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How Zapier Built a Content Marketing Machine

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How Zapier Built a Content Marketing Machine

How do you help people discover software they need but don’t yet know exists?

That was the challenge I faced when I became the second member of Zapier’s editorial team in 2014.

Zapier’s team had built a tool to automate your tedious business tasks. Anything you could do by copying and pasting—tweeting new blog posts, emailing new customers, adding orders to a spreadsheet, alerting your team of outages—Zapier could do faster, better, and while you slept. Therein lay a content strategy.

Most people didn’t know they needed Zapier three years after it was first released, but they did know they needed a way to speed up their work and solve software issues. We could tell them how to build better software workflows—and recommend Zapier along the way.

That strategy helped us build a library of content that today brings in over 2 million readers to Zapier each month. Here’s how we built it.

A software directory focused on the niches

People weren’t searching for Zapier, not in 2014 when the product was new to the market. But they were searching for Zapier’s complements, the tools that worked with Zapier that they were already using. That’s why Zapier created its App Directory, originally called the Zapbook, as a directory of every app that integrated with Zapier.

Every new app that integrated with Zapier got a landing page listing what it automated. Gmail’s page, for example, showed you could save attachments to Google Drive, send an email when your form got filled out, or create an Asana task via email.

Part of Zapier’s original Gmail Zapbook page showing how to automate Gmail

Zapier’s App Directory also listed permutations for every integration: Gmail + Salesforce, Gmail + Slack, Gmail + Google Sheets, and on and on. That’s where the real magic happened. People would search for two app names (hoping to get them to work together) and then stumble upon Zapier along the way. 

Today, there are 4,403 individual integration pages, plus an incredible 38,612 pair pages that together bring in over 299,000 monthly organic search visits.

Zapier's App Directory includes over 43,000 pages, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer data

It was difficult to rank for the more popular software, but there was always a very good chance that Zapier could rank for a lesser-known app pair—say, ShipStation and PayPal—when there was little, if any, content online about using those two tools together.

Zapier’s ShipStation and PayPal page showing how the two tools can work together

The challenge was making the App Directory pages unique. Zapier started the directory with a couple dozen preset sentences; when a new two-app page was created, it’d generate a phrase like “Connect App X and Y to automate your work and be more productive.” The danger was in having so many pages with similar, thin content.

So one of my first projects was writing software reviews for the App Directory. I’d test an app and write a 500-word walkthrough of what it was like to use that tool, add a few screenshots, and more to flesh out each app’s page.

Software walkthroughs on Zapier’s App Directory helped keep the directory pages from being too sparse in the early days

Another similar content initiative revolved around automation templates. Zapier knew which apps people connected the most, and we knew from users how those automations were used. We’d turn those into Zapier workflows that anyone could enable in a few clicks—and I’d write a roughly 100-word description to help those workflows rank in search.

Original Zap template from 2014

And it worked. First with Zapier’s team building templates, then with partners building templates for their users and, more recently, with Zap templates users can build and share on their own. 

One of the top search results today for “email daily,” for example, is for a Zap that will let you set up an automatic daily email—a simple template that brings in ~2,400 organic visitors per month for search terms like “everyday email” and “send automatic email.” 

An individual Zapier template to send daily emails receives over 2,400 monthly organic visits, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer data

Between those workflows and cross-linked content on the blog, today Zapier doesn’t rely on app walkthroughs to flesh out its App Directory pages. But the strategy helped boost the directory in its earliest days.

A blog written for multiple audiences

Write great stuff, and people will come. That was our basic strategy on Zapier’s blog.

It was something our managing editor, Melanie Pinola, brought from Lifehacker. “Their answer for what success looks like is ‘creating content that’s helpful,’” she told us.

My writing was focused on software tutorials and roundups. Zapier supported, at that time, hundreds of apps. I couldn’t write about everything, so it made sense to prioritize by popularity.

I’d start at the high level, checking Zapier’s software categories on Ahrefs to see which were most popular. To-do list apps and CRM software got 46,000 and 36,000 searches a month. I’d figured it was better to cover those first, then focus on smaller categories like HR or invoicing software later.

Estimated monthly search volumes for a few of Zapier’s software categories, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Then I’d drill down from there to find what people were searching for around these categories.

For example, I’d click the term “crm software” in Ahrefs and find that the top question was “what is CRM software” and that “CRM meaning” was a related popular term. So I’d make a note to write a guide for beginner CRM users. I’d also see the top CRMs people were searching for, such as HubSpot, when I was first writing the roundup (and Keap if you check for top CRM keywords today).

Ahrefs suggested keyword ideas for "crm"

The research would also uncover topics to cover in the future. The most popular questions were about what a CRM is, so that’d be the next article I’d write as a companion to the CRM roundup. So “best CRM for small business” was another popular, easier-to-rank term—and Zapier later followed up on the original CRM roundup with a more focused roundup of those specifically for small businesses.

Other topic ideas via the Related terms report in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

With keyword research out of the way, I’d switch to researching software to build an in-depth roundup article focused on the best CRM software—the keyword that most people were searching for when looking for a new CRM. 

I’d test every CRM that Zapier supported, along with dozens of others. I’d take screenshots and write an App Directory roundup of each CRM tool, then pull the findings into a roundup article that showed how each app was differentiated from its peers. 

It took days of research, but the final pieces were incredibly in-depth (my original CRM roundup covered 25 tools, and my Zapier project management app roundup was over 8,000 words and covered 50 tools).

Four months of testing 75 apps led to this in-depth roundup—and dozens of other project management–related posts

We wrote hundreds of software roundup articles on Zapier—with 171 “best of” posts live on Zapier’s blog today. Together, they bring in an estimated 1.1 million organic visits each month, years after many of them were originally researched and published.

Zapier’s top software roundups bring in tens of thousands of organic visits each day

Maybe I didn’t have to write so much. Shorter pieces can rank well too. And Zapier’s more recently updated takes on those pieces pick eight or 10 best options for a more Wirecutter-style selected take.

But the ultra-long-form pieces had their advantages. The longer content included more keywords—niche keywords, again, that we were more likely to rank for. They also let us surprise and delight more teams at other companies. I’d email each app I featured, letting them know about the article. Slowly but surely, as more partners linked to our roundups, Zapier gained backlinks and climbed Google’s search rankings.

The research took forever, but it always inspired follow-up posts. Once I’d finished the roundup, I switched gears and wrote the “What is a CRM?” article. That today still brings in hundreds of monthly organic visitors, along with the over 13,000 monthly organic visitors from the roundup. Over time, using this strategy, we ended with an incredibly wide range of roundups and tutorials that have dominated Zapier’s search traffic for years.

Sidenote.

One caveat: I never wrote roundups about automation tools. My rules of what not to write included not making a roundup or comparison table that had my employer’s product. It’d be impossible to portray Zapier’s content as truly independent if Zapier itself was featured on the list. But I could be unbiased—as much as anyone could be—about our partners and the tools in their categories. And that let Zapier build an audience of readers who trusted our writing.

Discovery, development, and maintaining an audience

Roundups weren’t for everyone. To borrow terms from the project development lifecycle, they were written for readers in the discovery phase who were searching for a new tool.

Then they’d need to do stuff in the app. That’s where Zapier’s tutorials (and the App Directory’s premade Zapier workflows) came in. Those brought in readers during their development phase—when they were developing a workflow and were most likely to start using Zapier.

Zapier’s blog today features a mix of tutorials, roundups, and productivity guides

Google Sheets-focused tutorials worked especially well here. I wrote a tutorial on how to use the LOOKUP function in Google Sheets—plus how to automatically look up data in spreadsheets and more with Zapier. A companion tutorial showed how to split text—say, split a first and a last name into separate columns—in spreadsheets, followed by how to automate that in forms and more with Zapier.

Two spreadsheet-focused tutorials on Zapier's blog; one on splitting text and another on finding records

These tutorials bring in a couple thousand search visits per month—fewer visitors than roundups, but these are visitors more likely to need and use Zapier.

The spreadsheet tutorials bring in a couple thousand organic visitors each month together

But you only need so many app roundups and tutorials. The next time we wrote about to-do list apps, you wouldn’t be interested; the app you picked was humming along. You might be interested in learning how other teams manage projects, how remote work works, or about hitting inbox zero.

That’s why Zapier also wrote productivity articles: to maintain our relationship with readers by sending them something interesting each week. Those were the pieces easiest to syndicate—to get others to republish as guest posts that built backlinks and brought in new sources of readers and a bit more brand equity. They were less of my focus in Zapier’s earlier years but more of a core part of Zapier’s brand building and audience retention work today.

Roundups brought in far more pageviews. Tutorials brought in far more customers per pageview. Productivity posts brought back more repeat readers. Together, they built a search-powered growth engine.

Ebooks to republish content and rank in search beyond Google

What is published can always be published again too.

That was the third pillar of Zapier’s content: our Learning Center and its ebooks.

Zapier’s original learning center with software-focused ebooks (still in the Kindle store today)

Once I’d written everything core about a software category like CRMs or a popular tool like Google Sheets, I’d pull those posts together, build them into an ebook with Leanpub, then publish on the Kindle and iBooks stores. The new ebook landing page drove email signups from book downloads and earned a higher time on site as people read one post after another instead of browsing just a single roundup.

Best of all, Zapier got a new audience from the ebook stores as a bit of off-Google SEO. People searched for Google Sheets in the Amazon store, downloaded Zapier’s book, then clicked through as they read the book. It wasn’t as easy to measure or value as Google search clicks, but it was search-driven traffic all the same.

Experiment. See what sticks

Search data was a core part of prioritizing which of my ideas were best to write first. But experimentation also played a large part in my writing.

One day, for instance, I was trying to connect to the Wi-Fi at a mechanic while getting my car’s battery changed. It hit me that I should write a quick tutorial on how to get the Wi-Fi password pop-up to open when it wouldn’t at airports, coffee shops, and the like. A few hundred words later, the hastily written post was live.

One of the easiest articles I ever wrote for Zapier was also the most-read piece for months

And it blew up, getting over 100,000 visits a month at its peak—more traffic than most of our well-researched, search-focused content did. It’s still, today, bringing in thousands of readers every month, ranking organically in the top three for terms like “force wifi login page” and “hilton wifi login,” of all things. 

Zapier’s Wi-Fi login article has brought in consistent traffic—and organically ranks in the top three results for over 200 keywords

Turns out, experimenting and scratching your own itches can work out every so often too.

Final thoughts

Search data is historical data, records of what people searched at some time in the past.

If you hit a problem today and are on the bleeding edge, that problem may be something few people face today but one that more and more people will start facing later. If you write about some new thing, it’s not going to show promise in Ahrefs data today.

Just be patient. When that thing you wrote about suddenly is in the news or becomes an emerging trend, you’ll be ahead of the game before it starts.

So do your research. Publish stuff where you have a chance to rank well on search. Write long-form, especially at first, if it gives you a chance to build more keywords and connections into a piece.

But also, never stop experimenting. If you really want to write something, go for it even if the stats aren’t there yet. It can’t hurt, and it just may be your breakout piece.



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Gen Z Ditches Google, Turns To Reddit For Product Searches

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In this photo illustration, the Reddit logo is displayed on a smartphone screen.

A new report from Reddit, in collaboration with GWI and AmbassCo, sheds light on the evolving search behaviors of Generation Z consumers.

The study surveyed over 3,000 internet users across the UK, US, and Germany, highlighting significant changes in how young people discover and research products online.

Here’s an overview of key findings and the implications for marketers.

Decline In Traditional Search

The study found that Gen Z uses search engines to find new brands and products less often.

That’s because they shop online differently. They’re less interested in looking for expert reviews or spending much time searching for products.

There are also frustrations with mobile-friendliness and complex interfaces on traditional search platforms.

Because of this, traditional SEO strategies might not work well for reaching younger customers.

Takeaway

Companies trying to reach Gen Z might need to try new methods instead of just focusing on being visible on Google and other search engines.

Rise Of Social Media Discovery

Screenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Gen Z is increasingly using social media to find new brands and products.

The study shows that Gen Z has used social media for product discovery 36% more frequently since 2018.

This change is affecting how young people shop online. Instead of searching for products, they expect brands to appear in their social media feeds.

1719123963 547 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Because of this, companies trying to reach young customers need to pay more attention to how they present themselves on social media.

Takeaway

To succeed at marketing to Gen Z, businesses will likely need to focus on two main things:

  1. Ensure that your content appears more often in social media feeds.
  2. Create posts people want to share and interact with.

Trust Issues With Influencer Marketing

Even though more people are finding products through social media, the report shows that Gen Z is less likely to trust what social media influencers recommend.

These young shoppers often don’t believe in posts that influencers are paid to make or products they promote.

Instead, they prefer to get information from sources that feel more real and are driven by regular people in online communities.

Takeaway

Because of this lack of trust, companies must focus on being genuine and building trust when they try to get their websites to appear in search results or create ads.

Some good ways to connect with these young consumers might be to use content created by regular users, encourage honest product reviews, and create authentic conversations within online communities.

Challenges With Current Search Experiences

The research shows that many people are unhappy with how search engines work right now.

More than 60% of those surveyed want search results to be more trustworthy. Almost half of users don’t like looking through many search result pages.

Gen Z is particularly bothered by inaccurate information and unreliable reviews.

1719123963 785 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Takeaway

Given the frustration with search quality, marketers should prioritize creating accurate, trustworthy content.

This can help build brand credibility, leading to more direct visits.

Reddit: A Trusted Alternative

The report suggests that Gen Z trusts Reddit when looking up products—it’s their third most trusted source, after friends and family and review websites.

1719123963 403 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Young users like Reddit because it’s community-based and provides specific answers to users’ questions, making it feel more real.

It’s worth noting that this report comes from Reddit itself, which probably influenced why it’s suggesting its own platform.

Takeaway

Companies should focus more on being part of smaller, specific online groups frequented by Gen Z.

That could include Reddit or any other forum.

Why SEJ Cares

As young people change how they look for information online, this study gives businesses important clues about connecting with future customers.

Here’s what to remember:

  • Traditional search engine use is declining among Gen Z.
  • Social media is increasingly vital for product discovery.
  • There’s growing skepticism towards influencer marketing.
  • Current search experiences often fail to meet user expectations.
  • Community-based platforms like Reddit are gaining trust.

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Google Clarifies Organization Merchant Returns Structured Data

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Google updates organization structured data for merchant returns

Google quietly updated their organization structured data documentation in order to clarify two points about merchant returns in response to feedback about an ambiguity in the previous version.

Organization Structured Data and Merchant Returns

Google recently expanded their Organization structured data so that it could now accommodate a merchant return policy. The change added support for adding a sitewide merchant return policy.

The original reason for adding this support:

“Adding support for Organization-level return policies

What: Added documentation on how to specify a general return policy for an Organization as a whole.

Why: This makes it easier to define and maintain general return policies for an entire site.”

However that change left unanswered about what will happen if a site has a sitewide return policy but also has a different policy for individual products.

The clarification applies for the specific scenario of when a site uses both a sitewide return policy in their structured data and another one for specific products.

What Takes Precedence?

What happens if a merchant uses both a sitewide and product return structured data? Google’s new documentation states that Google will ignore the sitewide product return policy in favor of a more granular product-level policy in the structured data.

The clarification states:

“If you choose to provide both organization-level and product-level return policy markup, Google defaults to the product-level return policy markup.”

Change Reflected Elsewhere

Google also updated the documentation to reflect the scenario of the use of two levels of merchant return policies in another section that discusses whether structured data or merchant feed data takes precedence. There is no change to the policy, merchant center data still takes precedence.

This is the old documentation:

“If you choose to use both markup and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

This is the same section but updated with additional wording:

“If you choose to use both markup (whether at the organization-level or product-level, or both) and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

Read the newly updated Organization structured data documentation:

Organization (Organization) structured data – MerchantReturnPolicy

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What Is It & How To Write It

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What Is It & How To Write It

In this guide, you will learn about alternative text (known as alt text): what it is, why it is important for on-page SEO, how to use it correctly, and more.

It’s often overlooked, but every image on your website should have alt text. More information is better, and translating visual information into text is important for search engine bots attempting to understand your website and users with screen readers.

Alt text is one more source of information that relates ideas and content together on your website.

This practical and to-the-point guide contains tips and advice you can immediately use to improve your website’s image SEO and accessibility.

What Is Alt Text?

Alternative text (or alt text) – also known as the alt attribute or the alt tag (which is not technically correct because it is not a tag) – is simply a piece of text that describes the image in the HTML code.

What Are The Uses Of Alt Text?

The original function of alt text was simply to describe an image that could not be loaded.

Many years ago, when the internet was much slower, alt text would help you know the content of an image that was too heavy to be loaded in your browser.

Today, images rarely fail to load – but if they do, then it is the alt text you will see in place of an image.

Screenshot from Search Engine Journal, May 2024

Alt text also helps search engine bots understand the image’s content and context.

More importantly, alt text is critical for accessibility and for people using screen readers:

  • Alt text helps people with disabilities (for example, using screen readers) learn about the image’s content.

Of course, like every element of SEO, it is often misused or, in some cases, even abused.

Let’s now take a closer look at why alt text is important.

Why Alt Text Is Important

The web and websites are a very visual experience. It is hard to find a website without images or graphic elements.

That’s why alt text is very important.

Alt text helps translate the image’s content into words, thus making the image accessible to a wider audience, including people with disabilities and search engine bots that are not clever enough yet to fully understand every image, its context, and its meaning.

Why Alt Text Is Important For SEO

Alt text is an important element of on-page SEO optimization.

Proper alt text optimization makes your website stand a better chance of ranking in Google image searches.

Yes, alt text is a ranking factor for Google image search.

Depending on your website’s niche and specificity, Google image search traffic may play a huge role in your website’s overall success.

For example, in the case of ecommerce websites, users very often start their search for products with a Google image search instead of typing the product name into the standard Google search.

Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner]Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner], May 2024

Google and other search engines may display fewer product images (or not display them at all) if you fail to take care of their alt text optimization.

Without proper image optimization, you may lose a lot of potential traffic and customers.

Why Alt Text Is Important For Accessibility

Visibility in Google image search is very important, but there is an even more important consideration: Accessibility.

Fortunately, in recent years, more focus has been placed on accessibility (i.e., making the web accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities and/or using screen readers).

Suppose the alt text of your images actually describes their content instead of, for example, stuffing keywords. In that case, you are helping people who cannot see this image better understand it and the content of the entire web page.

Let’s say one of your web pages is an SEO audit guide that contains screenshots from various crawling tools.

Would it not be better to describe the content of each screenshot instead of placing the same alt text of “SEO audit” into every image?

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Alt Text Examples

Finding many good and bad examples of alt text is not difficult. Let me show you a few, sticking to the above example with an SEO audit guide.

Good Alt Text Examples

So, our example SEO guide contains screenshots from tools such as Google Search Console and Screaming Frog.

Some good examples of alt text may include:

”The
”Google
”List
”Screaming

Tip: It is also a good idea to take care of the name of your file. Using descriptive file names is not a ranking factor, but I recommend this as a good SEO practice.

Bad And/Or Spammy Alt Text Examples

I’ve also seen many examples of bad alt text use, including keyword stuffing or spamming.

Here is how you can turn the above good examples into bad examples:

”google search console coverage report
”google
”seo
”seo

As you can see, the above examples do not provide any information on what these images actually show.

You can also find examples and even more image SEO tips on Google Search Central.

Common Alt Text Mistakes

Stuffing keywords in the alt text is not the only mistake you can make.

Here are a few examples of common alt text mistakes:

  • Failure to use the alt text or using empty alt text.
  • Using the same alt text for different images.
  • Using very general alt text that does not actually describe the image. For example, using the alt text of “dog” on the photo of a dog instead of describing the dog in more detail, its color, what it is doing, what breed it is, etc.
  • Automatically using the name of the file as the alt text – which may lead to very unfriendly alt text, such as “googlesearchconsole,” “google-search-console,” or “photo2323,” depending on the name of the file.

Alt Text Writing Tips

And finally, here are the tips on how to write correct alt text so that it actually fulfills its purpose:

  • Do not stuff keywords into the alt text. Doing so will not help your web page rank for these keywords.
  • Describe the image in detail, but still keep it relatively short. Avoid adding multiple sentences to the alt text.
  • Use your target keywords, but in a natural way, as part of the image’s description. If your target keyword does not fit into the image’s description, don’t use it.
  • Don’t use text on images. All text should be added in the form of HTML code.
  • Don’t write, “this is an image of.” Google and users know that this is an image. Just describe its content.
  • Make sure you can visualize the image’s content by just reading its alt text. That is the best exercise to make sure your alt text is OK.

How To Troubleshoot Image Alt Text

Now you know all the best practices and common mistakes of alt text. But how do you check what’s in the alt text of the images of a website?

You can analyze the alt text in the following ways:

Inspecting an element (right-click and select Inspect when hovering over an image) is a good way to check if a given image has alt text.

However, if you want to check that in bulk, I recommend one of the below two methods.

Install Web Developer Chrome extension.

Screenshot of Web Developer Extension in Chrome by authorScreenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

Next, open the page whose images you want to audit.

Click on Web Developer and navigate to Images > Display Alt Attributes. This way, you can see the content of the alt text of all images on a given web page.

The alt text of images is shown on the page.Screenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

How To Find And Fix Missing Alt Text

To check the alt text of the images of the entire website, use a crawler like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb.

Crawl the site, navigate to the image report, and review the alt text of all website images, as shown in the video guide below.

You can also export only images that have missing alt text and start fixing those issues.

Alt Text May Not Seem Like A Priority, But It’s Important

Every source of information about your content has value. Whether it’s for vision-impaired users or bots, alt text helps contextualize the images on your website.

While it’s only a ranking factor for image search, everything you do to help search engines understand your website can potentially help deliver more accurate results. Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility is also a critical component of modern digital marketing.

FAQ

What is the purpose of alt text in HTML?

Alternative text, or alt text, serves two main purposes in HTML. Its primary function is to provide a textual description of an image if it cannot be displayed. This text can help users understand the image content when technical issues prevent it from loading or if they use a screen reader due to visual impairments. Additionally, alt text aids search engine bots in understanding the image’s subject matter, which is critical for SEO, as indexing images correctly can enhance a website’s visibility in search results.

Can alt text improve website accessibility?

Yes, alt text is vital for website accessibility. It translates visual information into descriptive text that can be read by screen readers used by users with visual impairments. By accurately describing images, alt text ensures that all users, regardless of disability, can understand the content of a web page, making the web more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

More resources: 


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