing it to be slow.

Using Google Search Console

One easy way to check your INP scores is using the Core Web Vitals section in Google Search Console, which reports data based on the Google CrUX data we’ve discussed before.

By default, page URLs are grouped into URL groups that cover many different pages. Be careful here – not all pages might have the problem that Google is reporting. Instead, click on each URL group to see if URL-specific data is available for some pages and then focus on those.

1716368164 358 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of Google Search Console, May 2024

Using A Real-User Monitoring (RUM) Service

Google won’t report Core Web Vitals data for every page on your website, and it only provides the raw measurements without any details to help you understand and fix the issues. To get that you can use a real-user monitoring tool like DebugBear.

Real-user monitoring works by installing an analytics snippet on your website that measures how fast your website is for your visitors. Once that’s set up you’ll have access to an Interaction to Next Paint dashboard like this:

1716368164 404 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear Interaction to Next Paint dashboard, May 2024

You can identify pages you want to optimize in the list, hover over the URL, and click the funnel icon to look at data for that specific page only.

1716368164 975 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideImage created by DebugBear, May 2024

2. Figure Out What Element Interactions Are Slow

Different visitors on the same page will have different experiences. A lot of that depends on how they interact with the page: if they click on a background image there’s no risk of the page suddenly freezing, but if they click on a button that starts some heavy processing then that’s more likely. And users in that second scenario will experience much higher INP.

To help with that, RUM data provides a breakdown of what page elements users interacted with and how big the interaction delays were.

1716368164 348 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP Elements view, May 2024

The screenshot above shows different INP interactions sorted by how frequent these user interactions are. To make optimizations as easy as possible you’ll want to focus on a slow interaction that affects many users.

In DebugBear, you can click on the page element to add it to your filters and continue your investigation.

3. Identify What INP Component Contributes The Most To Slow Interactions

INP delays can be broken down into three different components:

  • Input Delay: Background code that blocks the interaction from being processed.
  • Processing Time: The time spent directly handling the interaction.
  • Presentation Delay: Displaying the visual updates to the screen.

You should focus on which INP component is the biggest contributor to the slow INP time, and ensure you keep that in mind during your investigation.

1716368164 193 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP Components, May 2024

In this scenario, Processing Time is the biggest contributor to the slow INP time for the set of pages you’re looking at, but you need to dig deeper to understand why.

High processing time indicates that there is code intercepting the user interaction and running slow performing code. If instead you saw a high input delay, that suggests that there are background tasks blocking the interaction from being processed, for example due to third-party scripts.

4. Check Which Scripts Are Contributing To Slow INP

Sometimes browsers report specific scripts that are contributing to a slow interaction. Your website likely contains both first-party and third-party scripts, both of which can contribute to slow INP times.

A RUM tool like DebugBear can collect and surface this data. The main thing you want to look at is whether you mostly see your own website code or code from third parties.

1716368164 369 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Primary Script Domain Grouping in DebugBear, May 2024

Tip: When you see a script, or source code function marked as “N/A”, this can indicate that the script comes from a different origin and has additional security restrictions that prevent RUM tools from capturing more detailed information.

This now begins to tell a story: it appears that analytics/third-party scripts are the biggest contributors to the slow INP times.

5. Identify Why Those Scripts Are Running

At this point, you now have a strong suspicion that most of the INP delay, at least on the pages and elements you’re looking at, is due to third-party scripts. But how can you tell whether those are general tracking scripts or if they actually have a role in handling the interaction?

DebugBear offers a breakdown that helps see why the code is running, called the INP Primary Script Invoker breakdown. That’s a bit of a mouthful – multiple different scripts can be involved in slowing down an interaction, and here you just see the biggest contributor. The “Invoker” is just a value that the browser reports about what caused this code to run.

1716368165 263 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Primary Script Invoker Grouping in DebugBear, May 2024

The following invoker names are examples of page-wide event handlers:

  • onclick
  • onmousedown
  • onpointerup

You can see those a lot in the screenshot above, which tells you that the analytics script is tracking clicks anywhere on the page.

In contrast, if you saw invoker names like these that would indicate event handlers for a specific element on the page:

  • .load_more.onclick
  • #logo.onclick

6. Review Specific Page Views

A lot of the data you’ve seen so far is aggregated. It’s now time to look at the individual INP events, to form a definitive conclusion about what’s causing slow INP in this example.

Real user monitoring tools like DebugBear generally offer a way to review specific user experiences. For example, you can see what browser they used, how big their screen is, and what element led to the slowest interaction.

1716368165 545 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of a Page View in DebugBear Real User Monitoring, May 2024

As mentioned before, multiple scripts can contribute to overall slow INP. The INP Scripts section shows you the scripts that were run during the INP interaction:

1716368165 981 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP script breakdown, May 2024

You can review each of these scripts in more detail to understand why they run and what’s causing them to take longer to finish.

7. Use The DevTools Profiler For More Information

Real user monitoring tools have access to a lot of data, but for performance and security reasons they can access nowhere near all the available data. That’s why it’s a good idea to also use Chrome DevTools to measure your page performance.

To debug INP in DevTools you can measure how the browser processes one of the slow interactions you’ve identified before. DevTools then shows you exactly how the browser is spending its time handling the interaction.

1716368165 526 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of a performance profile in Chrome DevTools, May 2024

How You Might Resolve This Issue

In this example, you or your development team could resolve this issue by:

  • Working with the third-party script provider to optimize their script.
  • Removing the script if it is not essential to the website, or finding an alternative provider.
  • Adjusting how your own code interacts with the script

How To Investigate High Input Delay

In the previous example most of the INP time was spent running code in response to the interaction. But often the browser is already busy running other code when a user interaction happens. When investigating the INP components you’ll then see a high input delay value.

This can happen for various reasons, for example:

  • The user interacted with the website while it was still loading.
  • A scheduled task is running on the page, for example an ongoing animation.
  • The page is loading and rendering new content.

To understand what’s happening, you can review the invoker name and the INP scripts section of individual user experiences.

1716368165 86 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Component breakdown within DebugBear, May 2024

In this screenshot, you can see that a timer is running code that coincides with the start of a user interaction.

The script can be opened to reveal the exact code that is run:

1716368165 114 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of INP script details in DebugBear, May 2024

The source code shown in the previous screenshot comes from a third-party user tracking script that is running on the page.

At this stage, you and your development team can continue with the INP workflow presented earlier in this article. For example, debugging with browser DevTools or contacting the third-party provider for support.

How To Investigate High Presentation Delay

Presentation delay tends to be more difficult to debug than input delay or processing time. Often it’s caused by browser behavior rather than a specific script. But as before, you still start by identifying a specific page and a specific interaction.

You can see an example interaction with high presentation delay here:

1716368165 665 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the an interaction with high presentation delay, May 2024

You see that this happens when the user enters text into a form field. In this example, many visitors pasted large amounts of text that the browser had to process.

Here the fix was to delay the processing, show a “Waiting…” message to the user, and then complete the processing later on. You can see how the INP score improves from May 3:

1716368165 845 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of an Interaction to Next Paint timeline in DebugBear, May 2024

Get The Data You Need To Improve Interaction To Next Paint

Setting up real user monitoring helps you understand how users experience your website and what you can do to improve it. Try DebugBear now by signing up for a free 14-day trial.

1716368165 494 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear Core Web Vitals dashboard, May 2024

Google’s CrUX data is aggregated over a 28-day period, which means that it’ll take a while before you notice a regression. With real-user monitoring you can see the impact of website changes right away and get alerted automatically when there’s a big change.

DebugBear monitors lab data, CrUX data, and real user data. That way you have all the data you need to optimize your Core Web Vitals in one place.

This article has been sponsored by DebugBear, and the views presented herein represent the sponsor’s perspective.

Ready to start optimizing your website? Sign up for DebugBear and get the data you need to deliver great user experiences.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Redesign.co. Used with permission.

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International SEO For 2024: 9-Point Checklist For Success

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International SEO For 2024: 9-Point Checklist For Success

Getting your international SEO strategy right can be an elusive feat.

There are a lot more factors at play than people give credit for, and it’s often a thankless job.

A successful international SEO strategy requires a deep knowledge of your company’s commercial strategy as well as technical SEO knowledge, cultural sensitivity, and excellent data skills.

Yet the industry often regards international SEO as just your hreflang setup.

In this article, I will distill the complexities of international SEO success into an actionable step-by-step list that will take you from beginner to advanced practitioner. Let’s begin!

Part I: Be Commercially Aware

1. Understand Why Your Company Is Going International

Companies can grow by expanding their products and services, focusing on gaining market penetration or expanding into new markets.

While your team’s goal might be traffic, leads, or revenue, the leadership team is likely working under a different set of parameters. Most of the time, leadership’s ultimate goal is to maximize shareholder value.

  • In founder-owned companies, growth goals might be slower and more sustainable, usually aimed at maintaining and growing profitability.
  • VC-owned companies have high growth goals because they must provide their investors with a return that’s higher than the stock market. This is what is known as the alpha, or your company’s ability to beat the market in growth.
  • Publicly traded companies are likely aiming to grow their share value.
  • Startups, depending on their maturity stage, are likely looking to prove product-market fit or expand their reach fast to show that their operations are scalable and have the potential to be profitable in the future. The goal of this is to aid in raising further capital from investors.

Understanding why businesses go international is essential for informing your SEO decisions. What’s best practice for SEO isn’t always what’s best for business.

You must adapt your strategy to your company’s growth model.

  • Companies choosing to grow sustainably and maintain profitability will likely expand more slowly to a market that resembles their core market.
  • VC-owned companies will be able to invest in a wider range of countries, with a smaller concern for providing their users with an experience on par with that of their core markets.
  • Startups can try to beat their competitors to market by expanding quickly and throwing a lot of money at the project, or they might be concerned with cash flow and try to expand fast but cut corners by using automatic translation.

2. Stack Rank Your Target Markets To Prioritize Your Investment

I promise I’ll get to hreflang implementation soon, but so much about international SEO has to do with commercial awareness – so bear with me; this will make you a better professional.

Many companies have different market tiers to reflect how much of a priority each market is. Market prioritization can happen using many different metrics, such as:

  • Average order value or lifetime customer value.
  • Amount of investment required.
  • Market size.
  • And market similarity.

American companies often prioritize developed English-speaking countries such as the UK, Canada, or Australia. These are most similar to their core market, and most of their market knowledge will be transferable.

After that, companies are likely to target large European economies, such as Germany and France. They might also target the LatAm market and Spain in the same effort.

The last prioritization tier can vary widely among companies, with a focus on the Nordic, Brazilian, or Asian markets.

Part II: Know Your Tech

3. Define Your International URL Structure

When doing international SEO, there are 4 different possible URL structures, each with its pros and cons.

ccTLD Structure

A ccTLD structure is set up to target different countries based on the domain type.

This structure is not ideal for companies that target different languages rather than different countries. For example, a .es website is targeting Spain, not the Spanish language.

An advantage to this kind of structure is that the ccTLD sends a very strong localization signal to search engines as to what market they are targeting, and they can lead to improved trust and CTR in your core country.

On the other hand, ccTLDs can dilute your site’s authority, as links will be spread across domains rather than concentrated on the .com.

gTLD With Subdirectories

This is my personal favorite when it comes to international SEO.

These URL structures can look like website.com/en if they’re targeting languages or website.com/en-gb if they’re targeting countries.

This configuration aggregates the authority you gain across your different territories into a single domain, it’s cheaper to maintain, and the .com TLD is widely recognizable by users worldwide.

On the other hand, this setup can look less personalized to people outside the US, who might wonder if you can service their markets.

gTLD With Subdomains

This setup involves placing international content on a subdomain like us.website.com. While once popular, it’s slipping in favor because it doesn’t bring anything unique to the table anymore.

This setup offers a clear signal to users and search engines about the intended audience of a specific subdomain.

However, subdomains often face issues with SEO, as Google tends to view them as separate entities. This separation can dilute link, similar to the ccTLD approach but without the geo-targeting advantages.

gTLD With Parameters

This is the setup where you add parameters at the end of the URL to indicate the language of the page, such as website.com/?lang=en.

I strongly advise against this setup, as it can present multiple technical SEO challenges and trust issues.

4. Understand Your Hreflang Setup

In the words of John Mueller: hreflang can be one of the most complex aspects of SEO.

Screenshot from Twitter, May 2024

Hreflang reminds me of a multilingual form of a canonical tag, where we tell search engines that one document is a version of the other and explain the relationship between them.

I find hreflang implementation very interesting from a technical point of view. Because development teams mostly manage it, and it can be very much hit or miss.

Often, hreflang is constructed from existing fields in your content management system (CMS) or content database.

You might find that your development team is pulling the HTML lang tag, which follows a different ISO standard than hreflang, leading to a broken implementation.

Other times, there is a field in your CMS that your development team pulls from to build your hreflang setup.

Finding out how your hreflang tags are generated can be extremely helpful in identifying the sources of different issues or mitigating potential risks.

So speak to your engineering team and ask them how you’re currently generating hreflang.

5. Implement Hreflang Without Errors

There are three ways to implement hreflang on your site:

  • On your sitemap.
  • Through your HTTP header.
  • On your HTML head.

The method most of us are most familiar with is the HTML head. And while you can use more than one method, they should match each other perfectly. Otherwise, you risk confusing search engines.

Here are some basic rules for getting it done correctly:

  • In your hreflang implementation, the URL must include domain and protocol.
  • You must follow the ISO 639-1 language codes – don’t go around making up your own.
  • Hreflang tags must be reciprocal. If the page you’re listing as a language alternative does not list you back, your implementation won’t work.
  • Audit your hreflang regularly. My favorite tool for this, since it added the hreflang cluster analysis and link graphs, is Ahrefs. For the record, Ahrefs is not paying me to say this; it’s a genuine recommendation and has helped me a lot in my work.
  • You should only have one page per language.
  • Your hreflang URLs should be self-canonicalizing and respond with a 200 code.

Follow the above rules, and you’ll avoid the most common hreflang mistakes that SEO pros make.

And if you’re interested in the technical SEO aspect beyond hreflang, I recommend reading Mind your language by Rob Owen.

Part III: Invest In Content Incrementally

6. Translate Your Top-performing Content Topics

Now that you have the basic commercial and technical knowledge covered, you’re ready to start creating a content strategy.

You likely have a wealth of content in your core market that can be recycled. But you want to focus on translating high-converting topics, not just any topic; otherwise, you might be wasting your budget!

Let’s go step by step.

Cluster Your Website’s Content By Topic

  • Crawl your site using your favorite SEO tool and extract the URL and H1.
  • Use ChatGPT to classify that list of URLs into topics. You might already know what you usually write about, so include those topics in your prompt. You don’t want to have a classification that’s too granular, so you can prompt chatGPT to only create groups with a minimum of 10 URLs (adjust this to reflect the size of your website) and class everything else as other. This is an example of what your prompt might look like: “I will provide you with a list of article titles and their corresponding URL. Classify this list into the following topics: survey best practices, research and analysis, employee surveys, market research and others. Return this in a table format with the URL, title and group name.”
  • Start a spreadsheet with all your URLs in the first column, titles in the second column, and the group they belong to in the third column.

Measure Your Performance By Topic

  • Export your GSC data and use a =VLOOKUP formula to match your clicks to your URLs.
  • Export your conversion data and use a =VLOOKUP formula to match your conversions (leads, sales, sign-ups, or revenue) to the right URL.
  • You can then copy your topics column onto a new sheet. Remove duplicates and use the =SUMIF formula to aggregate your click data and conversion data by topic.

Choose What Topics You’ll Be Translating First

Using this data, you can now choose what topics are most likely to drive conversions based on your core market data. Choose how many topics or pieces of content you’ll be translating based on your budget.

Personally, I like translating one topic at a time because I’ve found that generating topical authority on one specific topic makes it easier for me to rank on an adjacent topic that I write about next.

7. Localize Your English Content

Once you’re set up with all your key pages and a few content topics, it’s time to evaluate your investment and see where you could be getting a bigger return.

At this stage, many companies have translated their content into a few different languages and likely copied the US content into their UK and Australian sites. Now that you’ve done some translation, it’s time to work on localization.

If you’ve just copied your US content into your UK and Australian sites, your Google Search Console indexing report might be screaming at you, “Duplicate, Google selected a different canonical than the user.”

A very easy fix that could yield great returns is to localize your English content to the nuances of those English-speaking markets.

You will want to instruct your translation and localization providers to adapt the spellings of certain words, change the choice of words, introduce local expressions, and update any cited statistic for the US with their local equivalent.

For example, if I’m targeting a British audience, “analyze” becomes “analyse,” a “stroller” becomes a “pram,” and “soccer” becomes “football.”

8. Invest In In-market Content

Once you’ve got the basics in place, you can start tackling the specific needs of other markets. This strategy is expensive, and you should only use it in your priority markets, but it can really set you apart from your competitors.

For this, you will need to work with a local linguist to identify pain points, use cases, or needs exclusive to your target market.

For example, if France suddenly made it mandatory to run a diversity and inclusion study for companies with over 250 employees, I’d want to know this and create some content on DEI surveys at SurveyMonkey.

9. Integrate With Other Content Workflows

In step six, we evaluated our top-performing content, chose the best articles to translate, and got it all down. But wait. Some of these source articles have been updated. And there is even more content now!

To run a successful international SEO campaign you must integrate with all the other teams publishing content within your organization.

Usually, the teams creating content in an organization are SEO, content, PR, product marketing, demand generation, customer marketing, customer service, customer education, or solutions engineering.

That’s a lot, and you won’t be able to integrate with everyone all at once. Prioritize the teams that create the most revenue-generating content, such as SEO, content, or product marketing.

Working with these teams, you will have to establish a process for what happens when they create a new piece, update some content, or remove an existing piece.

These processes can differ for everyone, but I can tell you what I do with my team and hope it inspires you.

  • When a piece of content that’s already been localized into international markets is updated, we get the content in a queue to be re-localized the next quarter.
  • When they create a new piece of content, we evaluate its performance, and if it’s performing above average, we add it to a localization queue for the next quarter.
  • When they change the URL of a piece of content or delete it, all international sites must follow suit at the same time, since due to some technical limitations, not making the change globally would create some hreflang issues.

Wrapping Up

International SEO is vast and complex, and no article can cover it all, but many interesting resources have been created by SEO pros across the community for those who want to learn more.

Navigating the complexities of international SEO is no small feat. It’s an intricate dance of aligning commercial strategies with technical precision, cultural insights, and data-driven decisions.

From understanding your company’s core motives for global expansion to meticulously implementing hreflang tags and localizing content, every step plays a crucial role in building a successful international presence.

More resources: 


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Google’s AI Vision Driven By Panic, Not Users: Former Product Manager

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Hand pressing the red button. vector illustration

A 16-year Google veteran is raising concerns about the company’s current focus on AI, labeling it a “panic reaction” driven by fear of falling behind competitors.

Scott Jenson, who left Google last month, took to LinkedIn to critique the tech giant’s AI projects as “poorly motivated and driven by this mindless panic that as long as it had ‘AI’ in it, it would be great.”

Veteran’s Criticism Of Google’s AI Focus

Jenson stated that Google’s vision of creating an AI assistant for its ecosystem is “pure catnip” fueled by the fear of letting someone else get there first.

He parallels the ill-fated Google+ product, which he calls a “similar hysterical reaction” to Facebook’s rise.

Jenson wrote:

“This exact thing happened 13 years ago with Google+ (I was there for that fiasco as well). That was a similar hysterical reaction but to Facebook.”

Lack Of User-Driven Motivation

Jenson argues that Google’s strategy lacks motivation driven by genuine user needs, a sentiment echoed by a recent Gizmodo article that described this year’s Google I/O developer conference as “the most boring ever.”

The article, which Jenson linked to in his post, criticized Google for failing to clarify how Gemini’s new AI technology would integrate into its existing products and enhance the user experience.

See Jenson’s full post below:

Can You Turn Off Google’s AI Overviews?

One prime example of Google’s AI overreach is the AI overviews feature, which generates summaries to directly answer search queries by ingesting information from across the web.

This controversial move has sparked legal battles, with publishers accusing Google of violating intellectual property rights and unfairly profiting from their content without permission.

Related: Google’s AI Overviews Documentation: Key SEO Insights

Turning Off AI Overviews

While Google doesn’t provide an official setting to turn off AI overviews, a viral article from Tom’s Hardware suggests using browser extensions.

Alternatively, you can configure Chrome to go directly to web search results, bypassing the AI-generated overviews.

Here are the steps:

  • Open Chrome settings by clicking the three dots in the top-right corner and selecting “Settings” from the menu.
  • In the Settings window, click on the “Search Engine” tab on the left side.
  • Under the “Search Engine” section, click “Manage search engines and site search.”
  • Scroll down to the “Site search” area and click “Add” to create a new entry.

In the new entry, enter the following details:

  • Name: Google (Web)
  • Shortcut: www.google.com
  • URL: {google:baseURL}/search?udm=14&q=%s
  • Click “Add
Screenshot from: chrome://settings/searchEngines, May 2024.

Lastly, click the three dots next to the new “Google (Web)” entry and select “Make default.”

1716224163 590 Googles AI Vision Driven By Panic Not Users Former ProductScreenshot from: chrome://settings/searchEngines, May 2024.

After following these steps, Chrome will now default to showing regular web search results instead of the AI overview summaries when you perform searches from the address bar.

Tensions Over Data Usage

The controversy surrounding AI overviews creates tension between tech companies and content creators over using online data for AI training.

Publishers argue that Google’s AI summaries could siphon website traffic, threatening independent creators’ revenue streams, which rely on search referrals.

The debate reflects the need for updated frameworks to balance innovation and fair compensation for content creators, maintaining a sustainable open internet ecosystem.


FAQ

What concerns has Scott Jenson raised about Google’s AI focus?

Scott Jenson, a former Google product manager, has expressed concerns that Google’s current AI focus is more of a “panic reaction” to stay ahead of competitors rather than addressing user needs. He critiques Google’s AI initiatives as poorly motivated and driven by a fear of letting others get ahead.

How does Scott Jenson compare Google’s AI strategy to past projects?

Jenson parallels Google’s current AI focus and the company’s response to Facebook years ago with Google+. He describes both as “hysterical reactions” driven by competition, which, in the case of Google+, resulted in a product that failed to meet its objectives.

Why are content creators concerned about Google’s AI overviews?

Content creators worry that Google’s AI overviews, which generate summaries by ingesting web content, could reduce site traffic. They argue that this practice is unfair as it uses their content without permission and impacts their revenue streams that rely on search referrals.

How can users turn off Google’s AI overviews in Chrome?

Although no official setting exists to disable AI overviews, users can use a workaround by enabling a specific Chrome setting or using a browser extension.

Here are the steps:

  • Open Chrome settings by clicking the three dots in the top-right corner and selecting “Settings” from the menu.
  • In the Settings window, click on the “Search Engine” tab on the left side.
  • Under the “Search Engine” section, click “Manage search engines and site search.”
  • Scroll down to the “Site search” area and click “Add” to create a new entry.

In the new entry, enter the following details:

    • Name: Google (Web)
    • Shortcut: www.google.com
    • URL: {google:baseURL}/search?udm=14&q=%s
    • Click “Add

This will force Chrome to skip AI-generated overviews and show the classic list of web links.


Featured Image: Sira Anamwong/Shutterstock

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