Horizontal Content vs. Vertical Content

If there’s one thing about any industry that always holds true, it’s that people love their buzzwords. And while such industry parlance can make things easier for someone who’s been around for a while, it can be downright overwhelming for newcomers to the field. That’s why we intend to keep doing our part to clear the air—to walk people through all the definitions bandied about by marketing professionals.

To that end, today we’re going to discuss the difference between horizontal content and vertical content. As you’ve probably guessed, these two phrases have a lot in common with business markets, at least in that they define scope in a very similar manner. 

man writing on macbook

What Is Vertical Content? 

The clue is in the name—vertical content is, quite fittingly, a catch-all term for any piece of content targeted at a specific industry, market, or niche. Typically, when someone discusses vertical content, they’re specifically focused on business to business marketing. However, this need not always be the case.

A vertical is any specialized niche with a highly-defined audience. A healthcare cybersecurity publication and a Portland-based craft brewing business will both publish vertical content as part of their inbound marketing efforts. The thing that defines vertical content is specificity.

Its audience is incredibly well-defined, and it’s incredibly unlikely that anyone outside of that demographic will have any interest in a vertical-focused business or its content. 

What Is Horizontal Content?

While vertical content is highly specific, horizontal content is a little more generalized. Rather than targeting an exclusive market or sector, horizontal content focuses on broader problems or needs. Again, although horizontal content is frequently targeted at the consumer sector, there are plenty of business audiences for which this content is beneficial, as well.

With that said, since horizontal content is by its nature a bit more nebulous than vertical content, we’ll offer up a few examples of topics that might typically have a horizontal focus:

  • General cybersecurity.
  • Consumer electronics.
  • Grocery. 
  • Renovations.
  • Home decor. 
  • Health and wellness. 
  • Productivity. 

Choose the Best Content for Your Needs

It’s important to understand that neither of these content types is superior to the other. Some businesses are far better suited for horizontal content, while others, by their nature, will see the most success with vertical content. It’s also worth noting that in most cases, you can take a horizontal topic and narrow it down to a particular vertical and vice-versa. 

The best advice we can give you here is to first define your customer base and their needs. Once you understand who you’re marketing to and what their interests are, it will be a far simpler matter to figure out what time of content to publish. Just remember that at the end of the day, what truly matters is that you provide value to your audience—everything else is secondary to that. 

Wondering Why You’re Not Ranking on Google? Here’s Three Possibilities

If your content isn’t ranking—or if it was ranking but has suddenly dropped down the SERPs—you’re generally left up to your own devices when it comes to figuring out what went wrong. In our experience, however, the answer usually isn’t all that complicated. When content isn’t ranking on Google, it usually comes down to one of three things. 

You’re Targeting the Wrong Keywords

Each and every piece of content on your site should be built out of the following questions

  • Why am I creating it? 
  • What value does it provide to my audience? 
  • What search terms would someone typically use to find this content? 

The last question is where we generally see people slip up. They might be targeting keywords that are too competitive, or trying to rank for phrases dominated by a much larger, more successful brand. Or maybe they’ve chosen keywords based on raw numbers rather than intent

Either way, if your content isn’t ranking, your first step should be to re-examine your keywords. 

Your Website is Bad

Picture two department stores.

  • The first store is clean, well-lit, and laid out in a streamlined, intuitive way. The way everything is laid out makes sense to shoppers, and the staff are friendly and efficient.
  • The second store is a dirty, confusing labyrinth. No one is entirely sure where anything is, and employees are surly at best, actively unhelpful at worst. 

Where would you rather shop? 

The best websites load fast and have an interface that’s easy to both navigate and understand. Their content is well-organized, and their design is aesthetically pleasing. Can you say that about your site, too? 

You Simply Aren’t Publishing Compelling Content

Not everyone is a content creator—and not everyone needs to be. If you know for a fact your keyword research is accurate and your website is well-designed, it may well be that your content simply isn’t that good. Remember that the best content is:

  • Original
  • Concise
  • Informative and/or entertaining
  • Well-written, with no errors
  • Trustworthy
  • Authentic

If you’re simply rehashing word for word the things you’ve found elsewhere, you’re not going to rank. 

Closing Thoughts

If there’s one thing that’s remained constant about search engine optimization for the past few years, it’s Google’s insistence on keeping its search algorithms close to its chest. Much of what we know about search engine optimization (SEO) and the search engine results page (SERP) is the result of observation and educated guesses. It’s conjecture made by knowledgeable experts, but conjecture all the same.

That isn’t to say that Google has provided no SEO guidance, mind you. The company has actually published a fairly comprehensive SEO Starter Guide that walks you through pretty much all the basics. The last piece of advice we’ll give is to familiarize yourself with that guide if you’ve not done so already.

It may help immensely.

Understanding the Different Types of Keywords

Keywords used to be simple. You’d enter your search terms, and you’d be presented with a list of results containing your keyword or phrase. Pages with more instances of that phrase ranked higher on this list. 

As you might expect, this system was incredibly easy to abuse. That’s why since then, both keywords and the algorithms that analyze them have grown considerably more complex. These days, there are a ton of different classes of keywords—and it’s in your best interest to understand them all. 

Specificity

Let’s start with the different matching options you can choose during keyword research and ad targeting. Once you’ve defined your initial topic, focus, or core keyword, you can find variants of it in a few different ways. 

Broad Match

Although search engine optimization research tools still allow broad match searches, broad match keywords have been retired by Google as of July 2021. Originally, they used to match any result containing your core keywords. They accounted for any permutation or variation of those words, and also included similar words. 

This functionality has largely been wrapped into phrase match keywords. 

Phrase Match

Phrase match keyword searches contain your core keywords in the order you typed them. When it retired broad match keywords last year, Google also tweaked phrase match keywords. Phrase match searches now apply road match criteria while still preserving the original meaning of the search. 

Exact Match

An exact match keyword is exactly what it sounds like. The exact permutation of each word in the exact order you typed them. With that said, exact match targeting will also typically include reordered or rephrased close variants if Google determines that they retain the original meaning. 

Intent

Arguably the most important characteristic of a keyword is its intent—what the searcher is looking to do.

Commercial

Someone searching with commercial intent fully intends to make a purchase as soon as possible. They’re effectively right at the end of the sales funnel, ready to convert when they find what they’re looking for. 

Transactional

Transactional intent is similar to commercial. Searchers do intend to make a purchase at some point in the future, but they’re still doing research. 

Informational

Someone searching with informational intent simply wants to learn. They might be looking for a how-to, developing their own content, or performing academic research. Though they may be convinced to convert, they typically aren’t looking to purchase. 

Navigational

A person searching with navigational intent is looking for a specific website or brand. They know exactly what they’re looking for, and why. Your job is to ensure your site provides this to them. 

Length

Lastly, keywords can be categorized in terms of length. 

Short-Tail

A short-tail keyword tends to be much more general and consists of only one or two words. Generally speaking, a short-tail keyword acts as a starting point. Users don’t typically only type one or two words into Google, instead resorting to more generally conversational searches. 

Long-Tail

Long-tail keywords consist of three or more words. Particularly with the growing prominence of semantic search, long-tail is generally the way to go. 

Link Building 101: Laying the Foundations for Outreach

It’s a bit of an oversimplified explanation, but the more high-quality pages that link to one of your pages, the greater that page’s authority. The greater that page’s authority, the better it’s likely to rank on Google. The higher your PageRank, the more traffic you get through organic search.

When it comes to building up your website and creating brand awareness, link building is arguably one of the best strategies at your disposal—but you must first understand how it works. 

What is Link Building? 

Link building is the process of generating more inbound links to your website. Said links must be from websites that themselves have a reasonably high E-A-T score—Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. In simple terms, what this means is that they have an established reputation for publishing authentic, informative, high-quality content. 

How Do You Start Link Building?

As with any marketing or growth strategy, the first step in any link building campaign is to define what you want to accomplish with it. 

Are you trying to establish yourself as an authority in your sector? Are you looking to generate conversions and inspire more people to purchase your products or services? Or do you simply want to generate traffic and increase awareness of your brand? 

What Are Some Common Link Building Strategies? 

Modern link building is generally predicated on a very simple idea—if you create excellent content, people will link to that content. Informative, entertaining, and well-researched blog posts can easily generate a ton of passive inbound links to your website, particularly if they rank well on the search engine results page. Similarly, highly shareable content can draw considerable traffic from social media. 

However, if you want to take a more active role in your link building efforts, you generally have three options. 

  • Guest blogging. Find a well-established site in either your niche or a related one, and create guest content that can be published on that site with a link redirecting back to you. Typically, it’s advisable to focus on sites with guest editorial programs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out if you find a promising prospect—but do not, under any circumstances, use a generic email template. 
  • Seek out broken links. Basically, this involves looking at high-quality sites and searching for broken or outdated links. When you find one, contact the webmaster and offer to replace the link with similar content on your own site. 
  • Syndicated content. Somewhat similar to guest blogging, this involves creating high-quality content such as an infographic, then submitting it to user-driven directories and content sites. 

What Link Building Tactics Should I Avoid? 

Let’s wrap things up with a quick list of link building tactics that are not only doomed to fail, but likely to get your site penalized in the process: 

  • Buying your inbound links.
  • Using a link farm or content mill.
  • Paid content disguised as organic content.
  • Purchasing/creating and interlinking multiple websites.
  • Spamming links in comments, forums, etc. 

Protecting Against SEO Poisoning

In recent months, a tactic from the earliest days of SEO has re-emerged. Here’s how you can deal with it, as both a website owner and an Internet user.

As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. 

Unfortunately, that applies to the tactics used by cybercriminals just as much as it applies to legitimate businesses. It’s why distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks have been around for decades. And it’s why ransomware has changed so little over the years.

Sure, we’re seeing more sophisticated distribution tactics, but ultimately modern ransomware works nearly the same as ransomware from a decade ago.

With that in mind, it appears another blast from the past has started to re-emerge. At least a few of you probably remember the early days of search engine optimization (SEO). Back when search engines were akin to a virtual wild west, black hat tactics were the best way to rank. 

What Is SEO Poisoning? 

You likely also recall how many malicious websites rose to the top of the search engine results page (SERP), abusing SEO to serve poisoned results to users, hence the term SEO poisoning. It didn’t take long for Google and other search engines to release algorithm updates that shut down most of the shadier tactics. But just like life, criminals always find a way. 

Today, SEO poisoning takes a different form.

First, criminals create a website and take great pains to make it look as legitimate as possible. From there, they begin ‘trend chasing,’ leveraging their understanding of SEO in an effort to gain a prominent position on the SERP. There’s no limit to the number of keywords a single malicious domain may target in this manner.

Security firm Websense Security Labs estimates that these malicious websites represent as much as a quarter of the first page of search results for trending topics.

Generally, the objective is fraud or identity theft. Hackers will use the poisoned sites to steal the personal details of unsuspecting users. They might also inject ransomware onto a victim’s system, add another node to a botnet, or — if they’re lucky enough to infect a PC belonging to a webmaster — hijack another website to add to their malicious network. 

How Do I Protect Myself From SEO Poisoning? 

As with many types of cyberattacks, a little mindfulness goes a long way.

  • Be incredibly wary of opening a website you’ve never heard of before, particularly if you’re searching for a trending topic.
  • We also strongly recommend installing an up-to-date antivirus.
  • Use a password manager for both your personal accounts and your business accounts.
  • Keep all your software and systems up to date. 
  • It may be worthwhile to use a VPN or invest in a router that has built-in encryption. 
  • Consider installing an ad blocker and blocking scripts, as ad networks and malicious scripts are two prevalent delivery mechanisms.

If you own or operate a website, the same rules apply — remain vigilant, and put in the necessary work to keep your personal files and your professional data safe. 

Measuring the Return on Your Search Engine Optimization Efforts

Search engine optimization is a must for any business with a web presence. But how do you determine whether or not your efforts are bearing fruit?

As with any business initiative,  it’s crucial that you understand how to quantify the success of your search engine optimization efforts. Not only do you need to show leadership that your budget is generating tangible results, but you also need to calculate SEO’s return on investment for your own purposes. Consistent measurement of ROI can also help you identify weaknesses and shortcomings, and help you determine where your time (and money) should be directed. 

But how exactly do you measure the ROI of SEO? 

Nebulous Returns

From an ROI perspective, the issues with SEO are similar to those with marketing. Namely, while there are certain fixed costs and returns, as a whole, the core goals of SEO are difficult to express in concrete numbers. Concepts like brand awareness and organic visibility are inherently abstract.

With that said, it is possible to at least approximate them. 

SEO Metrics That Measure ROI

The first step in determining ROI is to figure out how much you’re spending on SEO. If you’ve hired a third-party agency, this is relatively easy to calculate. Just look at whatever you’re paying them. 

If you’re managing SEO internally, things get a bit more complicated, and you’ll need to look at a few different factors. 

  • How much time your staff is spending on SEO. This includes developers, designers, marketing specialists, etc. 
  • How much per hour each staff member is paid, on average. 
  • Subscription costs for any tools or platforms you’re using to inform your SEO efforts. 

With those numbers in mind, measure the following key performance indicators (KPIs) from the beginning of your SEO campaign to its end: 

  • Organic traffic. Self-explanatory. Traffic generated from the search engine results page (SERP).
  • Bounce rate. The number of people who visit your site and leave without performing any actions. Can be paired with time on site to identify potential bottlenecks. 
  • Organic impressions. How many people have seen your site on the SERPs. 
  • Organic click-through rate. The number of users who clicked your site on the SERP, measured against total impressions. 
  • Pages per session. How many pages a user views, on average. 
  • Conversions. Here’s where things get a bit complicated, as there are multiple ways you might define conversions. 
    • Sales. 
    • New subscribers. 
    • Sign-ups for mailing lists/asset downloads. 
    • Downloads. 
    • Social shares. 
    • Phone calls. 
    • Demo/proof of concept requests. 

One way to monitor the above is through conversion tracking. Google allows you to define certain actions as conversions, while also assigning a dollar value to each. Although this is typically intended for Google Ads, it can easily be applied to your site. 

Expressing the ROI of SEO

So, in light of the above, you can express the value of your SEO efforts in a few different ways: 

  • Percent increase/decrease. Applies to bounce rate, organic traffic, impressions, clickthrough, etc. 
  • Spend vs. Revenue. Specifically applies to conversions that involve monetary transactions. 
  • Volume. How much more traffic/how many more phone calls you’re receiving now versus when you started. 

How Will Augmented Reality Influence The Future of Search Engine Optimization?

From a marketing standpoint, augmented reality is one of the most exciting technologies currently in development. And it’s going to change how we do SEO.

No one expected the runaway success of Pokemon Go. How for a few brief, glorious months, fans both young and old took to the parks and streets, exploring their towns and cities in an effort to catch them all. A few savvy businesses were able to tap into the craze, but for the most part, the marketing potential of the game went largely unfulfilled. 

Believe it or not, Pokemon Go is still going strong today, even during the pandemic. A few competitors have even popped up in the interim. But these are all simply a sign of things to come.

Augmented reality has potential that goes well beyond mobile games. Imagine the following: 

  • Using your phone to visualize how furniture might look in your home or to see how you might look in a new outfit. 
  • Scanning a piece of computer hardware with your camera to see a list of specs along with recommended components to pair it. 
  • Viewing the calorie count and ingredients of what you’re eating simply by snapping a photo. 
  • Being able to immediately pull up reviews, social chatter, business listings, and other information on a business simply by pointing a device at the storefront. 

These are all within the realm of possibility. Google and its competitors in the artificial intelligence space have been making significant strides in object recognition. And the technology to introduce AR to our lives beyond smartphone apps already exists.

Remember Google Glass? On paper, it was an incredibly promising piece of tech. That it failed can very likely be chalked up to it being slightly ahead of its time — a product introduced to its audience before they were ready to consider its potential. 

At this point, it seems likely that in the very near future, we will see similar technologies to Google Glass, and this time, they won’t fall flat for a few reasons: 

As you may have already guessed, AR will have the most significant impact on local SEO. Businesses will have a wealth of new ways to engage with their audience, an entirely new marketing channel through which they can bring in prospects. And Google, for its part, will be a driving force behind this evolution, just as it’s steered the future of search up to this point.

What Makes a Keyword Effective?

Choosing the right keyword can be difficult, but it’s a lot easier if you understand how keywords work and the difference between an effective keyword and an ineffective one.

What’s in a keyword? 

A whole lot more than you might expect. Although quality and relevance are far more important than exact-match keywords, targeting the wrong one can still considerably undercut your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. With that in mind, let’s go over the three core qualities that determine whether a keyword is a winner or a dud. 

Relevance

The best keywords are chosen with their target audience in mind. They account for how that audience talks and thinks and are tailored to the audience’s specific search intent. For instance, let’s say your business sells home repair supplies, and your blog primarily consists of how-to’s. 

Someone who comes to your site looking for information on repairing a pocket door doesn’t want to be hammered with your sales pitch. Instead, they want a simple, step-by-step tutorial. Your keyword choice should account for that, as should your copy. 

As you may have surmised, choosing a relevant keyword means you’ll also need a clear notion of your niche. Again, make sure you’re as specific as possible. The better you define your niche, the more effectively you can target your content. 

Difficulty & Traffic

One of the most common mistakes we see made by novice SEOs is that they choose keywords without much thought about how the search engine results page (SERP) looks for each. Ideally, when selecting a keyword, you want one that isn’t too competitive. However, if you choose one that’s in extremely high demand, you’re going to end up competing with larger, much more established brands, many of which might not even be in your industry. 

The key is to strike a balance — not too competitive, but with enough traffic that targeting it is still worthwhile. The exception, of course, is if your business works in an extremely specific field. Your keywords might still bring traffic to your site, but your SEO tools might consequently not have much to offer in terms of traffic data. 

Long-Tail

Back in the early days of SEO, short-tail keywords were all the rage. The industry has evolved, as has the way your audience uses search engines. Between conversational search and Google’s ever-increasing focus on semantics and intent, long-tail keywords are the way to go. 

The idea here is that you want to think about the kinds of questions your audience might be asking, or the sort of thing they might type into search, and optimize to target that. 

Choose Your Words Carefully

In light of how Google has changed its algorithm in recent years, it would be easy to simply assume that keywords no longer matter. To treat keyword selection as an afterthought to be sacrificed on the altar of content marketing. Doing so would be a mistake, however. 

Keywords might not hold the same sway they did back in the Internet’s infancy, but they’re still a crucial component of an effective SEO strategy and one that you ignore only at your peril. 

3 Ways to Find Out What Questions Your Audience is Asking

Keywords still have their place in SEO. But it’s far more valuable to know what your audience wants to see. Here are a few ways you can determine that.

Do you know what sort of content your audience wants to see? 

Many old-school search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing advice maintains that you should start with keyword research. The trouble is, that’s no longer relevant. Instead, you need to find the right topics to write on, then build your keywords out from there. 

As for how to find those topics? If your goal is to establish yourself as an expert or thought leader, your best bet is to do a bit of research into the sorts of questions they’re asking. Figure out what they want to know, and from there, it’s only a short jump to some great content.

Here are a few places you can look.

Take Your Research to Social Media

Social networks are good for more than just relationship-building. Pay attention to what prospective customers talk about, and keep a particularly close eye on the sorts of questions they address to your competitors. Reddit is the holy grail in this regard — if you can find a subreddit related to any of your products or services, then there’s a good chance you’ll find plenty of potential topic ideas, too. 

Check Online Discussion Boards

Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook aren’t the only communities you can seek out online. Communities like Quora tend to be a goldmine, too. But, of course, if Quora is too general, you can also seek out industry-specific sites for a bit of inspiration, as well — Github, for instance, tends to attract a lot of tech geeks, making it an ideal community to check if that’s your primary demographic. 

Use a Q&A Tool

If you’d rather not spend time trawling Reddit or poring over Quora, you can simply use a tool like AlsoAsked. There are also plenty of AI-driven content creation and research tools, such as Market Muse, that generate a list of possible questions based on content. And even keyword research tools may occasionally have questions mixed into their results as long-tail keywords. 

It’s All About Answering the Right Questions

When it comes to devising a content creation strategy, knowing your audience is a crucial starting point. By understanding what they know, what they’re asking, and ultimately, what they want to know, you can gear yourself up to create more compelling, engaging content. Finding those questions need not be difficult, either.

At the end of the day, you simply need to know where to look.

Are You Properly Contextualizing Your SEO Metrics?

No metric exists in a vacuum. It’s one of the first things to understand about SEO. It’s not enough to contextualize, though. You need the right context.

It’s one of the most frequent mistakes we see from search engine optimization (SEO) novices. Rather than taking the how and why into consideration, they simply view individual metrics in isolation from one another. They don’t analyze or contextualize.

They simply passively observe. 

To be blunt, taking such an approach to optimizing your website ultimately amounts to a waste of time and effort. Without considering context and connections, you don’t see the bigger picture. And if you don’t see the bigger picture, you have no idea what works in your approach (and what doesn’t). 

As an example, let’s say a site owner notices that his traffic numbers are up. At first glance, that seems pretty exciting, right? More people are visiting his website, which means his SEO efforts must be paying off.

Or are they?  If he just looks at traffic, the owner has no real way of knowing the actual reason for the surge. Maybe it’s not something he did at all, but one of his competitors messed up and dropped on the search engine results page (SERP). 

Or maybe it has nothing to do with SEO at all, and he was simply lucky enough to have one of his blog posts go viral. Beyond the reason for the increase in traffic, our theoretical owner should also be considering the result. Namely, what are visitors doing

  • Are they simply reading one page and leaving?
  • Are they bouncing immediately, without even interacting with any content?
  • Is there a particular page or segment on the website that new visitors reach before leaving? 
  • Does their visit to the site ultimately conclude with the desired outcome? (i.e., purchasing a particular product, signing up for a mailing list, etc.) 
  • Is the audience interacting with the brand outside the site, such as through social media? 

As you can see from the above, an individual metric like traffic numbers presents an extremely narrow vision of what’s actually going on. Unless you consider the context of each metric you work with, you do not see the whole picture. With that in mind, for each metric you measure, you need to answer the following questions: 

  • How does this relate to my core SEO objective? 
  • What external factors might be influencing this metric, and why?
  • What other metrics should I use that are connected to this one? 
  • What story does this metric tell as part of a whole?

Basically, you need to consider what you want to achieve with SEO and figure out what key performance indicators (KPIs) can be used to measure your progress towards that goal. From there, it’s a simple matter of understanding that, where search engine optimization is concerned, everything is connected. No metric is entirely irrelevant, and every piece of data could provide an insight you might otherwise have missed.