Avoid these site structure mistakes!

If you take your SEO – and users – seriously, you’ll be working on a kick-ass site structure. Setting up a decent site structure is rather hard. Maintaining a solid site structure if your site is growing is even harder. Mistakes are easily made. In this post, I will share 5 common site structure mistakes people often make. Make sure to avoid all of these! 

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#1 Hiding your cornerstones

Your most important articles – your cornerstones – should not be hidden away. Cornerstone articles are the articles that your most proud of, that most clearly reflect the mission of your website. Some people forget to link to their most precious articles. If an article receives no or few internal links, search engines will find it less easily (as search engines follow links). Google will regard articles with few internal links as less important, and rank them accordingly.

Solution: link to those cornerstones

Ideally, you should be able to navigate to your cornerstone articles in one or two clicks from the homepage. Make sure they’re visible for your visitors, so people can easily find them.

Most importantly, link to those cornerstone articles. Don’t forget to mention them in your other blog posts! Our internal linking tool can really help you to remember your cornerstones at all times!

#2 No breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are important for both the user experience and the SEO of your website. And yet, some people do not use them. Breadcrumbs show how the current page fits into the structure of your site, which allows your users to easily navigate your site. They also allow search engines to determine the structure of your site without difficulty.

Solution: add those breadcrumbs

No excuses here! Just add those breadcrumbs. Yoast SEO can help you do that!

#3 HUGE categories

Categories should be relatively similar in size. But without even noticing it, people will sometimes write about one subject much more than about another. As a result, one category can slowly grow much larger than other categories. When one category is significantly larger than other ones, your site becomes unbalanced. You’ll have a hard time ranking with blog posts within a very large category.

Solution: split categories

If you’ve created a huge category, split it in two (or three). You should check the size of your categories every now and then, especially if you write a lot of blog posts.

#4 Using too many tags

Don’t create too many tags. Some people want to make tags really specific. But if every post receives yet another new unique tag, you are not structuring anything, because posts don’t become grouped or linked. So that’s pretty much useless.

Solution: use tags in moderation

Make sure that tags are used more than once or twice and that tags group articles together that really belong together. You should also ensure that your tags are in fact available to your visitors somewhere, preferably at the bottom of your article. Tags are useful for your visitors (and not just for Google) to read more about the same topic.

Read more: ‘Using category and tag pages for SEO’ »

#5 Not visualizing your site structure

A final site structure mistake people make is forgetting to visualize the site structure. Visitors want to be able to find stuff on your website with ease. The main categories of your blog should all have a place in the menu on your homepage. But don’t create too many categories, or your menu will get cluttered. A menu should give a clear overview and reflect the structure of your site. Ideally, the menu helps visitors understand how your website is structured.

Solution: dive into UX

In order to create a good and clear overview of your site, you should really dive into some aspects of User eXperience (UX). Think about what your visitors are looking for and how you could help them to navigate through your website. You could, for instance, start with reading our blog posts about User eXperience (UX).

Fix your site structure mistakes!

Site structure is an essential aspect of an SEO strategy. The structure of your website shows Google what articles and pages are most important. With your site’s structure, you can influence which articles will rank highest in the search engine. So, it’s important to do it right. Especially if you’re adding a lot of content, the structure of your site could be changing quickly. Try to stay on top!

Did we forget a site structure mistake that you encounter often? Please share it with us in the comments!

Keep reading: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

We Asked Our Audience What They Really Think of PDF Ebooks: A HubSpot Experiment

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I don’t know about you, but I barely print anything anymore.

Seriously, think about it — when’s the last time you had to type Command + P and print out a document? Between e-tickets, virtual payment options, and online signature tools, I think the last thing I printed out was the lease for my apartment.

So you can imagine my surprise when HubSpot’s audience started telling us they still like to print out our ebooks — which are often 20 or 30 pages in length — instead of viewing them on a web page.

In 2017 — during the era of self-driving cars, augmented and virtual reality, and artificial intelligence — our team here at HubSpot is constantly striving to test and implement the most modern techniques for content creation to provide cool, useful resources for our audience. But as it turns out, our perceptions of what our audience actually values when they download out content were a little … off.

In this post, I’ll dive into our hypothesis, how we tested it, and what we’re learning about our audience — and how they actually like to consume our content.

What We Do

I work on HubSpot’s Marketing Acquisition team creating content offers — such as our downloadable ebooks, guides, and templates — that our audience exchanges their contact information for in order to download them.

If you’re familiar with the inbound marketing methodology we’ve been teaching here at HubSpot for more than 10 years, I operate in the “Convert” stage of the process of helping new people discover and learn about HubSpot:

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When a person happens upon HubSpot for the first time online — via a blog post like this one, through social media, or by conducting a Google search — they might see a bold, brightly-colored call-to-action (CTA) encouraging them to learn more about a particular topic or product.

And in order to get that information — from an ebook, a guide, a template, a webinar, or an event — the person has to hand over their contact information. This ensures they can receive an emailed version of the content offer or event registration, and it also converts them from a visitor into a lead.

My job is to create content that visitors are so interested in learning more about that they exchange their phone number, email address, and professional background information. And to make sure we keep converting visitors into leads for the health of HubSpot’s business, I make sure that ebooks, guides, and events are helpful, fascinating, and ultimately educate our audience on how to do inbound marketing.

What We Wondered

For the most part, my team’s job has entailed creating PDFs that visitors can download once they submit a form with their contact information.

More specifically, this has meant creating a lot of PDFs.

And although people were filling out forms and downloading our content offers, we started wondering if we should offer them something different — something more cutting-edge — than a file format created back in 1993. And we wondered if changing the format of our content offers would change conversion rates, too.

We decided to run a survey — and a little test.

We wanted to know if our core persona who we marketed these content offers to still liked PDFs and found them useful. So, how else would we find out than by creating an offer?

I created two different version of the same content offer — one in PDF format, and one in web page format. Then, once someone downloaded the offer, we sent them a thank-you email, and we asked them which format they preferred, and why.

What We Learned

More than 3,000 individuals submitted their information to access the offer, and roughly 9% responded to our question, which gave us more than 300 responses to learn from.

And much to our surprise, 90% of the respondents preferred downloading a PDF to reading our content on a web page.

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We gleaned a ton of valuable information about our core audience from this survey, and the qualitative feedback was incredibly helpful, too. Our key takeaways about format preferences were:

  1. Our core persona likes to print offers.

  2. People viewing our content want to be able to download it and come back to it later.

  3. People don’t think our web page offers look as good as PDFs.

  4. Some people are potentially defaulting to the format they know best.

  5. People liked having both print and online versions.

It’s incredibly helpful to learn what’s going on behind the decisions and choices our audience makes to inform future strategy when it comes to content creation. But this information leaves us with a challenge, too: How do we get our audience excited about content living on interactive web pages, too?

Content living on web pages can be crawled by Google to improve websites’ domain authority (and SEO superpowers) — and PDFs can’t be. So we’re making it our mission to keep offering our audience different options for consuming content the way they want to — while innovating and testing new ways to offer content our core persona is just as excited about in a web-based format.

I’ll be back with more details about that next experiment, but in the meantime, download one of our latest content offers, and let us know if you like the format in the comments.

What’s your opinion? PDF or web page? Share with us what you learned in the comments below.

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Which Fictional Boss Are You? [Flowchart]

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I know I’m literally ten years late to this, but I just started watching Mad Men on Netflix. And guys — newsflash — it’s a really good show

The old school ad strategies, the fun outfits, the drama — I love it all. Except Don Draper’s management style. That, in my humble opinion, could use a little work.

I know my stance might be colored by several generation gaps. I’m a millennial, and according to some reports, we need to be told we’re smart and wonderful every two seconds or we turn to avocado toast dust — but it seems to me that Draper could afford to encourage his team a little bit more. Or at the very least, not rely so heavily on cryptic one-liners and mysterious stares to drive the direction of major projects. 

I probably won’t ever relate to Don Draper’s unconventional leadership style on Mad Men, but there are plenty of other fictional bosses from TV and film to aspire to — or avoid becoming. 

To help you discover your fictional boss alter ego, the folks at GetVoIP spun up this clever flowchart. So go ahead: Take a break from your morning grind, and answer the questions below to figure out which beloved (or notorious) fictional boss your leadership style most aligns with. It’s still kind of work related, right?

which-fictional-boss-are-you-final.png

Which fictional boss did you get? Let us know in the comments!

Featured Image Credit: AMC 

landing-page-design-ebook

Creating Influencer-Targeted Content to Earn Links + Coverage – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Most SEO campaigns need three kinds of links to be successful; targeting your content to influencers can get you 2/3 of the way there. In this Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers the tactics that will help your content get seen and shared by those with a wide and relevant audience.

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How to create influencer-targeted content - Whiteboard Friday

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about how to create content that is specifically influencer-targeted in order to earn the links and attention and amplification that you often need.

Most SEO campaigns need 3 types of links:

So it’s the case that most SEO campaigns, as they’re trying to earn the rankings that they’re seeking, are trying to do a few things. You’re trying to grow your overall Domain Authority. You’re trying to get some specific keyword terms and phrases ranking on your site for those terms and phrases.

So you need kind of three kinds of links. This is most campaigns.

1. Links from broad, high-Domain Authority sites that are pointing — you kind of don’t care — anywhere on your site, the home page, internal pages, to your blog, to your news section. It’s totally fine. So a common one that we use here would be like the New York Times. I want the New York Times to link to me so that I have the authority and influence of a link from that domain and, hopefully, lots of domains like them, very high-Domain Authority domains.

2. Links to specific high-value keyword-targeted pages, hopefully, hopefully with specific anchor text, and that’s going to help me boost those individual URLs’ rankings. So I want this page over here to link to me and say “hairdryers,” to my page that is keyword targeted for the word “hairdryers.” Fingers crossed.

3. Links to my domain from other sites, in my sector or niche, that provide some of that topical authority and influence to help tell Google and the other search engines that this is what my site is about, that I belong in this sphere of influence, that I’m semantically and topically related to words and phrases like this. So I want appliancegal.com to link to my site if I’m trying to rank in the world of hairdryers and other kinds of appliances.

So of these, for one and three, we won’t talk about two today, but for one and three, much of the time the people that you’re trying to target are what we call in the industry influencers, and these influencers are going to be lots of people. I’ve illustrated them all here — mostly looking sideways at each other, not exactly sure why that is — but bloggers, and journalists, and authors, and conference organizers, and content marketers, and event speakers, and researchers, and editors, and podcasters, and influencers of a wide, wide variety. We could fill up the whole board with the types of people who are in the influencer world or have that title specifically, but they tend to share a few things in common. They are trying to produce content of one kind or another. They’re not dissimilar from us. They’re trying to produce things on the web, and when they do, they need certain elements to help fill in the gap. When they’re looking for those gap-filling elements, that is your opportunity to earn these kinds of links.

Content tactics

So a few tactics for that. First off, one of the most powerful ones, and we’ve talked about this a little bit here on Whiteboard Friday, but probably not in depth, is…

A. Statistics and data. The reason that this is such a powerful tool is because when you create data, especially if it’s either uniquely gathered by you, unique because you have it, because you can collect it and no one else can, or unique because you’ve put it together from many disparate sources, you’re the editorial curator of that data and statistics, everyone like this needs those types of statistics and data to support or challenge their arguments or their assertions or their coverage of the industry, whatever it is.

  • Why this works: This works well because this fills that gap. This gives them the relevant stats that they’re looking for. Because numbers are easy to use and easy to cite, and you can say, “Feel free to link to this. You’re welcome to copy this graph. You’re welcome to embed this chart.” All those kinds of things. That can make it even easier, but much of the time, just by having these statistics, you can do it.
  • The key is that you have to be visible at the time that these people are looking for them, and that means usually ranking for very hard to discover, through at least normal keyword research, long-tail types of terms that use words like “stats,” “data,” “charts,” “graphs,” and kind of these question formats like when, how much, how many, number of, etc.

It’s tough because you will not see many of those in your keyword research, because there’s a relatively few number of these people searching in any given month for this type of gap-filling data, so you have to intuit often what you should title those things. Put yourself in these people’s shoes and start Googling around for “What would I need if I had to write some industry coverage around this?” Then you’ll come up with these types of things, and you can try modifying your keyword research queries or doing some Google Suggest stuff with these words and phrases.

B. Visual content. Visual content is exceptionally valuable in this case because, again, it fills a gap that many of these folks have. When you are a content marketer, or when you’re a speaker at an event, or when you’re an author or a blogger, you need visual content that will help catch the eye, that will break up the writing that you’ve done, and it’s often much easier to get someone else’s visual content and simply cite your source and link to it than it is to create visual content of your own. These people often don’t have the resources to create their own visual content.

  • Why this works: So, for everyone who’s doing posts, and articles, and slide decks, and even videos, they say, “Why not let someone else do the work,” and you can be that someone else and fill these gaps.
  • Key: To do this well, you’re going to want to appear in a bunch of visual content search mediums that these folks are going to use. Those are places like…
    • Google Images most obviously, but also
    • Pinterest
    • SlideShare, meaning take your visuals, put them up in some sort of slide format, give some context to them and upload them to SlideShare. The nice thing about SlideShare, SlideShare actually reproduces each individual slide as a visual, and then Google Images can search those, and so you’ll often see SlideShare’s results inside Google Images. So this can be a great end around for that.
    • Instagram search, many folks are using that especially if you’re doing photos. You can see I’ve illustrated my own hair drying technique right here. This is clearly Rand. Look at me. I’ve got more hair than I know what to do with.
    • Flickr, still being used by many searchers, particularly because it has a Creative Commons search license, and that should bring up using a Creative Commons commercial use license that requires attribution with a link is your best bet for all of these platforms. It will mean you can get on lots of other Creative Commons visual and photography search engines, which can expose you to more of these types of people as they’re doing their searches.

C. Contrarian/counter-opinions. The last one I’ll cover here is contrarian or counter-opinions to the prevailing wisdom. So you might have an opinion like, “In the next three years, hairdryers will be completely obsolete because of X.”

  • Why it works: This works well because modern journalism has this idea and modern content, in fact, has this idea that they are supposed to create conflict and that they should cover both sides of an issue. In many industry specific sorts of fields, it’s often the case that that is a gap that goes unfilled. By being that sort of challenger to conventional wisdom or conventional thinking, you can fill that gap.
  • The key here is you want to either rank in Google search engine for some of those mid or long tail research type queries. These can be competitive, and so this is challenging, but presenting contrarian opinions is often great link bait. This is kind of a good way to earn links of all kinds in here.
  • Second, I would also urge you to do a little bit of comment marketing and some social media platforms, because what you want to start is to build a brand where you are known for having this contrarian opinion on this conventional topic in your space so that people point all these influencers to you when they’re asked about it. You’re trying to build up this branding of, “Well, I don’t agree with the conventional wisdom around hairdryers.” Hairdryers might be a tough topic for that one, but certainly these other two can work real well.

So using these tactics, I hope that you can go reach out and fill some gaps for these influencers and, as a result, earning two of the three exact kind of links that you need in order to rank well in the search results.

And we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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Coming soon: Structured data training!

Do you want to increase chances people click on your page in the search results? Want to learn how to get those awesome rich snippets? Next week, we’ll launch our Structured data training. In this new training, you’ll learn how structured data can influence the appearance of your pages in the search results. After completing this course, you’ll be able to add structured data yourself, so Google can show a rich snippet.

Why take our structured data training?

A normal snippet of a recipe looks like this:

You see a title, a URL and a description of a page. If you add structured data to your page, Google (or another search engine) can transform your snippet into this:

So the structured data you add can show up in the snippet. For recipes you can add ratings and reviews, cooking time, calories and an awesome picture. Not only for recipes, but also for books, movies, articles, products etc. structured data exists.

Rich snippets let your page stand out from the other search results in Google. And if your page stands out in the search results, chances are much higher people will click on it.

Is adding structured data hard?

Adding structured data is not very hard, but you do need to know what you’re doing. After some training, everyone should be able to add structured data and get rewarded with those desired rich snippets!

We’ve created a very practical online training in which we take you through all the steps of adding structured data to a site. We’ll first explain the theory and then we’ll show you screencasts that will guide you through the steps you need to take. We’ll discuss multiple strategies you can use to add structured data to a website. Some strategies are more advanced (and more daunting) than others. At the end of the course, you’ll be able to add structured data in multiple ways. Just choose which strategy fits you best and start working on those awesome rich snippets yourself!

Want to buy our course?

The structured data training will be available as of June 29. You can purchase the course for the introductory price of $119 until July 2. You’ll get access to over 75 minutes of training videos, lots and lots of reading material and challenging quiz questions. If you finish our course, you’ll receive a certificate and a badge to put on your site. If you buy one of our courses, you’ll also get access to the Yoast Updates. These updates keep you in the loop about new trends in SEO and WordPress every 3 months.

Want to know more?

Check out the Structured data training and make sure you won’t miss the launch by subscribing to our newsletter!

Not the right training for you? We offer lots of other SEO courses. See which one fits your needs best!

Google Search Console and structured data

Google Search Console is an incredibly important tool for website owners. This tool shows you how your site appears in the Google search results. It also shows you what to improve to make the most of your listings in the results. One of the many cool features of Search Console is the structured data analyses found in the Search Appearance section. Let’s dive into that!

In this post, we’ll cover the Structured data tab in GSC, the Rich Cards tab and the Data Highlighter. If you don’t have Search Console yet – and you really should -, sign up on Google’s website.

Google search console home

Search Appearance

First, log into Search Console. On the left-hand side of your screen, you’ll find the Search Appearance menu item. This tool gives you insights into how your website appears in the search results. You can click any item to see how Google treats your site.

Structured Data

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In this post, our main focal point is structured data, so we’ll jump to the Structured Data section of GSC. Clicking on Structured Data will show you an overview of all the pages that have some kind of structured data attached to it. This could be in any form, like RDFa or Microdata, but usually, it will be in JSON-LD.

Structured data is all the extra information you give search engines to understand what a page is about. For instance, as the writer of this article, I am both a Person and an Author. If I add this data to the source code of this page, search engines can use that data to do cool things. If you sell products, you can enhance your search listings with reviews and ratings, prices and availability. These might all become visible in the search results.

Rich snippets products

Google Search Console shows a red line for the pages on your site that have incorrectly implemented structured data. Red indicate items with errors. You’ll notice that Search Console automatically sorts the list by the number of errors on a page. This way, you can start by fixing the most important issues first.

Google search console graph

Click on the lines in the table to see which pages have errors with the selected data type. Use these errors to prioritize your work. The big graph shows the progression of your structured data implementation as seen by Google. Let’s see how that works.

We’re going to take a closer look at the data. Above the graph, we see how many structured data items Google has found on how many pages, in this case, 218 items on 56 pages. Look closely at the left and right-hand side of the graph. The left side – in blue – goes from zero to 240 and this shows the number of pages with structured data items. The right side – in red – goes from zero to sixteen and shows the number of errors. At the bottom of the image, you see all the different data types Google has found on your site and all the items that have errors.

Errors

Now that we’ve analyzed all the different data on the structured data tab, it’s time to look at our errors. So click on an item with errors.

Google search console errors

After clicking on an error you’ll see this screen. This is where all the errors are listed individually. It’s the same kind of information as the screen before this one, so I won’t cover it again. However, now click on the individual error to see what happens:

Google search console popup

When we clicked on the individual error, a pop-up appeared. It shows information of the domain we’re on, information about the data item that gives an error and a button to test it with the Structured Data Testing Tool. Try to test with live data because GSC might give you an incorrect message. Also, the Structured Data Testing Tool allows you to tweak the code until it doesn’t give an error anymore. This way, you can safely test and improve on the error. Let’s move on to Rich Cards.

Rich Cards

Rich cards are new ways of presenting search results. These results are often amended with special, rich search features that make the results more interactive. For instance, a recipe site might get swipeable cards in the search results or a restaurant might get an option to immediately reserve a seat from the results. These are just a couple of examples. And since this is one of the areas Google is increasingly focussing on, you’ll see a lot more of these in the coming years.

Rich cards aren’t that different from structured data types. You can see structured data as the language used to describe the content on a page, while a rich card is a visually compelling way to present search results. And yes, more often than not, rich cards rely on the structured data that Google finds on a page. That’s why the Rich Cards tab is kind of complementary to the Structured Data tab instead of it superseding it. 

By the way, these are all the rich cards Google creates.

Add structured data to your site, validate it and you’re ready to get rich cards. If Google deems your site the best possible result, that is. In Search Appearance, you can check if your implementation is correct and if Google has already awarded you rich cards.

Google search console rich cards overview

Click on the Rich Cards tab and you’ll see a graph like the one above. On top of the graph, you can tick and untick the boxes. We’ve got invalid cards, cards that can be improved and correct cards. You can probably guess that each box shows a different graph. Also, our issues are sorted by severity. First, we’ll try and find out what our critical issues are by clicking on them.

Google search console rich cards

Now we see all the individual URLs with errors. We know that these are all image-related problems because that’s mentioned in the previous screenshot. Just click on one of the URLs.

Google search console cards popup

A pop-up will appear, similar to the one in the Structured Data tab. It gives you the option to test your live data and read the card documentation. You always want to double check your live data with the Structured Data Testing Tool. As said before, you can edit the code right away and see whether your changes validate. All good now? Great, you can start to implement your new code.

Data Highlighter

The Data Highlighter is a tool within GSC that allows you to markup your pages without any knowledge of coding. There are a couple of things you need to know before you start marking up your structured data with Google’s Data Highlighter. Firstly, your highlighted data is stored in Google’s databases, not on your site itself. Since the data is stored externally from your site, other search engines won’t be able to benefit from it. Ask yourself if you want this. Secondly, Data Highlighter only offers a limited set of schema you can implement. So it won’t be for everyone.

The Data Highlighter does make fixing the issues you’ve found in the Structured Data section easier. For instance, choose one of the URLs that had a faulty Structured Data setup and tell GSC what kind of information you want to highlight.

This will bring you to a live view of that page and you’ll be able to select any element on the page. By selecting an element you’ll be given a choice of what you want to highlight that specific element for. For example, for a Product, you’ll be given these markups to add to the corresponding element on the page:

google search console data highlighter

This makes adding Structured Data, for Google at least, as easy as a few clicks.

You can find the Data Highlighter under the Search Appearance section. Click on the “Start highlighting” button and you’ll see a new screen. Now we can fill in the URL (a product page, for example), select the type of markup we’d like to implement (Product Schema.org) and select if we just want to markup this single page or similar pages like it as well. We’ll only show multiple pages because marking up single pages shares the same core functionalities – only with fewer steps.

You can easily select elements on a page. Google automatically shows the available Schema.org you can select, see the first arrow. Once selected, you’ll see an overview of the data items on that page, check the second arrow. When you’re done, you click on finished – it’s the big red button in the top right corner.

google search console data highlighter save

In the end, Google shows you random pages from your selection to check the implementation. You can verify whether the information holds true for all of your products:

● Did Google unexpectedly include a page it shouldn’t have? Click Remove page.
● Did Google mistakenly apply the wrong Schema? You can correct it by selecting the element and change the Schema.
● Did Google do it right? Just click Next.

The Google Data Highlighter is just one of the tools that helps you implement structured data with Schema.org. It is, however, fully tied into the Google ecosystem and might not be the best option when you want to keep full control over your data.

You’ve reached the end…

Structured data gives you an excellent opportunity to open a conversation with search engines. By adding structured data, you make your site instantly comprehensible for engines. This way, they can use your data to present your content in innovative, highly visible ways that are guaranteed to catch the eye of your customers or readers.

Structured data is becoming so important that we’ve developed a course to educate you on this subject. In this course, we’ll show you exactly what structured data encompasses, what it can do, how to implement it using JSON-LD and Google Tag Manager, and how to check its performance in Google Search Console. This course will be available from June 29.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article! Keep an eye on yoast.com for more articles on structured data and SEO. And don’t forget to sign up for our brand new Structured data course!

Read more: ‘Structured data with Schema.org: the ultimate guide’ »

What We Learned From Spending $100k On Facebook Ads

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For a three-person digital marketing team like ours, the prospect of having a big ad budget seemed like a distant dream. So when we were suddenly given $100K to spend on Facebook ads, we were positively giddy.

And unbelievably nervous.

As a lean SaaS startup, we have to be very wise with our marketing investments. Couple that with our low cost-per-sale ($24/monthly for our starter plan), and you can see that being cost-effective while still spending on ads is a challenge.

In May of 2016, we had the honor of working with Facebook Canada. We received a small grant to kickstart our advertising initiatives, and had the opportunity to spend two full days with one of their ad reps.

Other than working with the Facebook team, we are completely in-house. On one hand this was an advantage — since we could make changes to the program in seconds rather than days — on the other hand, we were on our own for creative, landing pages, and analytics.

We ran an early prototype campaign with some decent success. In fact, it performed in the same neighbourhood as our other digital advertising initiatives. Cool beans.

But that was just the start. We’d tasted success, and knew that we were only scratching the surface. So, naturally, we made a pitch to our company’s executive team to increase our digital marketing budget so we could prove that Facebook was a viable avenue for growth. Our commitment to the business: generate trials at a cost-effective rate of $50/trial.

Our pitch was a success, and we found ourselves with a considerable ad budget. Now it was real — it was time to build out an end-to-end Facebook Ads strategy.

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Admittedly, we were quite nervous. Our credibility was on the line.

Here’s what we ended up learning from that process, wrinkles and all. Read on to the end to see our results.

Lesson 1: Fully commit resources or your cost-per-acquisition (CPA) will rise swiftly.

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We received our first lesson early on. We had become complacent with the success of our ad creative in May 2016, and tried to replicate that again. Using the same ad creative from AdWords, we launched on Facebook Ads. Initially, it worked. We generated trials at an acceptable rate.

But we mistakenly saw this initial success as a sign that we could set it and forget it. We went back to focusing on our other digital marketing strategies, like creating organic content, while our CPAs gradually rose.

Facebook CPAs have a nasty habit of rising suddenly — I mean, literally blowing up overnight. One morning, we logged into our marketing dashboard and saw that we were generating trials at twice our target CPA of $50/trial. This was crazy business, and we needed to act fast.

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Fixing this problem took a lot of time and resources, and a few calls with our dedicated Facebook Ads guru (shout-out to the brilliant Mike Empey). The problem was Ad Frequency

What happened was that our Facebook ad frequency had risen so high that our addressable market was seeing ads 3-5 times a day. Ugh. So of course CPAs rose accordingly — we were irritating people to no end.

We resolved to take two actions: first, we swapped in new creative. In fact, we created 5 new ads to push into market. This had an immediate impact, and gave us a deep understanding of how detrimental ad fatigue can be.

Second, and more importantly, we committed to a new process for our creative. We call it “the conveyor belt.” Here’s how it works:

  • Week 1: Design and launch new ad creative in 1-3 ad sets. Test and analyze results.
  • Week 2: Push all variations to all ad sets. Turn off old ads. Analyze initial results.
  • Week 3: Pick winning variations from ad sets. Analyze and deconstruct results.
  • Week 4: Assess week 1-3 learnings. Apply those learning to new ad creative.

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The side benefit of this process is that we’ve tested so many ad variants that we now have a repository of “winning variants” that we can quickly call out of retirement if our CPAs rise.

Lesson 2: Segment your audiences to effectively manage ad set CPAs.

Initially, I think we underestimated the amount of ad sets we’d need to manage. Looking back, I cringe to think we only launched our prospecting campaign with three ad sets: USA, Canada, and Europe (today we manage between 50 and 70 ad sets, depending on ad performance).

We weren’t even going beyond some basic audience targeting.

No age specification. No regional targeting. No device targeting. Just a giant ad campaign.

We were confident in our ad creative and landing page conversion rates, but forgot the importance of audience profiling. 

It’s no wonder that our results were really hard to interpret. I remember naively saying to Valerie Hamilton, our digital marketing specialist, “Europe is performing well today. What’s the story?”

We didn’t know. Were women converting better than men? Was a certain age bracket doing better than another one? We had no clue.

And at this point our CPAs were still floating about 25% higher than our target. It would have been a dramatic understatement to say we had some optimization work to do.

We started to analyze our lead generation activities across demographic lines. We used a combination of Facebook Ads, Google Analytics, Mixpanel, and Salesforce data. What we found out was that we did remarkably better with people aged between 24-45. This totally makes sense, too.

Folks older than 45 are typically in a more senior role, and rarely the ones actually building or trialing our product. Instead, they are often the ones marshaling their team to demo our software.

Our first action was to split out this age range and only focus on where we saw the most success. By cutting more expensive CPA audiences, we were able to reduce our CPA.

Since then, we’ve adjusted our messaging to the >45 crowd by including more language about “their team” and “data transparency.” We’ve also focused a lot more of our ad buys on video assets instead of advertising our free trial.

It’s worth mentioning that we had good reasons for avoiding audience segmentation. First, we didn’t have the capacity to manage dozens of ad sets. Second, we wanted to keep our addressable market as large as possible and let our learnings help us figure out where to whittle down.

Lesson 3: Geographic bidding makes sense when you know regional lifetime values (LTVs).

The other side of the demographic coin for us was splitting out geographies. Treating Europe as a homogeneous advertising market just didn’t make sense for our business at the time (see Lesson 8, where we experimented with world-wide delivery).

While our European campaign was performing well enough, it was clear that we were missing an opportunity. For instance, we knew that leads from specific geographies often convert to customers at a much higher rate, and that their LTV was much higher on average.

In broad outreach campaigns, for example, we saw that we were attracting a high number of leads at $15/trial from Greece and Hungary. But while we have great customers in that part of the world, we’ve run a number of internal reports that show paid leads from that region convert at a much lower rate.

Despite paying such a low CPA, these leads were not converting and we were paying far too much for them. Internal reports (plus complaints from our sales team) had us digging deep into the data.

This is when the lesson clicked for us; we realized it was okay to spend a lot more on leads from, say, the Netherlands, because their LTV and conversion rates were much, much higher.

By splitting out different geographies, we enhanced our ability to match CPA targets to an appropriate LTV.

Lesson 4: Matching ad creative and landing pages.

This is textbook digital marketing, true. But it was a challenge for our scrappy digital marketing team to prioritize this while managing a $100K budget and driving all the day-to-day campaigns required for a fast-growing startup.

Plus, we could rationalize pushing this aside because our landing page was performing reasonably well.

But when you’re spending $100K and your CPAs continue to fluctuate, every conversion opportunity is magnified ten-fold.

With our small team and only one dedicated designer, we needed to call in the big guns. We went with Unbounce, and it’s had a measureable impact on our landing page conversion rates, helping us grab an 18% conversion rate for Facebook Ads leads. 

As we design ad creative, we create its sister landing page. From there, we can make tweaks to the page to improve conversion rates. Little things like form position, who we featured in our testimonials, and even which button colours we chose amounted to some big improvements.

Lesson 5: The one-two punch of video advertisement.

We’ve always been huge users of video to demo the product and create awareness. We’ve created explainer videos that talk about our primary unique selling proposition and give a glimpse into the product, and these videos have been quite successful in garnering views, holding attention spans, and increasing conversions.

As we launched on Facebook, we put ad dollars behind one particular video. Again, good success, but we felt like we could do better. 

This decision was more on gut feel (it still counts!) that video had a big role to play. I mean, just scroll through your Facebook feed right now. The challenge for us was that we’d committed to the business that we’d generate trials at or below our target CPA for that entire $100K. 

Video doesn’t have that wonderful direct line to trial that a prospecting campaign does. So, we took a chance, and our product marketing manager, Chris Wolski, called up an Ottawa video production company we now affectionately call “The Rascals.”

We created a fun, 35-second explainer video that we thought would play well on Facebook and Instagram. The fact is that we generated a hundred thousand views before we could blink.

How? People were actually sharing the video with friends and family, even tagging others in the comments section. We noticed lively conversations taking place directly on the posts themselves, as if the videos weren’t advertisements at all. Here’s that video:

Facebook makes it easy to create remarketing programs by creating lists of users that engage with your video. We set up a list for anyone that watched more than 10 seconds of the video. This was a new cost-effective avenue for generating leads well within our target CPA. Video remarketing leads typically come in at about $30/trial, including the initial video buy.

More importantly, it expanded our reach on Facebook and Instagram exponentially. And we’ve seen traffic to our site go up as a direct result of these ads.

Lesson 6: Create video specifically for Facebook Ads.

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When we launched on video, we didn’t really know what to expect. Lots of views? Engagement? Shares?

As a metrics-obsessed company, we knew we needed to establish a KPI. After doing some research and chatting with peers and the account team at Facebook, we decided on Cost-Per-10-second view.

We chose this KPI to help us drive better video engagement and brand recognition. If someone was interested enough to pass over cat videos and baby pictures to watch 10 seconds of our B2B software video, then we were doing something right.

This KPI has fed directly into our production process, too. We’ve worked with The Rascals to ensure that each video includes text to account for the fact that Facebook’s default setting is to mute video. We’ve also added captions to the mix because videos on Facebook autoplay with the sound off; a whopping 85% of Facebook videos are played with no sound. We would have had disastrous results if we’d relied entirely on the audio within the video to tell our story.

The overall result has been slashing our Cost-Per-10-second view by 50%. This is huge because it means for the same dollar of spend, we’re effectively doubling our reach. And you can bet this metric is front and center on our internal social media dashboards.

Lesson 7: Ask for advice and trade ideas.

I could rant for days about how much we learned from Facebook— they were truly fantastic, and the attention we received ensured we’d be successful. That said, there are no special or secret tricks. You can find everything through a Google search for “Facebook Ads Tips.”

Putting all those tips and best practices together into a single campaign, however, is where the real challenge lies.

Throughout the process we sought advice from those who’ve been there before us, who have been learning from others years before we even thought of going this route. It probably comes as no surprise that our team now pays close attention to what other advertisers do on Facebook. In particular, I think Shopify is a leader in this respect. They do a great job of integrating video.

We’ve also struck up a friendship with the team over at PageCloud , and have enjoyed freely sharing ideas. Many of those conversations have spawned new ad campaigns and experiments. Which leads me to …

Lesson 8: Boldly experiment.

We allocated a percentage of our budget towards experimentation. When we heard about a new product from Facebook called World-Wide Delivery (WWD) we sort of rolled our eyes and remembered what we had learned about geographic bidding from Lesson 3.

But our friend Mike Empey at Facebook persuaded us to give it a try. So we did. What did we have to lose?

The experiment was a huge success and with just a small percentage of our daily budget we were able to practically double lead volume. In fact, this contributed to us setting daily trial record numbers for 3 days in a row.

When the dust had settled, we analyzed the lead quality, made adjustments to our copy and landing pages, and added WWD campaigns to our arsenal of ads.

Lesson 9: Advertising is still top of the funnel.

Asking someone to start a trial of your software is a lot like calling a friend and asking them to catch up with you over coffee in an hour. The message is out of the blue and entails a time commitment. No matter what their interest level is, they simply may not be able to do it right then.

As we stressed about hitting our trial CPA numbers, we started to lose sight of what we were really trying to do, which was raise awareness and leave our audience with positive first impressions.

In chasing those numbers, we ended up making a series of small decisions that led to us making a big mistake: we’d cut so much content from our landing page that it had basically become just an image with a signup form.

Sure, that page converted well. But it also pissed people off. Some people were getting so upset that they were commenting on the ads themselves.

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At this point, we’d driven down CPAs to about $10 under our target CPA. Our hands were sore from the amount of high-fives we’d collected and shoulders we’d patted. But in that process we committed an egregious error: we forgot about the customer.

We were so caught up in the metrics that we forgot that leads are people.

So, we did the only reasonable thing. We added essential content back into our landing pages (including video content from Vidyard into every landing page), and worked on optimizing that content so the customer could wring as much value from it as possible.

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Of course, CPAs rose. But our ad relevance and positive scores rose along with it.

That was the kind of customer-centric tradeoff we were willing to take.

Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: a version of this post first appeared on Inbound.org, HubSpot’s community for inbound marketers. 

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