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Local and National Growth Strategies for Franchises



Local and National Growth Strategies for Franchises

Franchise SEO is simple. It’s basically local SEO multiplied by the franchise’s number of locations, right? Wrong!

With more locations come greater challenges requiring a more nuanced approach than a typical local SEO campaign.

In this guide, I share successful strategies I’ve used to scale SEO for local and national franchises. It’s split up into three key segments.

You’ll find all the tips you need whether you’re a franchise owner, an in-house marketer, or an agency working with a franchise client.

Franchise SEO (search engine optimization) is a marketing channel that improves the visibility of franchises on search engines like Google. It operates at two levels: a hyper-local level for each individual franchise and a national level for the overall brand.

In a nutshell, SEO for franchises typically involves:

  • Keyword research for local services
  • Featuring each franchise in local directories
  • Listing each location on map services
  • Creating location landing pages
  • Eliminating duplicated or thin content
  • Improving the technical setup of the franchise’s CMS
  • Tracking results for each location

At a hyper-local level, franchise SEO strategies focus on ensuring each franchise is visible in local search results for the suburb they are located in. This includes visibility of the business listing in maps.

At a national level, the strategy expands to incorporate the overall brand’s visibility across all the cities, states, and regions where it has franchises.

There isn’t a single SEO approach that works best for all franchises because it depends on how the website and branded assets are set up.

Let’s look at a few options you can consider for your franchise’s SEO strategy.

For each franchise location consider doing the following:

1. Establish a consistent local address and phone number

As with regular local SEO, you need to have consistent name, address, and phone number (NAP) details.

Consistency is important because these details will often appear elsewhere on the web. Think of it like a virtual business card that gets shared around. If your business details are inconsistent, it can be a confusing experience for potential customers.

While a regular local business can use the owner’s personal mobile number and home address, this is a risky strategy for a franchise since ownership changes are more common.

It’s best to avoid using the franchisee’s personal details and establish the following instead.

Business name

This is fairly easy. Add the franchise name + the location on the end, like “Xtend Barre Arlington.”

Example of Xtend Barre's business naming conventions for its local franchisesExample of Xtend Barre's business naming conventions for its local franchises


If possible, establish an office that can be used instead of the owner’s home address. Even a virtual office is better to consider than someone’s home address.

Phone number

Display a consistent local number online and forward all calls to the franchisee’s mobile behind the scenes. I recommend using a call tracking service that can provide consistent, localized phone numbers for you to use.

Call tracking allows businesses to connect marketing efforts to conversions. It also bridges the gap between online and offline conversion journeys allowing franchise owners and franchisees to see what marketing campaigns performed best.

Better yet, call tracking also solves a unique challenge for franchises: measuring the success of each location. It’s the best way to assess where weaknesses in national visibility may lie.

There are many ways you can set up call tracking. A basic process would look a little like this:

  1. Select a call tracking provider like CallRail or WildJar.
  2. Set up public-facing numbers to track (use these on your website, business listings, social profiles, and directories).
  3. Set up forwarding so all calls go through to the right person in the right location.
  4. Connect the numbers to your analytics software or create a dashboard to monitor conversions.

2. Create a dedicated page for each franchise

Creating a landing page for each location is franchise SEO 101. And yet, it still surprises me how many franchises don’t do this.

Start by designing a template you can use for each location page. Check out our guide on location landing pages and ensure you include the following features in your template:

  • Localize the page title and H1 title tag
  • Feature conversion-focused elements at the top of the page
  • Add a map showcasing the location of the franchise
  • Add images of the premises and staff on the ground
  • If relevant, consider adding a short video or virtual tour
  • Mention the services available at the franchise
  • Add social proof elements, ideally specific to each franchise

You can see a great example of this in action on F45’s website.


I have no affiliation with F45, but I found this franchise’s set up to be a great example of many of the points I make in this article so I will reference it a fair bit throughout.

Each studio has its own page. They all follow the same design template which makes it easy for the franchise’s web design team to add new locations to the website as they open.

While there are many templatized elements, there are also the following unique features for each location:

  • A unique, location-optimized heading and description at the top of the page.
F45's SEO-optimized hero section for local franchise pagesF45's SEO-optimized hero section for local franchise pages
  • Contact details for the specific franchise
F45's localized franchise detailsF45's localized franchise details
  • The class schedule and booking functionality
F45's class schedule for Pooler's franchise locationF45's class schedule for Pooler's franchise location
  • The on-the-groud team running classes
F45's team at the Pooler locationF45's team at the Pooler location

And while there’s a lot more F45 could be doing, especially when optimizing for non-branded keywords, the SEO performance of these pages is not too shabby.

F45's franchise SEO performance in Ahrefs' Site Explorer toolF45's franchise SEO performance in Ahrefs' Site Explorer tool

These location pages are a fast-growing segment of F45’s website, reaching almost 45,000 monthly visits in around 10 months.

F45's local franchise SEO keyword growth graph in AhrefsF45's local franchise SEO keyword growth graph in Ahrefs

If your franchise doesn’t have such pages, start creating them, pronto.

3. Set up a business profile on Google, Bing, and Apple

If you want to put each of your franchise locations on the map, you’ll need to set up business listings on platforms like Google Maps, Bing Places, and Apple Maps.

Here’s an example of what a simple listing looks like on Google:

Example of a Google Business profile for a local franchiseExample of a Google Business profile for a local franchise

It is also often the case when someone searches for businesses like yours ‘near me’ (i.e., with unbranded keywords), your business listing may also show up in what’s called a map pack, and it looks like this on Google:

Example of Google Map Pack listingsExample of Google Map Pack listings

Setting up your business listings on these platforms is free and very straightforward. Click the following links to get started on each platform and follow the set-up wizard or prompts.

Don’t skimp on setting up these business profiles. Make sure you fill out all the information that you can. Get detailed with the services you offer at each location. Take the time to add images. You get the idea.

When adding a link to your website for these profiles, link to the franchise’s dedicated landing page, not the general homepage.

Link each business listing to the franchise's local landing pageLink each business listing to the franchise's local landing page

For example, the F45 gym in Pooler has added this link to its Google listing: It takes visitors directly to the page with information about their location. You should follow this strategy for each of your franchises too.

4. Create social profiles for each location

This tip seems like a no-brainer. However, some franchise owners do not release control of social media marketing to their franchisees. As a marketer, you may not be allowed to set up these profiles for your client, so it’s worth checking. If this is the case, and there’s no way to create custom social profiles for each location, skip this step.

Otherwise, set up the social profiles for platforms that make the most sense for your industry.

Make sure you take the time to properly fill out these profiles as you did for the business listings on Google, Bing, and Apple. The same rules apply here too—if there’s a space to add information, add it. Don’t cut corners.

Make sure each of your social profiles links to the dedicated landing page for the franchise it represents instead of the homepage.

Also, make sure the only social profiles added to each landing page are the specific ones for that location. This way you create a network of links and brand properties for each franchise, which can help boost that franchise’s local authority as a micro-brand.

Interlink each franchise's social profiles with their dedicated local landing page.Interlink each franchise's social profiles with their dedicated local landing page.

Building each location’s brand in this way may make it easier to rank for hyper-local keywords instead of relying on the authority of the national brand alone.

5. Feature each franchise in local directories

Local directories are the online equivalent of the Yellow Pages. They feature information about businesses in the local area and function as a fairly easy link-building strategy for franchise SEO. They are essential for developing each franchisee’s local authority.

A great example of a local directory is Yelp. For instance, here’s F45’s Yelp listing for one of their studios:

Example of a Yelp directory listing for franchise SEOExample of a Yelp directory listing for franchise SEO

A good way to find directories where you can feature your franchises is to use the Link Intersect report in Ahrefs’ Competitive Analysis tool. It will show you websites that link to your competitors’ sites but not yours.

  1. Select the “Referring domains” tab
  2. Add your franchise landing page in the “Not linking to target” section
  3. Add competitors’ landing pages in the “But link to these competitors” section
  4. Click “Show link opportunities”
Link Intersect in AhrefsLink Intersect in Ahrefs

Look through the list of sites for directories that you might want to add your franchise to.

Link Intersect in AhrefsLink Intersect in Ahrefs

Ideally, each franchise location should have a good handful of local directory listings. When these directories ask for links to social profiles, the website, or map listings, add the ones you created for that specific location.

Make it as hyper-local as possible, and avoid adding the national brand’s home page or generic profiles as much as possible.

Franchise SEO at a national level is where things start to get more interesting (and challenging). This is where it stops feeling like a local SEO campaign multiplied by the number of locations.

You have to work smarter than that to scale success at a national level. Here’s how to do that.

Scale keyword research

Normally, scaling keyword research at a national level can be very time-consuming.

If you are new to SEO, I recommend you start by learning the foundations in our comprehensive guide on local keyword research.

Presuming you already have some SEO chops, here are some ways to scale keyword research for national franchises.

First, identify relative search patterns in your country. For example, let’s say you offer mold remediation services. In the United States, “mold remediation” is a more popular search term than “mold removal” or “mold treatment.”

Example of keyword search volumes for mold services in the USExample of keyword search volumes for mold services in the US

However, in Australia (putting spelling and population differences aside for a moment) it’s more likely that people will search for keywords containing “removal.” Relatively speaking, “remediation” is searched about 1/10th as much as “removal” is searched.

Example of keyword search volumes for mold services in AustraliaExample of keyword search volumes for mold services in Australia

Once you identify the relative search patterns in the countries you operate in, you can use these as a baseline for all your SEO efforts.

You can also apply these patterns to locations that don’t get many searches or new franchises before you have time to complete a thorough SEO strategy.

Now, you can also argue that people don’t really search at a granular local level that much anymore. They’re far more likely to search for a service “near me” or even to leave the search without a location and expect Google to personalize the results based on their device’s location.

While my experience also agrees with this sentiment, you do in fact need to find granular location keywords if you want to scale national franchise SEO effectively for these reasons:

  1. To unify your Google Ads and SEO strategies nationally
  2. To track and report on local visibility more accurately
  3. To find untapped regional opportunities to optimize for

Here’s how Ahrefs can help shortcut the process

  1. In Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer add a list of all services your franchise offers.
  2. Add the list of locations and regions where you have franchises to the “include” filter.
  3. Segment suitable keywords by location so you can optimize appropriate pages.

For example, let’s say you have a mold remediation franchise. You can add a list of all your services and variations in Keywords Explorer like so:

Using Ahrefs' Keyword Explorer to scale franchise SEO keyword research nationally.Using Ahrefs' Keyword Explorer to scale franchise SEO keyword research nationally.


You can add up to 10,000 keywords at a time so don’t be shy about making it a long list. Make sure you set the correct country location and then hit the search button.

In the Matching Terms report, you’ll want to add all locations in the “include” filter and ensure it’s set to “any word” like so:

Using Ahrefs' filters to segment keywords.Using Ahrefs' filters to segment keywords.

Make sure you add all of the following here:

  • The exact suburbs each franchise is located in and can service, like Pasadena or Glendale.
  • The overall city or region where you may have multiple franchises, like Beverly Hills.
  • The states you operate in, like California.
  • The zip codes for all of the above, like 90210 for Beverly Hills.
  • Any relevant abbreviations for all of the above, like CA for California.

Then apply the filter, and you’ll get a condensed list of service keywords in the areas relevant to your franchise. You should see long-tail opportunities like the following:

Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer returning keyword results.Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer returning keyword results.

The final step is to segment these keywords based on locations so you can target them to the correct page on your website. How you structure your website will influence your keyword segmentation so let’s look at that next.

Establish an SEO-friendly site structure

Once you have a list of relevant service and location-focused keywords, you need to determine where to target them. There are a few options available to you based on how your franchise CMS is structured.

I recommend the second option to most of my franchise and national SEO clients as it provides the best opportunity for ranking both locally and nationally with one website. However, the third option works just as well if your technical ecosystem can handle managing multiple website assets.

Option 1: One website and each franchise gets a single page

This is a very common option for franchises. It uses a single website for the entire franchise, and each franchisee has only one dedicated page to make their own. It is the structure F45 uses, for instance.

Pros Cons
  • Simple to manage
  • Lower risk of duplicated content
  • Brand has more control over visibility
  • Leverages the main brand’s authority
  • May not rank well for non-branded keywords
  • Limited space to display location-specific info
  • Limits control each franchisee has to market their business

The URL structure for these pages is usually something like, and it looks a bit like this when rolled out across the whole website:

Example of a franchise' site structure with each franchisee having only a single pageExample of a franchise' site structure with each franchisee having only a single page

If you choose this structure, you will need to segment all local keywords based on the franchises for which you create pages. If you find keywords for multiple services in a particular area, they will also be targeted on the same page for the relevant franchise since there are no other pages you can optimize with them.

You’ll need to create dedicated sections on each franchise’s page for each service to do this. Here’s an example of what that might look like:

Example of keyword targeting for multiple services on a single page for each franchisee.Example of keyword targeting for multiple services on a single page for each franchisee.

Option 2: One site but each franchise gets a subfolder that can be optimized

This option involves creating a mini content hub for each franchisee. It opens up more SEO opportunities and allows you to target specific services in each location better.

Essentially, instead of targeting all services on one page, like the previous option, you can create separate pages for each service in each location.

Pros Cons
  • Improves ranking potential for location-specific service keywords
  • Gives franchisees more control over their marketing visibility
  • Distributes the main brand’s authority at a hyper-local level
  • Increased risk of duplicated content
  • More pages to manage and optimize
  • Requires more technical nuance for internal linking

The URL structure would be something like:

  • /new-york
  • /new-york/plumbing
  • /new-york/gasfitting

When you create multiple hubs across your website, it may look similar to this:

Example of a franchise' site structure with each franchisee having a content hub.Example of a franchise' site structure with each franchisee having a content hub.

This option offers many advantages for SEO performance if you can create unique and valuable content for each location. You can segment your keywords at two levels: by location and by service.

But, you should avoid using templated sections or simply spinning content between each hub as this could lead to duplicate content issues. Instead, only create these hubs in the locations where you have a strong presence and can add E-E-A-T factors to differentiate your content about the same service from other locations.

Option 3: Multiple websites or subdomains, one for each major location

Although rare, some franchises allow franchisees to build their own dedicated website either on a separate domain ( or as a subdomain (

Pros Cons
  • Gives loads of control to each franchisee for their marketing
  • Allows each franchisee to update their community with news and local updates
  • More website assets to manage
  • Technical SEO can become a challenge across multiple website assets
  • Requires more governance to maintain brand consistency and quality

While the SEO community debates whether subdomains or subfolders are better, we’ve found no discernable SEO benefit to choosing one over the other.

So if it makes sense within your CMS to create a subdomain for each location or to give each franchisee a separate website, go for it.

Here’s an idea of what that ecosystem might look like when segmenting your keywords:

Example of a franchise' site structure with each franchisee having their own separate website.Example of a franchise' site structure with each franchisee having their own separate website.


It’s important that you don’t make the choice to give each franchisee their own website because of vague advice that it’ll “be better for SEO. Only take this approach if it makes sense for non-SEO reasons and is easily achievable in your CMS and technical ecosystem. If you do not implement this approach correctly, you risk many technical challenges that will hinder SEO and cost a lot to fix. 

Create regional content and internally link it together

Many franchises forget to optimize their websites for the general cities and locations where the brand has a presence.

For example, F45 has multiple gyms in New York:

F45's gym locations in New York.F45's gym locations in New York.

And there are quite a lot of searches for gyms in New York:

Example keywords and search volumes for gyms in New York.Example keywords and search volumes for gyms in New York.

However, F45’s website does not have a page optimized for gyms in New York, so it doesn’t rank for any of these keywords.

F45 does not rank for gyms in New York.F45 does not rank for gyms in New York.

The solution is simple. Create pages for the general regions, cities, and states where:

  • You have a presence, even a single franchisee in the area is enough.
  • And, there is some search volume for your services in the area.

Design the pages to accommodate multiple locations, and to programmatically add new locations as you add them to your website.

You can either design such a section using map functionality, like so:

Using a map design feature to add multiple franchise locations to a page's design.Using a map design feature to add multiple franchise locations to a page's design.

Or you can simply create cards or listings for each location, like so:

Using a card layout to add multiple franchise locations to a page's design.Using a card layout to add multiple franchise locations to a page's design.

As you plan these pages, consider the internal linking opportunities you can capitalize on. Ideally, you can add a bunch of internal links programmatically so that you don’t need to worry about this as new locations are added to your website.

Here’s what that might look like:

  • Link from the regional page to each franchise within the region.
  • Link from each suburb or franchise page to the relevant regional pages.
  • Cross-link nearby regions and suburbs to each other.

Track performance for each region

Implementing scalable franchise SEO strategies is one part of the puzzle. The other is your ability to monitor the performance of each regional hub.

Thankfully, segmenting and monitoring keywords by location is fairly easy with Ahrefs. We offer three options depending on what works best for your business model:

  1. Track pages for each region using Portfolios
  2. Set up custom location-specific tags in Rank Tracker
  3. Use the Ahrefs API to show regional performance within your own analytics dashboard

The easiest option is to set up a separate portfolio for each region you wish to track and add all pages relevant to that region within the portfolio.

Using Ahrefs' Portfolio feature for segmenting local pages and tracking performance.Using Ahrefs' Portfolio feature for segmenting local pages and tracking performance.

While this is suitable for smaller franchises without many locations or regions to set up, it may not be suitable for larger franchises or for those who want to compare their share of voice against competitors in the same regions.

In this case, our Rank Tracker is a far more suitable option. Set up a new project and add your keywords, taking the time to tag each keyword with the relevant region.

Segmenting franchise keywords in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker.Segmenting franchise keywords in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker.

Tags will help you segment the data to see how specific regions perform compared to others.

Once the project is set up, you can navigate to the “Tags” report to see metrics for each region you created as a tag. Here’s an example of some tags we’ve set up on our own website:

Example of the Tags report in Ahrefs Rank Tracker.Example of the Tags report in Ahrefs Rank Tracker.

You can also add some competitors and monitor their visibility for the same regions. The Competitors > Tags report will be especially helpful to show you the areas where competitors may have stronger search visibility than you.

And finally, if you already have an existing dashboard or analytics platform, you can use our SEO API to pull performance data into the same dashboard automatically.

It’s the fastest way to scale performance tracking nationally and monitor search visibility for each of your franchise locations. However, you’ll likely need to enlist the help of your developers to get the ball rolling.

Implementing franchise SEO best practices may be challenging depending on the specific CMS used to create the franchise website and how the site has been set up.

Here are the most common challenges to look out for.

1. Scaling SEO on a custom CMS can be difficult

Many franchise sites are built on custom CMS’ that are not inherently SEO-friendly. These CMS’ may present technical challenges if they limit your ability to optimize the technical setup.

If you’re an agency or freelancer working with a franchise, learn the CMS and what’s possible for SEO before quoting on services or promising results. In particular, make sure you learn about the:

  • Technical capabilities for customizing SEO essentials like sitemaps, robots.txt files, and permalinks
  • Ability to add content and links to pages programmatically
  • Customization options for page layouts and design

2. There’s a high risk of duplicated content or doorway pages

Franchise websites are at risk of duplicate content, often caused by templated pages that do not allow franchisees to add unique information about their locations.

This is why I’m a big advocate of adding custom elements to your templates and only creating pages for which you can add unique information.

To diagnose if your franchise site has a high degree of duplicate content, check out the Duplicates report in Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool.

Duplicate content report in Ahrefs Site Audit.Duplicate content report in Ahrefs Site Audit.

3. Maintaining brand consistency and SEO governance

Maintaining brand consistency and SEO governance can be a challenge as your franchise grows.

While it’s tempting to minimize the amount of content each franchisee can add to the website and the social profiles they’re allowed to create, doing this can hurt your entire brand’s visibility at a national level.

Instead, you can try centralizing your marketing efforts by:

Grow your franchise’s SEO visibility with Ahrefs

When implemented correctly, franchise SEO improves your franchise’s visibility in search engines at both a local and national level.

But, it can be hard to scale franchise SEO without the right tools to help. With Ahrefs you can:

  • Search up to 10,000 local service keywords with one click
  • Monitor share of voice and traffic value for each location
  • Track performance for each location against competitors
  • Audit technical issues in any CMS
  • Use our API to automate performance + competitor tracking

Feel free to contact our enterprise team to see how we can help you grow your franchise’s SEO visibility today, or reach out to me on LinkedIn if you have any questions I can answer.

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How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything



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.


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

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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Continue Reading


What SEO Should Know About Brand Marketing With Mordy Oberstein




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)



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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