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The SEO practices that are actually worth the effort, with Moz’s Britney Muller

June 13, 2019

Written by Lucy Fuggle

When Google can do whatever it wants in search results, what’s a marketer to do? 

As Senior SEO Scientist at Moz, Britney Muller is a familiar face in the SEO space. Britney is behind many of the educational resources that Moz is creating for the SEO community, and frequently shares her perspective from the front-lines of modern SEO through conference keynotes, Moz events, and her prolific Twitter account.

Over the last three years, Britney has watched the evolution of Moz close up. “It’s been really exciting to see Moz’s internal culture really move with where the industry is going,” explains Britney. Moz’s all-in-one SEO toolset has also evolved: “We knew two years ago that our Link Index was a huge issue and we weren’t providing anything next to the competitors. We worked so tirelessly on creating the largest link index in our industry, and today’s it’s shown to work incredibly… we’re really proud of that.”

This August, we are super excited to welcome Britney to Edinburgh for the first time as a speaker on our Grow track at Turing Fest 2019. With just a few months to go, we caught up with Britney to get her thoughts on search in 2019, and what we should all be making sure we get right, even if we’re limited by time or budget.

SEO dos and don’ts with Britney Muller

DO: What to get right with your SEO strategy

Understanding who you’re doing it for. “From a marketing-level perspective, the first thing really is just understanding how people are searching for your products and services online. That’s the very first thing,” says Britney. Once you have a clear understanding of your keywords, your audience, and how people are searching for your product or service, you can strategically target your content creation around SEO opportunities.

Hyperfocus on your keyword opportunity gaps. “Look for keywords that have featured snippets (that you don’t own) but you rank on page one for,” suggests Britney. “You are more likely to steal a featured snippet for a query you already rank somewhere on page 1 for. Create high-quality content to beat out the current featured snippet.”

When we say content, it’s about much more just the words on the page. We should all be thinking about podcasts, video, and other forms of content, encourages Britney. But most of all, we should be paying attention to the intent that Google appears to be solving for.

“Evaluate what’s showing up in search results that matter to you. If it’s all images or heavily-video based and you don’t have that medium in your content, you’re going to have a really hard time ranking. Solving for that intent is huge, it’s absolutely essential.”

To become more aware of intent, Britney advises to dive into the actual SERPs for your content. This is a key area of focus for Moz right now, says Britney. “The data science team and I are working really hard on an intent API, which will let you plug in a list of your keywords and we’ll show you the intent for them.” This will give you a much clearer plan of attack for your SEO efforts, explains Britney. You’ll be able to look at Moz and say, ‘OK, these are my informational content topics’ or ‘These are the bottom of the funnel keywords that have transactional intent.’

FAQ pages can rank well in search results when done properly,” explains Britney. “We’ve seen that one question and answer from a People Also Ask box can be found on over 14 search result pages,” says Britney. “You can really start to increase your search visibility and real estate if you’re doing strategic Q&A targeting.”

Continually optimise. In terms of Moz’s own content strategy, there are certain things the company is doing to stay ahead as search continues to evolve. Lately, they have been focusing on their content that performs best – both now and several years back:

“Because Moz has such a large blog and platform for content, we have really focused on content that can be updated and refreshed because it’s still relevant today. There’s been a push for updating content and better maintaining the content we already own.”

Optimise your content creation process. “If your content creator hasn’t already read every single page 1 SERP result for the desired keyword, you’re missing the whole point,” says Britney. Here’s Britney’s recommended content creation process, starting with the important fundamentals:

  1. Evaluate what is already ranking. Understand the intent and the content in the top ten results. If you don’t have that base level of value – plus additional value – you have no way of competing in that search result.

  2. Find solid copywriters who have an SEO background, if you can.

  3. Put together your framework, depending on how your team is structured. If you have a content writer without much of an SEO background, it’s up to you to structure their assignments beforehand and detail the topics, information, media (images/video/audio) to be included.

DON’T: What to avoid getting wrong in your SEO

Britney’s biggest pet peeve? When SEOs or marketers surround themselves with so much data and analysis that they lose sight of what they should be really working on. “I think it’s good to have a bird’s eye view of things and it’s very healthy, but I wish the 40-page SEO audits could die somewhere,” says Britney.

“At the end of the day, we need succinct information… we need a succinct north star. And if you can boil that analysis down to just one page – here are our areas of opportunity, here’s where we can focus – and then go all in on a couple of things, you are way more likely to succeed than trying to do a million things.”

“As an industry, we lack focus and strategic planning… it gets lost among an update or a shiny tool,” says Britney. The basics are still so important in ranking anything that you need to take a step back and come up with a succinct short plan of attack, she advises.

SEO isn’t just marketing’s job. “I think everyone across the company should have some awareness of SEO,” says Britney. “And I think SEO should be thought of before the business even begins. Your name should be indicative of what it is you’re trying to accomplish – and hopefully you have the domain name right from the start.”

After having the basics in place from the start, it’s about co-creating a baseline of SEO awareness across your company: all the way from the engineers making changes to your website and product, to the writers and marketers, and to even the c-suite making decisions making based on trends in the industry and search.

Don’t ignore what’s going on in the SEO world. Britney recommends you have at least one person with in-depth knowledge of SEO, such as a Lead SEO position or someone in marketing who can keep up with trends and changes. “This person will know what’s going on with SEO. They will know that Google is making this shift to trying to answer questions fast, increasingly within search results,” says Britney.

“We’ve watched this transition from ‘long-form content is king, have the definitive guide of all of this,’ back to ‘succinct short summaries are everything.’“

Maximise your budget and results: the SEO work that makes the most difference

“Get back to the basics. Have a really intuitive site structure where people can easily get to the things they’re looking for. Then, optimise your title tags and meta descriptions. Even though that’s one of the most old school things, it’s so important. Just changing your title can make a huge impact on how you’re showing up in search results and how your click-through rates are doing. More often than not, people don’t even look at how their competitors are formatting these things.

It’s so important to look at your competition and maybe even more importantly, to keep an eye on any ads happening in your space. Those have been tested! They have been proven to be strong calls to action, informative… I’m always encouraging SEOs to keep an eye on their competitors and start to bake it into their own pages.”

Britney’s recommended resources

“I really like Dan Shure’s Expert on the Wire podcast. Dave Gerhardt has the Marketing Swipe File and it’s amazing. For blogs, Do You Even Blog is really great for content creators.

In terms of resources, The Beginner’s Guide to SEO, which we’ve just updated at Moz, is huge for beginners and non-beginners alike and gets everyone on the same page. Hopefully, I will have the Web Developer’s SEO Cheat Sheet updated in the next few weeks, I think that really helps with communication across teams.

Also, really just being a sponge on Twitter… Barry Schwarz does an industry re-cap I used to listen to every Friday… in case you missed anything that week, you get an update for it.

I also love Rand Fishkin’s SparkToro Trending… you can go back in time for the best stories per month and see if you’ve missed anything. Another resource is Traffic Think Tank… unbelievable content that they release on a weekly basis. The number of incredible SEOs they’ve had do webinars on highly executable things blows my mind. You can ask questions and get really high-quality feedback on the platform.”

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