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How To Improve Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) on WordPress

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How To Improve Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) on WordPress

The Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) is a Core Web Vital metric and measures how long it takes for the largest element to become visible in the viewport. Until the LCP doesn’t load, you won’t see almost anything on the page. It’s because the LCP element is always above the fold — that’s at the top of the page.

LCP is usually an image or a text block. However, it could also be a video or an animation. The LCP element can differ between mobile and desktop.

As you can guess, the largest element is the most relevant one for user experience and perceived load speed.

Think about it: if the page’s biggest element doesn’t load fast, your user experience won’t be good. You would look at an almost blank page, waiting for the page to load… You could even leave the site! When browsing, a few seconds can make a huge difference.

That’s why Google has included LCP as one of the Core Web Vitals metrics — the metrics measuring how great your user experience is.

In June, LCP will roll out as part of the new ranking factor, the Page Experience Signal. For this reason, Largest Contentful Paint matters not only for delivering a great user experience but also for improving your SEO performance.

What’s more, LCP accounts for 25% of the overall PageSpeed Insights score. By improving its performance, you’ll likely improve your page speed grade.

In short, LCP is one of the most important performance metrics right now.

What’s a Good LCP Score

largest-contentful-paint

good score means that LCP should be less or equal to 2.5 seconds. If so, the page will get the green score and pass the assessment.

If LCP is between 2.5 and 4.0 s, the score “needs improvements” — you’ll get an orange grade.

Suppose the LCP is more than 4 seconds. Then the score is “poor”, and you need to fix it as soon as possible.

Let’s now see how we can find the LCP element.

How to Find and Measure the Largest Contentful Paint

There are several ways to find and measure the LCP element, both with Lab and Field Data. Here are the most popular tools you can use to test LCP.

Lab Data tools:

Field Data tools:

You can learn more about the difference between Lab and Field Data in our post on PageSpeed Insights.

Let’s go over some of the easiest and most effective tools: PageSpeed Insights and Search Console.

Measuring and Finding LCP with PageSpeed Insights

PageSpeed Insights is the easiest way to measure and find the LCP element.

After testing your URL’s page, you’ll get the LCP grade in the Lab Data and the Field Data (if available). You’ll also get the PageSpeed recommendations to improve your performance.

Go to the Diagnostics area and look for the “Largest Contentful Paint element” section. You’ll discover what’s the LCP element for the page you’re analyzing.

Let’s go over a couple of examples and make things easier to understand.

The LCP example From Mobile

Let’s analyze a WP Rocket blog page from mobile.

We test the performance of the page in the tool and go to the Diagnostics area. The LCP element is the H1, which is the blog post title:

LCP-mobile-example

As long as the main title loads fast, the page will deliver an excellent user experience.

LCP-mobile-example

The LCP example From Desktop

Let’s now take a look at the same URL from the desktop.

We go again to the Diagnostics Area and look for the LCP element. Not surprisingly, LCP is not the same as for mobile. For desktop, the LCP is an image:

LCP-element-desktop

More precisely, it’s the image of the post.

LCP-desktop-example

Since PageSpeed Insights is a page-based tool, we recommend that you run several tests for different pages.

For an overall analysis, you should also take advantage of the Search Console.

Measuring and Finding LCP on Search Console

You can assess your sitewide performance and detect any issues with the Core Web Vitals report in Search Console.

You’ll be able to access both performances from mobile and desktop:

Once you open the report, you’ll see how your site’s pages perform according to each threshold: good, needs improvement, and poor.

Core Web Vitals report mobile tab - Search Console

Search Console report groups each Core Web Vital performance by status, issue type, and URLs.

For example, you might have some URLs not performing well for LCP. If so, in the report, you may read “LCP issue: longer than 2.5 s (mobile).

By clicking on the row related to that specific issue, you’ll land on a page that provides the list of URLs that need to be fixed. While these URLs are an example, they can give you a pretty accurate idea of what’s going on.

It will be pretty easy to find the URL pattern and move forward with the fixing and the validation.

What Factors Affect LCP and Cause a Slow Score

For WordPress sites, three factors affect LCP: slow server response times, render-blocking JavaScript and CSS, and slow resource load time.

Slow Server Response Times

The browser makes a request to the server, but the server takes too long to send the content requested. Since the browser doesn’t receive the content quickly enough, it takes a while to get something rendered on your screen. As a result, load time is not great. The LCP score gets affected.

You’ll fix the issue by improving your Time to First Byte, using a CDN, and establishing third-party connections early.

Render-blocking JavaScript and CSS

The browser makes a request and gets the content from the server. At this point, the browser will render the content and show it, right? Not so fast.

To render any content, the browser has to analyze (or parse) the HTML of the page and make it “readable” into the HTML structure of the page — that’s the DOM tree. After that, the content will be rendered and fully displayed — unless some scripts and stylesheets block the HTML parsing. These scripts and stylesheets are the render-blocking resources.

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As a result of this block, the parsing is delayed. Once again, the content you requested takes a bit before being loaded. The LCP performance gets affected again.

You’ll tackle these issues by deferring and removing unused JS files. Don’t worry! You’ll find all the information you need in the next section.

Slow Resource Load Times

Other files can also cause poor performance and a bad user experience: images, videos, and block-level elements like HTML and CSS files.

As you already know, LCP is related to the elements at the top of the page. And this issue comes up precisely when these files are rendered above-the-fold and take too long to load. As a result, loading time and LCP are affected once again.

You’ll manage the resource load times by optimizing images, minifying and compressing CSS, JS, HTML files, and preloading critical assets.

The bottom line: how fast the browser receives and renders the content requested determines the LCP score.

Let’s understand how to fix all these issues in detail.

c3f3153aff0b1618406603-LCP.png

Don’t Miss Out!

The Core Web Vitals Cheat Sheets are the easiest and fastest way to learn how to optimize LCP, FID, and CLS and prioritize your performance tasks.Enter your email here…Yes, I Want This!

How to Reduce a Largest Contentful Paint Longer Than 2.5 s or 4 s on Mobile and Desktop

Here are ten ways to improve the Largest Contentful Paint performance and fix the Search Console status “LCP issue: longer than 2.5s or LCP issue: longer than 4s“, both from mobile and/or desktop.

1. Improve the Time to First Byte and Reduce Server Response Time

2. Use a CDN

3. Defer JavaScript

4. Remove Unused JavaScript

5. Defer Non-Critical CSS and Inline Critical CSS

6. Minify CSS and JS Files

7. Optimize Your Images

8. Compress Text Files

9. Use Preload for Critical Assets

10. Establish Third-party Connections Early.

Let’s see them in detail.

🚀 For each suggestion, you’ll find a piece of information about its performance impact —  from low to high. The highest the impact is, the highest chance that the Largest Contentful Paint score will improve after following that specific recommendation.

1. Improve the Time to First Byte and Reduce Server Response Time

Performance Impact: high 🚀🚀🚀

One of the main reasons for a bad LCP is a slow server response time.

You can measure your server response time by looking at the Time to First Byte (TTFB).

Every time you want to consume any piece of content, the browser sends a request to the server. The TTFB measures how long it takes for the browser to receive the first byte of content from the server.

By improving your TTFB, you’ll improve your server response time and the LCP score.

Please note that a good TTFB should be under 200 ms — you can quickly check this metric by testing your URL’s site on WebPageTest.

WebPageTest example

There are two ways to fix a bad server time:

1. Enable Page Caching

By enabling page caching, your site’s pages will be stored as HTML files on the server after the page is loaded for the first time. As a result, the content will be displayed faster. It’s an easy and effective way to improve TTFB.

You can also choose one of the top WordPress hosting providers that include a server-level caching option.

WP Rocket can easily take care of page caching with no effort from your side.

A dedicated tab will allow you to enable mobile caching and set the options you prefer. WP Rocket enables 80% of web performance best practices automatically. So, if you’re in doubt, you’ll get covered anyway!

Cache tab

2. Choose a Fast Server Hosting Service

A fast hosting can make a huge difference in performance. And maybe it’s time to upgrade your hosting plan!

As the first thing, your hosting provider should have servers close to the majority of your users. The closer your users are to the server, the fastest the data will be sent.

You should also choose the right server host type. A dedicated hosting server will ensure the fastest performance. Take into consideration how much traffic your site gets, and make your decision.

By enabling caching and choosing a fast hosting, you’ll take care of the following PageSpeed Insights recommendations:

  • Reduce server response times (TTFB)
  • Serve static assets with an efficient cache policy.

2. Use a CDN

Performance Impact: medium 🚀🚀

A CDN helps you reduce the length of time between the user request and the server response. This amount of time is the latency. The back and forth between the browser request and the server response is the round trip time (RTT).

If your users are located far from the server’s location, it could take a while before all the assets (e.g., images, JS and CSS files, videos ) are sent. Latency and RTT will be high and will affect loading time and the LCP score.

You already saw how the location of your server could affect your site’s performance.

A CDN solves the issue thanks to a global network of servers. No matter where your users are located. Every time they request a page, they will receive the assets from the closest server. Simple as that.

RocketCDN is the best way to let your users access your site quickly and easily.

If you want to know more about the CDN benefits and the different types, you can read our article.

Choosing a CDN will help you address the following PageSpeed recommendations:

  • Serve static assets with an efficient cache policy
  • Enable text compression.

Please note that a CDN will address such recommendations only if properly configured. The default options might not be enough to improve performance as expected.

3. Defer JavaScript

Performance Impact: high 🚀🚀🚀

Render-blocking resources like JavaScript files are one of the main causes of a bad LCP score.

Deferring the JavaScript files will help you tackle the issue. In other words, you’ll change the priority of the JS files being loaded.

Remember? The browser parses the HTML, builds the DOM tree, and then renders the page — unless there is any blocking resource to slow the process down.

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By deferring JavaScript, the browser will process and load the JS files only after parsing the HTML document and building the DOM tree. Since there won’t be anything to block the process, rendering will be much faster — and the LCP metric will improve.

You can add the defer attribute to the JavaScript files so that the browser can detect the resources to defer. The browser will analyze the HTML and build the DOM tree with no interruption.

Here’s an example of the defer attribute:

<script defer src="/example-js-script"></script>

The easiest way to manage the JavaScript resources is to take advantage of WP Rocket and its Load Javascript Deferred feature.

You can choose this option in the File optimization tab. What’s more, you can easily exclude specific JS files from being deferred — in case the defer feature conflicts with any file.

File optimization Tab - Load JavaScript deferred

You’ll address the “Eliminate render-blocking resources” PSI recommendation in a few clicks — even though the render-blocking resources issues don’t stop here.

Let’s move to the next point about tackling render-blocking resources.

4. Remove Unused JavaScript

Performance Impact: medium 🚀🚀

Another way to eliminate the render-blocking resources is to remove the JavaScript resources that are not used. They may not be used for two reasons:

  • They’re not used anymore on your site. They’re still in the code but are completely useless.
  • They aren’t included in the above-the-fold content. Therefore, they’re non-critical for building the DOM tree. Yet, these files have a reason to be there (e.g., Google Analytics tracking code).

You can find the list of the unused JS files in the PageSpeed report in the “Remove unused Javascript” section:

List of unused Javascript files - PageSpeed Insights Report

There are two ways to solve this issue in WordPress:

1. Load the JavaScript files only when needed.
For instance, the files should be loaded only on the pages that need that specific file — in any other case, the execution of JS should be disabled. You can take care of this aspect with plugins such as Perfmatters and Assets Cleanup.

2. Delay the JavaScript files.The JavaScript files won’t be loaded until the first user interaction (e.g., scrolling, clicking a button). If there’s no user interaction, the JS files won’t be loaded at all.By delaying JavaScript, the JS files won’t be detected by Lighthouse nor listed in the “Remove unused Javascript files” recommendation — even though not all the scripts from the PageSpeed recommendation list can be safely delayed.
For instance, the Google Analytics tracking code is usually included in this PageSpeed Insights recommendation. If you delay the JS files, the Google Analytics JS file won’t be reported anymore.
Note: Delaying JS files doesn’t have the purpose of solving this PSI recommendation per se. However, it works well in addressing this PageSpeed audit and improving your LCP score. So, it’s good for you to know.

So, how can you delay JS resources? You have different options.

If you’re looking for a free plugin to delay JavaScript files, you can use Flying Scripts.

Another way to safely tackle any unused JavaScript is to take advantage of WP Rocket! The plugin allows you to delay the JavaScript execution in a few clicks from the File optimization tab. You can easily include the list of scripts to delay and let the plugin do the job for you:

File optimization tab - Delay JavaScript execution

As we mentioned, by removing unused Javascript files, you’ll address the specific PageSpeed recommendation. Overall, you’ll work towards “Eliminating render-blocking resources” and “Reducing javascript execution time”.

Your LCP grade will get another boost.

5. Defer Non-Critical CSS and Inline Critical CSS

Performance Impact: medium 🚀🚀

As for the JS files, you should also defer non-critical CSS — all the files not relevant for rendering the page. In other words, you should change the priority for these files, too.

They will load after the browser has rendered the most relevant content on the page.

While deferring the CSS files, you should also inline critical CSS — the resources above-the-fold that need to be loaded as fast as possible. It means that you should identify the critical CSS (or Critical Path CSS) and inline them inside the HTML structure.

If you want to implement both actions on WordPress, here’s how the process looks like:

  1. First, you should extract and inline the Critical Path CSS (CPCSS) using one available generator tool. You can find one here.
  2. Then, you should load the rest of the classes asynchronously by applying the following pattern.

You can read more about the process in the dedicated Google resource.

Another tip is to avoid placing large non-critical CSS code in the <head> of the code.

If you want to take care of both critical and non-critical CSS quickly, you can take advantage of the Optimize CSS delivery feature provided by WP Rocket. This option will defer non-critical CSS and inline critical CSS — you don’t need to do anything else.

In the File optimization tab, you can choose the option:

File optimization Tab - Optimize CSS delivery

By implementing these actions, you’ll address the “Eliminate render-blocking resources” and “Avoid chaining critical requests” PageSpeed Insights recommendations.

6. Minify CSS and JS Files

Performance Impact: low 🚀

Another effective way to optimize Largest Contentful Paint is to minify CSS and JS files.

Minification comes down to optimizing your code by making it more compact. It means to remove any white spaces, line breaks, and comments included in the code. As a result, minification will reduce CSS and JS files’ size and make them load faster.

It sounds easy, but the reality is more complicated. It’s not always simple to minify both file types and be sure to have excluded all the right resources — especially if you’re not a developer. Either way, it’s time-consuming.

The easiest and most effective way to take care of minification is to use a plugin like WP Rocket.

In the file optimization tab, you’ll have the opportunity to minify both CSS and JavaScript files.

 File optimization tab - Minifying CSS and JS files

You’ll address the following PageSpeed Insights recommendations:

  • Minify CSS
  • Minify JS
  • Avoid enormous network payloads.

7. Optimize Your Images

Performance Impact: high 🚀🚀🚀

Optimizing images is another relevant way to fix a bad LCP score.

See also  How to Increase Your Website Traffic Without SEO

Images are often the LCP element from mobile or desktop. By improving their loading time, you’ll boost the Largest Contentful Paint performance.

Here’s what you can do to fix any performance issues about images.

Compress and resize your images. You should reduce the file size without losing quality. The smaller the image dimension is, the faster the loading time will be.

To be clear: if you use a tool to optimize your images on the desktop, you will only optimize the original size. The images that you upload on WordPress won’t be resized. As you may know, in WordPress, there are different image sizes. Unless you use a proper image optimization plugin, you won’t optimize anything for performance.

For optimizing a few images, you could use a tool like ImageOptim. On the other hand, if you want to optimize more images and their thumbnails in bulk, Imagify is the perfect solution. You’ll reduce your images’ weight without sacrificing their quality. You’ll save plenty of time!

Convert your images into new formats. Overall, Google recommends the WebP format. And that’s why all WordPress image optimizer plugins now include the option to convert images to WebP. Other formats you may take into account are JPEG 2000 and JPEG XR.  These formats are smaller than the JPEG, PNG, and GIF ones and help improve performance.

Use responsive images. You shouldn’t use the same images’ size for desktop and mobile. For instance, if the desktop image size is large, the mobile image size should be medium.

Page builders like Elementor allow users to upload different image sizes according to the device. Mobile image optimization is pretty essential, and the mobile score matters the most. Don’t underestimate its impact on your LCP grade!

Exclude the LCP element from lazy-loading. While overall lazy-load helps improve loading time, it can make the LCP score worse, especially when the LCP element is an image and gets lazy-loaded. That’s why excluding the LCP element from lazy-load and displaying it directly in the HTML of the page is an excellent way to optimize the LCP score.

Use a static image instead of a slider. Sliders can be very heavy to load because of the code. On the other hand, a static image made by HTML code is lighter and faster.

By optimizing your images, you’ll address the following PageSpeed Insights audits:

  • Serve images in next-gen formats
  • Properly size images
  • Efficiently encode images
  • Avoid enormous network payloads.

8. Compress Text Files

Performance Impact: high 🚀🚀🚀

You should also compress text files such as HTML, CSS, or JavaScript resources.

Compression means to “zip” your files in a smaller and lighter format so that they load faster. Once you reduce their size, the transfer between browser and server will be quicker. The browser will be able to load these resources faster. Load time and LCP will improve.

You can use compression formats such as GZIP and Brotli. On the one hand, GZIP is supported by most of the hosts. On the other one, Brotli is more performant and currently mostly recommended. Learn more about  GZIP vs. Brotli in our blog post.

You can easily enable GZIP compression on WordPress by using a plugin. You can choose between different options, from the straightforward Enable Gzip Compression plugin to WP Rocket, which automatically includes GZIP compression. Also, some hosts enable GZIP compression by default.

Either way, you’ll address the “Enable text compression” PageSpeed recommendation.

9. Use Preload for Critical Assets (As the Largest Contentful Paint Image)

Performance Impact: low 🚀

At this point, you know how much the assets above the fold are critical for a good performance score. These critical resources can be fonts, images, videos, CSS, or JavaScript files.

To improve your LCP score, you should always make the critical assets load as fast as possible.

So, you may be wondering how to preload the Largest Contentful Paint image.

The Preload option comes in handy. It tells the browser to prioritize the load of these resources. In other words, the Preload prevents the browser from discovering and loading these critical files (including the LCP image) until much later.

You can include the rel=”preload” in the code:

<link rel="preload" as="script" href="script.js">
<link rel="preload" as="style" href="style.css">
<link rel="preload" as="image" href="img.png">
<link rel="preload" as="video" href="vid.webm" type="video/webm">
<link rel="preload" href="font.woff2" as="font" type="font/woff2" crossorigin>

Source: Google

For preloading the LCP image, you can also use a plugin like Perfmatters.

If you need to preload fonts, you can take advantage of the WP Rocket feature:

Preload tab - Preload fonts feature

You can read more about the best practices for web font preloading in our dedicated article.

By using preload for critical assets, you’ll address the “Preload key requests” PageSpeed recommendation.

10. Establish Third-party Connections Early

Performance Impact: low 🚀

Making the third-party connections faster is an additional way to optimize your LCP performance.

You should use the Preconnect option.

Let’s say that there’s a CSS or JS file requested from a third-party, such as Facebook or Google Analytics. The browser will request the external resource.

If enabled, the Preconnect option tells the browser to establish a connection with the external domain as fast as possible. The browser will then handle the request in parallel with the ongoing rendering process.

You can include the rel=”preconnect” in your code:

<link rel="preconnect" href="https://example.com">.

As an alternative, you can use a plugin as Perfmatters.

Since your browser may not support the preconnect option, it’s always best to implement dns-prefetch as a fallback technique. You’ll then resolve the DNS lookups faster. In other words, the external files will load more quickly, especially on mobile networks.

You can add the rel=”dns-prefetch” to your code — as a separate tag from the preconnect attribute:

<head>
 …
<link rel="preconnect" href="https://example.com">
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="https://example.com">
</head>

WP Rocket’s Preload tab allows you to prefetch the DNS requests. You only have to specify the external hosts to be prefetched:

Preload tab - Prefetch DNS requests

By establishing third-party connections earlier, you’ll improve the Time to First Byte and the server response time. You’ll also address the “Preconnect to required origins” PageSpeed recommendation.

Author:
WP Rocket.com

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How SEO Works in Digital Marketing

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Search engine optimization (SEO) is an integral part of digital marketing.

SEO helps with brand discoverability. When done right, SEO can create the most consistent and by far the highest-quality traffic source which doesn’t require on-going maintenance.

Yet, SEO is usually the most isolated part of the marketing. Whether it is an in-house team or a third-party service that’s delivering your SEO campaigns, it usually exists on its own without really communicating goals, progress or results to the whole company.

This creates silos that can lead to poor results and even reputation crises.

How does SEO work in digital marketing and how can a business make it work better?

What is SEO?

SEO is a collection of tactics (content, technical, link building, even website security and usability) that ensures that your website is easy to understand for search engines.

Basically, it ensures a machine knows that your page will be easy to find to a human being who is looking to solve a related problem.

Search engine traffic is one of the highest-quality traffic for many reasons:

  • Unlike PPC (paid) traffic, it doesn’t require an ongoing investment to keep coming
  • Unlike social media traffic,  it doesn’t require an ongoing work to keep coming
  • Unlike social media traffic, you are not interrupting people’s browsing. Instead you give them what they were actually searching for.

In other words, it is consistent and it converts well. No other digital marketing tactic beats that.

Apart from driving direct traffic, search engine optimization helps build brand awareness by increasing your brand’s organic findability.

Keep Your Whole Team Aware of Why SEO is Important

The great thing about today is that everyone understands the value of ranking high on Google! Sadly, however, many folks only know that they “need SEO” without having really understood what that means. 

See also  How to Increase Your Website Traffic Without SEO

SEO these days is too hard for a digital marketer to do alone. Many SEOs find themselves in situations where an executive will simply come down and go “Why are we not ranking well for ‘dingwobble’?” 

Keep working hard with teams for them to understand how they contribute to the SEO process:

  • Product Marketers who are responsible for the business, personas and messaging understand that SEO is critical to driving the bottom line revenue numbers they are looking at. Part of the persona developing process should be the development of the “digital persona” – what websites and search terms are these people looking for? This helps the product marketer when it comes time to develop messaging, as that is going to be critical for developing the content, so the right search terms better be there!
  • Field Marketers responsible for the campaigns need to know how SEO fits within their campaign, how it in fact is core to our demand generation, and how to make sure to keep the campaigns integrated.
  • Marketing Communications is creating the content, so SEO should very well be top of mind for them, as the content itself will be critical in impacting how successful SEO will be.
  • But that’s not all! Often, other groups are creating content (Press Releases, Blog Posts, Presentations, etc.) that also end up on the web and impact SEO. Whether it’s Corporate Communications, Investor Relations or even Legal teams, working with them is critical.
  • IT manages the infrastructure and can be very critical to the technical aspects of SEO.
  • Sales and customer support teams are at the forefront of marketing talking to your future and current customers, so they need to be involved in the SEO strategy. Creating relevant content goes beyond keywords. It needs to address real problems and answer actual people’s questions, and your client-facing teams will be your best source of inspiration here.  
  • Executives also care! While they can’t often influence the day-to-day of SEO, they will care a lot about the bottom line, to which SEO contributes.
See also  Yet Another Google Weekend Search Ranking Algorithm Update...

Educating all of these people about SEO helps empower them, as well as position yourself, the SEO, as the subject matter expert who is not just someone back-office who gives very little visibility into the black box of SEO, but someone who is actively educating and contributing to the organization’s success.

Review and discuss common KPIs early and often to make sure everyone knows what victory looks like to the team.

Additionally, SEO should be a solid part of any project launch as it impacts every stage of product positioning. From choosing a business name to choosing a website builder, your initial efforts should be driven by SEO best practices.

What is the key to SEO success in a constantly changing environment?

As a practitioner of SEO, I believe that you need to look to ensure you are looking at both developing yourself in both depth and breadth of knowledge. A key danger in the name of being informed or being a part of the SEO community is spending all your time debating tactics and practices rather than testing them. 

Additionally, SEOs as with all employees need to look outside their field to stretch and learn how to be more well rounded. This could mean learning to code, or educating yourself in some other area of the business you work for.  This will expose you to ideas others may not have.

As a manager of people, success is really about diversity of expertise. Who you hire and the kind of people you hire will be far more valuable than much of what people invest in with regards to SEO programs. You have to have people who can roll with the punches and develop a skill for self-management and personal growth. 

See also  How to create an event on LinkedIn

Finally, I think knowing what your real goals are in having an SEO program are the key to long term success. The reality is you may get more traffic, but if that traffic is not from qualified leads and generates real revenue then the benefit may be very little. Having well defined goals and metrics will also help you avoid chasing algorithm changes and focus on the big picture.

Conclusion

SEO is the most essential long-term digital marketing strategy but to make it really effective, you need a knowledge team that is well-integrated into the company’s life. Good luck!

Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty is the brand NINJA at Internet Marketing Ninjas as well as the founder of numerous startups including MyBlogGuest, MyBlogU, ViralContentBee, TwChat and many more.

Ann Smarty has been an online marketing consultant for 10 years providing high-quality digital marketing consulting through her services and courses (both free and paid).

Ann Smarty’s content marketing ideas have been featured in NYtimes, Mashable, Entrepreneur, Search Engine Land and many more. She is known for her indepth tool reviews, innovative content marketing advice and actionable digital marketing ideas.

Source: Ann Smarty

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3 Effective Ways to Quickly Identify Your SaaS Brand’s Top SEO Competitors

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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.

There are over 22,600 software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies in the world right now, according to Crunchbase.

On Capterra, there are more than 800 software categories.

Research by Statista indicates that the market size of the SaaS industry has grown from $5.56 billion in 2008 to over $156 billion in 2020.

What do these figures show? It’s simple. The SaaS industry landscape is becoming more competitive by the day.

To stay on top of your game as a SaaS business, you must identify the companies you’re competing with from an SEO standpoint. That way, you’ll know the content strategies to focus on, the keywords to target, and the type of backlinks to acquire. In this post, you’ll learn three effective ways to do this quickly.

Why care about your SEO competitors as a SaaS brand?

If you don’t know your SEO competitors, you’re leaving so much on the table, while they occupy the top spots on the SERPs.

1. You can identify the top keywords they’re targeting and how they’re acquiring backlinks to help your own strategies.

By identifying the companies competing against your SaaS brand, you’ll know the top keywords they’re targeting. That way, you can focus on those keywords that can generate qualified traffic and drive user signups for your SaaS. This streamlines your keyword research process.

Knowing your top SEO competitors is also a great way to perform a link gap analysis. That way, you can know the type of backlinks they’re acquiring and where they’re getting them from. This helps you to identify relevant websites that are more likely to link to you.

2. You can figure out the competitive edge you have over them

If you don’t know who your top competitors are, you won’t be able to find the SEO opportunities to focus on to drive growth for your business.

Take, for instance, if they focus more on high-volume, top-of-the-funnel keywords. If you then go after middle- and bottom-funnel keywords, it could give you a competitive edge.

3. You can understand their biggest drivers of growth and conversion.

Most SaaS companies optimize their blog posts, landing pages, and product pages for conversions. This is because they measure growth by the number of signups and paying customers that they have.

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By identifying your SEO competitors, you can know the kind of CTAs and buttons that work well in your niche. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of the conversion strategies that can drive growth for your SaaS business.

Three ways to identify the SEO competitors of your SaaS brand

Here are three tactics you can try today to identify your SaaS brand’s top SEO competitors.

1. Use SEO tools

SEO tools have access to large amounts of data for different websites and niches — and they’ve analyzed and categorized this information for your own use.

For example, SEMrush has the Market Explorer tool, which helps you to find potential competitors for your business. Ahrefs also has a competing domains report in the Site Explorer tool. This helps you to identify the websites competing with your SaaS, based on the kind of keywords you’re ranking for.

You can also use the Moz Pro True Competitor tool to identify the top SEO competitors for your SaaS brand. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you want to identify the top SEO competitors of Moz. With this tool, you can find that information within a few seconds.

The first thing you need to do is enter the following details in the tool:

  • Preferred market: The specific location you’re targeting
  • Domain type: The type of domain
  • Domain name: Your website URL

Once you enter this information and hit the “Find Competitors” button, you’ll get a list of top 25 competitors:

As you can see, websites competing with Moz on the SERPs aren’t limited to software brands alone. They include others such as:

  • Google
  • Search Engine Journal
  • Hubspot
  • Search Engine Land
  • Wordstream
  • Backlinko.

This tool also has the Overlap and Rivalry metrics, to filter your top competitors.

The Overlap metric filters your top competitors based on the shared keywords you both rank for on the first page of Google. The Rivalry metric uses factors like CTR, DA score, the volume of shared keywords, etc. to identify the most relevant competitors for your SaaS.

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After identifying your top SEO competitors, you can perform an in-depth analysis of at most 2 of them, to know the keywords they’re targeting.

2. Survey or interview your new and existing customers

If someone signs up for your SaaS product, chances are that they’ve demoed or tried out other options before deciding to go with yours. It’s also possible that they’ve just churned from one of your competitors to become a customer.

This shows that they have an idea of who your direct and indirect competitors are. To get this information, all you need to do is reach out and interview them one after the other. This could be by talking to them via a quick call, sending a short survey for them to fill out, or asking them during the onboarding process.

Here are some questions you can ask customers to identify your top competitors:

  • What tools were you using to [solve X problem] before trying out our product?
  • If you’ve never used any tool before, how were you able to solve this problem before now?
  • What made you interested in trying out our product?
  • When did you realize that a tool​ like ours is what you need right now?
  • How much research did you do to decide on our product? What are some other, similar tools you discovered during the research process?

3. Perform a Google search targeting your SaaS use cases and features

Performing a Google search for the use cases, features, and problems your software solves is a great way to identify your top SEO competitors. This is effective because most companies ranking high on Google are investing in SEO.

Use the “related:website” advanced search feature

This search operator shows you other websites related to the one you search for on Google.

Let’s say you want to find websites like salesforce.com. You can search for “related:salesforce.com” on Google. The results on page one are some of SalesForce’s top SERP competitors:

Search for the use cases of your software

If your software helps SaaS companies onboard and activate new users, one of your core use cases is “user onboarding”.

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If you search “user onboarding software” on Google, you’ll unlock competitors who are either bidding for or ranking organically for the keyword.

Some of the websites targeting this use case on Google include:

  • Appcues
  • Userpilot
  • Apty
  • Userflow

Aside from that, there are SaaS brands paying to rank on the first page of Google for this keyword.

Search for your SaaS features

One of the core features of the Moz tool is the “rank tracking” feature. To identify the websites that have a similar feature, you can input that keyword on the Google search bar.

Here’s the result it returns:

As you can see, aside from Moz, other competing websites for this feature include:

  • Link-Assistant
  • Ahrefs
  • Rank Tracker
  • Spyfu
  • SEMrush

Search for your SaaS jobs-to-be-done (JTBD)

Let’s say you run an online video editing software, one of the problems that your audience most likely have is “how to add an image to video”.

By performing a Google search for this query, you’ll see a result that looks like this:

This shows that some of the top SEO competitors in the online video editing space include:

  • Kapwing
  • Veed
  • Online Video Cutter
  • Flixier
  • Movavi

Conclusion

If you don’t know the SaaS companies you’re competing with, they’ll leave you behind and dominate your niche.

In this post, you’ve learned three effective ways to identify your top SEO competitors as a SaaS brand:

  1. You can use an SEO software such as the Moz True Competitor tool to find your competitors and know the keywords they’re targeting.
  2. You can reach out to new and existing customers, to find out the solutions they’re comparing you with.
  3. You can search Google for your SaaS product’s features and use cases. This shows you the companies likely competing with your brand on the SERPs.

Ever tried any of these tactics before? Kindly share which of them worked really well for your SaaS brand in the Q&A.

Source: AbdulGaniy Shehu

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HOWTO'S

Picking SEO Keywords: An Expert’s Guide

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picking-seo-keywords:-an-expert’s-guide
Without SEO, publishing content online is like sending a rocket to space without a destination.

If you don’t tell that rocket which direction to head (the moon or Mars?), you’re stuck crossing your fingers and hoping things work out. That’s not good marketing. Good marketing comes with predictability, data, and then some crossed fingers.

And that’s the perfect way to describe search engine optimization, SEO, in 2022.

SEO is part of the search engine algorithm:

Input = Keywords

Output = Content

For every keyword, there are thousands of pages of search results and plenty of content to choose from (outputs). But, page 1,000 isn’t nearly as useful as page 1. Even page 2 of search results can feel like no man’s land.

That’s why marketers care about SEO. Because all search engine pages are not equal. The power of ranking top 3 on page 1 of a search engine beats out ranking first on page 2 by 100x (honestly, maybe even 1,000x). 

How do you land a coveted spot on page 1 of the search results?

By picking the right SEO keywords through these three steps.

3 Steps SEO Experts Use to Pick Keywords

SEO has been around long enough that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. A new, innovative, never-before-seen SEO strategy that takes you months to implement and even longer to see results is the opposite of what SEO experts are doing.

The SEO experts writing high-quality content, landing on page 1 for relevant searches, and seeing results from their content are the ones following this tried-and-true SEO strategy.

#1: Ideate Keywords

There are two types of advertising: interruption-based and intent-based. Interruption-based advertising is an ad on your social media newsfeed. It’s the ads between paragraphs on the news article you’re trying to read. It’s a search engine ad strategically placed before the organic results. This isn’t your focus in organic SEO marketing, but this IS your focus in paid SEO advertising.

In SEO marketing, you’re focused on intent-based advertising. When somebody chooses to search for an answer to their question—that’s intent-based advertising. A search for “olive green cotton blanket” is an example of intent-based advertising.

And the search engine results are a mix of interruption (paid ads) and intent-based advertising (organic results).

When you’re ideating keywords for your products and brand, you’re looking at intent-based words. These are the words somebody needs to use to find your products or brand. For DigitalMarketer, these are words like:

  • Digital marketing training
  • Digital marketing help
  • Content marketing training
  • Copywriting training

These keywords correlate directly to our products. They teach people how to be great digital marketers, either for their own company, their full-time marketing role, marketing consultancy, or their agency clients.

Your customer avatar asks specific questions and uses certain words to describe to search engines what content they want output. Use these questions to make a list of 20+ keywords you could rank for:

  1. What questions do your customers ask surrounding your products or brand?
  2. What single words would your customers use to describe your product or brand?
  3. What phrases would your customers use to describe your product or brand?

These questions will give you a page full of keywords and keyword phrases (several words used in a search query) that you want to rank for.

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Once you have those keywords, go to AnswerThePublic.com and automatically generate a list of questions people have asked search engines related to those keywords. See if there are any other keywords or keyword phrases you missed—and take notes of the questions people are asking. Those questions will be the topics of your content.

For example, if we see people asking “how to pick SEO keywords,” our team knows that content on picking SEO keywords is a great addition to our online library. You don’t want to chase every keyword that looks like a great piece of content, though.

First, you need to research the best keywords to see which are worth spending your time on.

#2: Research the Best Keywords

With your list of keywords and keyword phrases (which should be looooooooong by now), you’re set up to figure out which keywords to put your focus on. Unlike your pets, you’re allowed to play favorites here. You don’t want to choose keywords that are highly saturated and difficult to rank for. You also want to avoid the keywords that will only capture a minuscule part of your audience (at least, at first).

Time to bring in more help from our robot friends. Research the best keywords with tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMRush, Ahrefs, and seriously, there are so many other awesome SEO tools out there.

Here’s what keyword research for “running shoes” looks like in SEMRush:

A few things to take note of to compare your keywords/phrases and see which are the best option:

  • Volume is key to understanding if this keyword is worth creating content on or if it’s better to choose something with a higher search volume.
  • The keyword difficulty score shows you how hard it will be to organically rank for that keyword (good luck on getting on page 1 for running shoes!).
  • Use Keyword Variations to figure out if there are other keywords you can try to rank for that are similar but less competitive.

You can also use tools like Google Trends to see which times of the year certain searches spike. For example, the keyword phrase “plants for desk” had its highest search volume between July 27th and July 3rd. From October to the end of November, it has the lowest search volume.

This data can tell you what time is the best to push interruption-based search paid ads—and if there’s specific content you can create around the seasons or months where you see these spikes.

Once you know which keywords you’re going all-in on, it’s time for a quick chat with your finance team.

#3: Check Bid Estimates (For Paid Advertising)

If you’re not putting money behind your SEO strategy and aiming to get organic traffic through high-ranking content, skip to the next section. If you’re looking to put your ad budget towards SEO, keep reading.

Once you’ve narrowed down the keywords to prioritize based on factors like search volume and difficulty score, it’s time to run your keywords through their last filter: cost. Every keyword comes at a different cost to win the ad auction. The ad auction is how Google determines which ad trying to rank for the same keyword wins an ad placement depending on the user.

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It’s based on 3 factors:

  1. Your Bid: This is your maximum budget for an ad click.
  2. Ad Quality: Google won’t show your ad to everybody searching for your keyword—they’ll show it to the people most likely to click based on past behavior and data they have on the user.
  3. Extensions and Ad Formats: Google likes when you use extensions, like phone number and other links, as well as the other ad formats you’ve chosen and can boost you in the auction for a lower price.

Understanding how the auction works is necessary to figuring out how much you can afford to spend on ads and what your expected ROI should be. For example, in the SEMRush example for the search “running shoes” the cost-per-click is estimated to be $0.84. This tells you that if you want 10 clicks on your ad per day, you need a minimum $8.40 budget. Of course these numbers are a lot smaller than what you’ll really be working with, but this gives you an idea of how to figure out your SEO budget.

This is why Step 3 is so important. If your SEO budget is $100 per day, you don’t want to splurge on keywords with a cost-per-click of $10 each (unless you’re certain they’ll lead to conversions!). Instead, you want to create a broader strategy that encompasses several keywords and keyword phrases that make up your $100 per day budget.

You can use Google Keyword Planner to get suggested bid amounts per keyword: 

You have your keywords, researched and ready to go. There’s only one more thing left to do.

What Do You Do After Picking SEO Keywords?

After you’ve chosen your SEO keywords, it’s time to create the content and ads. There are 3 types of content and ads to create:

  1. Top-of-funnel content
  2. Middle-of-funnel content
  3. Bottom-of-funnel content

Top-of-Funnel Content and Ads

When your customer avatar is first introduced to your brand, show them top-of-funnel content (TOFU). Think of this content as the getting to know you phase relationships (professional, family, friends, or even with your pets!). Every relationship goes through a stage of learning more about someone’s goals, values, and challenges. Your customer avatar wants to know who your brand is, what your goals are, and if your values align with theirs. They’re also looking to see if you understand their challenges.

Here’s an example of TOFU at DigitalMarketer: What is Digital Marketing? In this article, we’re introducing the reader to digital marketing which means we’re not trying to turn them into a customer just yet. It’s not the right time.

And the same applies to paid ads. You’re looking to educate at the top-of-the-funnel. Check out how these productivity apps use the limited amount of space on their ad to educate Google users about their productivity app.

Middle-of-funnel content and ads take things a step further.

Middle-of-Funnel Content and Ads

Middle-of-funnel content (MOFU) and ads are still educating the reader, but they’re *really* hinting at the product. The productivity apps above had to talk about their product in their TOFU content (they didn’t have another choice), but there’s a difference between their TOFU content and their MOFU content.

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At the MOFU level, they’re flaunting their features and actively talking about why the competition isn’t the best option. An example of our MOFU content is this Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing. This guide is LONG, and anybody reading it clearly trusts us as their teacher. This content is designed to build a stronger relationship with this lead and get them to give us their email address (so we can send them even more valuable content).

Notice the “Download as PDF” button? If you click that, a pop-up form appears asking for your First name, last name, email address AND two questions:

  1. Are you an agency or marketing consultant?
  2. Do you manage a sales and/or marketing team?

These two questions help us tag our email subscribers so we know which content, products, and offers are best suited for them. We can build out specific funnels based on their responses and get first-party data that we can continue using in the future (take that iOS 14!).

Bottom-of-Funnel Content and Ads

Bottom-of-funnel content (BOFU) and ads have a direct call-to-action to join, buy, or sign-up. There isn’t any fluff. Think of this as a sales page—there’s only one action to take on that page and it involves contact information or a credit card.

For the search, “mailchimp vs. constant contact vs. sendinblue,” Constant Contact created a BOFU ad. How can you tell?

  • They’re giving you a special offer to sign up now
  • They’re promoting their 60-day full access, free trial
  • Their link extensions are promoting product features

BOFU content cuts straight to the chase.

Every great SEO strategy involves these 3 types of content. 

You’re Ready to Pick Your SEO Keywords

You don’t have to classify yourself as an expert before you choose your keywords. You finished this article which means—you’re ready. You have the 3 steps to follow:

  1. Ideate Keywords
  2. Research the Best Keywords
  3. Check Bid Estimates (For Paid Advertising)

And you know what to do after you’ve chosen them (create TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content and ads). The only thing left to do is put what you’ve learned into practice. Remember that every SEO marketer started where you were, unsure how to use the Google ads platform and scared they’ll run through their marketing budget without an ROI.

Just like we’re not telling you to put your entire life savings into Gamestop stock, putting your entire ad budget into your first SEO strategy is the wrong move. Take a percentage of that budget and start testing out ads, seeing their CTR, and how much each keyword or keyword phrase costs.

Build up from there. If you take this route, you’ll feel comfortable enough with your SEO strategy to add another story on top of it, and another in the future, and eventually you’ll have a solid building on your hands. That’s when you’ll look back at yourself reading this article and think—wow, that was just the beginning.

Source: DigitalMarketer

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