Posts By: Curator
How Do I Rank Higher in Google Local Search? Our Checklist for Local SEO was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.
The good news: Showing up in Google’s search engine can be extremely beneficial to your local business.
The bad news: Google doesn’t care if you rank high or low. It cares only that there are quality results that answer the query to the total satisfaction of the searcher.
So the pressing question is, how do you rank higher on Google Maps and Google local search results? Improving your local search rankings is possible, and the results are very real. A Google study found that:
- 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information.
- 50 percent of local smartphone searches lead to a store visit in less than a day.
- 18 percent of local searches on a smartphone result in a sale within a day.
If you’re asking, “How does Google local search work, and how can I rank higher in local search?” then this local SEO checklist is for you!
I first presented these 41 factors that contribute to local search ranking at Pubcon earlier this month (see my slide deck at the end). Here, I list them executive summary style, to help you understand how you can increase your local search rankings.
Disclaimers: Each of these topics could be an article in itself, but I’ve tried to give brief explanations and links for further reading, in keeping with a list format. This is not an exhaustive list of local ranking factors. It’s not in priority order either, but grouped into general categories which you can jump to as follows:
- Housekeeping signals
- Keywords and content signals
- On-page signals
- Linking signals
- Local Pack signals
- Social signals
- Success signals
Being a respected business in your community will increase your local search visibility. Google pays a lot of attention to a brand’s perceived trust and expertise. Even if you’re just starting out, aim for happy customers and consistent quality to attract traffic and mentions.
2. Domain name
Your website’s name should accurately represent your business or brand. It’ll be in every URL, so make it something appropriate and easily remembered. Don’t use a keyword phrase alone (e.g., www.FloristLosAngeles.com) to avoid an exact match domain (EMD) penalty. On the other hand, including a keyword as part of your domain (e.g., www.FirstStreetDental.com) can help you as a local business if it’s tied into your brand name. Search algorithms are getting better and better at weeding out low-quality results, so make sure your domain doesn’t look like spam.
When it comes to web hosting, think about speed, availability, and maintained software. Choose a host that ensures your content is served up quickly, since page load speed is now a factor in Google’s algorithm. Beyond the hosting platform, there are many ways to speed up your web pages. Using Accelerated Mobile Pages and/or Progressive Web Apps may be worth considering, as well.
4. Content management system (CMS)
Above all else, your CMS should be easy to use. Here, WordPress is king, consistently the top CMS used on the web. Consider how you can improve your system’s functionality with plugins — WordPress.org lists 1,864 plugins for “local” alone. And, don’t forget about a WordPress SEO plugin, too.
We’re in a mobile-first world, with the majority of searches happening on smartphones and Google evaluating sites based on their mobile friendliness. Check your site to make sure it’s mobile friendly and optimized for mobile devices — otherwise, your rankings and visitor counts will suffer. Voice search is the next big area of compatibility.
Use your business’s domain in your email address (@bruceclay.com) rather than @gmail or another generic provider. It’s a small point, but worth putting on the housekeeping checklist to increase your professionalism and perceived trustworthiness.
Keywords and Content Signals
7. Keyword and content gap analysis
Identify the keywords working for you in terms of hitting key performance indicators and bringing in revenue. Use keyword research to find additional phrases that can serve your personas/community, and examine your competition online for their keywords. Wherever you find a gap in your own content compared to the top-ranking sites, expand accordingly.
8. Detailed competitive review
To get a more in-depth look at your competition, you’ll need to perform a detailed review. Examine their performance in every area in this checklist, then outdo them. The goal is to be the least imperfect with your local SEO.
9. Content creation
Content that informs, educates or entertains readers improves your engagement. We recommend siloing your web content based on the themes your business is about. Set up your navigation and internal links carefully to create a hierarchical structure for the content on your site. Doing so will strengthen your site’s relevance and expertise around those topics.
10. Content variety
Many different types of content can be “localized” to pertain specifically to your community. The list includes images, news, events, blog posts, videos, ads, tools and more. Having a variety of types of content indexed also gives your site more opportunity to rank, since they can appear in the vertical search engines (e.g., Google Images, YouTube, etc.).
11. Content creation strategies
To establish yourself as a local authority, tell local stories and express your opinion about the topics your business and your customers are focused on. Excellent content can become a strategy for attracting search traffic and also local expert links.
12. Local videos
When you create videos that are appropriate to your website and region, you’ll soon discover that people will share them more on a local level. Build landing pages for your videos on your site to attract links and mentions. You can do this by uploading a video to your YouTube channel first, then embedding it on your page (copy the HTML right from YouTube’s Share tab into your page’s code).
13. Long-tail rankings
Use locally relevant content to rank higher in searches around the Local Pack. Examples would include posts like “The 5 Best Restaurants in Las Vegas,” which could answer long-tail queries such as, “What are the best restaurants in Las Vegas.”
14. Local relevance
Having content that’s locally focused can improve your reputation and reach in your area. This requires more than doing a find-and-replace on the city name to create hundreds of basically duplicate pages. You can start with templates, but make sure you’re including enough customized text, images and data to be locally relevant.
15. Landing pages
For the best local results, create optimal landing pages. For example, if your brand serves a wide region, you might have a different landing page for each city in that region, like “dog grooming Simi Valley” and “dog grooming Thousand Oaks.”
16. Schema NAP+W
Schema markup is code you can add to your website to help search engines understand your various types of information. According to Searchmetrics, pages with schema markup rank an average of four positions higher in search results.
Local businesses need schema in particular to call out their name, address, phone and website URL, also known as NAP+W, as well as hours of operation and much more. As an example, here’s what schema for our NAP+W would look like in the page code:
Google is planning to expand its use of schema, so be sure to take advantage of all the structured data that applies to your content. Check out Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to confirm you’re implementing schema correctly.
17. Information in the Local Pack
Search engines want to make sure local business information is valid before presenting it in the “Local Pack” (the handful of local listings Google displays at the top of a web search results page, with addresses and a map). A business’s proximity to the searcher heavily influences whether it shows up in Local Pack results, so your location matters.
Keep your NAP+W data consistent across all sources. This is a local SEO priority, as it improves the search engines’ confidence in your business listing’s accuracy.
Be sure to include your business address on your own website. You can do this in the footer so it appears on every page, or at least show it on your contact page.
18. Google Map embedded
By adding a Google map to your contact page or footer, you can quickly show searchers and search engines exactly where you’re located. Using an embedded map rather than a static map image provides extra functionality and reduces friction — a human visitor can just click the map and grab directions. On our site, the embedded map shows in the footer when a user clicks [Location & Hour Information]:
To boost your brand’s credibility, you’ll need to get some local reviews or testimonials. Earn them (here’s a list of SEO-approved ways to get local reviews) and then add them, localized and with the author identified whenever possible. Testimonials, especially on a local level, can have a big impact. Seventy-three percent of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.
20. Hawk update
Google has long had proximity filters in place that prevent multiple listings from the same business monopolizing local search results. However, in the August 2017 Hawk update Google tightened its proximity filtering for organic ranking. The filtering radius for a same category business has been reduced from 500 feet to 200 feet. Same category businesses at the same address, however, are still filtered. The more exact restrictions may benefit businesses that previously had a higher ranked competitor just down the street, as both businesses may now be able to show up in local results. (Edited, h/t Mike Blumenthal)
21. Technical on-page SEO
On-page elements are critical to get right for organic SEO on any web page. In addition to the standard optimization items (see our always-up-to-date SEO checklist for a list), a locally targeted page should have:
- City in the title tag
- Schema markup (as appropriate to the page contents)
- Do not stuff keywords
- Do not simply find-and-replace city names
- Appropriate reading level and complexity (compare top-ranking pages to find your sweet spot)
22. Local keyword optimization
Be sure to mention local keywords on your web pages (such as the name of your city, state or region and other geographical/local references) to help solidify Google’s understanding of your location and help you rank for local keyword queries.
23. Local link building
You cannot rank in a city without having local links. When relevant, quality websites within your city link back to you, it shows you’re a trusted local brand. Only links coming from unique IPs, unique domains and unique WhoIs for your geographic area will help you rank, so don’t fall for link schemes. The anchor text (clickable text) used in the links also send a signal to search engines. (See more link building guidelines.)
24. Local directories
To make it easier for searchers to find you, you’ll want to be included in geotargeted directories for services, such as Yellow Pages online, a local restaurant database, or other. These citations add more weight to your site in the local search ranking algorithms. (This interview with local expert Darren Shaw gives helpful information on local listings, including a directory list.)
25. Social and web mentions
Are people talking about your brand online? Even if they don’t include a link, brand mentions on social media platforms show engagement and interest in your business. These linkless mentions (and also “nofollow” links) help your business by attracting new customers and reinforcing your brand’s reputation, which can even influence local search rankings. Use a tool like GeoRanker to identify local citations and social media tools to keep tabs on the conversation.
26. External links
Boost your credibility by linking to local expert resources that would be useful to your site visitors. Choose external web pages that are relevant to your subject matter and region. Remember that in order to be viewed as a local expert, you should visibly network with other local experts.
27. Competitor backlinks
If someone is linking to your competition, they might link to you as well. Start by looking at the backlink profile of your top-ranked competitors (using a backlink analysis tool such as Majestic, Ahrefs or other). Identify good candidates — high-quality and relevant sites that don’t already link to yours. Then see if you can earn links from those same sites.
Local Pack Signals
28. NAP+W consistency
As mentioned earlier, NAP+W refers to your business name, address, phone number and website URL. The goal here is for your NAP+W to be consistent across the board — wherever it’s listed online. For local optimization, you don’t want to have various versions of your address and phone number out there, such as:
To see if your NAP+W is consistent, try Yext’s free test.
29. Google My Business (GMB) optimization
Having a Google My Business listing is critical for businesses with service areas and physical businesses. It’s a free business listing to start building your visibility in Google Maps and Google Search.
In addition to ensuring NAP+W information is accurate, here are some optimization tips for your Google listing:
- Add a unique description about your business. Make it long (400+ words), formatted correctly, and include links to your website.
- Add your open business hours.
- Select the best categories for your business (use Blumenthal’s Google Places for Business Category Tool).
- Include a high-resolution profile cover image, plus as many additional photos as possible.
- Use a local phone number (not a toll-free number).
- Encourage reviews from your customers.
- Use Google Posts to enhance your brand’s Knowledge Panel with upcoming events or special news. Your post displays only temporarily (usually for seven days), but will remain visible to anyone looking up your brand using Google mobile search, so make each post unique.
Secondly, create and optimize your business listing on Bing Places for Business.
30. Check your site on Google Maps
Your Google My Business listing and schema also help get your business to show up in Google Maps. Since navigation systems and customers may refer to Google Maps to find you, make sure the pin marks the correct location for your business. Here’s how to add or edit your site in Google Maps.
31. Local business listings
Increase your visibility by including your business on sites such as Yelp, Thomson Local, Angie’s List, Yellow Pages, TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon, OpenTable, Merchant Circle and Foursquare, as well as local travel and news sites — choose the sites that fit your type of business and customer base.
32. Better Business Bureau (BBB)
Boost your credibility by ensuring that your business is listed with the BBB. Monitor your ratings there and display your BBB rating on your website as a trust signal for visitors. As with all local directories, make sure your location information on BBB matches your NAP+W.
33. Citation building and reviews
Reviews will usually reflect absolute happiness or absolute misery. So it’s important to monitor the quantity and sentiment of your online reviews so you can actively manage your reputation.
- Review sites to monitor include: Facebook, Google, Yelp, Bing, local chamber websites and more.
- Sites where citations and mentions may occur include: Reddit, Quora, news media sites like WSJ, etc.
- Consider adding a page to your website with instructions on how to provide reviews and feedback.
34. Location pages
It’s recommended that you have one or more pages on your site dedicated to each location your business is in. Dedicate a page to each keyword, for example, “real estate agent, Simi Valley” (services, then city). Design this to be a good landing page for anyone searching within that area, and make the content unique. Avoid laundry lists or simply doing a wild card replace for the city name. Search engines can spot that type of duplicate content a mile away. (See our tips for dealing with thin content on your site.)
35. Press releases
Press releases can be a great way to let locals know that you exist, especially if you have breaking news. Opening a new location? Hosting a charity event? Be sure to publicize it, and include the local geo references (city name, etc.) in your text. A press release published through an online PR site might catch the eye of a reporter who will publish a news article about your business in a local publication.
36. Social profiles
Being active in social media and sharing your content (think content marketing) contribute to keeping your business top-of-mind. On social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google+ and Pinterest, your profile pages matter — make them consistent with your brand voice and informative. Be sure to include your contact information. Engagement with your brand is a social signal, such as when something you’ve posted is shared or liked. It’s also a way to engage with current and potential customers.
37. Touch your followers
Help customers stay in the know. Social media can be an efficient way to spread news, local deals, alerts and updates to your customer base as well as get the word out to others. Interact with them one-on-one, and you may develop a brand advocate for life.
38. Become the local expert
Make yourself known as a trustworthy business by building local expertise and authority in your space. For example, you could teach a class or speak at a local event. Brainstorm presentations that bring value to an audience while showcasing your expert knowledge related to your business.
39. Local discounts
Attract local customers by offering discounts for locals. For example, you could offer members of a local organization $x or x% off your products or services, accept AAA discounts, or other.
Success Signals for Local SEO
40. Online and offline conversion tracking/analytics
Stay on top of your conversions — actual results and dollars earned from your website — through analytics. (If you haven’t yet, set up Google Analytics for free.) Pay particular attention to rising or falling click-through rates and bounce rates, which will show you how many searchers clicked through to your site and whether they liked what they found.
Enable mobile users to simply click to call your phone number wherever it appears, and track those interactions. Appointments and sales made online may also be important metrics for success. Remember, not counting progress is a failure.
41. Monitor rankings
Be aware of your rankings in regular organic results and in the Local Pack. I suggest you choose at least five specific local keyword phrases to focus on at a time, but test more for rankings. Regularly check to see whether your business shows up on the first page of search results; compare your results to that of your competition. You can do this through manual viewing of “[keyword] near me”-type searches, if you’re in the local area. You can also use a tool like AuthorityLabs to track local rankings.
While there’s a lot of work that goes into boosting your local search rankings, it will be well worth your time and effort as a local business. It may even mean your survival. The points on this local SEO checklist give you lots of ways to attract more customers with your online strategy.
I want to hear from you. Would you add anything to this list? Share your local checklist to-dos in the comments below. Then share this article with a friend.
Source: Bruce Clay
After years of working for car dealerships and auto repair shops, David Rowe decided to open his own repair shop in Kingston, New York.
Kingston Collision was opened by David and his wife Lisa in the spring of 2003, and for the past 13 years, the shop has prided itself on providing unparalleled customer service to the Kingston community.
Between the two of them, they have over 35 years of experience in automotive repair and insurance claims.
Learn more about David, his shop, and his partnership with Main Street Hub:
Why did you open your repair shop in Kingston?
“I’ve lived here all my life. I’m a 4th generation resident. I have good contacts and know everyone in the area. It’s a very nice community. It’s not that small, and it’s not that big. Word-of-mouth business travels very fast — it’s been a very successful part of our business here.”
What’s your favorite thing about owning an auto repair shop?
“Helping people get back on the road with their life. We deal with some pretty horrendous collisions. We handle everything here, so people can go about healing themselves and getting their families back together.”
Why did you decide to partner with Main Street Hub?
“I don’t have time to do what you guys do. There are so many restraints and responsibilities with running a small business. I don’t have time. You do it very well.”
Has there been a moment in the partnership that stands out to you as your favorite?
“That photo shoot was great. It was something we never expected.”
How has Main Street Hub helped you accomplish your goals?
“That’s really hard to pick anything out. Just because you do what you do, that’s helped me. My wife watches all the postings you guys put up — it puts us out in front of our community, and there’s no way I would be able to do that.
“It’s amazing what Main Street Hub does, and it’s nice to have somebody that does what they say they’re going to do.”
“It’s helped in our area — we’re number one on Yelp, and that adds to it.”
Learn more about our customers and love for local here, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram so you don’t miss a thing!
Source: Main Street Hub
We are seeking a full time experienced web developer/graphic designer to join Vendasta’s Website Creation team.
Our dream candidate has basic front-end coding knowledge as well as can execute stellar website designs. If this sounds like a piece of cake, we want to hear from you.
- Develop websites with the WordPress platform quickly, following company standards and protocols.
- Plan site design by clarifying goals; designing functionality.
- Develop site content and graphics by coordinating with other teams.
- Design images, icons, banners, audio enhancements, etc.
- Update existing websites in both HTML and WordPress.
- Develop design standards and processes for junior web developers.
- Setup and maintain e-commerce websites.
- Optimize websites for SEO, performance and analytics.
- Work directly with clients to gather content for websites.
- Devise process improvements to increase the speed and efficiency in building sites.
Skills and Qualifications:
- Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or equivalent experience
- Proficiency with WordPress
- Graphic design skills with a strong portfolio
- Familiarity with basic SEO and performance best practices
- Experience with Adobe creative suite (Photoshop, InDesign)
- An eye for typography, composition and color with pixel-level attention to detail
- Experience with Google Analytics
- A solid understanding of web design and usability as well as current web standards
Please be prepared to show us a portfolio of your snazziest accomplishments (WordPress, HTML, CSS, Php, Photoshop etc..).
Vendasta is a software company that believes in local, and is driving local economies. Located downtown Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, we build a online platform that helps B2B companies sell digital solutions to local businesses. Through our partners around the world, we’re helping more than 650,000 local businesses thrive and succeed—and we love what we do.
This role involves strengthening our presence through digital PR tactics and helping us find a voice that will resonate with agencies and other resellers. Our competitors are industry heavyweights, and we need someone with a proven track record of creating buzz and earned media placements to generate significant demand.
Serving as an integral member of our leadership team, the Director of PR will be responsible for creating a first-class communications plan for Vendasta in order to promote and strengthen our organization’s messaging. He or she will be responsible for a broad range of activities related to the direction and positioning of the company and its products. The goal is to advance Vendasta’s position as the #1 platform for selling digital solutions to local businesses by accelerating lead generation, industry awareness, and success for the 600,000+ local businesses on the Vendasta platform.
Your responsibilities will include:
- Creating and executing an innovative PR strategy, thus helping our content reach a wider audience. This needs to be accomplished in a measurable manner.
- Managing the development and distribution of press releases that accurately reflect Vendasta’s key messages and drive towards achieving high-level goals.
- Leading the charge on all things VendastaCon. You will work with a group of program leads for various aspects to produce a successful conference, including building out the strategy for following years.
- Working with sales and marketing leadership in alignment with Vendasta’s top-level goals to create and manage the annual conference plan.
- Manage all aspects of individual conference planning, coordination, and booking, including:
- Communication and collaboration with sales, marketing, and product marketing teams
- Manage and track spending within the allocated budget
- Reconcile budget post-conference
- Report on success measures post-conference
- Pitch speaking opportunities that position Vendasta as a thought leader
- Align content strategy with conferences, including brochures, inserts, giveaways, etc.
- Foster new and existing relationships with member organizations, media, analysts, etc., to secure desirable affiliate events and publishing opportunities.
- Seek out existing and new awards opportunities that will continue to elevate Vendasta’s brand.
- Work to build out Ideas on Tap as an effective thought-leadership forum within the industry.
Vendasta is a software company that believes in local, and is driving local economies. Located downtown Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, we build a online platform that helps B2B companies sell digital solutions to local businesses. Through our partners around the world, we’re helping more than 650,000 local businesses thrive and succeed—and we love what we do.
Posted by tombennet
When it comes to direct traffic in Analytics, there are two deeply entrenched misconceptions.
The first is that it’s caused almost exclusively by users typing an address into their browser (or clicking on a bookmark). The second is that it’s a Bad Thing, not because it has any overt negative impact on your site’s performance, but rather because it’s somehow immune to further analysis. The prevailing attitude amongst digital marketers is that direct traffic is an unavoidable inconvenience; as a result, discussion of direct is typically limited to ways of attributing it to other channels, or side-stepping the issues associated with it.
In this article, we’ll be taking a fresh look at direct traffic in modern Google Analytics. As well as exploring the myriad ways in which referrer data can be lost, we’ll look at some tools and tactics you can start using immediately to reduce levels of direct traffic in your reports. Finally, we’ll discover how advanced analysis and segmentation can unlock the mysteries of direct traffic and shed light on what might actually be your most valuable users.
What is direct traffic?
In short, Google Analytics will report a traffic source of “direct” when it has no data on how the session arrived at your website, or when the referring source has been configured to be ignored. You can think of direct as GA’s fall-back option for when its processing logic has failed to attribute a session to a particular source.
To properly understand the causes and fixes for direct traffic, it’s important to understand exactly how GA processes traffic sources. The following flow-chart illustrates how sessions are bucketed — note that direct sits right at the end as a final “catch-all” group.
Broadly speaking, and disregarding user-configured overrides, GA’s processing follows this sequence of checks:
AdWords parameters > Campaign overrides > UTM campaign parameters > Referred by a search engine > Referred by another website > Previous campaign within timeout period > Direct
Note the penultimate processing step (previous campaign within timeout), which has a significant impact on the direct channel. Consider a user who discovers your site via organic search, then returns via direct a week later. Both sessions would be attributed to organic search. In fact, campaign data persists for up to six months by default. The key point here is that Google Analytics is already trying to minimize the impact of direct traffic for you.
What causes direct traffic?
Contrary to popular belief, there are actually many reasons why a session might be missing campaign and traffic source data. Here we will run through some of the most common.
1. Manual address entry and bookmarks
The classic direct-traffic scenario, this one is largely unavoidable. If a user types a URL into their browser’s address bar or clicks on a browser bookmark, that session will appear as direct traffic.
Simple as that.
2. HTTPS > HTTP
When a user follows a link on a secure (HTTPS) page to a non-secure (HTTP) page, no referrer data is passed, meaning the session appears as direct traffic instead of as a referral. Note that this is intended behavior. It’s part of how the secure protocol was designed, and it does not affect other scenarios: HTTP to HTTP, HTTPS to HTTPS, and even HTTP to HTTPS all pass referrer data.
So, if your referral traffic has tanked but direct has spiked, it could be that one of your major referrers has migrated to HTTPS. The inverse is also true: If you’ve migrated to HTTPS and are linking to HTTP websites, the traffic you’re driving to them will appear in their Analytics as direct.
If your referrers have moved to HTTPS and you’re stuck on HTTP, you really ought to consider migrating to HTTPS. Doing so (and updating your backlinks to point to HTTPS URLs) will bring back any referrer data which is being stripped from cross-protocol traffic. SSL certificates can now be obtained for free thanks to automated authorities like LetsEncrypt, but that’s not to say you should neglect to explore the potentially-significant SEO implications of site migrations. Remember, HTTPS and HTTP/2 are the future of the web.
If, on the other hand, you’ve already migrated to HTTPS and are concerned about your users appearing to partner websites as direct traffic, you can implement the meta referrer tag. Cyrus Shepard has written about this on Moz before, so I won’t delve into it now. Suffice to say, it’s a way of telling browsers to pass some referrer data to non-secure sites, and can be implemented as a <meta> element or HTTP header.
3. Missing or broken tracking code
Let’s say you’ve launched a new landing page template and forgotten to include the GA tracking code. Or, to use a scenario I’m encountering more and more frequently, imagine your GTM container is a horrible mess of poorly configured triggers, and your tracking code is simply failing to fire.
Users land on this page without tracking code. They click on a link to a deeper page which does have tracking code. From GA’s perspective, the first hit of the session is the second page visited, meaning that the referrer appears as your own website (i.e. a self-referral). If your domain is on the referral exclusion list (as per default configuration), the session is bucketed as direct. This will happen even if the first URL is tagged with UTM campaign parameters.
As a short-term fix, you can try to repair the damage by simply adding the missing tracking code. To prevent it happening again, carry out a thorough Analytics audit, move to a GTM-based tracking implementation, and promote a culture of data-driven marketing.
4. Improper redirection
Once again, control what you can: use carefully mapped (i.e. non-chained) code 301 server-side redirects to preserve referrer data wherever possible.
5. Non-web documents
Links in Microsoft Word documents, slide decks, or PDFs do not pass referrer information. By default, users who click these links will appear in your reports as direct traffic. Clicks from native mobile apps (particularly those with embedded “in-app” browsers) are similarly prone to stripping out referrer data.
To a degree, this is unavoidable. Much like so-called “dark social” visits (discussed in detail below), non-web links will inevitably result in some quantity of direct traffic. However, you also have an opportunity here to control the controllables.
If you publish whitepapers or offer downloadable PDF guides, for example, you should be tagging the embedded hyperlinks with UTM campaign parameters. You’d never even contemplate launching an email marketing campaign without campaign tracking (I hope), so why would you distribute any other kind of freebie without similarly tracking its success? In some ways this is even more important, since these kinds of downloadables often have a longevity not seen in a single email campaign. Here’s an example of a properly tagged URL which we would embed as a link:
The same goes for URLs in your offline marketing materials. For major campaigns it’s common practice to select a short, memorable URL (e.g. moz.com/tv/) and design an entirely new landing page. It’s possible to bypass page creation altogether: simply redirect the vanity URL to an existing page URL which is properly tagged with UTM parameters.
So, whether you tag your URLs directly, use redirected vanity URLs, or — if you think UTM parameters are ugly — opt for some crazy-ass hash-fragment solution with GTM (read more here), the takeaway is the same: use campaign parameters wherever it’s appropriate to do so.
6. “Dark social”
This is a big one, and probably the least well understood by marketers.
The term “dark social” was first coined back in 2012 by Alexis Madrigal in an article for The Atlantic. Essentially it refers to methods of social sharing which cannot easily be attributed to a particular source, like email, instant messaging, Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.
Recent studies have found that upwards of 80% of consumers’ outbound sharing from publishers’ and marketers’ websites now occurs via these private channels. In terms of numbers of active users, messaging apps are outpacing social networking apps. All the activity driven by these thriving platforms is typically bucketed as direct traffic by web analytics software.
People who use the ambiguous phrase “social media marketing” are typically referring to advertising: you broadcast your message and hope people will listen. Even if you overcome consumer indifference with a well-targeted campaign, any subsequent interactions are affected by their very public nature. The privacy of dark social, by contrast, represents a potential goldmine of intimate, targeted, and relevant interactions with high conversion potential. Nebulous and difficult-to-track though it may be, dark social has the potential to let marketers tap into elusive power of word of mouth.
So, how can we minimize the amount of dark social traffic which is bucketed under direct? The unfortunate truth is that there is no magic bullet: proper attribution of dark social requires rigorous campaign tracking. The optimal approach will vary greatly based on your industry, audience, proposition, and so on. For many websites, however, a good first step is to provide convenient and properly configured sharing buttons for private platforms like email, WhatsApp, and Slack, thereby ensuring that users share URLs appended with UTM parameters (or vanity/shortened URLs which redirect to the same). This will go some way towards shining a light on part of your dark social traffic.
Checklist: Minimizing direct traffic
To summarize what we’ve already discussed, here are the steps you can take to minimize the level of unnecessary direct traffic in your reports:
- Migrate to HTTPS: Not only is the secure protocol your gateway to HTTP/2 and the future of the web, it will also have an enormously positive effect on your ability to track referral traffic.
- Manage your use of redirects: Avoid chains and eliminate client-side redirection in favour of carefully-mapped, single-hop, server-side 301s. If you use vanity URLs to redirect to pages with UTM parameters, be meticulous.
- Get really good at campaign tagging: Even amongst data-driven marketers I encounter the belief that UTM begins and ends with switching on automatic tagging in your email marketing software. Others go to the other extreme, doing silly things like tagging internal links. Control what you can, and your ability to carry out meaningful attribution will markedly improve.
- Conduct an Analytics audit: Data integrity is vital, so consider this essential when assessing the success of your marketing. It’s not simply a case of checking for missing track code: good audits involve a review of your measurement plan and rigorous testing at page and property-level.
Adhere to these principles, and it’s often possible to achieve a dramatic reduction in the level of direct traffic reported in Analytics. The following example involved an HTTPS migration, GTM migration (as part of an Analytics review), and an overhaul of internal campaign tracking processes over the course of about 6 months:
But the saga of direct traffic doesn’t end there! Once this channel is “clean” — that is, once you’ve minimized the number of avoidable pollutants — what remains might actually be one of your most valuable traffic segments.
Analyze! Or: why direct traffic can actually be pretty cool
For reasons we’ve already discussed, traffic from bookmarks and dark social is an enormously valuable segment to analyze. These are likely to be some of your most loyal and engaged users, and it’s not uncommon to see a notably higher conversion rate for a clean direct channel compared to the site average. You should make the effort to get to know them.
The number of potential avenues to explore is infinite, but here are some good starting points:
- Build meaningful custom segments, defining a subset of your direct traffic based on their landing page, location, device, repeat visit or purchase behavior, or even enhanced e-commerce interactions.
- Track meaningful engagement metrics using modern GTM triggers such as element visibility and native scroll tracking. Measure how your direct users are using and viewing your content.
- Watch for correlations with your other marketing activities, and use it as an opportunity to refine your tagging practices and segment definitions. Create a custom alert which watches for spikes in direct traffic.
- Familiarize yourself with flow reports to get an understanding of how your direct traffic is converting. By using Goal Flow and Behavior Flow reports with segmentation, it’s often possible to glean actionable insights which can be applied to the site as a whole.
- Ask your users for help! If you’ve isolated a valuable segment of traffic which eludes deeper analysis, add a button to the page offering visitors a free downloadable ebook if they tell you how they discovered your page.
- Start thinking about lifetime value, if you haven’t already — overhauling your attribution model or implementing User ID are good steps towards overcoming the indifference or frustration felt by marketers towards direct traffic.
I hope this guide has been useful. With any luck, you arrived looking for ways to reduce the level of direct traffic in your reports, and left with some new ideas for how to better analyze this valuable segment of users.
Thanks for reading!
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