10 YouTube Pre-Roll Ads You’ll Actually Enjoy

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You technically can’t skip these ads. But you wouldn’t want to anyway.

Last year at Sundance, YouTube unveiled a new ad format to brands: the unskippable, six second “bumper” ad. To prove it was possible to cram a compelling story into such a short window, they recruited a handful of creative agencies to test drive the format — and the results were pretty convincing. 

After that, huge brands like Under Armour and Anheuser-Busch adopted the new six second ad format to tell quick but gripping stories that actually stuck with audiences.

In fact, according to Google, 90% of bumper ad campaigns boosted global ad recall by an average of 30%. That’s pretty impressive for taking up only six seconds of someone’s day.

It might seem like you can’t accomplish much in that amount of time, but with a little creativity, brands can use it to forge an emotional connection with their audience and implant a vivid memory of those feelings in their minds.

Why Six Second Pre-Roll Ads Work

Suffering through 15, 30, or even 60 second pre-roll ads prompted so many head shakes and back button clicks that eventually YouTube added a skip button to their ads in 2009. In theory, though, an ad’s first five seconds are enough to hook viewers and hold their attention for the rest of its duration.

But we all know this rarely happens. Whenever a YouTube ad pops up and shields you from your favorite video, what do you usually do? You immediately glue your eyes to the skip button’s countdown clock and wait … until those lingering seconds finally slug by.

Fortunately, the six second pre-roll ad better engages viewers. When YouTube plays such a short ad for them, it’s not as annoying as a full length ad. And when brands craft these ads into fast, captivating stories, they can resonate well with audiences.

This lets YouTube sustain their ad business while helping brands create a more enjoyable and memorable user experience for its viewers.

So if you’re leveraging YouTube’s six second pre-roll ads right now, then hats off to you. If you’re not, here are 10 examples you can reference to inspire YouTube viewers faster than a Vine could in 2013.

10 Exceptional Examples of Six Second Pre-Roll Ads on YouTube

1) YouTube

To further promote their new ad format’s creative potential, YouTube challenged filmmakers and ad agencies to retell classic pieces of literature in just six seconds.

These are some of the most complex novels ever written. So creatives needed to convey each story’s core in a simple yet spellbinding way.

Rethink, a Canadian agency, did just that. Their rendition of Hamlet is clear and concise (we all know that everyone dies when modern day Claudius spams the buy button). But it’s also unexpected and funny because it gives us a glimpse of how Hamlet could’ve transpired in today’s digital age.

2) Old Spice

You’re probably not surprised that this is an Old Spice ad. But you’re also probably laughing so hard you’re crying like that guy’s armpit.

When you watch this ad, you’re so amused that you forget Old Spice is trying to sell you deodorant. And while you’re still mid-chuckle, your favorite video begins. It’s a seamless transition. And viewers crave that. All advertisers should strive to satisfy their audience, and Wieden & Kennedy, Old Spice’s agency, know exactly how to indulge theirs.

3) Chipsmore

I know you fell for it too.

When I first saw the red face of doom, disappointment started spilling over me. But, luckily for us, the Chipsmore’s Cookie Guy saved the day.

The thing is, we just wanted to watch the ad. Imagine how someone who wanted to watch a video after it must’ve felt.

They were probably frustrated at the initial sight of the “broken” video link, then surprised when the Cookie Guy appears, which grabbed their attention. And, finally, delighted when their favorite video starts.

This ad takes its viewers on an emotional roller coaster. And, honestly, who doesn’t have fun on those?

4) Road Lodge

This is a prime example of insanely honest marketing.

Road Lodge sets the expectation that their hotel is best suited for relaxation. And not so much for partying.

You might think they’re deterring potential customers from their hotel — and you’re right — they are. But it’s actually a good thing because these people would never stay at their hotel in the first place. 

And since their honesty signals confidence, builds trust, and shows that they value their customers’ experience more than short-term profits, their target market becomes more attracted to them.

Road Lodge knows that if you’re brutally honest about your product or service, then you won’t disappoint your customers. This makes it a lot easier to maintain their loyalty.

5) Under Armour

When you play baseball, nothing matters more than your stats. They’re a direct measurement of your performance and can even define your value as a person.

Under Armour sought to uproot this belief.

In six short seconds, Droga5, Under Armour’s agency, injects purpose into ball players everywhere, motivating them to place their value in their character instead of their numbers.

6) Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes uses swift video cuts and a roaring engine to engage their viewers’ senses. This way, their audience can actually see and hear the intensity of reaching 60 MPH in only 3.8 seconds.

7) Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures used this pre-roll ad to promote the full Jason Bourne trailer, which garnered over 14 million views.

And since the ad is chock full of non-stop action, it piqued viewers’ interest and generated tremendous hype around its trailer release.

8) Burn

Burn’s pre-roll ad is so effective because it’s snappy and visually engaging. And since you can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text, a flaming fist across the face will definitely catch your eye.

The slow-mo effect also makes the ad seem longer, intensifying your viewing experience.

9) Airbnb

Family vacations are the best.

You get to explore incredible places and create timeless memories with your loved ones. Is there any other way you would want to bond with your family?

Airbnb agrees too. So their agency, TWBA, produced a charming ad that showcases the benefits of a family vacation: loads of fun and connection.

10) Geico

The Martin Agency, Geico’s creative partner, deserves a lifetime supply of car insurance for this masterpiece.

“Unskippable” was so refreshingly original, it won AdAge’s 2016 Campaign of the Year. And for good reason too. It sympathizes with your annoyance of pre-roll ads, so it ends before you can skip it. But it’s also so unique and witty that you’ll actually watch the entire ad.

Geico says this ad is impossible to skip because it’s already over. But really, this ad is impossible to skip because it’s so clever.

Seen any ads that top these? Share them in the comments below!

quality-video-cta 

The Case For & Against Attending Marketing Conferences

Posted by randfish

I just finished reading Jan Schaumann’s short post on Why Companies Should Pay for Their Employees to Attend Conferences. I liked it. I generally agree with it. But I have more to add.

First off, I think it’s reasonable for managers and company leaders to be wary of conferences and events. It is absolutely true that if your employees attend them, there will be costs associated, and it’s logical for businesses to seek a return on investment.

What do you sacrifice when sending a team member to an event?

Let’s start by attempting to tally up the costs:

  • Lost productivity – Usually on the order of 1 to 4 days depending on the length of the event, travel distance, tiredness from travel, whether the team member does some work at the event or makes up with evenings/weekends, etc. Given marketing salaries ranging from $40K–$100K, this could be as little as $150 (~1 day’s cost at the lower end) to $1,900 (a week’s cost on the high end).
  • Cost of tickets – In the web marketing world, the range of events is fairly standard, between ~$1,000 and $2,000, with discounts of 20–50% off those prices for early registration (or with speaker codes). Some examples:
    • CTAConf in Vancouver is $999 ($849 if you’re an Unbounce customer)
    • Content Marketing World in Cleveland is $1,195 (early rate) or $1,395 later
    • Pubcon Las Vegas in $1,099 (early rate), not sure what it goes up to
    • HubSpot’s INBOUND is $1,299 (or $1,899 for a VIP pass)
    • SMX East is $1,795 (or $2,595 for all access)
    • SearchLove London is $890 (or $1,208 for VIP)
    • MozCon in Seattle is $1,549 (or $1,049 for Moz subscribers)
  • Cost of travel and lodging – Often between $1,000–$3,000/person depending on location, length, and flight+hotel costs.
  • Potential loss of employee through recruitment or networking – It’s a thorny one, but it has to be addressed. I know many employers who fear sending their staff to events because they worry that the great networking opportunities will yield a higher-paying or more exciting offer in the future. Let’s say that for every 30 employees you send (or every 30 events you send an employee to), you’ll lose one to an opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t have had them considering a departure. I think that’s way too high (not because marketers don’t leave their jobs but because they almost always leave for reasons other than an opportunity that came through a conference), but we’ll use it anyway. On the low end, that might cost you $10K (if you’ve lost a relatively junior person who can be replaced fairly quickly) and on the high end, might be as much as $100K (if you lose a senior person and have a long period without rehiring + training). We’ll divide that cost by 30 using our formula of one lost employee per thirty events.

Total: $4,630–$10,230

That’s no small barrier. For many small businesses or agencies, it’s a month or two of their marketing expenses or the salary for an employee. There needs to be significant return on those dollars to make it worthwhile. Thankfully, in all of my experiences over hundreds of marketing events the last 12 years, there is.

What do you gain by sending a team member to an event?

Nearly all the benefits of events come from three sources: the growth (in skills, relationships, exposure to ideas, etc) of the attendee(s), applicable tactics & strategies (including all the indirect ones that come from serendipitous touch points), and the extension of your organization’s brand and network.

In the personal growth department, we see benefits like:

  • New skills, often gained through exposure at events and then followed up on through individual research and effort. It’s absolutely true that few attendees will learn enough at a 30-minute talk to excel at some new tactic. But what they will learn is that tactic’s existence, and a way to potentially invest in it.
  • Unique ideas, undiscoverable through solo work or in existing team structures. I’ve experienced this benefit myself many times, and I’ve seen it on Moz’s team countless times.
  • The courage, commitment, inspiration, or simply the catalyst for experimentation or investment. Sometimes it’s not even something new, or something you’ve never talked about as a team. You might even be frustrated to find that your coworker comes back from an event, puts their head down for a week, and shows you a brilliant new process or meaningful result that you’ve been trying to convince them to do for months. Months! The will to do new things strikes whenever and however it strikes. Events often deliver that strike. I’ve sat next to engineers whom I’ve tried to convince for years to make something happen in our tools, but when they see a presenter at MozCon show off another tool that does it or bemoan the manual process currently required, they suddenly set their minds to it and deliver. That inspiration and motivation are priceless.
  • New relationships that unlock additional skill growth, amplification opportunities, business development or partnership possibilities, references, testimonials, social networking, peer validation, and all the other myriad advancements that accompany human connections.
  • Upgrading the ability to learn, to process data and stories and turn them into useful takeaways.
  • Alongside that, upgraded abilities to interact with others, form connections, learn from people, and form or strengthen bonds with colleagues. We learn, even in adulthood, through observation and imitation, and events bring people together in ways that are more memorable, more imprinted, and more likely to resonate and be copied than our day-to-day office interactions.

A gentleman at SearchLove London 2016 gives me an excellent (though slightly blurry) thumbs up

In the applicable tactics & strategies, we get benefits like:

  • New tools or processes that can speed up work, or make the impossible possible.
  • Resources for advancing skills and information on a topic that’s important to one’s job or to a project in particular.
  • Actionable ideas to make an existing task, process, or result easier to achieve or more likely to produce improved results.
  • Bigger-picture concepts that spur an examination of existing direction and can improve broad, strategic approaches.
  • People & organizations who can help with all above, formally or informally, paid as consultants, or just happy to answer a couple questions over email or Twitter.

Purna Virji at SMX Munich 2017

In the extension of organizational brand/network, we get benefits like:

  • Brand exposure to people you meet and interact with at conferences. Since we know the world of sales & marketing is multi-touch, this can have a big impact, especially if either your customers or your amplification targets include anyone in your professional field.
  • Contacts at other companies that can help you reach people or organizations (this benefit has grown massively thanks to the proliferation of professional social networks like those on LinkedIn and Twitter)
  • Potential media contacts, including the more traditional (journalists, news publications) and the emerging (bloggers, online publishers, powerful social amplifiers, etc)
  • A direct introduction point to speakers and organizers (e.g. if anyone emails me saying “I saw you speak at XYZ and wanted to follow up about…” the likelihood of an invested reply goes way up vs. purely online outreach)

But I said above that these three included “nearly all” the benefits, didn’t I? 🙂

Daisy Quaker at MozCon Ignite

It’s true. There are more intangible forms of value events provide. I think one of the biggest is the trust gained between a manager and their team or an employer and their employees. When organizations offer an events budget, especially when they offer it with relative freedom for the team member to choose how and where to spend it, a clear message is sent. The organization believes in its people. It trusts its people. It is willing to sacrifice short-term work for the long-term good of its people. The organization accepts that someone might be recruited away through the network they gain at an event, but is willing to make the trade-off for a more trusting, more valuable team. As the meme goes:

CFO: What if we invest in our people and they leave?
CEO: What if we don’t and they stay?

Total: $A Lot?

How do you measure the returns?

The challenge comes in because these are hard things for which to calculate ROI. In fact, any number I throw out for any of these above will absolutely be wrong for your particular situation and organization. The only true way to estimate value is through hindsight, and that means having faith that the future will look like the past (or rigorous, statistically sound models with large sample sizes, validated through years of controlled comparison… which only a handful of the world’s biggest and richest companies do).

It’s easy to see stories like “The biggest deals I’ve ever done, mostly (80%) came from meeting people at conferences” and “I’ve had the opportunity to open the door of conversations previously thought locked” and “When I send people on my team I almost always find they come back more inspired, rejuvenated, and full of fire” and dismiss them as outliers or invent reasons why the same won’t apply to you. It’s also easy explain away past successes gained through events as not necessarily requiring the in-person component.

I see this happen a lot. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve seen it at Moz. Remember last summer, when we did layoffs? One of the benefits cut was the conference and events budget for team members. While I think that was the right decision, I’m also hopeful & pushing for that to be one of the first benefits we reinstate now that we’re profitable again.

Lexi Mills at Turing Festival in Edinburgh

Over the years of my event participation, first as an attendee, and later as a speaker, I can measure my personal and Moz’s professional benefits, and come up with some ballpark range. It’s harder to do with my team members because I can’t observe every benefit, but I can certainly see every cost in line-item format. Human beings are pretty awful in situations like these. We bias to loss aversion over potential gain. We rationalize why others benefit when we don’t. We don’t know what we’re missing so we use logic to convince ourselves it’s ROI negative to justify our decision.

It’s the same principle that often makes hard-to-measure marketing channels the best ROI ones.

Some broader discussions around marketing event issues

Before writing this post, I asked on Twitter about the pros and cons of marketing conferences that folks felt were less often covered. A number of the responses were insightful and worthy of discussion follow-ups, so I wanted to include them here, with some thoughts.

If you’re a conference organizer, you know how tough a conversation this is. Want to bring in outside food vendors (which are much more affordable and interesting than what venues themselves usually offer)? 90% of venues have restrictions against it. Want to get great food for attendees? That same 90% are going to charge you on the order of hundreds of dollars per attendee. MozCon’s food costs are literally 25%+ of our entire budget, and considering we usually break even or lose a little money, that’s huge.

If you’re a media company and you run events for profit, or you’re a smaller business that can’t afford to have your events be a money-losing endeavor, you’re between a rock and a hard place. At places like MozCon and CTAConf, the food is pretty killer, but the flip side is there’s no margin at all. Many conferences simply can’t afford to swing that.

Totally agree with Ross — interesting one, and pros/cons to each. At smaller shows, I love the more intimate connections, but I’m also well aware that for most speakers, it’s a tough proposition to ask for a new presentation or to bring their best stuff. It’s also hard to get many big-name speakers. And, as Ross points out, the networking can be deeper, but with a smaller group. If you’re hoping to meet someone from company X or run into colleagues from the past, small size may inhibit.

For years prior to MozCon, I’d only ever been to events with a couple keynotes and then panels of 3–6 people in breakout sessions the rest of the day. I naively thought we’d invented some brilliant new system with the all-keynote-style conference (it had obviously been around for decades; I just wasn’t exposed to it). It also became clear over time that many other marketing conferences had the same idea and today, it’s an even split between those that do all-keynotes vs. those with a hybrid of breakouts, panels, and keynotes.

Personally, my preference is still all-keynote. I agree with Greg that, on occasion, a speaker won’t do a great job, and sitting through those 20–40 minutes can be frustrating. But I can count on a single hand the number of panel sessions I’ve ever found value in, and I strongly dislike being forced to choose between sessions and not sharing the same experience with other attendees. Even when the session I’ve chosen is a good one, I have FOMO (“what if that other session around the corner is even better?!”) and that drives my quality of experience down.

This, though, is personal preference. If you like panels, breakouts, and multi-track options, stick to SMX, Content Marketing World, INBOUND, and others like them. If you’re like me and prefer all keynotes, single track, go for CTAConf, Searchlove, Inbounder, MozCon, and their ilk.

I agree this is a real problem. Being a conference organizer, I get to see a lot of the feedback and requests, and I think that’s where the issue stems from. For example, a few years back, Brittan Bright, who now does sales at Google in New York, gave a brilliant talk about the soft skills of selling and client relations. It scored OK in the lineup, but a lot of the feedback overall that year was from people who wanted more “tactical tips” and “technical tricks” and less “soft skills” content. Every conference has to deal with this demand and supply issue. You might respond (as my friend Wil Reynolds often does) with “who cares what people say they want?! Give them what they don’t know they need!”

That’s how conferences go broke, my friends. 🙂 Every year, we try to include at least a few sessions that focus on these softer skills (in numerous ways), and every year, there’s pushback from folks who wish we’d just show them how to get more easy links, or present some new tool they haven’t heard of before. It’s a tough give and take, but I’m empathetic to both sides on this issue. Actionable tactics matter, and they make for big, immediate wins. Soft skills are important, too, but there’s a significant portion of the audience who’ll get frustrated seeing talks on these topics.

Hrm… I think I agree more with Freja than with Herman, but it’s entirely a personal preference. If you know yourself well enough to know that you’ll benefit more (or less) by attending with others from your team, make the call. This is one reason I love the idea of businesses offering the freedom of choice on how to use their event budget.

There were a number of these conflicting points-of-view in reply to my tweet, and I think they indicate the challenge for attendees and organizers. Opinions vary about what makes for a great conference, a great speaker or session, or the best way to get value from them.

Which marketing conferences do I recommend?

I get this question a lot (which is fair, I go to *a lot* of events). It really depends what you like, so I’ll try to break down my recommendations in that format.

Big, industry-wide events with many thousands of attendees, big name keynotes, famous musical acts, and hundreds of breakout session options:

  • INBOUND by Hubspot (Boston, MA 9/25–9/28) is a clear choice here. If you craft your experience well, you can get an immense amount of value.
  • Content Marketing World (Cleveland, OH 9/5–9/8) is always a good show, and they’ve recently focused on getting more gender-diverse.
  • Dreamforce by Salesforce (San Francisco, CA 11/6–11/9) has a similar feel to INBOUND in size and format, though it’s generally more classic sales & marketing focused, and has less programming that overlaps with our/my world of SEO, social media, content marketing, etc.
  • Web Summit (Lisbon, Portugal 11/6–11/9) is even broader, focusing on technology, startups, entrepreneurship, and sales+marketing. If you’re looking to break out of the marketing bubble and get a chance to see some “where are we going” and “what’s driving innovation” content, this is a good one.
  • SMX Munich (Munich, Germany 3/20–3/21 2018) is one of the best produced and best attended shows in Europe. This event consistently delivers great presentations. Because of its location on the calendar, it’s also where many speakers debut their theses and tactics each year, and since it’s in Germany (or, more probably because it’s run by the amazing Sandra & Matthew Finlay), everything is executed to perfection.

Mid-tier events with 1,000–1,500 attendee:

  • MozCon by Moz (Seattle, WA 7/17–7/19) I’m obviously biased, but I also get to see the survey data from attendees. The ratings of “excellent” or “outstanding” and the high number of people who buy tickets for the following year within a few days of leaving give me confidence that this is still one of the best events in the web marketing world.
  • CTAConf by Unbounce (Vancouver, BC 6/25–6/27) Oli Gardner, who’s become an exceptional speaker himself, works directly with every presenter (all invitation-only, like MozCon) to make sure the decks are top notch. In addition, the setting in Vancouver, the food trucks, the staging, the networking, and the kindness of Canada are all wonderful.
  • Inbounder (Valencia, Spain 5/2018) This event only happens every other year, but if 2016 was anything to judge by, it’s one of Europe’s best. Certainly, you won’t find a more incredible city or a better location. The conference hall is inside a spaceship that’s landed on a grassy park surrounding an ancient walled city. Even Seattle’s glacier-ringed beauty can’t top that.
  • ConversionXL Live (Austin, TX 3/28–3/30) Peep Laja and crew put on a terrific event with a lovely venue and clear attention paid to the actionable, tactical value of takeaways. I came back from the few sessions I attended with all sorts of suggestions for the Moz team to try (if only webdev resources weren’t so difficult to wrangle).
  • SMX Advanced (Seattle, WA TBD 2018) I haven’t been in a couple years, but many search marketers rave about this show’s location, production quality, panels, and speakers. It’s one of the few places that still attracts the big-name representatives from Google & Bing, so if you want to hear directly from the horse’s mouth a few seconds before it’s broadcast and analyzed a million ways on Twitter, this is the spot.

Outside The Inbounder Conference in Valencia, Spain

Smaller, local, & niche events with a few hundred attendees and a more intimate setting:

  • SearchLove (San Diego, Boston, & London 10/16–10/17) It’s somewhat extraordinary that this event remains small, like a hidden secret in the web marketing world. The quality of content and presentations are on par with MozCon (as are the ratings, and I know from other events how rare those are), but the settings are more intimate with only 2-300 participants in San Diego & Boston, and a larger, but still convivial crowd of 4-600 in London. I personally learn more at Searchlove than any other show.
  • Engage (formerly Searchfest) The SEMPDX crew has always had a unique, wonderful event, and Portland, OR is one of my favorite cities to visit.
  • MNSearch (Minneapolis 6/23) One of the exciting up-and-coming local events in our space. The MNSearch folks have brought together great speakers in fun venues at a surprisingly affordable price, and with some killer after-hours events, too. I’ve been twice and was very impressed both times.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’m certain there are many other events that give great value. I can only speak from my own experiences, which are going to carry the bias of what I’ve seen and what I like.

Help us better understand the value of conferences to you

Two years ago, I ran a survey about marketing conferences and received, analyzed, then published the results. I’d like to repeat that again, and see what’s changed. Please contribute and tell us what matters to you:

Take the survey here

I look forward to the discussion in the comments. If the Twitter thread was any indication, there’s a lot of passion and interest around this topic, one that I share. And of course, if you’d like to chat in person about this and see how we’re doing things at Moz, I hope you’ll consider MozCon in just a few weeks in Seattle.


Roger MozBotRoger’s note: *beep* Rogerbot here! I think Rand forgot an important benefit of one conference: At MozCon, you can hug a robot. If you’re considering joining us in Seattle this July, we’re over 75% sold out! Be sure to grab your ticket while you can.

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​Moz Local Report: Who’s Winning Wealth Management?

Posted by Dr-Pete

As more people look for financial advice online, brick-and-mortar wealth management firms and financial advisors are competing harder than ever for search customers. More than 70% of millennials use search engines for research, and 15% of 18–34 year-olds are turning directly to search engines for financial advice. As consumers in their 20s and 30s grow their wealth, have families, and begin planning for the future, who is best situated to capture their attention online?

This turns out to be a more difficult question than you might think. Focusing on Google, there are three major areas where financial service providers can compete: organic results, local results, and paid results (ads). Even organic results are increasingly localized, with top rankings varying wildly from city to city, and traditional organic results are often pushed below both ads and the local 3-pack. Local packs command a large amount of screen real-estate — here’s a local pack for “financial planner” in my own suburban Chicago neighborhood:

In partnership with Hearsay Systems, which provides Advisor Cloud solutions for the financial services industry, we decided to find out who’s leading the pack (no pun intended) in 2017 for wealth management and financial advisory searches across organic, local, and paid results.

Get the full report

Research methodology

For the purposes of this study, we decided to target five keyphrases related to wealth management and financial advisory services:

  1. financial advisor
  2. financial planning
  3. financial planner
  4. financial consultant
  5. wealth management

For each keyword, we looked at page one of Google results across 5,000 cities (the 5K largest cities in the contiguous 48 states, according to US census data). We then captured URLs and ranking positions across organic, local, and paid results.

To aggregate the data, we weighted each result by the population of the corresponding city and the estimated click-through rate (CTR) of its ranking position. We used a fairly conservative CTR curve, weighting top results a bit heavier, but not too dramatically:

For the final analysis across all five keywords, we weighted each keyword by its estimated search volume (according to Google Adwords) in the United States. By far, “financial advisor” was the most popular keyword, scooping up about 55% of search share across the keyword set.

Since some large brands use multiple websites (domains), we consolidated their numbers across those domains. So, for example, morganstanley.com and morganstanleybranch.com were grouped together in the final analysis. Quite a few brands have separate domains for their corporate site and local/branch locations. We’re interested in the strength of the brands themselves, not the particulars of how they divvy up their websites.

Top 5 organic leaders

The Top 5 for organic results were dominated by informational and news sites. The following graph compares the total “Click Share” based on all available clicks across all sites:

Investopedia led the way, scoring almost one-fifth of all clicks in our aggregate model, across more than 4,000 ranking domains. Among major players in the financial services space, only Edward Jones made it into the Top 5.

This is consistent with the idea that people are seeking general financial advice, and may not always be looking to organic results to find local service providers. Google’s results can often tell us a lot about how they’re interpreting search intent.

Curious case of keyword #4

Across the five keywords, we generally saw similar patterns. There were ranking variations, of course, but most of the top sites for one keyword performed well across the other keywords in organic results. The notable exception was keyword #4, “financial consultant.”

The Top 10 organic competitors for “financial consultant” included Monster.com (#1), Indeed.com (#4), Glassdoor (#5), and Robert Half (#7). Google seems to be interpreting this search as a job-hunting search and not a search for a service provider. This goes to show how important it is to make sure you’re targeting the right terms.

Top 5 local leaders

Applying the same analysis to the local pack, we came up with the following Top 5…

Traditional wealth management players performed much better in local pack results. Across our data, though, Edward Jones dominated the competitors in local rankings, consuming almost 40% of the total Click Share.

Interestingly, there was more overall diversity in local pack results, even with one dominant player and only three ranking positions per page. While just over 4,000 different domains ranked across organic results, local packs in our data set sampled from almost 7,000 different domains.

Top 5 paid/ad leaders

Morgan Stanley led the way in paid positioning, capturing just under 20% of Click Share. The rest of the Top 5 paid players were a bit more well-rounded, consuming roughly equal shares…

Interesting to note that relative newcomer SoFi seems to be spending pretty heavily in the space. SoFi (“Social Finance”) is an online finance community clearly aimed at the digital generation.

Given that this is a competitive space with relatively high costs-per-click (CPC), only 366 domains appeared in paid listings in our study. This was not due to a lack of ads — over 99% of the search results we examined displayed ads, and almost every search had a full complement of seven ads.

Non-traditional players

In addition to SoFi, a couple of newcomers fared pretty well in our data relative to their size and spend. Betterment.com appeared in 25th place in organic and 16th in paid. NerdWallet came in 46th in organic results and 22nd in paid. Credio.com took 20th place in organic overall but had no paid presence.

The one advantage traditional players clearly still have is in local results, where none of these newcomers ranked. Big brands with multiple brick-and-mortar presences still dominate local pack results, for obvious reasons, and online-only players can’t compete in local/map results. This makes performing well in local results even more important for big brands with a strong, nationwide physical presence.

Big winner: Edward Jones

Squeezing a lot of data into one graph can be a little dangerous, but let’s take a peek at what happens when we aggregate across all three types of listings (organic, local, and paid). Here are the Top 5 across all of the data in our study…

The combination of their dominant #1 position in our local data, #5 in organic, and a solid #25 in paid makes Edward Jones the clear overall winner, grabbing just over 14% of total Click Share in our study. Industry powerhouse Morgan Stanley comes in at #2, thanks primarily to their #1 paid ranking and #5 local position.

What’s the secret to Edward Jones’ success? Despite what the Internet wants you to believe, there’s almost never just one weird trick to search marketing success in 2017. One significant factor may be that Edward Jones has gone all-in on hyper-local pages. Their dominant local presence was made up of over 7,000 unique URLs representing their individual advisors.

Each advisor page has a clear, consistent Name, Address, and Phone number (or “NAP,” to use local search lingo), office hours, and other essential information. While the pages aren’t particularly unique, Edward Jones has done a good job of making sure that local offices are well represented and have a consistent, structured page.

It’s worth noting that even local rankings are very keyword specific. While Edward Jones ranked #1 overall in local packs for all four keyphrases starting with “financial…”, they fell to #23 for “wealth management.” Edward Jones has clearly carved out their niche.

The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, maintains their dominant organic position with just a single page: a guide to choosing a financial planner. This page clearly benefits from WSJ’s overall authority, and it shows just how different ranking for organic and local search has become these days.

A few tactical takeaways

Based on this research, what advice would we give to financial players (big and small) who hope to be competitive in Google search?

Brick-and-mortar should focus on local

The big financial players with physical offices need to capitalize on that fact, because online-only players won’t be able to compete in local results (at least for now). While a hyper-local approach (to the tune of thousands of pages) is a big undertaking and not without risk, I’d highly recommend testing it if you’re a big player in the space. Edward Jones’ success with this approach can’t be ignored.

For local, focus attention on key markets

You don’t have to compete in every market (you’re probably not even physically in every market). Across even five keywords and 5,000 cities, there were roughly 7,000 domains ranking in the local 3-pack. That means that the winners for any given market varied wildly. Invest your hyper-local resources in key markets with the highest potential ROI.

Online-only should invest in content

Sure, the Wall Street Journal is a huge player, but the fact that they ranked across thousands of cities and highly competitive keywords with a single piece of content is still pretty amazing. Google seems to be interpreting these keywords as informational, and so online-only players need to invest heavily in content that hits the research phase of the buyer cycle. If big financial players hope to compete for organic, they may have to do the same.

You may have to pay for placement

I’ve worked in paid search in a former life, and I believe a balanced approach to search marketing has to be an eyes-wide-open approach. Right now, ads have prominent placement on these searches, often with a full seven ads per page (including four at the top). If you have the money and want to compete against organic and local pack results, you have to at least run the numbers on advertising.

Get the full report

Special thanks to our partners at Hearsay Systems for their industry expertise and contributions to planning this project and analyzing the data. Hearsay provides Advisor Cloud solutions for the financial services and insurance industries.

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Why there’s only one model: the open source model

WordPress was built by the community. In just a few incredibly productive years, it grew to become the most popular CMS in the world, and all of us in the WordPress Community played a role in the evolution and development of WordPress. Together, we made it into the popular powerhouse it is today. If there was one thing that made it possible, it was the open source philosophy. Just like WordPress, Yoast was born from an open source world. In this interview, Joost de Valk shares his views on a topic dear to his heart.

Joost began his journey into the open source world many moons ago. As a contributor to the WebKit project, which built a layout engine for web browsers, he saw how a group of like-minded people could go up against mainstream, rich companies. WebKit’s small team made waves with their product. Different browsers adopted it and it helped them to hold their own against the incredible power of Internet Explorer. Joost says: “We were unbelievably efficient. I discovered very early on that it was better to build something together than on your own.” 

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A passion for open source

Talk to Joost about open source and his eyes light up. Open source formed him – it shaped his thoughts and visions. Even now, as CEO of a successful company, he’d still choose open source as the business model every time. Joost: “If I had to start over, I’d do a million things differently. But I would choose open source again in a heartbeat. I actually do think it’s better to create together. Take those design agencies that develop bespoke CMS’s. Why? It’s nonsense. It leads to vendor lock-in and that is horrible. There’s only one model: the open source model.”

‘‘If I had to start over, I would choose open source again in a heartbeat ’’

Running a business with an open source mindset is better than keeping everything behind closed doors. Joost: “Why should a school build their own site when there are hundreds of schools with the same requirements and questions? Join hands to make it manageable and cheaper. Just think how much the government could save if they used open source everywhere.”

“To me,” says Joost, “open source is a combination of community, not just friends, and a shared responsibility to find solutions to problems together. Take WordPress for example, collectively we are fixing the problem of publishing to the web. Other projects tackle different problems in the same way, together. This is how society should function; when we set our minds to it, we can achieve anything if we combine our efforts.”

David vs. Goliath

Joost sees open source as a David vs. Goliath struggle: “It’s money versus community. A lot of money versus no money. As a community-driven CMS, WordPress continuously has to figure out how to go up against large-scale commercial efforts. But, in spite of all that money, WordPress continues to grow like wildfire. We’ve reached critical mass and it will only go up from here.”

While WordPress grows, its community continues to expand. According to Joost, the community is diversifying at a rapid rate: “It’s not just developers anymore – the project attracts a wide range of people, from designers to writers. People are willing to invest loads of time into it. Just look at all those WordCamps around the world; all of them are organized by people from all walks of life.”

Open source politics

In theory, open source may sound like the perfect way to get something done, but oftentimes, good-old politics can cause everything to grind to a halt. “The political games are no fun,” Joost says. “It’s a community and therefore pretty diffuse. It takes time to reach a consensus. It’s hard to navigate the waters when there’s no one actually in charge. You have to figure out where decisions are being made and try to be there to influence them. That’s when you find out that not having anyone in charge can make it harder.”

‘‘It takes a lot of time and effort to develop a tool like Yoast SEO’’

Yoast now and in the future

Yoast as a company was built on open source and this philosophy continues to play a big part in its future plans. The Yoast SEO plugin is now spreading its wings, moving to other open source platforms like Drupal, TYPO3 and Magento. But Yoast has to sell something to make money, so in our case it’s a Premium version and other products, like services and education – aspects Joost wants to expand: “In the future, I’d love to be able to give away my plugins for free and generate enough income from our services and education platform. But, that moment is not yet in sight.”

Making money on open source seems strange and contradictory to the openness of open source. Yet, to pay nothing towards the development of products you use every day feels wrong as well. Joost: “It’s almost as if people think it’s rather easy to develop something for WordPress and that it doesn’t cost anything. That’s not true of course. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop a tool like Yoast SEO. Think about it, the readability analysis in Yoast SEO took about six man-years to develop. We could have put it in the Premium version, but we thought about the impact it would have if we gave it away for free. So we did. Come to think of it, I’ve never thought about taking something out of the free version of Yoast SEO to make people pay for it.”

Read more: ‘Yoast WordPress core contributions ’ »

14 Essential Tips for an Engaging Facebook Business Page

how-to-make-a-facebook-business-page-compressor.jpg

Whether you’re setting up a brand new Facebook Page for your brand, or you just want to make the most of your existing one, it’s probably a smart move — Facebook is home to nearly 2 billion monthly active users.

It should be easy enough, right? Just slap together a photo, a couple of posts, and expect the leads and customers to roll on in, right?

Wrong.

If you’re not creating a Facebook Page with a comprehensive strategy to get noticed, Liked, and engaged with, the chances of actually generating leads and customers from it are pretty slim. For example, you can’t just choose any picture — you have to choose one that’s the right dimensions, high-resolution, and properly represents your brand. New Call-to-action

But it doesn’t end there — so we compiled the tips below to make sure you’re creating an engaging page that takes full advantage of everything Facebook marketing has to offer.

14 Facebook Business Page Tips

1) Don’t create a personal profile for your business.

We’ve come across many well-meaning marketers and entrepreneurs who create personal profiles for their brands, instead of an actual Facebook Business Page. That puts you at a huge disadvantage — you’re missing out on all of the content creation tools, paid promotional opportunities, and analytics/insights that come with a Facebook Business Page. Plus, a personal profile would require people to send you a friend request in order to engage with you, and the last thing you want to do is make that more difficult for customers.

And while you’re at it — don’t create an additional public, “professional” profile associated with your business. For example, I already have a personal profile on Facebook that I largely keep private; the practice I’m talking about would be if I created a second, public one under the name “AmandaZW HubSpot,” or something along those lines. People usually do that to connect with professional contacts on Facebook, without letting them see personal photos or other posts. But the fact of the matter is that creating more than one personal account goes against Facebook’s terms of service.

2) Avoid publishing mishaps with Page roles.

We’ve all heard those horror stories about folks who accidentally published personal content to their employers’ social media channels — a marketer’s worst nightmare. So to avoid publishing mishaps like those, assign Facebook Business Page roles only to the employees who absolutely need it for the work they do each day. And before you do that, be sure to provide adequate training to those who are new to social media management, so they aren’t confused about when they should be hitting “publish,” what they should be posting, if something should be scheduled first, and who they should be posting it as.

To assign these, on your business page, click “Settings,” then click “Page Roles.”

Also, when sharing content on behalf of your brand, make sure you’re posting it as your brand, and not as yourself. You can check that by going into your settings and clicking “Page Attribution.”

3) Add a recognizable profile picture.

You’ll want to pick a profile picture that’s easy for your audience to recognize — anything from a company logo for a big brand, to a headshot of yourself if you’re a freelancer or consultant. Being recognizable is important to getting found and Liked, especially in Facebook Search. It’s what shows up in search results, pictured at the top of your Facebook Page, the thumbnail image that gets displayed next to your posts in people’s feeds … so choose wisely.

When choosing a photo, keep in mind that Facebook frequently changes its picture dimensions, which you can find at any given time here. As of publication, Page profile pictures display at 170×170 pixels on desktop, and 128×128 pixels on smartphones.

Profile photo desktop.png
Profile photo mobile.png

4) Choose an engaging cover photo.

Next, you’ll need to pick an attractive cover photo. Since your cover photo takes up the most real estate above the fold on your Facebook Page, make sure you’re choosing one that’s high-quality and engaging to your visitors, like this one from MYOB’s Facebook Page:

myob.png
myob mobile.png

Keep in mind that, like profile images, Facebook Page cover photo dimensions also frequently change, so we advise keeping an eye on the official guidelines. As of publication, Page cover photos display at 820×312 pixels on computers, and 640×360 pixels on smartphones.

5) Add a call-to-action (CTA) button.

Since Facebook first launched the feature in December 2014, the options for brands to add call-to-action buttons to their Facebook Page’s have vastly expanded. These are things like “Watch Video,” “Sign Up,” or “Book Now” — and each can be customized with a destination URL or piece of content of their choosing.

It’s a great way for marketers to drive more traffic to their websites, or to get more eyeballs on the Facebook content they want to promote. This is a great way for marketers to drive traffic from their Facebook Business Page back to their website. Check out how Mandarin Oriental uses the “Book Now” button in this way, to make it easier for viewers to make reservations.

Mandarin Oriental.png

To add a call-to-action to your Page, click the blue “Add a Button” box.

Add a button.png

You’ll then be able to choose which type of CTA you want to create, and which URL or existing content on your Facebook Page you want it to direct visitors to. To get data on how many people are clicking it, simply click the drop-down arrow on your button and select “View Insights.”

6) Fill out your ‘About’ section with basic information, and add company milestones.

We’ve arrived at one of the most important sections of your Facebook Page: the ‘About’ section.

Although visitors no longer see a preview of your “About” text when they land on your page — instead, they have to click on the “About” option on the left-hand column next to your content — it’s still one of the first places they’ll look when trying to get more information about your page.

Even within the “About” section, however, there are many options for copy to add. Consider optimizing the section that best aligns with your brand — a general description, a mission, company information, or your story — with brief, yet descriptive copy. By doing so, your audience can get a sense of what your Page represents before they decide to Like it.

You might also want to populate sections that allow you to record milestones and awards — like when you launched popular products and services — as well as the day/year your company was founded, or when you hosted major events.

7) Post photos and videos to your Timeline.

Visual content has pretty much become a requirement of any online presence, including social media channels. After all, it’s 40X more likely to get shared on social media than other types of content.

And while photos are a wonderful way to capture moments and an actual look at your brand, you should probably invest a good amount of time and other resources into video. The 2017 State of Inbound report cited video as the “main disruptor,” with 24% of marketers naming it as a top priority.

“Watch video” is one of the CTAs that Facebook allows brands to add to their Pages for a reason — because it’s becoming one of the most popular ways to consume content. But it’s not just pre-recording videos. According to the social media channel’s newsroom, “People spend more than 3x more time watching a Facebook Live video on average compared to a video that’s no longer live.” So don’t be afraid to give viewers an in-the-moment look at what your organization does, but do make sure you’re prepared.

Not sure what your videos should look like? Here’s a fun one that we put together on business lingo.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fhubspot%2Fvideos%2F10155380512289394%2F&show_text=1&width=560

8) Determine the ideal timing and frequency for your posts.

An important consideration in your Facebook content strategy should be how frequently you post, and when. If you don’t post frequently enough, you won’t look as reliable or authentic — after all, how much faith do you put in a brand that hasn’t updated its Facebook Page for several months? Post too often, however, and people might get sick of having their feeds flooded with your content.

Here’s where a social media editorial calendar can be particularly helpful. Like any other online content, it can help you establish a schedule for when you share particular posts according to season or general popularity. You’ll probably have to adjust your calendar several times, especially in the earliest stages of setting up your Page, since you’ll want to check the performance of your updates in your Facebook Insights (which you can navigate to via the tab at the very top of your page). Once you’ve observed popular times and other analytics for your first several posts, you can tailor your posting frequency and strategy accordingly.

Wondering how to schedule posts? You can either use an external publishing tool like the Social Inbox within HubSpot software, or the Facebook interface itself. For the latter, click the arrow next to the “Publish” button and click “Schedule Post.”

Schedule post.png

9) Leverage Facebook’s targeting tools.

Facebook allows you to target certain audiences with specific updates — be it gender, relationship or educational status, age, location, language, or interests, you can segment individual page posts by these criteria.

Just click the small bullseye symbol on the bottom of the post you want to publish, and you can set metrics for both a preferred audience, and one you think might not want to see your content.

Target audience.png

10) Pin important posts to the top of your page.

When you post new content to your Facebook Page, older posts get pushed farther down your Timeline. But sometimes, you might want a specific post to stay at the top of your page for longer — even after you publish new updates.

To solve for this, Facebook offers the ability to “pin” one post at a time to the top of your page. You can use pinned posts as a way to promote things like new lead-gen offers, upcoming events, or important product announcements.

To pin a post, click on the drop-down arrow in the top-right corner of a post on your page, and click ‘Pin to Top.’ It will then appear at the top of your page, flagged with a little bookmark. Just keep in mind that you can only have one pinned post at any given time.

Pin to top.png

11) Decide whether you want Facebook fans to message you privately.

If you want your Facebook fans to be able to privately message you directly through your page, definitely enable the messages feature. You can do so by going to your settings, clicking on “General” on the left-hand column, and then looking for “Messages” on the list of results.

Messages-2.png

We recommend enabling messaging on your page to make it as easy as possible for your fans to reach out to you — but only do so if you have the time to monitor and respond to your messages. Facebook Pages now have a section that indicates how quickly a brand responds to messages, so if you don’t want that section saying that you’re slow to answer, you might just want to skip enabling that feature.

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12) Monitor and respond to comments on your page.

Speaking of monitoring the interactions your fans have with your page, don’t forget about comments. You can monitor and respond to comments via the ‘Notifications’ tab at the very top of your page. While it may not be necessary to respond to every single comment you receive, you should definitely monitor the conversations happening there (especially to stay on top of potential social media crises.

13) Promote your page to generate more followers.

Now that you’ve filled your page with content, it’s time to promote the heck out of it.

One of the first things you can do is to create an ad promoting your Page. To do that, click the three dots at the top menu bar above your posts and select “Create Ad.” From there, Facebook will let you start creating an ad from scratch based on your goals — things like reach, traffic, or general brand awareness. Choose yours, then scroll down and click “continue.”

campaign objective.png

After that, you can choose your targeted audience (similar to what you did with your promoted posts above), where on Facebook you want it to be placed, and your budget — you can learn more about paying for Facebook Ads here.

You’ll probably also be asked to add some creative assets or copy. Remember, you’re paying for this, so choose something that’s going to grab attention, but also has high quality and represents your brand well.

14) Finally, measure the success of your Facebook efforts.

There are a couple of ways to execute this step. You can use something like the social media reports tool in your HubSpot software, and you can dig into your Page’s Insights, which allow you to track Facebook-specific engagement metrics. Here, you’ll be able to analyze things like the demographics of your Page audience and, if you reach a certain threshold, the demographics of people engaging with your page and posts. As we mentioned earlier, the latter is especially helpful to modify your Facebook content strategy to publish more of what works, and less of what doesn’t. You can access your Facebook Page Insights via the tab at the top of your page.

How have you set up top-notch Facebook Pages? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

New Call-to-action

The Simple Test That Doubled Leads in One Week

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We’ve talked about the best practice of matching your offer and blog post topic as tightly as possible many times on the HubSpot Marketing Blog. But just in case you haven’t heard of this best practice before, I’ll give an example.

Let’s say you have a post explaining different types of commercial cooling systems that gets a steady amount of organic traffic each month. The best fit offer for this post would be a quiz to determine the right cooling system for your business, or a cooling systems pricing comparison sheet.

Because the offer closely aligns with what brought the visitor to your blog post in the first place — an interest in learning about commercial cooling systems — it’s natural for visitors to want to consume this additional content and convert on a lead form. On the other hand, an ebook on ventilation best practices probably wouldn’t convert traffic as well, since it’s not as well-aligned with the topic of the blog post.

A few years back, we did an audit of our highest organic traffic posts on the HubSpot Blog to see if our offers were as optimized for conversion as they could be. We found several areas to more tightly align blog post topic with offer topic, and saw CVRs climb. For example, conversions from this post increased considerably when we swapped a generic marketing offer for a press release template.

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The bottom of the post CTA

Fast forward to today. It had been a while since we took a look at those posts. After all, all of the optimization work that could be done had been done, right?

But then I started digging into the conversion rates of the offer landing pages themselves … and discovered a whole new gold mine of opportunity.

Here’s the quick and dirty of how I doubled leads from 50 of our top-performing blog posts in one week by analyzing landing page CVRs.

Gathering the Data

First, I created a massive spreadsheet that included data on:

  • Blog post traffic
  • Leads generated from blog posts (HubSpot customers, you can do this via attribution reports. Learn how here.)
  • Conversion rate of offer landing page

Here’s what that looked like (this snapshot features some of our worst-converting blog posts — clearly, there’s some work to be done):

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Blog data: URL, views, leads attributed, and CVR

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Separate tab with offer LP submission rate data

Then, I sorted by highest number of blog post views and highest number of leads generated, and started comparing to offer landing page CVR. This helped me prioritize my optimization efforts so I could see where the potential to move the needle was the greatest — i.e. an offer with a 70% submission rate but 800 monthly views wouldn’t be as good an opportunity to increase raw leads as one with a 45% submission rate and 15,000 monthly views.

The sweet spot was high blog post views + low number of leads generated + low landing page submission rate.

Auditing the Offers

Then, for the top 150 viewed blog posts, I manually audited and noted the URL of which offer LPs were being used. I found that some offers were tightly aligned to the topic of the blog posts while others were not. I also found that some of the offers we were directing visitors to were out of date — not the best experience.

Next up? Some VLOOKUP magic to match offer landing page submission rate to the blog posts that offer was being linked from. It quickly became clear that some of our best-performing blog posts were pointing to some of our worst-performing offers. I also spotted a few trends in subject matter among our lowest performers, such as social media, career development, and content creation.

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Finally, I went through our offers library and identified the content offers with the highest submission rates, and sorted them by topic category. These would be the replacements for the laggards.

The Results

After all this number crunching, I was able to identify 50 blog posts that represented our lowest-hanging fruit. I went through and swapped out these posts’ CTAs (or created new ones from scratch) for the most tightly-aligned offers with the highest submission rates.

The results were even better than I expected. After one week, these posts generated 100% more leads than average — even while post traffic was down 10%. This seemingly small tweak made a big impact on our leads.

We’ll be keeping an eye on how this pans out long-term. But in the meantime, here are a few takeaways and lessons learned I hope will be as valuable for your team as they were for ours:

  • When deciding what offer to pair with what blog post, don’t neglect to check the submission rate of the offer landing page. As we found, this is an easy way to quickly increase the number of leads you’re generating from your best-performing blog posts — especially if you have multiple offers on the same or similar topics.
  • Regularly audit your offers to ensure the content isn’t out of date. Outdated content will create a negative visitor experience and hurt your conversion rate.
  • Regularly audit the conversion paths of your top blog posts. Set aside time for optimization every few months so you can ensure you’re using your content to generate the most possible leads. Optimization isn’t a one-and-done thing.

Have you ever done a similar optimization project? Comment below with your best experiments and hacks to increase conversion rate below (and hey, we might even feature your experiment on our blog).

Intro to Lead Gen

What is an XML sitemap and why should you have one?

A good XML sitemap is a roadmap to all important pages of a website. This roadmap gives Google guidance in determining what content can be found on a website. Having an XML sitemap can be beneficial for SEO, as Google can retrieve essential pages of a website very fast, even if the internal linking of a site isn’t flawless. Here, we’ll explain what they are and how they help you with your rankings.

What are XML sitemaps?

You want Google to crawl every important page of your website. But it can happen pages don’t have any – internal – links to them, which will make them hard to find. You can use an XML sitemap to make sure Google can find and crawl all pages you deem essential on your website. An XML sitemap contains all important pages of a site to help Google determine the structure of it:

XML Sitemap Yoast

The XML sitemap of Yoast.com

 

The XML sitemap above shows the XML sitemap of the Yoast website, which the Yoast SEO plugin created. If you read further down the article, we’ll explain exactly how our plugin helps you create the best XML sitemaps. If you’re not using our plugin, it could be that your own XML sitemap looks a bit different but it will work the same.

As you can see the XML sitemap of Yoast shows several ‘index’ XML sitemaps: …/post-sitemap.xml, …/page-sitemap.xml, …/video-sitemap.xml etc. This categorization makes a site structure as clear as possible. If you click on one of the index XML sitemaps, you’ll see all URLs in that specific sitemap. For example, if you click on ‘…/post-sitemap.xml’ you’ll see all the post URLs of Yoast.com (click on image to enlarge):

XML Post Sitemap Yoast

The post XML sitemap of Yoast.com

 

 

The date at the end of each line tells Google when we’ve last updated the post. This is beneficial for SEO because you want Google to crawl your updated content fast. When a date in the XML sitemap changes, Google knows that there is new content to crawl and index.

Sometimes it’s necessary to split an index XML sitemap because of the number of URLs in it. The limit to the number of URLs in one separate XML sitemap is set to 50.000 URLs. This means, for example, that if your website has over 50.000 posts, you should add two separate XML sitemaps for the post URLs. So, you’re actually adding another index XML sitemap. We’ve set the limit to 1.000 URLs in the Yoast SEO plugin to keep your XML sitemap loading fast.

What websites need an XML sitemap?

If we look at Google’s documentation, they say that XML sitemaps are beneficial for “really large websites”, for “websites with large archives”, for “new websites with just a few external links to it” and for “websites which use rich media content”.

We agree that these types of websites will definitely benefit from having an XML sitemap. However, at Yoast, we think an XML sitemap is beneficial for every website. On each website, you want Google to easily find the most important pages and to know how often those pages are updated. That’s why we’ve added this function to the Yoast SEO plugin. 

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Which pages should be in your XML sitemap?

How do you decide which pages you need to include in your XML sitemap? Always start by thinking of the relevancy of a URL: when a visitor lands on a specific URL, is it a good result? Do you want visitors to land on that URL? If not, that URL probably shouldn’t be in your XML sitemap. However, if you really don’t want that URL to show up in the search results of Google you’ll need to add a ‘noindex, follow’ tag. Leaving it out of your XML sitemap doesn’t mean Google won’t index the URL. If Google can find it by following links, Google can index the URL.

Example 1: a starting blog

Let’s take the example of a new blog. The owner wants Google to find the new URLs of the blog fast to make sure his target group can find him in Google. So it’s a good idea to create an XML sitemap right away. The owner has created some describing categories for the first posts and the first posts have been written. The owner has also set up some tags to start with. However, there is not enough content yet to fill the tag overview pages with. Since these tag overview pages contain “thin content”, it’s not valuable to show visitors the tag overview pages yet. It’s, therefore, better to leave the tag URLs out of the XML sitemap for now. In this case, the tag pages could also be set to ‘noindex, follow’ because you don’t want people to land on those URLs from within the search results.

Example 2: media & images

Another example of an unnecessary XML sitemap is the ‘media’ or ‘images’ XML sitemap. Since your images are probably used within your pages and posts, the images are already included in your posts sitemap or your pages sitemap. Adding a separate ‘media’ or ‘images’ XML sitemap would be duplicate. We recommend leaving this one always out of your XML sitemap. Only when images are your main business you can make an exception. When you’re a photographer, for example, you probably do want to show a separate ‘media’ or ‘images’ XML sitemap to Google.

How to make Google find your XML sitemap

If you want Google to find your XML sitemap fast, you have to add it to your Google Search Console account. You can find the sitemaps in Search Console by navigating to ‘Crawl’ and then clicking on ‘Sitemaps’. You’ll immediately see if your XML sitemap is already added to Search Console. If not, click on the ‘Add/Test sitemap’ button which you see on the right of the arrow in the image below.

Google Search Console XML Sitemap Yoast

The XML sitemap of Yoast is added to Google Search Console

 

As you can see in the image, adding your XML sitemap can be helpful to check whether all pages in your sitemap are really indexed by Google. If there is a big difference in the ‘submitted’ and ‘indexed’ number of a certain sitemap, we recommend analyzing this further. Maybe there is an error which prevents some pages from being indexed or maybe you should just add more content or links to the content that’s not indexed yet.

Yoast SEO and XML sitemaps

Because of the importance of XML sitemaps, we’ve added this function to our Yoast SEO plugin. XML sitemaps are available for both the free and the Premium version of the plugin.

Yoast SEO creates an XML sitemap for your website automatically. You can find it by clicking on ‘XML Sitemaps’ in the sidebar of your WordPress install:

Yoast SEO tabs in WordPress backend

The XML Sitemaps tab in Yoast SEO

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the screen that follows you can enable or disable the XML sitemaps of your website. In addition to that, you can click on the ‘XML sitemap’ button to check your XML sitemap in your browser:

XML Sitemap settings in Yoast SEO

XML sitemap settings in Yoast SEO

In the tabs below the ‘enabled’ or ‘disabled’ toggle, you can find the different sitemaps you can in- or exclude from your XML sitemap: Users/Authors, Post Types and Taxonomies. On top of that, you can also exclude specific posts from the XML sitemap if you think the content of that post isn’t valuable enough.

Check out your own XML sitemap!

Now you’ve read this complete post, you know it’s important to have an XML sitemap, because having one can help your site’s SEO. By adding the right URLs to your XML sitemap you make sure Google can easily access your most important pages and posts. In addition to that, Google can also find updated content easily, so they know if a certain URL needs to be crawled again. Lastly, adding your XML sitemap to Google Search Console helps Google find your sitemap fast and, besides that, it allows you to check for sitemap errors to fix.

Now go check your own XML sitemap and see if you’re doing all of this correctly!

Read more: ‘WordPress SEO tutorial: definite guide to higher ranking’ »