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How To Identify And Reduce Render-Blocking Resources

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How To Identify And Reduce Render-Blocking Resources

Identifying and reducing resources responsible for blocking the rendering of your web page is a critical optimization point that can make or break your page speed.

It can be so critical that it can pay dividends to your site’s page experience metrics (and your user’s satisfaction) as a result.

In 2021, the average time it took to fully render a mobile web page was 22 seconds. In 2018, it was 15 seconds.

Clearly, this is a substantially higher number than Google’s recommended time of 2-3 seconds. It’s also substantially higher than it used to be.

What could be causing these issues with render-blocking resources?

What is driving this increase in overall page render speed?

One interesting trend to note is that there has been an increasing reliance on third-party fonts compared to system fonts. Using third-party fonts as a resource tends to interfere with the processing and rendering of a page.

With system fonts, the browser does not have to load anything extra, so it doesn’t have that additional processing step as a result.

Screenshot from Web Almanac, January 2022

This reliance across industries is likely to impact this rendering time. Of course, this is not the only cause of this issue with render-blocking resources.

In addition, Google’s own services tend to have a significant impact on rendering time, such as Google Analytics or using a third-party Facebook pixel for tracking purposes.

The desire to rely on such technologies is not necessarily terrible from a marketing perspective.

But, from a render-blocking resources perspective, it can cause significant increases in page load time and how Google (and users) perceives your page.

The ideal solution is to make sure that your page loads for user interaction as quickly as possible.

It’s also a possibility that poor web development practices in use by web developers today are to blame.

Either way, this is something in every website project that should be addressed as part of your Core Web Vitals audits.

Page experience, however, is not just about how fast the entire page loads.

Instead, it’s more about the overall experience of the page as measured by Google’s page experience framework, or Core Web Vitals.

This is why you want to work on improving and optimizing your page speed for the critical rendering path throughout the DOM, or document object model.

What Is The Critical Rendering Path?

The critical rendering path refers to all of the steps that it takes in order to render the entire page, from when the browser first begins receiving data to when it finally compiles the page at the final render.

This is a process that can take only several milliseconds if you optimize it right.

Optimizing for the critical rendering path means making sure that you optimize for the performance of rendering on many different devices.

This is accomplished by optimizing the critical rendering path to get to your first paint as quickly as possible.

Basically, you’re reducing the amount of time users spend looking at a blank white screen to display visual content ASAP (see 0.0s below).

An example of optimized vs unoptimized rendering from Google.Screenshot from Google Web Fundamentals, January 2022

There’s a whole process on how to do this, outlined in Google’s developer guide documentation, but I will be focusing on one heavy hitter in particular: reducing render-blocking resources.

How Does The Critical Rendering Path Work?

The critical rendering path refers to the series of steps a browser takes on its journey to render a page, by converting the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to actual pixels on the screen.

An example of Critical Rendering Path.Screenshot from Medium, January 2022

Essentially, the browser needs to request, receive, and parse all HTML and CSS files (plus some additional work) before it will start to render any visual content.

This process occurs within a fraction of a second (in most cases). Until the browser completes these steps, users will see a blank white page.

The following is an example of how users may experience how a page loads according to the different stages of the page load process:

How users perceive page rendering.Screenshot from web.dev, January 2022

Improving the critical rendering path can thus improve on the overall page experience, which can help contribute to improved performance on Core Web Vitals metrics.

How Do I Optimize The Critical Rendering Path?

In order to improve the critical rendering path, you have to analyze your render-blocking resources.

Any render-blocking resources may end up blocking in the initial rendering of the page, and negatively impact your Core Web Vitals scores as a result.

This involves an optimization process of:

  • Reducing the quantity of resources that are critical to the rendering path. This can be done by using a defer method for any possible render-blocking resources.
  • Prioritizing content that is above-the-fold, and downloading important media assets as early as you possibly can.
  • Compress the file size of any remaining critical resources.

By doing this, it’s possible to improve both Core Web Vitals and how your page physically renders to the user.

Why Should I Care?

Google’s user behavior data reports that most users abandon a slow site after about 3 seconds.

In addition to studies that show that reducing page load time and improving the page experience leads to greater user satisfaction, there are also several major Google updates on the horizon that you will want to prepare for.

Identifying and optimizing render-blocking resources will be critical to stay on top of the game when these updates hit.

Google will be implementing page experience on the desktop in 2022, beginning their rollout of desktop page experience in February and finishing up in March.

According to Google, the same three Core Web Vitals metrics (LCP, FID, and CLS) along with their associated thresholds will now be linked to desktop ranking.

Also, Google is working on a brand-new possibly experimental Core Web Vitals metric, taking into account maximum event duration, and total event duration.

Their explanation of these factors they are considering are:

Maximum event duration: the interaction latency is equal to the largest single event duration from any event in the interaction group.
Total event duration: the interaction latency is the sum of all event durations, ignoring any overlap.

With many studies linking reductions in page load times to improvements in valuable KPIs (conversions, bounce rate, time on site), improving site latency has become a top-of-mind business goal for many organizations.

SEO professionals are in a unique position to guide this effort, as our role is often to bridge the gap between business goals and web developers’ priorities.

Having the ability to audit a site, analyze results, and identify areas for improvement helps us to work with developers to improve performance and translate results to key stakeholders.

The Goals Of Optimizing Render-Blocking Resources

One of the primary goals of optimizing the critical rendering path is to make sure that the resources that are needed to render that important, above-the-fold content are loaded as quickly as is humanly possible.

Any render-blocking resources must be deprioritized, and any resources that are preventing the page from rendering quickly.

Each optimization point will contribute to the overall improvement of your page speed, page experience, and Core Web Vitals scores.

Why Improve Render-Blocking CSS?

Google has said many times that coding is not necessarily important for ranking.

But, by the same token, gaining a ranking benefit from page speed optimization improvements can potentially help, depending on the query.

When it comes to CSS files, they are considered to be render-blocking resources.

Why is this?

Even though it happens in the midst of a millisecond or less (in most cases), the browser won’t start to render any page content until it is able to request, receive, and handle all CSS styles.

If a browser renders content that’s not styled properly, all you would get is a bunch of ordinary text and links that are not even styled.

This means that your page will basically be “naked” for lack of a better term.

Removing the CSS styles will result in a page that is literally unusable.

The majority of content will need repainting in order to look the least bit palatable for a user.

Example of CSS enabled vs CSS disabled.

If we examine the page rendering process, the gray box below is a representation of the browser time needed to get all CSS resources. This way, it can begin constructing the DOM of CSS (or CCSOM tree).

This could take anywhere from a millisecond to several seconds, depending on what your server needs to do in order to load these resources.

It can also vary, which could depend on the size, along with the quantity, of these CSS files.

The following render tree shows an example of a browser rendering all the files along with CSS within the DOM:

DOM CSSOM Render Tree.Screenshot from Medium, January 2022

In addition, the following shows an example of the rendering sequence of a page, in which all the files load in a process, from the construction of the DOM to the final painting and compositing of the page, which is known as the critical rendering path.

Because CSS is a render-blocking resource by default, it makes sense to improve CSS to the point where it doesn’t have any negative impact on the page rendering process at all.

The Official Google Recommendation States The Following:

“CSS is a render-blocking resource. Get it to the client as soon and as quickly as possible to optimize the time to first render.”

The HTML must be converted into something the browser can work with: the DOM. CSS files are the same way. This must be converted into the CSSOM.

By optimizing the CSS files within the DOM and CSSOM, you can help decrease the time it takes for a browser to render everything, which greatly contributes to an enhanced page experience.

Why Improve Render-Blocking JavaScript?

Did you know that loading JavaScript is not always required?

With JavaScript, downloading and parsing all JavaScript resources is not a necessary step for fully rendering a page.

So, this isn’t really a technically required part of page render.

But, the caveat to this is: Most modern sites are coded in such a way that JavaScript (for example the Bootstrap JS framework) is required in order to render the above-the-fold experience.

But, if a browser finds JavaScript files before the first render of a page, the rendering process can be stopped until later and after JavaScript files are fully executed.

This can be specified otherwise by deferring JavaScript files for later use.

One example of this is if there are JS functions like an alert that’s built into the HTML. This could stop page rendering until after the execution of this JavaScript code.

JavaScript has the sole power to modify both HTML and CSS styles, so this makes sense.

Parsing and execution of JavaScript could be delayed because of the fact that JavaScript can potentially change the entire page content. This delay is built into the browser by default – for just such a “just in case” scenario.

Official Google Recommendation:

“JavaScript can also block DOM construction and delay when the page is rendered. To deliver optimal performance … eliminate any unnecessary JavaScript from the critical rendering path.”

How To Identify Render-Blocking Resources

To identify the critical rendering path and analyze critical resources:

  • Run a test using webpagetest.org and click on the “waterfall” image.
  • Focus on all resources requested and downloaded before the green “Start Render” line.

Analyze your waterfall view; look for CSS or JavaScript files that are requested before the green “start render” line but are not critical for loading above-the-fold content.

Example of start render.Screenshot from WebPageTest, January 2022

After identifying a (potentially) render-blocking resource, test removing it to see if above-the-fold content is affected.

In my example, I noticed some JavaScript requests that may be critical.

Even though they are critical, it’s sometimes a good idea to test removing these scripts to test how shifting elements on the site affect the experience.

Example of web page test results showing render-blocking resources.Screenshot from WebPageTest, January 2022

There are also other ways to improve such resources.

For non-critical JavaScript files, you may want to look into combining the files and deferring them by including these files at the bottom of your page.

For non-critical CSS files, you can also reduce how many CSS files you have by combining them into one file and compressing them.

Improving your coding techniques can also result in a file that’s faster to download and causes less impact on the rendering speed of your page.

Ways To Reduce Render-Blocking Elements On The Page

Once you determine that a render-blocking resource is not critical for rendering content above-the-fold, you will want to explore a myriad of methods that are available in order to improve the rendering of your page and defer non-critical resources.

There are many solutions to this problem, from deferring JavaScript and CSS files to reducing the impact that CSS can have.

One possible solution is to not add CSS using the @import rule.

Make Sure Not To Add CSS Using The @Import Rule

From a performance perspective, even though @import appears to keep your HTML file cleaner, it can actually create issues with performance.

The @import declaration will actually cause the browser to process a CSS file more slowly. Why? Because it is also downloading all of the imported files.

Rendering will be entirely blocked until the process completes.

Indeed, the best solution is to use the standard method of including a CSS stylesheet using the <link rel=”stylesheet”> declaration in the HTML.

Minify Your CSS And JavaScript Files

If you are on WordPress, using a plugin to minify your CSS and JavaScript files can have a tremendous impact.

The process of minification takes all of the unnecessary spaces within a file and compresses it even further, so you can end up with a nice performance boost.

Also, even if you are not on WordPress, you can use the services of a well-qualified developer in order to complete the process manually.

This will take more time but can be well worth it.

Minified files are usually much lighter than their former counterparts, and this means that initial rendering will complete much faster.

In addition to this, after the minification process, you can also expect the download process to be faster, because less time is necessary to download non-render blocking resources.

Use System Fonts Instead Of Third-Party Fonts

While third-party fonts may appear to make a site “prettier,” this is not exactly the case.

While it may look amazing on the surface, these third-party font files often take a longer time to load and can contribute to your render-blocking resources problem.

Because of the external files, the browser has to make external requests in order to download these files to render your page, which may result in significantly higher download times.

If you’re on a team that has less than ideal development best practices, then it could stand to reason that you have many third-party font files that are not necessary for rendering your site.

In which case, removing all these unnecessary files can improve your render-blocking resources significantly and contribute to your overall improvement in Core Web Vitals.

Using system fonts, on the other hand, only keeps the processing within the browser, without external requests.

Also, there are likely system fonts that may be very similar to the third-party fonts you are using.

Improve Your Coding Techniques And Combining Files

If you’re working with code yourself, you may (or may not … no one is judging here) find that techniques are less than optimal.

One example: you are using inline CSS everywhere, and this is causing processing and rendering glitches within the browser.

The easy solution is to make sure that you take all of the inline CSS and code them properly within the CSS stylesheet file.

If another developer’s code is not up to par, this can create major issues with page rendering.

For example: Say that you have a page that’s coded using older techniques rather than modern and leaner ones.

Older techniques could include significant code bloat and result in slower rendering of the page as a result.

To eliminate this, you can improve your coding techniques by creating leaner and less bloated code, resulting in a much better page rendering experience.

Combining files can also improve the situation.

For example: If you have eight or 10 JavaScript files that all contribute to the same task, you can hire the services of a developer who can then combine all of these files for you.

And, if they are less critical JavaScript files, then to further decrease the page rendering problems, these files can also be deferred by adding them to the end of the HTML code on the page.

By combining files and improving your coding techniques, you can contribute significantly to better page rendering experiences.

Key Takeaways

Finding solutions to reduce render-blocking resources have been an SEO audit staple for a while now. It’s important for several reasons:

By reducing render-blocking resources, you make your site faster. You can also reverse engineer your site to take advantage of elements that will play into Google’s overall page experience update.

You also put yourself in a position to take advantage of a boost you will get from Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics.

Core Web Vitals are not going away. They have become a critical optimization point in order to facilitate the fastest potential rendering times possible within your current framework.

With new Core Web Vitals metrics being introduced in the future, making sure that you’re up-to-date on existing metrics is always a great idea.

Finding and repairing render-blocking resources also ensures that you continue keeping your website visitors happy and that it’s always in top shape for prime time.

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Featured Image: Naumova Marina/Shutterstock




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How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

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How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

Getting to the top of Google can be quite slow. Especially so for small, new websites. And the competition can often be too strong, which makes it quite unlikely for you to outrank your rivals in the first place.

Well… if you can’t win, change the rules.

There’s a very simple trick for getting search traffic for the keywords that you want to rank for—without actually ranking for them.

Enter…

One of the most common pieces of marketing advice is to “go fish where the fish are.” Whatever product or service you want to sell, you have to follow three simple steps:

  1. Figure out who your ideal customers are.
  2. Find the places where those people are hanging out online.
  3. Go to those places and find ways to promote your product.

Quick example: if you want to sell fitness gear, it would be good to figure out how to tap into the r/Fitness community on Reddit, which has over 12M members.

What does it have to do with SEO though?

Well, whatever search traffic you want to drive to your own website… someone is already getting it to theirs, right? And their website is not necessarily your direct competitor.

If you own a bagel joint in Singapore, you definitely want your website to rank in Google for “best bagels in Singapore.” But the pages that actually rank for this keyword are listicles, which give readers a bunch of different suggestions. So your job is to get featured in as many of those top-ranking listicles as possible.

Ranking for a keyword with your own website isn’t the only way to get customers from Google. Getting featured on other pages that rank for this keyword is incredibly effective too.

I call this tactic “second-hand search traffic”.

The underlying idea is not new though.

You might have heard of the concept called “Barnacle SEO,” shared by Rand Fishkin back in 2014. There’s also a concept called “Surround Sound,” coined by Alex Birkett. And another one called “SERP Monopoly strategy” by Nick Eubanks. There’s also a reverse concept, called “Rank & Rent.”

The idea behind all of these tactics is practically the same: if a page gets a lot of relevant search traffic from Google—you have to try and get your business mentioned there.

1721330765 614 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330765 614 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything
Source

But that’s easier said than done, right?

Why would anyone bother to feature your business on their website?

Well, one simple answer is money.

If a website owner can make money from mentioning your business on their page, there’s a good chance they’ll do it. This money could come in the form of an affiliate commission or a flat fee for an annual or permanent placement. Sometimes these things can also happen as part of a broader partnership deal.

Getting listed for free is very, very hard. Especially so if you’re not already a big and respected business that people naturally want to feature on their website.

And yet—it’s not completely impossible to get listed for free.

Case in point, we just published our own “best SEO conferences” post, in order to rank for relevant search queries and promote our upcoming event, Ahrefs Evolve Singapore.

And then we went ahead and reached out to all websites that rank for the “best SEO conferences” keyword and asked them to add Ahrefs Evolve to their listicles. So far 10 out of 17 featured us on their pages, without asking for any payment whatsoever.

1721330766 734 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330766 734 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

The most straightforward way to execute this strategy is to compile a list of highly relevant keywords (with high business potential scores), pull all the top-ranking pages for each of them into a spreadsheet, and start your outreach.

But there’s one other fruitful source of pages to get second-hand search traffic from. These are pages that are linking to your competitors, while getting a decent amount of search traffic themselves.

Here’s how to find these pages in 3 simple steps:

  1. Put the website of your competitor in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the Backlinks report.
  3. Apply the “Referring page > Traffic” filter.
How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for AnythingHow to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

Here’s an example of a page I found while trying this out for the ConvertKit website:

1721330766 665 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330766 665 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

As you can see, this page is not about “email marketing” (the primary topic you’d go for, if you wanted to promote an email marketing tool). And yet, this page is receiving 2.6k visitors per month from Google (as estimated by Ahrefs), and it recommends a bunch of email marketing tools to its readers.

So if you own an email marketing tool—like ConvertKit—you definitely want to get mentioned on that page alongside your competitors.

The moral of this story is that you should look outside of the topics that are immediately relevant to your business. Any page that gets traffic and mentions a competitor of yours should become your target.

And Ahrefs makes it super easy to find such pages.

That’s it.

I hope you found this tactic useful. Don’t sleep on it, because there’s a good chance that your competitors won’t.

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What SEO Should Know About Brand Marketing With Mordy Oberstein

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What SEO Should Know About Brand Marketing With Mordy Oberstein

For the SEO industry, the Google documents leak offered an important view behind the scenes. Although the leak was not a blueprint of how the algorithm worked, there was considerable confirmation that SEO professionals were right about many elements of the algorithm.

From all the analysis and discussion following the leak, the one insight that got my attention was how important the brand is.

Rand Fishkin, who broke the leak, said this:

“Brand matters more than anything else … If there was one universal piece of advice I had for marketers seeking to broadly improve their organic search rankings and traffic, it would be: “Build a notable, popular, well-recognized brand in your space, outside of Google search.”

Mike King echoed this statement with the following observation:

“All these potential demotions can inform a strategy, but it boils down to making stellar content with strong user experience and building a brand, if we’re being honest.”

Mordy Oberstein, who is an advocate for building a brand online, posted on X (Twitter):

“I am SO happy that the SEO conversation has shifted to thinking about “brand.”

It’s not the first time that “brand” has been mentioned in SEO. We began to talk about this around 2012 after the impact of Panda and Penguin when it first became apparent that Google’s aim was to put more emphasis on brand.

Compounding this is the introduction of AI, which has accelerated the importance of taking a more holistic approach to online marketing with less reliance on Google SERPs.

When I spoke to Pedro Dias, he said, “We need to focus more than ever on building our own communities with users aligned to our brands.”

As someone who had 15 years of offline experience in marketing, design, and business before moving into SEO, I have always said that having this wide knowledge allows me to take a holistic view of SEO. So, I welcome the mindset shift towards building a brand online.

As part of his X/Twitter post, Mordy also said:

“I am SO happy that the SEO conversation has shifted to thinking about “brand” (a lot of which is the direct result of @randfish’s & @iPullRank’s great advice following the “Google leaks”).

As someone who has straddled the brand marketing and SEO world for the better part of 10 years – branding is A LOT harder than many SEOs would think and will be a HUGE adjustment for many SEOs.”

Following his X/Twitter post, I reached out to Mordy Oberstein, Head of SEO Brand at Wix, to have a conversation about branding and SEO.

What Do SEO Pros Need To Know About ‘Brand’ To Make The Mindset Shift?

I asked Mordy, “In your opinion, what does brand and building a brand mean, and can SEO pros make this mindset shift?”

Mordy responded, “Brand building basically means creating a connection between one entity and another entity, meaning the company and the audience.

It’s two people meeting, and that convergence is the building of a brand. It’s very much a relationship. And I think that’s what makes it hard for SEOs. It’s a different way of thinking; it’s not linear, and there aren’t always metrics that you can measure it by.

I’m not saying you don’t use data, or you don’t have data, but it’s harder to measure to tell a full story.

You’re trying to pick up on latent signals. A lot of the conversation is unconscious.

It’s all about the micro things that compound. So, you have to think about everything you do, every signal, to ensure that it is aligned with the brand.

For example, a website writes about ‘what is a tax return.’ However, if I’m a professional accountant and I see this on your blog, I might think this isn’t relevant to me because you’re sending me a signal that you’re very basic. I don’t need to know what a tax return is; I have a master’s degree in accounting.

The latent signals that you’re sending can be very subtle, but this is where it is a mindset shift for SEO.”

I recalled a recent conversation with Pedro Dias in which he stressed it was important to put your users front and center and create content that is relevant to them. Targeting high-volume keywords is not going to connect with your audience. Instead, think about what is going to engage, interest, and entertain them.

I went on to say that for some time, the discussion online has been about SEO pros shifting away from the keyword-first approach. However, the consequences of moving away from a focus on traffic and clicks will mean we are likely to experience a temporary decline in performance.

How Does An SEO Professional Sell This To Stakeholders – How Do They Measure Success?

I asked Mordy, “How do you justify this approach to stakeholders – how do they measure success?”

Mordy replied, “I think selling SEO will become harder over time. But, if you don’t consider the brand aspect, then you could be missing the point of what is happening. It’s not about accepting lower volumes of traffic; it’s that traffic will be more targeted.

You might see less traffic right now, but the idea is to gain a digital presence and create digital momentum that will result in more qualified traffic in the long term.”

Mordy went on to say, “It’s going to be a habit to break out of, just like when you have to go on a diet for a long-term health gain.

The ecosystem will change, and it will force change to our approach. SEOs may not have paid attention to the Google leak documents, but I think they will pay attention as the entire ecosystem shifts – they won’t have a choice.

I also think C-level will send a message that they don’t care about overall traffic numbers, but do care about whether a user appreciates what they are producing and that the brand is differentiated in some way.”

How Might The Industry Segment And What Will Be The Important Roles?

I interjected to make the point that it does look a lot like SEO is finally making that shift across marketing.

Technical SEO will always be important, and paid/programmatic will remain important because it is directly attributable.

For the rest of SEO, I anticipate it merges across brand, SEO, and content into a hybrid strategy role that will straddle those disciplines.

What we thought of as “traditional SEO” will fall away, and SEO will become absorbed into marketing.

In response, Mordy agreed and thought that SEO traffic is part of a wider scope or part of a wider paradigm, and it will sit under brand and communications.

An SEO pro that functions as part of the wider marketing and thinks about how we are driving revenue, how we are driving growth, what kind of growth we are driving, and using SEO as a vehicle to that.

The final point I raised was about social media and whether that would become a more combined facet of SEO and overall online marketing.

Mordy likened Google to a moth attracted to the biggest digital light.

He said, “Social media is a huge vehicle for building momentum and the required digital presence.

For example, the more active I am on social media, the more organic branded searches I gain through Google Search. I can see the correlation between that.

I don’t think that Google is ignoring branded searches, and it makes a semantic connection.”

SEO Will Shift To Include Brand And Marketing

The conversation I had with Mordy raised an interesting perspective that SEO will have to make significant shifts to a brand and marketing mindset.

The full impact of AI on Google SERPs and how the industry might change is yet to be realized. But, I strongly recommend that anyone in SEO consider how they can start to take a brand-first approach to their strategy and the content they create.

I suggest building and measuring relationships with audiences based on how they connect with your brand and moving away from any strategy based on chasing high-volume keywords.

Think about what the user will do once you get the click – that is where the real value lies.

Get ahead of the changes that are coming.

Thank you to Mordy Oberstein for offering his opinion and being my guest on IMHO.

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Featured Image: 3rdtimeluckystudio/Shutterstock

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4 Ways PPC and SEO Can Work Together (And When They Can’t)

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4 Ways PPC and SEO Can Work Together (And When They Can’t)

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your pages to rank in a search engine’s organic results.

Pay-per-click (PPC) is a form of online advertising where advertisers pay a fee each time someone clicks their ad.

There’s no conundrum between the two types of marketing. You don’t have to choose one or the other; the best companies use both.

Here’s how they can work together and produce magic:

Creating SEO content is the process of figuring out what your target audience is searching on Google and aligning your content to their search intent.

To start off, you need to find out what they’re searching for. The easiest way is to use a keyword research tool, like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

Here’s how you might find keywords for a hypothetical coffee equipment store:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter a relevant keyword (e.g., “coffee”)
  3. Go to Matching terms

Go through the list and pick out keywords that are relevant to the site. For example, the keyword “how to grind coffee beans” seems like a good keyword to target.

The keyword "how to grind coffee beans" and relevant SEO statsThe keyword "how to grind coffee beans" and relevant SEO stats

Once we’ve chosen our keyword, we want to know what searchers are looking for specifically. Sometimes the keyword gives us an idea, but to be sure, we can look at the top-ranking pages.

So, click the SERP button and then click Identify intents to see what searchers are looking for:

The Identify Intents feature in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerThe Identify Intents feature in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

We can see that searchers are looking for techniques and methods to grind coffee beans at home, and especially without a grinder. If we want to rank high, we’ll likely have to follow suit.

Those are the basics of creating SEO content. But doing just this isn’t enough. After all, the quote goes, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”

This applies to your content too. You don’t want to create into a void; you want people to see and consume your content. This is where PPC comes in. You can run PPC ads to ensure that as many people see your content as possible.

For example, at Ahrefs, we run Facebook ads for our content:

An example of a Facebook Ad we ran for our contentAn example of a Facebook Ad we ran for our content

We also run ads on Quora:

Our Quora ads campaigns we ran for the blogOur Quora ads campaigns we ran for the blog

This way, we make sure that none of our content efforts go to waste.

Links are an important Google ranking factor. Generally speaking, the more links your page has, the more likely it’ll rank high in the search results.

But acquiring links is hard. This is why it’s still a reliable ranking factor. And it’s also why there’s an entire industry behind link building, and tons of tactics you can use, all with varying levels of success.

One way you can consider building links to your pages is to run PPC ads. In fact, we ran an experiment a few years ago to prove that it was possible.

We spent ~$1,245 on Google search ads and acquired a total of 16 backlinks to two different pieces of content. (~$77-78 per backlink.) This is much cheaper than if you had to buy a backlink, which according to our study, costs around $361.44.

(It would be even more expensive if you acquired links via outreach, as you would have to consider additional costs like software, manpower, etc.)

Retargeting allows you to target visitors who have left your website.

Here’s how retargeting works:

  1. A visitor discovers your article on Google
  2. Your ad management software sets a cookie on the visitor’s browser, which allows you to show ads to these visitors
  3. When the visitor leaves your website and surfs the web, you can show ads and persuade them to return to your website

Depending on where they are on the buyer’s journey, you can convince them to take the next step.

buyer's journeybuyer's journey

For example, if someone found your website via your article on the “best espresso machines”, it’s likely they’re looking to buy. So, you can set your retargeting ad to encourage them to visit your espresso machines category page.

On the other hand, if a visitor discovered your website from your “what is a coffee grinder” article, they might still be early on the journey. In that case, it might be prudent to encourage them to sign up for your email list instead.

Every site has important keywords. For example, besides our brand and product terms, critical keywords are “keyword research”, “link building”, and “technical SEO”.

Since these keywords are important, it makes sense to dominate the SERPs for them. You can do this by simultaneously running ads for them while ranking in organic search. For example, Wix ranks for the keyword “create website for free” in both paid and organic SERPs:

Wix ranks for the keyword “create website for free” in both paid and organic SERPsWix ranks for the keyword “create website for free” in both paid and organic SERPs

This is especially useful if you’re a new or smaller site. The keywords that are important to you are likely important to your competitors too. Which means you can’t compete with them overnight.

So, a good strategy is to target those keywords via PPC first, while investing in your SEO strategy. Over time, as you acquire more backlinks and gain more website authority, you’ll be able to compete with your competitors in organic search too.

While both channels are complementary, there are times where it may make more sense to choose one over the other.

When to choose PPC

If you fit these scenarios, it might be a better idea to go for PPC:

  • You’re promoting a limited-time offer, event, or launching a product. According to our poll, SEO takes three to six months to show results. If your event, offer, or launch is shorter than the expected timeframe, it’ll be over even before SEO takes any effect.
  • You need immediate, short-term results. If you need to show some results now, then PPC will be a better choice.
  • You have a disruptive product or service. SEO depends on figuring out what people are already searching for. If your product or service is completely novel, then it’s likely no one is searching for it.
  • Hyper-competitive SERPs. Some niches have competing sites with large SEO teams and deep pockets. Coupled with Google’s preference for known brands, if you’re in these niches, it can be difficult to compete. PPC offers a viable alternative for gaining visibility on the first page.

When to choose SEO

Here are times when it may make better sense to choose SEO:

  • Keywords are too expensive. Some industries, like insurance or finance, have cost-per-clicks (CPC) up to a few hundred dollars. For example, the keyword “direct auto insurance san antonio” has a CPC of $275.
  • Your niche is restricted. Certain industries or niches (e.g., adult, weapons, gambling, etc.) are prohibited or restricted from advertising.
  • You have a limited budget. PPC requires money to begin, whereas SEO can drive traffic to your website at no direct cost per visitor.
  • You’re building an affiliate site. Affiliate sites earn a commission when people buy from their recommendations. While it’s not impossible to build an affiliate site from PPC, it’s difficult to control the return on investment (ROI) since affiliate site owners cannot control sales conversion rates.

Final thoughts

There are cases where focusing on either SEO or PPC makes sense.

But most of the time, the best companies don’t discriminate between channels. If they produce positive ROI, then you should be using all marketing channels.

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