What’s Your AMP Traffic Really Doing? Set Up Reporting in 10 Minutes

Posted by Jeremy_Gottlieb

The other day, my colleague Tom Capper wrote a post about getting more traffic when you can’t rank any higher. I was really pleased that he wrote it, because it tackles a challenge I think about all the time. As SEOs, our hands are tied: we’re often not able to make product-level decisions that could create new markets, and we’re not Google’s algorithms — we can’t force a particular page to rank higher. What’s an SEO to do?

What if we shifted focus from transactional queries (for e-commerce, B2C, or B2B sites) and focused on the informational type of queries that are one, two, three, and possibly four or more interactions away from actually yielding a conversion? These types of queries are often quite conversational (i.e. “what are the best bodyweight workouts?”) and very well could lead to conversions down the road if you’re try to sell something (like fitness-related products or supplements).

If we shift our focus to queries like the question I just posed, could we potentially enter more niches for search and open up more traffic? I’d hypothesize yes — and for some, driving this additional traffic is all one needs; whatever happens with that traffic is irrelevant. Personally, I’d rather drive qualified, relevant traffic to a client and then figure out how we can monetize that traffic down the road.

To accomplish this, over the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).


What are Accelerated Mobile Pages?

According to Google,

“The AMP Project is an open-source initiative aiming to make the web better for all. The project enables the creation of websites and ads that are consistently fast, beautiful, and high-performing across devices and distribution platforms.”

What this really means is that Google wants to make the web faster, and probably doesn’t trust the majority of sites to adequately speed up their pages or do so on a reasonable timeframe. Thus, AMP were created to allow for pages to load extremely fast (by cutting out the fat from your original source code) and provide an awesome user experience. Users can follow some basic instructions, use WordPress or other plugins, and in practically no time have mobile variants of their web content that loads super fast.

Why use AMP?

While AMP is not yet (or possibly ever going to be) a ranking factor, the fact that it loads fast certainly helps in the eyes of almighty Google and can contribute to higher rankings and clicks.

Let’s take a look at the query “Raekwon McMillan,” the Miami Dolphins second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Ohio State University:

Screenshot of mobile SERP for query "Raekwon McMillan"

Notice how of these cards on mobile, two contain a little lightning bolt and the word “AMP?” The prevalence of AMP results in the SERPs is becoming more and more common. It’s reasonable to think that while the majority of people who use Google are not currently familiar with AMP, over time and through experience, they will realize that AMP pages with that little icon load much faster than regular web pages and will gravitate towards AMP pages through a type of subconscious Pavlovian training.

Should I use AMP?

There are rarely any absolutes in this world, and this is no exception. Only you will know, based upon your particular needs at this time. AMP is typically used by news publishers like the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, and many others, but it’s important to note that it’s not limited to this type of entity. While there is an AMP news carousel that frequently appears on mobile and is almost exclusively the domain of large publishing sites, AMP results are increasingly appearing in the regular results, like with the Raekwon McMillan example.

I’m a fan of leveraging blog content on AMP to generate as many eyeballs as possible on our pages, but I’m still a bit leery about putting product pages on AMP (though this is now possible). My end goal is to drive traffic and brand familiarity through the blog content and then ultimately drive more sales as people are either retargeted to via paid or come back from other sources, direct, organic or otherwise to actually complete the purchase. If your blog has strong, authoritative content, deploying AMP could potentially be a great way to generate more visibility and clicks for your site.

I must point out, however, that AMP doesn’t come without potential drawbacks. There are strict guidelines around what you can and can’t do with it, such as not having email popups, possible reduction in ad revenue, analytics complications, and requiring maintenance of a new set of pages. If you do decide that the potential gain in organic traffic is worth the tradeoffs, we can get into how to best measure the success of AMP for your site.


Now you have AMP traffic — so what?

If your goal is to drive more organic traffic, you need to be prepared for the questions that will come if that traffic does not yield revenue in Google Analytics. First, we need to keep in mind that GA’s default attribution is via last direct click, but the model can be altered to report different numbers. This means that if you have a visitor who searches something organically, enters via the blog, and doesn’t purchase anything, yet 3 days later comes back via direct and purchases a product, the default conversion reporting in GA would assign no credit to the organic visit, giving all of the conversion credit to the direct visit.

But this is misleading. Would that conversion have happened if not for the first visit from organic search? Probably not.

By going into the Conversions section of GA and clicking on Attribution > Model Comparison Tool, you’ll be able to see a side-by-side comparison of different conversion models, such as:

  • First touch (all credit goes to first point-of-entry to site)
  • Last touch (all credit goes to the point-of-entry of session where conversion took place)
  • Position-based (credit is primarily shared between the first and last points-of-entry, with less credit being shared amongst the intermediary steps)

There are also a few others, but I find them to be less interesting. For more information, read here. You can also click on Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions to see the number of conversions by channel which were used along the way to a conversion, but was not the channel of conversion.

AMP tracking complications

Somewhat surprisingly, tracking from AMP is not as easy or as logical as one might expect. To begin with, AMP uses a separate Analytics snippet than your standard GA tracking code, so if you already have GA installed on your site and you decide to roll out AMP, you will need to set up the specific AMP analytics. (For more information on AMP analytics, please read Accelerated Mobile Pages Via Google Tag Manager and Adding Analytics to Your AMP Pages).

In a nutshell, the client ID (which tracks a specific user’s engagement with a site over time in GA) is not shared by default between AMP analytics and the regular tracking code, though there are some hack-y ways to get around this (WARNING: this gets very technically in-depth). I think there are two very important questions when it comes to AMP measurement:

  1. How much revenue are these pages responsible for?
  2. How much engagement are we driving from AMP pages?

In the Google Analytics AMP analytics property, it’s simple to see how many sessions there are and what the bounce and exit rates are. From my own experience, bounce and exit rates are usually pretty high (depending on UX), but the number of sessions increases overall. So, if we’re driving more and more users, how can we track and improve engagement beyond the standard bounce and exit rates? Where do we look?

How to measure real value from AMP in Google Analytics

Acquisition > Referrals

I propose looking into our standard GA property and navigating to our referring sources within Acquisition, where we’ll select the AMP source, highlighted below.

Once we click there, we’ll see the full referring URLs, the number of sessions each URL drove to the non-AMP version of the site, the number of transactions associated with each URL, the amount of revenue associated per URL, and more.

Important note here: These sessions are not the total number of sessions on each AMP page; rather, these are the number of sessions that originated on an AMP URL and were referred to the non-AMP property.

Why is this particular report interesting?

  1. It allows us to see which specific AMP URLs are referring the most traffic to the non-AMP version of the site
  2. It allows us to see how many transactions and how much revenue comes from a session initiated by a specific AMP URL
    1. From here, we can analyze why certain pages refer more traffic or end up with more conversions, then apply any findings to other AMP URLs

Why is this particular report incomplete?

  • It only shows us conversions and revenue that happened during one session (last-touch attribution)
    • It is very likely that most of your blog traffic will be higher-funnel and informational, not transactional, so conversions are more likely to happen at later touch points than the first one

Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions

If we really want to have the best understanding of how much revenue and conversions happen from visits to AMP URLs, we need to analyze the assisted conversions report. While you can certainly find value from analyzing the model comparison tool (also found within the conversions tab of GA), if we want to answer the question, “How many conversions and how much revenue are we driving from AMP URLs?”, it’s best answered in the Assisted Conversions section.

One of the first things that we’ll need to do is create a custom channel grouping within the Assisted Conversions section of Conversions.

In here, we need to:

  1. Click “Channel Groupings,” select “Create a custom channel grouping”
  2. Name the channel “AMP”
  3. Set a rule as a source containing your other AMP property (type in “amp” into the form and it will begin to auto-populate; just select the one you need)
  4. Click “Save”

Why is this particular report interesting?

  1. We’re able to see how many assisted as well as last click/direct conversions there were by channel
  2. We’re able to change the look-back window on a conversion to anywhere from 1–90 days to see how it affects the sales cycle

Why is this particular report incomplete?

  • We’re unable to see which particular pages are most responsible for driving traffic, revenue, and conversions

Conclusion

As both of these reports are incomplete on their own, I recommend any digital marketer who is measuring the effect of AMP URLs to use the two reports in conjunction for their own reporting. Doing so will provide the value of:

  1. Informing us which AMP URLs refer the most traffic to our non-AMP pages, providing us a jumping-off point for analysis of what type of content and CTAs are most effective for moving visitors from AMP deeper into the site
  2. Informing us how many conversions happen with different attribution models

It’s possible that a quick glance at your reports will show very low conversion numbers, especially when compared with other channels. That does not necessarily mean AMP should be abandoned; rather, those pages should receive further investment and optimization to drive deeper engagement in the same session and retargeting for future engagement. Google actually does allow you to set up your AMP pages to retarget with Google products so users can see products related to the content they visited.

You can also add in email capture forms to your AMP URLs to re-engage with people at a later time, which is useful because AMP does not currently allow for interstitials or popups to capture a user’s information.

What do you do next with the information collected?

  1. Identify why certain pages refer more traffic than others to non-AMP URLs. Is there a common factor amongst pages that refer more traffic and others that don’t?
  2. Identify why certain pages are responsible for more revenue than other pages. Do all of your AMP pages contain buttons or designated CTAs?
  3. Can you possibly capture more emails? What would need to be done?

Ultimately, this reporting is just the first step in benchmarking your data. From here you can pull insights, make recommendations, and monitor how your KPIs progress. Many people have been concerned or confused as to whether AMP is valuable or the right thing for them. It may or may not be, but if you’re not measuring it effectively, there’s no way to really know. There’s a strong likelihood that AMP will only increase in prominence over the coming months, so if you’re not sure how to attribute that traffic and revenue, perhaps this can help get you set up for continued success.

Did I miss anything? How do you measure the success (or failure) of your AMP URLs? Did I miss any KPIs that could be potentially more useful for your organization? Please let me know in the comments below.

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How to Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets to Build More Traffic

Posted by AnnSmarty

Have you noticed it’s getting harder and harder to build referral traffic from Google?

And it’s not just that the competition has got tougher (which it certainly has!).

It’s also that Google has moved past its ten blue links and its organic search results are no longer generating as much traffic they used to.

How do you adapt? This article teaches you to optimize your content to one of Google’s more recent changes: featured snippets.

What are featured snippets?

Featured snippets are selected search results that are featured on top of Google’s organic results below the ads in a box.

Featured snippets aim at answering the user’s question right away (hence their other well-known name, “answer boxes”). Being featured means getting additional brand exposure in search results.

Here are two studies confirming the claim:

  • Ben Goodsell reports that the click-through rate (CTR) on a featured page increased from two percent to eight percent once it’s placed in an answer box, with revenue from organic traffic increasing by 677%.
  • Eric Enge highlights a 20–30% increase in traffic for ConfluentForms.com while they held the featured snippet for the query.

Types of featured snippets

There are three major types of featured snippets:

  • Paragraph (an answer is given in text). It can be a box with text inside or a box with both text and an image inside.
  • List (an answer is given in a form of a list)
  • Table (an answer is given in a table)

Here’s an example of paragraph snippet with an image:

paragraph snippet image

According to Getstat, the most popular featured snippet is “paragraph” type:

Getstat

Featured snippets or answer boxes?

Since we’re dealing with a pretty new phenomenon, the terminology is pretty loose. Many people (including myself) are inclined to refer to featured snippets as “answer boxes,” obviously because there’s an answer presented in a box.

While there’s nothing wrong with this terminology, it creates a certain confusion because Google often gives a “quick answer” (a definition, an estimate, etc.) on top without linking to the source:

Answer box

To avoid confusion, let’s stick to the “featured snippet” term whenever there’s a URL featured in the box, because these present an extra exposure to the linked site (hence they’re important for content publishers):

Featured snippet

Do I have a chance to get featured?

According to research by Ahrefs, 99.58% of featured pages already rank in top 10 of Google. So if you are already ranking high for related search queries, you have very good chances to get featured.

On the other hand, Getstat claims that 70% of snippets came from sites outside of the first organic position. So it’s required that the page is ranked in top 10, but it’s not required to be #1 to be featured.

Unsurprisingly, the most featured site is Wikipedia.org. If there’s Wikipedia featured for your search query, it may be extremely hard to beat that — but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Finally, according to the analysis performed in a study, the following types of search queries get featured results most often:

  • DIY processes
  • Health
  • Financial
  • Mathematical
  • Requirements
  • Status
  • Transitional

Ahrefs’ study expands the list of popular topics with their most frequently words that appear in featured snippets:

words trigger featured snippets

The following types of search queries usually don’t have answer boxes:

  • Images and videos
  • Local
  • Shopping

To sum up the above studies:

  • You have chances to get featured for the terms your pages are already ranking in top 10. Thus, a big part of being featured is to improve your overall rankings (especially for long-tail informational queries, which are your lower-hanging fruit)
  • If your niche is DIY, health or finance, you have the highest probability of getting featured

Identify all kinds of opportunities to be featured

Start with good old keyword research

Multiple studies confirm that the majority of featured snippets are triggered by long-tail keywords. In fact, the more words that are typed into a search box, the higher the probability there will be a featured snippet.

It’s always a good idea to start with researching your keywords. This case study gives a good step by step keyword research strategy for a blogger, and this one lists major keyword research tools as suggested by experts.

When performing keyword research with featured snippets in mind, note that:

  • Start with question-type search queries (those containing question words, like “what,” “why,” “how,” etc.) because these are the easiest to identify, but don’t stop there…
  • Target informational intent, not just questions. While featured snippets aim at answering the user’s question immediately, question-type queries are not the only types that trigger those featured results. According to the aforementioned Ahrefs study, the vast majority of keywords that trigger featured snippets were long-tail queries with no question words in them.

It helps if you use a keyword research tool that shows immediately whether a query triggers featured results. I use Serpstat for my keyword research because it combines keyword research with featured snippet research and lets me see which of my keywords trigger answer boxes:

Serpstat featured snippet

You can run your competitor in Serpstat and then filter their best-performing queries by the presence of answer boxes:

Serpstat competitor research

This is a great overview of your future competition, enabling you to see your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.

Browse Google for more questions

To further explore the topic, be sure to browse Google’s own “People also ask” sections whenever you see one in the search results. It provides a huge insight into which questions Google deems related to each topic.

People also ask section

Once you start expanding the questions to see the answers, more and more questions will be added to the bottom of the box:

More questions

Identify search queries where you already rank high

Your lowest-hanging fruit is to identify which phrases you already rank highly for. These will be the easiest to get featured for after you optimize for answer boxes (more on this below).

Google Search Console shows which search queries send you clicks. To find that report, click “Search Traffic” and then “Search Analytics.”

Check the box to show the position your pages hold for each one and you’ll have the ability to see which queries are your top-performing ones:

Google Search Console

You can then use the filters to find some question-type queries among those:

Search console filter

Go beyond traditional keyword research tools: Ask people

All the above methods (albeit great) tackle already discovered opportunities: those for which you or your competitors are already ranking high. But how about venturing beyond that? Ask your readers, customers, and followers how they search and which questions they ask.

MyBlogU: Ask people outside your immediate reach

Move away from your target audience and ask random people what questions they have on a specific topic and what would be their concerns. Looking out of the box can always give a fresh perspective.

MyBlogU (disclaimer: I am the founder) is a great way to do that. Just post a new project in the “Brainstorm” section and ask members to contribute their thoughts.

MyBlogU concept

Seed Keywords: Ask your friends and followers

Seed Keywords is a simple tool that allows you to discover related keywords with help from your friends and followers. Simply create a search scenario, share it on social media, and ask your followers to type in the keywords they would use to solve it.

Try not to be too leading with your search scenario. Avoid guiding people to the search phrase you think they should be using.

Here’s an example of a scenario:

Example

And here are the suggestions from real people:

Seed Keywords

Obviously, you can create similar surveys with SurveyMonkey or Google Forms, too.

Monitor questions people ask on Twitter

Another way to discover untapped opportunities is to monitor questions on Twitter. Its search supports the ? search operator that will filter results to those containing a question. Just make sure to put a space between your search term and ?.

Twitter questions

I use Cyfe to monitor and archive Twitter results because it provides a minimal dashboard which I can use to monitor an unlimited number of Twitter searches.

Cyfe questions

Once you lack article ideas, simply log in to Cyfe to view the archive and then proceed to the above keyword research tools to expand on any idea.

I use spreadsheets to organize questions and keyword phrases I discover (see more on this below). Some of these questions may become a whole piece of content, while others will be subsections of broader articles:

  • I don’t try to analyze search volume to decide whether any of those questions deserve to be covered in a separate article or a subsection. (Based on the Ahrefs research and my own observations, there is no direct correlation between the popularity of the term and whether it will trigger a featured snippet).
  • Instead, I use my best judgement (based on my niche knowledge and research) as to how much I will be able to tell to answer each particular question. If it’s a lot, I’ll probably turn into a separate article and use keyword research to identify subsections of the future piece.

Optimizing for featured snippets

Start with on-page SEO

There is no magic button or special markup which will make sure your site gets featured. Of course, it’s a good idea to start with non-specific SEO best practices, simply because being featured is only possible when you rank high for the query.

Randy Milanovic did a good overview of tactics of making your content findable. Eric Brantner over at Coschedule has put together a very useful SEO checklist, and of course never forget to go through Moz’s SEO guide.

How about structured markup?

Many people would suggest using Schema.org (simply because it’s been a “thing” to recommend adding schema for anything and everything) but the aforementioned Ahrefs study shows that there’s no correlation between featured results and structured markup.

That being said, the best way to get featured is to provide a better answer. Here are a few actionable tips:

1. Aim at answering each question concisely

My own observation of answer boxes has led me to think that Google prefers to feature an answer which was given within one paragraph.

The study by AJ Ghergich cites that the average length of a paragraph snippet is 45 words (the maximum is 97 words), so let it be your guideline as to how long each answer should be in order to get featured:

Optimal featured snippet lengths

This doesn’t mean your articles need to be one paragraph long. On the contrary, these days Google seems to give preference to long-form content (also known as “cornerstone content,” which is obviously a better way to describe it because it’s not just about length) that’s broken into logical subsections and features attention-grabbing images. Even if you don’t believe that cornerstone content receives any special treatment in SERPs, focusing on long articles will help you to cover more related questions within one piece (more on that below).

All you need to do is to adjust your blogging style just a bit:

  • Ask the question in your article (that may be a subheading)
  • Immediately follow the question with a one-paragraph answer
  • Elaborate further in the article

This tactic may also result in higher user retention because it makes any article better structured and thus a much easier read. To quote AJ Ghergich,

When you use data to fuel topic ideation, content creation becomes more about resources and less about brainstorming.

2. Be factual and organize well

Google loves numbers, steps and lists. We’ve seen this again and again: More often than not, answer boxes will list the actual ingredients, number of steps, time to cook, year and city of birth, etc.

In your paragraph introducing the answer to the question, make sure to list useful numbers and names. Get very factual.

In fact, the aforementioned study by AJ Ghergich concluded that comparison charts and lists are an easier way to get featured because Google loves structured content. In fact, even for branded queries (where a user is obviously researching a particular brand), Google would pick up a table from another site (not the answer from the brand itself) if that other site has a table:

Be factual

This only shows how much Google loves well-structured, factual, and number-driven content.

There’s no specific markup to structure your content. Google seems to pick up <table>, <ol>, and <ul> well and doesn’t need any other pointers.

3. Make sure one article answers many similar questions

In their research of featured snippets, Ahrefs found that once a page gets featured, it’s likely to get featured in lots of similar queries. This means it should be structured and worded the way it addresses a lot of related questions.

Google is very good at determining synonymic and closely related questions, so should be you. There’s no point in creating a separate page answering each specific question.

Related question

Creating one solid article addressing many related questions is a much smarter strategy if you aim at getting featured in answer boxes. This leads us to the next tactic:

4. Organize your questions properly

To combine many closely related questions in one article, you need to organize your queries properly. This will also help you structure your content well.

I have a multi-level keyword organization strategy that can be applied here as well:

  • A generic keyword makes a section or a category of the blog
  • A more specific search query becomes the title of the article
  • Even more specific queries determine the subheadings of the article and thus define its structure
    • There will be multiple queries that are so closely related that they will all go under a single subheading

For example:

Spreadsheet

Serpstat helps me a lot when it comes to both discovering an article idea and then breaking it into subtopics. Check out its “Questions” section. It will provide hundreds of questions containing your core term and then generate a tag cloud of other popular terms that come up in those questions:

Questions tag cloud

Clicking any word in the tag cloud will filter results down to those questions that only have that word in them. These are subsections for your article:

Serpstat subheadings

Here’s a good example of how related questions can help you structure the article:

Structure

5. Make sure to use eye-grabbing images

Paragraph featured snippets with images are ridiculously eye-catching, even more so than regular featured featured snippets. Honestly, I wasn’t able to identify how to add an image so that it’s featured. I tried naming it differently and I tried marking it as “featured” in the WordPress editor. Google seems to pick up a random image from the page without me being able to point it to a better version.

That being said, the only way to influence that is to make sure ALL your in-article images are eye-catching, branded, and annotated well, so that no matter which one Google ends up featuring, it will look nice. Here’s a great selection of WordPress plugins that will allow you to easily visualize your content (put together graphs, tables, charts, etc.) while working on a piece.

You can use Bannersnack to create eye-catching branded images; I love their image editing functionality. You can quickly create graphics there, then resize them to reuse as banners and social media images and organize all your creatives in folders:

banner maker bannersnack

6. Update and re-upload the images (WordPress)

WordPress adds dates to image URLs, so even if you update an article with newer information the images can be considered kind of old. I managed to snatch a couple of paragraph featured snippets with images once I started updating my images, too:

Images

7. Monitor how you are doing

Ahrefs lets you monitor which queries your domain is featured for, so keep an eye on these as they grow and new ones appear:

Monitor where you are being featured

Conclusion

It takes a lot of research and planning and you cannot be sure when you’ll see the results (especially if you don’t have too many top 10 rankings just yet) but think about this way: Being featured in Google search results is your incentive to work harder on your content. You’ll achieve other important goals on your way there:

  • You’ll discover hundreds of new content ideas (and thus will rank for a wider variety of various long-tail keywords)
  • You’ll learn to research each topic more thoroughly (and thus will build more incoming links because people tend to link to indepth articles)
  • You’ll learn to structure your articles better (and thus achieve a lower bounce rate because it will be easier to read your articles)

Have you been featured in Google search results yet? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

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Site optimization or traffic optimization: Which delivers better results?

Knowing where to invest in online marketing is crucial for search marketers with limited budgets and resources. Columnist Jacob Baadsgaard explores whether you’re better off investing in higher-quality traffic or conversion optimization. The post Site optimization or traffic optimization: Which…

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SEO Above the Funnel: Getting More Traffic When You Can’t Rank Any Higher

Posted by Tom.Capper

Normally, as SEOs, we follow a deceptively simple process. We identify how people are searching for our product, then we build or optimize pages or websites to match searcher intent, we make sure Google can find, understand, and trust it, and we wait for the waves of delicious traffic to roll in.

It’s not always that simple, though. What if we have the right pages, but just can’t rank any higher? What if we’re already satisfying all of the search volume that’s relevant to our product, but the business demands growth? What if there is no search volume relevant to our product?

What would you do, for example, if you were asked to increase organic traffic to the books section on Amazon? Or property search traffic to Rightmove (UK) or Zillow (US)? Or Netflix, before anyone knew that true online streaming services existed?

In this post, I’m going to briefly outline four simple tactics for building your relevant organic traffic by increasing the overall size of the market, rather than by trying to rank higher. And none of them require building a single link, or making any changes to your existing pages.

1. Conquer neighboring territories

This is a business tactic as well as an SEO one, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for reasonably uncompetitive verticals adjacent to your own. You have an advantage in these, because you already have a brand, a strong domain, a website to build upon, and so forth. New startups trying to make headway in these spaces will struggle to compete with a fairly low-effort execution on your part, if you judge it well.

Start by ideating related products. For example, if you’re a property listings site, you might look at:

  • Home insurance
  • Home valuation
  • Flat-sharing listings
  • Area guides

Once you’ve outlined your list (it’s probably longer than my example), you can do your basic keyword research, and take a look at the existing ranking pages. This is a bit like identifying keyword opportunities, except you’re looking at the core landing pages of a whole vertical — look at their Domain Authorities, their branded search volumes, the quality of their landing pages, the extent to which they’ve done basic SEO, and ask whether you could do better.

In the example above, you might find that home insurance is well served by fairly strong financial services or comparison sites, but flat-sharing is a weak vertical dominated by a few fairly young and poorly executed sites. That’s your opportunity.

To minimize your risk, you can start with a minimal viable version — perhaps just a single landing page or a white-labeled product. If it does well, you know it merits further investment.

You’ve already established a trusted brand, with a strong website, which users are already engaging in — if you can extend your services and provide good user experiences in other areas, you can beat other, smaller brands in those spaces.

2. Welcome the intimidated

Depending on your vertical, there may be an untapped opportunity among potential customers who don’t understand or feel comfortable with the product. For example, if you sell laptops, many potential customers may be wary of buying a laptop online or without professional advice. This might cause them not to buy, or to buy a cheaper product to reduce the riskiness.

A “best laptops under £500,” or “lightest laptops,” or “best laptops for gaming” page could encourage people to spend more, or to buy online when they might otherwise have bought in a store. Pages like this can be simple feature comparisons, or semi-editorial, but it’s important that they don’t feel like a sales or up-sell function (even though that’s what the “expert” in the store would be!).

This is even more pertinent the more potentially research intensive the purchase is. For example, Crucial have done amazingly for years with their “system scanner,” linked to prominently on their homepage, which identifies potential upgrades and gives less savvy users confidence in their purchase.

Guaranteed compatible!

If this seems like too much effort, the outdoor retailer Snow and Rock don’t have the best website in the world, but they have taken a simpler approach in linking to buying guides from certain product pages — for example, this guide on how to pick a pair of walking boots.

Can you spot scenarios where users abandon in your funnels because of fear or complexity, or where they shift their spend to offline competitors? If you can make them feel safe and supported, you might be able to change their buying behavior.

3. Whip up some fervor

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have enthusiasts who know your vertical like the back of their hand, but could be incited to treat themselves a little more. I’ve been really impressed recently by a couple of American automotive listings sites doing this really well.

The first is Autotrader.com, who have hired well-known automotive columnist Doug Demuro from Jalopnik.com to produce videos and articles for their enthusiast news section. These articles and videos talk about the nerdy quirks of some of the most obscure and interesting used cars that have been listed on the site, and it’s not uncommon for videos on Doug’s YouTube channel — which mention Autotrader.com and feature cars you could buy on Autotrader.com — to get well into 7-figure viewing counts.

These are essentially adverts for Autotrader.com’s products, but I and hundreds of thousands of others watch them religiously. What’s more, the resulting videos and articles stand to rank for the types of queries that curious enthusiasts may search for, turning informational queries into buying intent, as well as building brand awareness. I actually think Autotrader.com could do even better at this with a little SEO 101 (editorial titles don’t need to be your actual title tag, guys), but it’s already a great tactic.

Another similar site doing this really well is Bringatrailer.com. Their approach is really simple — whenever they get a particularly rare or interesting car listed, they post it on Facebook.

These are super low-effort posts about used cars, but if you take a step back, Bring a Trailer are doing something outrageous. They’re posting links to their product pages on Facebook a dozen or more times a day, and getting 3-figure reaction counts. Some of the lesson here is “have great product pages,” or “exist in an enthusiast-rich vertical,” and I realize that this tactic isn’t strictly SEO. But it is doing a lot of things that we as SEOs try to do (build awareness, search volume, links…), and it’s doing so by successfully matching informational or entertainment intents with transactional pages.

When consumers engage with a brand emotionally or even socially, then you’re more likely to be top-of-mind when they’re ready to purchase — but they’re also more likely to purchase if they’re seeing and thinking about your products, services, and sector in their feed.

4. Tell people your vertical exists

I won’t cover this one in too much detail, because there’s already an excellent Whiteboard Friday on the subject. The key point, however, is that sometimes it’s not just that customers are intimidated by your product. They may never have heard of it. In these cases, you need to appear where they’re looking using demographic targeting, carefully researched editorial sections, or branded content.

What about you, though?

How do you go about drumming up demand in your vertical? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

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This Is What They Search For: The Most Popular US Industries & Traffic Shares

Posted by Alex-T

After storing this idea in mothballs for quite a while, I finally decided to conduct an analytical study that would breakdown the most popular industries in the US based on the number of monthly online visitors. Special thanks to the SimilarWeb team, who helped me with the convoluted process of assembling data on the industry traffic distribution across 1,000 top-visited US domains.

The purpose of this research isn’t just to share some general trends and observations that will leave you thinking, “Sounds interesting, but what’s next?” I’ve also included a bunch of actionable ideas based off of the data I went over myself.

For those of you wondering whether it’s worth it to read this article in its entirety, below are the key findings:

  1. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, and Amazon own 32.34% of the total US traffic market. These five online giants decide which sites we’re going to visit next and what ads we see.
  2. The top five industries in the US are Internet and Telecom, Arts and Entertainment, News and Media, Shopping, and Adult Entertainment. Altogether, these businesses control 82.55% of the US market share.
  3. In the Internet and Telecom Category, search engines and social network sites get up to 95% of the traffic share.
  4. Google, Yahoo, and Bing are the most visited search engine sites in the US However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people use Yahoo as a search engine.
  5. Wikipedia.org has over 4.7 billion monthly users, with 86% of those users coming from organic search. Wikipedia is known to be a traffic-generating site.
  6. In the Shopping category, 74% of market traffic is split between Amazon (51.24%) and eBay (22.01%).
  7. Despite the fact that gambling is legally restricted in the US, it doesn’t stop YouTube from actively promoting this industry worldwide.
  8. In the Business sector, industries like Marketing, Advertising, and E-commerce have the smallest share compared to other subcategories.
  9. The tourism industry is extremely competitive; however, it has a diverse range of small- and medium-sized players, since the top domains occupy only 17% of the total market share.

82.55% of all US online traffic is shared among five industries

Over 80% of all US online surfers are divided among five industries, while the rest of the traffic (15%) is spread across more than 15 other niches. Among the top five leaders are Internet Telecom (45.9%), Arts and Entertainment (12.35%), News and Media (9.35%), Shopping, and the Adult industry.

I expected to see the Shopping industry at the top of the list with a much higher percentage of traffic, but it may not have made it to the top three because SimilarWeb defines YouTube as part of the Arts and Entertainment industry, which drives over 36% of traffic in this category.

The Reference category is represented mostly by Wikipedia with 1.32% of all US traffic. I can see how one day Wikipedia may be acquired by either Google or Facebook, jacking up their traffic and sales. Currently, Wikipedia is still a non-profit organization, and hopefully things will stay the way they are.

Over 30% (32.34%) of all US online traffic is controlled by five websites

In most cases, these five websites control what information we consume on a daily basis. Even more important, they also determine what sites we visit next and what kinds of ads we see. Here’s a list of the top five sites with their traffic market share:

  • Google – 16.41%
  • Facebook – 6.56%
  • YouTube – 4.91%
  • Yahoo – 2.55%
  • Amazon – 1.91%

And yes, all the websites listed above offer advertising opportunities. If your site doesn’t have any visibility on Google and Facebook, you’re missing the majority of your audience because 67.4% of all US users search on Google, and Facebook gets 68% of all active web users. Without a doubt, Facebook may not be the right fit for all business types, but it is a must-have SMM channel for B2C products.

Keep reading to find out what I discovered about the top 10 categories as well as what kinds of subcategories they sprout into.

Please note that one of the categories has been left aside for the reason that is has no subcategories. Something tells me you’re well aware that Pornhub has the biggest market share in Adult Entertainment.


Internet and Telecom

According to the US Department of Commerce and the Bureau Of Economic Analysis, in 2015 the Information Industry was the largest contributor to the US economy’s 1.4 percent growth, adding close to $ 900 billion in value.

On the graph below you can see that over 41 percent of US traffic is shared between search engines and social network sites, which are getting most of the juice.

What I find really interesting is that SimilarWeb doesn’t recognize Yahoo as a search engine, and puts it in the News and Media category instead. That’s why, if you check the top search engines in the US, you won’t find Yahoo listed among them, but you’d be surprised to find Baidu.com ranking number five. That was quite a gem for me to discover even though the Chinese-speaking population in the US is remarkably high. This may be something digital marketers should pay close attention to, especially if they work for big international companies.

Another finding that really left me clueless is that the least popular Russian email agent, Mail.ru, appears to be among the top industry players — and Yahoo’s email agent still wasn’t there.

Google, Yahoo, and Bing are the most visited search engine sites in the US

Before I even started sifting through the data I gathered, I confidently assumed that I’d find Bing in second place. Turns out, the second-most visited search engine site is Yahoo.com.

So, does this mean that Yahoo is used more actively by online surfers than Bing? If you base your answer solely on the collected data, then the answer to the question is yes. But it’s not that simple.

Yes, it’s true that users visit Yahoo more frequently than they do Bing, but that’s not because they want to search for something on Yahoo. First of all, there’s a large group of people still using YahooMail (even though it’s 2017), and some people simply prefer checking for weather updates and news reports on Yahoo. With that being said, if we look at ComScore’s latest search engine popularity report, we will find that Yahoo is used as a search engine by 12.2% of all online US traffic and Microsoft is popular among 21.4%. But, realistically, Yahoo’s share of the search market is even smaller, since the majority of their search results are powered by Bing.

So if you’re considering Yahoo as a platform for promoting your product or service, check the demographics data around what kind of businesses typically advertise on Yahoo.

Speaking of demographic insights, I was struggling to find fresh ComScore reports (the last one was released more than three years ago), so I had to use Alexa.com. This isn’t the best and most accurate tool because the company gathers data from its own SEO toolbar, but it’s better than nothing.

Here’s what Alexa.com reports about Yahoo’s user demographics:

  • There are more female users than male
  • Most users are college-aged
  • Following the previously mentioned trend, the top browser location is a school or a college

In order to determine which industries are advertising on Yahoo, I used Yahoo Ad Insights’ Industries report, which includes such businesses as:

  • Automotive
  • Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG)
  • Entertainment
  • Finance
  • Retail
  • Tech and TELCO
  • Travel

And here I stumbled upon another controversial fact. Data from Alexa.com shows that the dominating age group consists of students who, in my opinion and judging from my own experience, can barely afford products that fall into industries like Finance or Retail. If you happen to have experience using Yahoo for advertising, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Bing owns 0.48% of all traffic and 30% of the search engine market in the US

If we compare Bing with Yahoo, the former gets 3.35 times less traffic than Yahoo does. But as we have just discovered, Bing gets two times more search market queries compared to Yahoo. This means that it provides a lot more advertising opportunities for businesses. Also, the majority of Yahoo searches are powered by Bing, which means that once you’re ranking well in Bing, you automatically become visible in Yahoo.

All in all, Bing can boost traffic to your business by 30% and you don’t even need to invest in a new market or launch a new product or service. There’s no doubt you’ll need to put some effort into that process, but if you currently have a steady traffic flow from Google, then you’re already receiving visitors from Bing as well. You just need to analyze what exactly is going on with your Bing traffic, and find the right ways to take advantage of it. Here’s a great read supported with a video by John Lincoln who talks about SEO for Bing.

If you’re still not sure whether you should care about traffic coming to your site from Bing, here’s a great example. Searchengineland.com receives a little over 10% of Bing.com’s one million organic traffic visitors on a monthly basis:


Arts and Entertainment

As I’ve previously mentioned, this category ranks second and owns over 12% of all US traffic, all thanks to YouTube. Also if we look at the top industry domains, we’ll find that Netflix gets 5.67% of all traffic in this category. I find it interesting that organic traffic isn’t the top referral traffic source for Netflix. Those would be direct (58.54%) and referrals (23.59%). Obviously, you can tell which of the media streaming platforms — YouTube or Netflix — Google gives its royal preference to. It kind of makes sense because all of Netflix’s content is on-demand.

The graph below demonstrates that YouTube gets three times more organic traffic than Netflix:

Digging deeper, we learn Google can’t list Netflix’s content in a video featured snippet because Netflix is only accessible with a paid subscription. In some way, Netflix is cornering itself.

The screenshot below shows that Netflix does have visibility in SERPs via the Knowledge Graph, but it’s not getting any traffic from this ranking because the Knowledge Graph doesn’t feature a link to a domain.

The Music and Audio subcategory has its own peculiar numbers. I was surprised to see Pandora as a leader, ahead with two times more traffic and leaving Spotify with only 3.68 percent.

The pie chart below gives you a breakdown of the traffic distribution for other subcategories:

YouTube sends the majority of its traffic to Gambling sites (despite being legally restricted in the US)

SimilarWeb shows that somewhere around 5% of all YouTube ad traffic is sent to Bet365.com, one of the largest gambling websites. Using SEMrush, I also checked the list of sites that get the most visitors from YouTube, and I found out that among the top three sites there’s another gambling site: Freelotto.com:

It’s safe to say that if you have a business in the entertainment industry, you should definitely consider YouTube as one of your traffic sources.


News and Media

Findings from the data collected confirm that people still read newspapers online and check them for weather updates instead of checking their phone apps.

My husband reads the news on his laptop during breakfast. Yet it still drives him nuts when I ask him to check for weather updates for me, despite my having all kinds of gadgets. Oh, well — guess old habits die hard. But it looks like I’m not alone in this world, because the majority of users have the same habit:

In case you’ve been wondering what the “Other” category stands for in this graph, here’s what it means. Currently, SimilarWeb hasn’t come up with a way to categorize those websites — that’s why it has the highest percentage. But among the most popular sites I found two prominent newspapers: Dailymail.co.uk and Theguardian.com.

Take a look at the screenshot above. Both The New York Times and Washington Post are among the top 5 sites in Newspaper subcategory.

The screenshot below demonstrates top 5 countries that bring traffic to Dailymail.co.uk. As you can see, there’s more traffic coming from the US than from anywhere else in the world:

It’s something to keep in mind if you’re searching for the most popular US newspapers online.


Shopping

Online shopping is an integral part of the e-commerce industry, which is, in fact, one of the fastest-growing markets in the US. In the past few years, the e-commerce share of the overall US retail market has grown from 6.6% in 2014 to 8.5% in Q1 2017. However, even though most retail purchases are made online, there’s a big group of people who are inspired to purchase a product offline after visiting a website. Statista reports that the number of web-influenced offline retail sales is 20% higher than non-web influenced sales. This means that for physical stores that don’t have an online representation, establishing their web presence is a must because the conversion process in most cases starts online.

There’s a 74% chance it will either be Amazon or eBay

The subcategory of Shopping called “General Merchandise” accounts for over 60% of web traffic, and is owned by Amazon (51.24%) and eBay (22.01%). The rest of the subcategories can be found in the pie chart below:

When shopping for goods in the Home and Garden category, North American users most likely check Homedepot.com, which gets 20.29% of all traffic in this subcategory, or Lowes.com, which is a go-to place for 10.55% of all users. Interesting fact: the traffic source that drives the most visitors to both sites is organic search results, which brings over 40% of monthly visitors.


Computer and Electronics

The data confirms that Microsoft has more monthly online visitors than Apple. Microsoft’s traffic share is a little over 15%, with Apple being left behind with only 3.28%. However, this doesn’t affect Apple’s sales at all, and it serves as proof of the fact that investing in your brand authority and focusing more on the quality of your product will make you stand out.

Based on R&P Research, Apple net profits surpassed those of Microsoft in 2011. Apple made $ 25.9 billion in net profits in 2011, and Microsoft saw $ 23.2 billion. From then on, Apple has outplayed Microsoft in acquired net profits:

If you’d like to dive deeper and learn more about how traffic is distributed across Shopping subcategories, then take a look at the graph below:


Reference category

I’m sure it’s not news to you if I tell you that Wikipedia’s traffic share in the Reference category is 44.55%. When it comes to subcategories, directories such as Yelp, Yellowpages, and Whitepages get over 85% of Internet traffic. It’s funny how I, as a teenager growing up in Russia, used to flip through the Yellow Pages — one of the most popular print directories for finding various companies. Any time I needed to find a store, I’d open up this book and navigate my finger through finely printed lines of text.

Now, you can only find hard copies of the Yellow Pages gathering dust somewhere in a small-town office.

The pie chart below gives a more detailed overview of how traffic is distributed across all the subcategories:

Wikipedia can bring you relevant users from search

Wikipedia.org has over 4.7 billion monthly visitors, and 86 percent of those visitors come from organic search. You should definitely see Wikipedia not only as an authoritative source with high-quality links, but also as a traffic generation channel.

For instance, according to SEMrush’s Traffic Analytics tool, SEJ receives more than 300 visitors from Wikipedia on a monthly basis:

Wikipedia is the best option for well-established businesses that really want to increase their online traffic, but suffer from an obnoxiously high level of competition in Google. To make this happen, your business has to have enough authority on the web; otherwise it will take forever. Prior to suggesting that experts link to your content, you have to make sure your brand is recognized. The type of content you want to end up under the “References” section on Wikipedia should be of the exact same quality as everything you read on that website.

Pay attention to the visibility of Wikipedia’s pages in SERPs for a keyword you’re targeting

To check that, go to SEMrush and check the domain for keywords:

You can also type in the following query to Google:

site:wikipedia.org your keyword + “dead link”

This will show you all articles on the web with dead links. If you’re looking to learn more about how Wikipedia can help you with your SEO efforts, here’s a post that I’ve recently come across that has tons of actionable advice.


Business industry

In this category, the largest proportion of traffic is divided between Zillow.com (3.65%), USPS.com (2.50%), and UPS.com (1.69%).

Marketing, Advertising, and E-commerce have the smallest share compared to other subcategories:

Moving further, while looking at the leading sites in Marketing and Advertising, I found that advertising networks are getting the highest number of visitors. Among those sites are Dotomi.com (2.45%), Traffichaus (2.60%), and Innovid (2.63%). In addition, VigLink recently published a study in which they confirm that the demand for ad network is constantly growing, and advertisers are looking to connect with publishers and take advantage of affiliate marketing traffic.


Career and Education

In this niche, Indeed.com and Instructure.com attract the majority of visitors. The latter is an Ed Tech company which develops educational software; the majority of its traffic comes from referrals (61.7%).

The Universities and Colleges subcategory, along with listing Ivy League universities, mentions Purdue University, which, for some reason, happens to rank only 92 in the QS World University Rankings for 2016–2017, but is number 13 in terms of traffic.

We wanted to see which channel brings the most traffic to the world famous universities (ranked by the QS World Universities) compared to Purdue University, and find out the reasons for success in getting online traffic for both Purdue and other world-renowned universities.

All the universities in the screenshot above rank the highest, even though Purdue University is only number 13 when it comes to online traffic. Yet the screenshot clarifies a lot; Purdue University receives much of its traffic from organic search, which contributes greatly to its online visibility.

The is the first industry in which I’ve noticed traffic being distributed equally among all subcategories:


Travel

The travel business is extremely competitive; however, it is made up of a large diversity of small- and medium-sized players, because the top industry domains only have a little over 17% of the total market share. However, a subcategory such as Airlines and Airports has a few major players that get the majority of visitors 45% of the traffic (in the travel industry), shared among the following businesses:

  • Southwest.com – 14.74%
  • American Airlines – 10.68%
  • Delta – 10.78%
  • United Airlines – 9.12%
  • JetBlue – 4.5%

If you look at the graph below, which shows the traffic distribution for the different subcategories, you’ll see that, in general, traffic within the Hotel and Accommodation sector is higher than for airline- and airport-dedicated websites.

The reason for this might be because one of the most common means of traveling in the US is by car.

Speaking of general marketing trends in the travel industry, one of the top sources that brings traffic to that niche is affiliate marketing. For instance, Kayak.com is one of the biggest affiliates of Southwest.com, bringing over 15,000 visitors on a monthly basis:

If you’re interested in learning more about the current state of affiliate marketing in the travel industry, we’ve recently conducted a comprehensive study. We analyzed the top affiliate programs and sites using the SEMrush Traffic Analytics report. We also asked 50 well-known affiliate marketing experts about general affiliate marketing trends and incorporated their answers into our research.


Final thoughts

As always, it flatters me that you’ve taken the time to familiarize yourself with results of my hard work, and I hope that you now have a good understanding of the current state of traffic distribution across the most popular US industries. Before I began my research, I thought that a good portion of all Internet traffic was controlled by Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc. But it turned out that the top five most visited sites only get a little over 30% of all US traffic. On the other hand, findings from this data prove once again that establishing your business on Facebook, YouTube, and Google is essential to its long-term success.

As for the industry traffic distribution across top-visited domains, what springs to mind is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Categories like Adult Entertainment, Internet and Telecom, Shopping, and News and Media mostly serve our basic psychological needs. And moving down the list of industries, you’ll find that Business and Industry, Reference, Career and Education, and Travel get less searches because, apparently, not that many people nowadays have time to take care of their self-actualization needs.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about my research as well as any ideas on what I could have covered but didn’t. Let me know if you were able to put any of the aforementioned conclusions into practice.

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