Friday, November 24, 2017

Which of My Competitor's Keywords Should (& Shouldn't ) I Target? - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

You don't want to try to rank for every one of your competitors' keywords. Like most things with SEO, it's important to be strategic and intentional with your decisions. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand shares his recommended process for understanding your funnel, identifying the right competitors to track, and prioritizing which of their keywords you ought to target.

Which of my competitor's keyword should I target?

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. So this week we're chatting about your competitors' keywords and which of those competitive keywords you might want to actually target versus not.

Many folks use tools, like SEMrush and Ahrefs and KeywordSpy and Spyfu and Moz's Keyword Explorer, which now has this feature too, where they look at: What are the keywords that my competitors rank for, that I may be interested in? This is actually a pretty smart way to do keyword research. Not the only way, but a smart way to do it. But the challenge comes in when you start looking at your competitors' keywords and then realizing actually which of these should I go after and in what priority order. In the world of competitive keywords, there's actually a little bit of a difference between classic keyword research.

So here I've plugged in Hammer and Heels, which is a small, online furniture store that has some cool designer furniture, and Dania Furniture, which is a competitor of theirs — they're local in the Seattle area, but carry sort of modern, Scandinavian furniture — and IndustrialHome.com, similar space. So all three of these in a similar space, and you can see sort of keywords that return that several of these, one or more of these rank for. I put together difficulty, volume, and organic click-through rate, which are some of the metrics that you'll find. You'll find these metrics actually in most of the tools that I just mentioned.

Process:

So when I'm looking at this list, which ones do I want to actually go after and not, and how do I choose? Well, this is the process I would recommend.

I. Try and make sure you first understand your keyword to conversion funnel.

So if you've got a classic sort of funnel, you have people buying down here — this is a purchase — and you have people who search for particular keywords up here, and if you understand which people you lose and which people actually make it through the buying process, that's going to be very helpful in knowing which of these terms and phrases and which types of these terms and phrases to actually go after, because in general, when you're prioritizing competitive keywords, you probably don't want to be going after these keywords that send traffic but don't turn into conversions, unless that's actually your goal. If your goal is raw traffic only, maybe because you serve advertising or other things, or because you know that you can capture a lot of folks very well through retargeting, for example maybe Hammer and Heels says, "Hey, the biggest traffic funnel we can get because we know, with our retargeting campaigns, even if a keyword brings us someone who doesn't convert, we can convert them later very successfully," fine. Go ahead.

II. Choose competitors that tend to target the same audience(s).

So the people you plug in here should tend to be competitors that tend to target the same audiences. Otherwise, your relevance and your conversion get really hard. For example, I could have used West Elm, which does generally modern furniture as well, but they're very, very broad. They target just about everyone. I could have done Ethan Allen, which is sort of a very classic, old-school furniture maker. Probably a really different audience than these three websites. I could have done IKEA, which is sort of a low market brand for everybody. Again, not kind of the match. So when you are targeting conversion heavy, assuming that these folks were going after mostly conversion focused or retargeting focused rather than raw traffic, my suggestion would be strongly to go after sites with the same audience as you.

If you're having trouble figuring out who those people are, one suggestion is to check out a tool called SimilarWeb. It's expensive, but very powerful. You can plug in a domain and see what other domains people are likely to visit in that same space and what has audience overlap.

III. The keyword selection process should follow some of these rules:

A. Are easiest first.

So I would go after the ones that tend to be, that I think are going to be most likely for me to be able to rank for easiest. Why do I recommend that? Because it's tough in SEO with a lot of campaigns to get budget and buy-in unless you can show progress early. So any time you can choose the easiest ones first, you're going to be more successful. That's low difficulty, high odds of success, high odds that you actually have the team needed to make the content necessary to rank. I wouldn't go after competitive brands here.

B. Are similar to keywords you target that convert well now.

So if you understand this funnel well, you can use your AdWords campaign particularly well for this. So you look at your paid keywords and which ones send you highly converting traffic, boom. If you see that lighting is really successful for our furniture brand, "Oh, well look, glass globe chandelier, that's got some nice volume. Let's go after that because lighting already works for us."

Of course, you want ones that fit your existing site structure. So if you say, "Oh, we're going to have to make a blog for this, oh we need a news section, oh we need a different type of UI or UX experience before we can successfully target the content for this keyword," I'd push that down a little further.

C. High volume, low difficulty, high organic click-through rate, or SERP features you can reach.

So basically, when you look at difficulty, that's telling you how hard is it for me to rank for this potential keyword. If I look in here and I see some 50 and 60s, but I actually see a good number in the 30s and 40s, I would think that glass globe chandelier, S-shaped couch, industrial home furniture, these are pretty approachable. That's impressive stuff.

Volume, I want as high as I can get, but oftentimes high volume leads to very high difficulty.
Organic click-through rate percentage, this is essentially saying what percent of people click on the 10 blue link style, organic search results. Classic SEO will help get me there. However, if you see low numbers, like a 55% for this type of chair, you might take a look at those search results and see that a lot of images are taking up the other organic click-through, and you might say, "Hey, let's go after image SEO as well." So it's not just organic click-through rate. You can also target SERP features.

D. Are brands you carry/serve, generally not competitor's brand names.

Then last, but not least, I would urge you to go after brands when you carry and serve them, but not when you don't. So if this Ekornes chair is something that your furniture store, that Hammers and Heels actually carries, great. But if it's something that's exclusive to Dania, I wouldn't go after it. I would generally not go after competitors' brand names or branded product names with an exception, and I actually used this site to highlight this. Industrial Home Furniture is both a branded term, because it's the name of this website — Industrial Home Furniture is their brand — and it's also a generic. So in those cases, I would tell you, yes, it probably makes sense to go after a category like that.

If you follow these rules, you can generally use competitive intel on keywords to build up a really nice portfolio of targetable, high potential keywords that can bring you some serious SEO returns.

Look forward to your comments and we'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The season of giving: Donations benefit SEI’s scholarship program

Around this time last year, Solar Energy International (SEI) alum, Brittany Heller, sat down and made a list of goals for the upcoming year, one of them being to further her solar education through solar PV training, specifically in battery-based technology.  

Soon after Brittany met SEI Marketing and Communications Manager, Mary Marshall, and SEI Development Director, Marla Korpar, at a 200-kW installation in Norwood, Colorado with GRID Alternatives. Brittany was working as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the time with GRID, and Marla and Mary were VISTAs at SEI. After expressing her interest in SEI’s battery training, the SEI VISTAs encouraged Brittany to apply for the Heather Andrews Scholarship, and join them in Paonia that spring for SEI’s PV301L: Solar Electric Lab Week-Battery-Based.

“At that point I really wanted to take a class, and Marla and Mary really encouraged me to do it,” Brittany explained. “I was so stoked that SEI put a focus on women in solar, with women making up only 28% of the solar industry, it was amazing learning that they had that opportunity.”

In 2012, SEI established the Heather Andrews Scholarship Fund to support women’s solar training. Heather was a SEI alumna and solar champion who passed away Feb. 8, 2012 after complications from brain surgery. This scholarship supports female SEI students pursuing hands-on training at SEI’s Paonia PV Lab in Colorado. It also supports female SEI students with partial tuition scholarships for SEI online training.

Receiving the Heather Andrews scholarship gave me a huge boost of confidence and opened up opportunities. It was so amazing to get to spend a week in Paonia, learning about battery-based systems from inspiring teachers working in all facets of the industry,” Brittany said.

Brittany went on to finish her AmeriCorps year at GRID with new battery technology knowledge in tow, and she taught two classes on living off-the-grid at the Sonic Boom and Arise music festivals.

“I feel so incredibly thankful for the SEI scholarship program. I wouldn’t have been able to take the courses I’ve taken at SEI had there not been scholarship opportunities. I feel supported knowing that SEI and the Heather Andrews Fund are purposefully funding women in solar’s education,” Brittany said.

The Heather Andrews Scholarship Fund for women, along with SEI’s Walt Ratterman Scholarship for developing countries, the Johnny Weiss scholarship Fund, and the Veterans and Active Duty Military program continue to give opportunities for students to develop their solar careers through the generosity of our SEI network.  You, too, can help support solar training access for everyone!

How to help? November 28 is Giving Tuesday, #GivingTuesday is a global giving movement that has been built by individuals, families, organizations, businesses, and communities in all 50 states and in countries around the world. Millions of people have come together to support and champion the causes they believe in and the communities in which they live.

Support solar education by donating on Giving Tuesdya to SEI’s scholarship funds.  Brittany explained: “My educational experiences at SEI have given me the technical foundations necessary to push forward in my career.” Help others do the same today! DONATE.

The post The season of giving: Donations benefit SEI’s scholarship program appeared first on Solar Training - Solar Installer Training - Solar PV Installation Training - Solar Energy Courses - Renewable Energy Education - NABCEP - Solar Energy International (SEI).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

AMP-lify Your Digital Marketing in 2018

Posted by EricEnge

Should you AMP-lify your site in 2018?

This is a question on the mind of many publishers. To help answer it, this post is going to dive into case studies and examples showing results different companies had with AMP.

If you’re not familiar with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), it’s an open-source project aimed at allowing mobile website content to render nearly instantly. This initiative that has Google as a sponsor, but it is not a program owned by Google, and it’s also supported by Bing, Baidu, Twitter, Pinterest, and many other parties.


Some initial background

Since its inception in 2015, AMP has come a long way. When it first hit the scene, AMP was laser-focused on media sites. The reason those types of publishers wanted to participate in AMP was clear: It would make their mobile sites much faster, AND Google was offering a great deal of incremental exposure in Google Search through the “Top Stories news carousel.”

Basically, you can only get in the Top Stories carousel on a mobile device if your page is implemented in AMP, and that made AMP a big deal for news sites. But if you’re not a news site, what’s in it for you? Simple: providing a better user experience online can lead to more positive website metrics and revenue.

We know that fast-loading websites are better for the user. But what you may not be aware of is how speed can impact the bottom line. Google-sponsored research shows that AMP leads to an average of a 2X increase in time spent on page (details can be seen here). The data also shows e-commerce sites experience an average 20 percent increase in sales conversions compared to non-AMP web pages.

Stepping outside the world of AMP for a moment, data from Amazon, Walmart, and Yahoo show a compelling impact of page load time on metrics like traffic, conversion and sales:

You can see that for Amazon, a mere one-tenth of a second increase in page load time (so one-tenth of a second slower) would drive a $1.3 billion drop in sales. So, page speed can have a direct impact on revenue. That should count for something.

What do users say about AMP? 9to5Google.com recently conducted a poll where they asked users: “Are you more inclined to click on an AMP link than a regular one?” The majority of people (51.14 percent) said yes to that question. Here are the detailed results:

This poll suggests that even for non-news sites, there is a very compelling reason to do AMP for SEO. Not because it increases your rankings, per se, but because you may get more click-throughs (more traffic) from the organic search results. Getting more traffic from organic search, after all, is the goal of SEO. In addition, you’re likely to get more time on site and more conversions.


How the actual implementation of AMP impacts your results

Before adopting any new technology, you need understand what you’re getting into.

At Stone Temple Consulting, we performed a research study that included 10 different types of websites that adopted AMP to see what results they had and what challenges they ran into. (Go here to see more details from the study.)

Let’s get right to the results. One site, Thrillist, converted 90 percent of their web pages over a four-week period of time. They saw a 70 percent lift in organic search traffic to their site — 50 percent of that growth came from AMP.

One anonymous participant in the study, another large media publisher, converted 95 percent of their web pages to AMP, and once again the development effort as approximately four weeks long. They saw a 67 percent lift in organic search traffic on one of their sites, and a 30% lift on another site.

So, media sites do well, but we knew that would be the case. What about e-commerce sites? Consider the case of Myntra, a company that is the largest fashion retailer in India. Their implementation took about 11 days of effort.

This implementation covered all of their main landing pages from Google, covering between 85% and 90% of their organic search traffic. For their remaining pages (such as the individual product pages) they implemented a Progressive Web App, which helps those pages perform better as well. They saw a 40% reduction in bounce rate on their pages, as well as a lift in their overall e-commerce results. You can see detailed results here.

Then there is the case of Event Tickets Center. They implemented 99.9% of their pages in AMP, and opted to create an AMP-immersive experience. Page load times on their site dropped from five to six seconds to one second.

They saw improvements in user engagement metrics, with a drop in bounce rate of 10%, an increase in pages per session of 6%, and session duration of 13%. But, the stunning stat is that they report a whopping 100% increase in e-commerce conversions. You can see the full case study here.

But it’s not always the case that AMP adopters will see a huge lift in results. When that’s not the case, there’s likely one culprit: not taking the time to implement AMP thoroughly. A big key to AMP is not to simply use a plugin, set it, and forget it.

To get good results, you’ll need to invest the time to make the AMP version of your pages substantially similar (if not identical) to your normal responsive mobile pages, and with today’s AMP, for the majority of publishers, that is absolutely possible to do. In addition to this being critical to the performance of AMP pages, on November 16, 2017, Google announced that they will exclude pages from the AMP carousel if the content on your AMP page is not substantially similar to that of your mobile responsive page.

This typically means creating brand-new templates for the major landing pages of your site, or if you are using a plugin, using their custom styling options (most of them allow this). If you’re going to take on AMP, it’s imperative that you take the time to get this right.

From our research, you can see in the slide below the results from the 10 sites that adopted AMP. Eight of those sites are colored in green, and those are the sites that saw strong results from their AMP implementation.

Then there are two listed in yellow. Those are the sites that have not yet seen good results. In both of those cases, there were implementation problems. One of the sites (the Lead Gen site above) launched pages with a broken hamburger menu, and a UI that was not up to par with the responsive mobile pages, and their metrics are weak.

We’ve been working with them to fix that and their metrics are steadily improving. The first round of fixes brought the user engagement metrics much closer to that of the mobile responsive pages, but there is still more work to do.

The other site (the retail site in yellow above) launched AMP pages without their normal faceted navigation, and also without a main menu, saw really bad results, and pulled it back down. They're working on a better AMP implementation now, and hope to relaunch soon.

So, when you think about implementing AMP, you have to go all the way with it and invest the time to do a complete job. That will make it harder, for sure, but that’s OK — you’ll be far better off in the end.


How we did it at Stone Temple (and what we found)

Here at Stone Temple Consulting, we experimented with AMP ourselves, using an AMP plugin versus a hand-coded AMP web page. I’ll share the results of that next.

Experiment No. 1: WordPress AMP plugin

Our site is on WordPress, and there are plugins that make the task of doing AMP easier if you have a WordPress site — however, that doesn’t mean install the plugin, turn it on, and you’re done.

Below you can see a comparison of the standard StoneTemple.com mobile page on the left contrasted with the default StoneTemple.com page that comes out of the AMP plugin that we used on the site called AMP by Automatic.

You’ll see that the look and feel is dramatically different between the two, but to be fair to the plugin, we did what I just said you shouldn’t do. We turned it on, did no customization, and thought we were done.

As a result, there’s no hamburger menu. The logo is gone. It turns out that by default, the link at the top (“Stone Temple”) goes to StoneTemple.com/amp, but there’s no page for that, so it returns a 404 error, and the list of problems goes on. As noted, we had not used the customization options available in the plugin, which can be used to rectify most (if not all) of these problems, and the pages can be customized to look a lot better. As part of an ongoing project, we’re working on that.

It’s a lot faster, yes… but is it a better user experience? Looking at the data, we can see the impact of this broken implementation of AMP. The metrics are not good.

Looking at the middle line highlighted in orange, you’ll see the standard mobile page metrics. On the top line, you’ll see the AMP page metrics — and they’re all worse: higher bounce rate, fewer pages per session, and lower average session time.

Looking back to the image of the two web pages, you can see why. We were offering an inferior user interface because we weren’t giving the user any opportunities to interact. Therefore, we got predictable results.

Experiment No. 2: Hand-coded AMP web page

One of the common myths about AMP is that an AMP page needs to be a stripped-down version of your site to succeed. To explore whether or not that was true, we took the time at Stone Temple Consulting to hand-code a version of one of our article pages for AMP. Here is a look at how that came out:

As you can see from the screenshots above, we created a version of the page that looked nearly identical to the original. We also added a bit of extra functionality with a toggle sidebar feature. With that, we felt we made something that had even better usability than the original page.

The result of these changes? The engagement metrics for the AMP pages on StoneTemple.com went up dramatically. For the record, here are our metrics including the handcrafted AMP pages:

As you can see, the metrics have improved dramatically. We still have more that we can do with the handcrafted page as well, and we believe we can get these metrics to be better than that of the standard mobile responsive page. At this point in time, total effort on the handcrafted page template was about 40 hours.

Note: We do believe that we can get engagement on the AMP by Automatic plugin version to go way up, too. One of the reasons we did the hand-coded version was to get hands-on experience with AMP coding. We’re working on a better custom implementation of the AMP by Automatic pages in parallel.


Bonus challenge: AMP analytics

Aside from the actual implementation of AMP, there is a second major issue to be concerned about if you want to be successful: the tracking. The default tracking in Google Analytics for AMP pages is broken, and you’ll need to patch it.

Just to explain what the issue is, let’s look at the following illustration:

The way AMP works (and one of the things that helps with speeding up your web pages) is that your content is served out of a cache on Google. When a user clicks on the AMP link in the search results, that page lives in Google’s cache (on Google.com). That’s the web page that gets sent to the user.

The problem occurs when a user is viewing your web page on Google’s cache, and then clicks on a link within that page (say, to the home page of your site). This action means they leave the Google.com page and get the next page delivered from your server (in the example above, I’m using the StoneTemple.com server.)

From a web analytics point of view, those are two different websites. The analytics for StoneTemple.com is going to view that person who clicked on the AMP page in the Google cache as a visitor from a third-party website, and not a visitor from search. In other words, the analytics for StoneTemple.com won’t record it as a continuation of the same session; it’ll be tracked as a new session.

You can (and should) set up analytics for your AMP pages (the ones running on Google.com), but those are normally going to run as a separate set of analytics. Nearly every action on your pages in the Google cache will result in the user leaving the Google cache, and that will be seen as leaving the site that the AMP analytics is tracking. The result is that in the analytics for your AMP pages running on Google.com:

  • Your pages per session will be about one
  • Bounce rate will be very high (greater than 90 percent)
  • Session times will be very short

Then, for the AMP analytics on your domain, your number of visitors will not reflect any of the people who arrive on an AMP page first, and will only include those who view a second page on the site (on your main domain). If you try fixing this by adding your AMP analytics visit count to your main site analytics count, you’ll be double counting people that click through from one to the other.

There is a fix for this, and it’s referred to as “session stitching.” This is a really important fix to implement, and Google has provided it by creating an API that allows you to share the client ID information from AMP analytics with your regular website analytics. As a result, the analytics can piece together that it’s a continuation of the same session.

For more, you can see how to implement the fix to remedy both basic and advanced metrics tracking in my article on session stitching here.


Wrapping up

AMP can offer some really powerful benefits — improved site speed, better user experience and more revenue — but only for those publishers that take the time to implement the AMP version of their AMP site thoroughly, and also address the tracking issue in analytics so they can see the true results.


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Four SEI instructors team up to form nonprofit Remote Energy

Solar Energy International (SEI) is excited to announce the formation of Remote Energy, a new 501(c)3 for-impact organization. Remote Energy was started by four SEI instructors: Carol Weis, Brad Burkhartzmeyer, Chris Brooks and Jason Lerner – with one of their board members being SEI’s former international director, Laurie Stone.

Recently SEI hired Remote Energy to teach and provide a customized, battery-based PV class for the Rural Renewable Alliance (RREAL) to train Liberian technicians as part of RREAL’s Skip the Grid program. Remote Energy used their extensive international experience and curriculum development skills to adapt SEI’s proven PV training curriculum to address the specific needs and market of the attendees. Remote Energy and SEI hope to continue this partnership to reach even more technician’s and trainers worldwide in 2018.

Mary Marshall, SEI’s Marketing and Communications Manager, speaks with Carol Weis about the formation of Remote Energy:

Mary: What is Remote Energy and why did you form it?

Carol: Remote Energy’s core goal is to provide customized solar electric technical and training expertise to technicians, organizations, businesses or agencies that implement international development projects. We specialize in train-the-trainer’s courses to build local capacity in country and aide technical schools to start their own solar training program within existing departments.

Our group saw a need for high-quality customized trainings for international and lower-income populations.   We like to partner with organizations looking to use renewable energy to address issues related to jobs, health, clean water, education, gender equality, and alleviating poverty.

The Remote Energy core team has worked together for years on individual projects – doing international trainings and curriculum development – but before we all were operating our own companies. It became clear that we had a shared common vision – so it made sense to join efforts. We knew that we could take on more projects and reach a larger audience by starting an organization together.

Mary: Who is involved in Remote Energy and what parts of the world have they taught in?

Carol:  Our team together has conducted training activities and projects in more than 25 countries. We all have similar backgrounds as licensed electricians, solar installers, and working as solar trainers both nationally and internationally.

For me, I have traveled a lot to Haiti since 2009 teaching installers, training hospital technician’s in solar system maintenance, and building local capacity.  Most recently, Brad and I worked for the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) to help them develop a 40-week national training program for their new National Solar Training Center, run in partnership with Haiti Tec, a local technical college in Port-au-Prince.  Our curriculum is now taught in Creole by local trainers.  I have also taught in Africa and Asia.

Chris and Brad speak Spanish, and have conducted trainings in Central and South America as well as Africa and Asia. They have developed and implemented PV capacity building programs and water pumping projects in developing communities worldwide.   When they are not traveling, they work together for a solar installation company, Sun’s Eye Solar, in Tacoma, WA.

Jason is a licensed electrician an electrical contractor in WA, and has been installing off-grid systems in the San Juan Islands for 20 years. He started teaching for SEI in the Costa Rica and Guemes Island classes. It was really his initiative which pulled us all together to start working as a team.

It is exciting for me to have the opportunity to work with such a strong, qualified group that has a mission of bringing high-level education to countries with scarce economic resources. Our combined experiences position us to work on a variety of projects, from disaster relief efforts to creating top notch training centers.

Mary: How do you see your partnership with SEI developing?

Carol:  The Remote Energy team will continue our strong partnership with SEI by providing instructors for the Spanish and English PV programs.  We will also collaborate with SEI to bring technical PV training to populations that are generally underserved by capacity building programs, like the program we did with SEI and RREAL this past October.

Mary: What type of projects is Remote Energy excited about?

Carol: What I like doing the most is training trainers and helping those instructors set up solar programs within their existing communities and programs. There are technical colleges all over the world that could easily add solar to their existing electrical degree program to build up their local workforce -they don’t need to re-invent the wheel.  There is a tangible excitement in the classroom when teaching in emerging economies as they explore the impact solar technology and education can make. It is also extremely important that women are at these technical trainings as well – and thus I am looking forward to teaching more women-only classes internationally as well.

Our team also has the expertise and desire to partner with organizations to bring energy access to impoverished areas focusing on clean water, health and education. An example of this is doing PV training within the health sector by working with hospitals who are adding solar electric systems.  We have taught hands-on classes to designers and installers to assure that systems are built robust and to standards, as well as having taught specific trainings for on-site technicians who needed to maintain large inverter/battery systems to make sure systems last a long time. Good technicians are just as important as doctors in providing reliable health care – as they keep the lights and lab equipment energized. This type of training is crucial.

Our expertise can also aid in disaster relief efforts.  For example, this fall Chris Brooks is using his water pumping experience to help install solar inverter systems on existing AC water pumps to get clean water to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria damaged electrical lines.  We would like to get more funding to do more of this type of work.

To find out more about Remote Energy and their projects, connect with Carol at carol@remoteenergy.org or visit Remote Energy’s website at remoteenergy.org.

The post Four SEI instructors team up to form nonprofit Remote Energy appeared first on Solar Training - Solar Installer Training - Solar PV Installation Training - Solar Energy Courses - Renewable Energy Education - NABCEP - Solar Energy International (SEI).

Cleaned-Up Coal and Clean Air: Facts About Air Quality and Coal-Fired Power Plants

Coal-fired electricity generation is far cleaner today than ever before. The popular misconception that our air quality is getting worse is wrong, as shown by EPA’s air quality data. Modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are a success story and are currently providing 30 percent of our electricity. Undoubtedly, pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants will continue to decrease as technology improves.

Executive Summary

America’s improving air quality is an untold success story. Even before Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, air quality had been improving for decades. And since 1970, the six so-called criteria pollutants have declined significantly, even though the generation of electricity from coal-fired plants has increased by over 75 percent.[i] (The “criteria pollutants” are carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide [SO2], nitrogen oxides [NOx], ground-level ozone and particulate matter [PM]. They are called “criteria” pollutants because the EPA sets the criteria for permissible levels.) Total SO2 emissions from coal-fired plants were reduced by 85 percent between 1990 and 2015, and NOx emissions were reduced by 84 percent between 1990 and 2015. [ii]

The figure below shows the increases in gross domestic product (by 253 percent), vehicle miles traveled (190 percent), energy consumption (44 percent) and population (58 percent) since 1970, and it compares them to the decline in the aggregate emissions of criteria pollutants of 73 percent.[iii] Today, we produce and consume more energy, drive further and live more comfortably than we did in the past, all the while enjoying a cleaner environment.

Source: EPA

One factor in improving air quality has been the pollution-control technologies used by coal-fired power plants. Today’s coal-fired electricity generating plants produce more power with less emissions of criteria pollutants than ever before. According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), a new pulverized coal plant (operating at lower, “subcritical” temperatures and pressures) reduces the emission of NOx by 83 percent, SO2 by 98 percent and particulate matter (PM) by 99.8 percent, as compared with a similar plant having no pollution controls. Undoubtedly, air quality will continue to improve in the future because of improved technology.

Today, coal-fired electricity generation produces 30 percent of the electricity generated in America and provides many jobs. For example, Prairie State Energy Campus, a 1,600-megawatt supercritical coal plant in southern Illinois, generates clean electricity by using five technologies: nitrogen oxide controls, Selective Catalytic Reduction, dry electrostatic precipitators, sulfur dioxide scrubbers and wet electrostatic precipitators. Seven million tons of coal are mined a year at an adjacent coal mine to the power plant. Between its power plant, coal mine and other assets, the campus injects $785 million annually into the economy, employing over 600 workers. The plant operates at 98.5 percent availability while emitting 80 percent less in regulated pollutants than most existing power plants.[iv] The power plant delivers electricity to 2.5 million homes in eight states.[v]  It can do this around the clock and is responsive to demand for power that consumers may have.

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, coal represented 16 percent of the total energy consumption in the United States and 28 percent of the world’s energy consumption in 2016. Globally, coal was second only to oil which had a 33 percent share.[vi] And according to the Energy Information Administration, almost 40 percent of the world’s electricity was generated from coal in 2016, greater than the 30 percent share in the United States.[vii]

Background

Even before Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, air quality was improving. Prior to 1970, businesses saw certain types of pollution as waste, and worked to reduce them through technological improvements in order to increase efficiency. State and local policymakers worked to reduce pollution as well.

The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards to control pollutants considered harmful to public health or the environment: these are the so-called criteria pollutants.

Two of these pollutants, SO2 and NOx are the principal pollutants that cause acid precipitation (colloquially known as acid rain). SO2 and NOx emissions react with water vapor and other chemicals in the air to form acids that fall back to earth. Prior to controlling for these emissions, power plants produced most (about two-thirds) of the SO2 emissions in the United States. The majority (about 50 percent) of NOx emissions came from cars, buses, trucks and other forms of transportation, with power plants contributing about 25 percent. The remainder came from other sources, such as industrial and commercial boilers.

The Clean Air Act was modified in 1990 and introduced a cap on the total amount of SO2 emissions that may be emitted by electric power plants nationwide, thereby reducing the level of these emissions in the atmosphere. The approach used for compliance was a cap-and-trade program. In order to comply with the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, electric utilities could either switch to low sulfur coal, add equipment (e.g., scrubbers) to existing coal-fired power plants that removes SO2 emissions, purchase permits from other utilities that exceeded the reductions needed to comply with the cap or use other means of reducing emissions below the cap, such as operating high-sulfur units at a lower capacity utilization.

The Clean Air Interstate Rule in the Clean Air Act addresses interstate transport of air emissions from power plants. The Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) replaces it and was upheld by the Supreme Court in October 2014. Phase 1 began in December 2014 and Phase II, with more stringent targets, took effect in January 2016. While CSAPR remains in place, the courts remanded CSAPR back to EPA in June 2015 for additional refinement affecting the Phase II implementation of NOx emission limits.[viii]

Under CSAPR, 27 states must restrict emissions of sulfur dioxide and/or nitrogen oxide, which are precursors to the formation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone. CSAPR establishes four distinct allowance trading programs for SO2 and NOx composed of different member states based upon the contribution of each state to downwind non-attainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards. CSAPR splits the allowance trading program into two regions for SO2, with trading permitted only between states within a group but not between groups.

In addition to interstate transport rule, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 introduced the requirement for existing major stationary sources of NOx located in nonattainment areas to install and operate NOx controls which meet “Reasonably Available Control Technology” (RACT) standards. To implement this requirement, EPA developed a two-phase nitrogen oxide (NOx) program, with the first set of RACT standards for existing coal plants applied in 1996 while the second set was implemented in 2000. Dry bottom wall-fired and tangential-fired boilers, the most common boiler types, are referred to as Group 1 Boilers, and were required to make significant reductions beginning in 1996 and further reductions in 2000. Relative to their uncontrolled emission rates, which range roughly between 0.6 and 1.0 pounds per million Btu, they are required to make reductions between 25 percent and 50 percent to meet the Phase I limits and further reductions to meet the Phase II limits. All new fossil units are required to meet current standards. In pounds per million Btu, these limits are 0.11 for conventional coal, 0.02 for advanced coal, 0.02 for combined cycle and 0.08 for combustion turbines.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule (MATS) was finalized in December 2011 to fulfill EPA’s requirement to regulate mercury emissions from power plants. MATS also regulates other hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) such as hydrogen chloride (HCl) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). MATS applies to coal and oil-fired power plants with a nameplate capacity greater than 25 megawatts. The standards were scheduled to take effect in 2015 but allow for a one-year waiver to comply. They also require all qualifying units to achieve the maximum achievable control technology (MACT) for each of the three covered pollutants. All power plants are required to reduce their mercury emissions to 90 percent below their uncontrolled emissions levels. When plants alter their configuration by adding equipment such as a Selective Catalytic Reduction to remove NOx or an SO2 scrubber, removal of mercury is often a resulting co-benefit. Plants can also add activated carbon injection systems specifically designed to remove mercury. Activated carbon can be injected in front of existing particulate control devices or a supplemental fabric filter can be added with activated carbon injection capability.

Coal Industry Emissions Reduction

Of the 266,620 megawatts of coal-fired capacity reporting their control technologies to the Energy Information Administration in 2016, 81 percent (215,438 megawatts) have flue gas desulfurization equipment (scrubbers), 82 percent (219,745 megawatts) have electrostatic precipitators, 36 percent (96,258) have fabric filters (baghouses), 68 percent (182,175 megawatts) have select catalytic reduction systems, 54 percent (145,050 megawatts) have advanced carbon injection systems and 9 percent (24,989 megawatts) have direct sorbent injection systems. [ix]

The following graph compares SO2 and NOx emissions from coal-fired power plants from 1990 to 2015. Between 1990 and 2015, SO2 emissions from coal-fired plants were reduced by 85 percent and NOx emissions were reduced by 84 percent.

Source: Energy Information Administration

A study by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) compared the emission rates from pulverized coal plants and integrated gasification combined cycle plants based on environmental regulations to control sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), mercury (Hg), particulate matter (PM) and carbon dioxide (CO2) at a greenfield site, assuming capacity factors of 85 percent, which would require the plants to be at the top of the dispatch order. Mercury, SO2, NOx and PM are controlled with dry sorbent injection (DSI) and activated carbon injection (ACI); wet flue gas desulfurization (FGD), low NOx burners (LNB) and Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) and a baghouse, respectively. All of the power plant configurations with carbon capture are designed to achieve 90 percent capture, resulting in atmospheric CO2 emissions far below the proposed EPA regulation. Integrated gasification units have lower levels of emissions than pulverized coal plants.

Source: NETL

According to NETL, for a new pulverized coal plant (subcritical), pollution controls reduce NOx emissions 83 percent, SO2 emissions by 98 percent and PM by 99.8 percent when compared with a similar plant with no pollution controls. The target emission level for NOx is 0.085 lb/MMBtu, for SO2 is 0.085 lb/MMBtu and for PM is 0.011 lb/MMBtu.[x] Without control technologies, a subcritical coal plant would emit 0.5 lb/MMBtu of NOx, 4.35 lb/MMBtu of SO2 and 6.5 lb/MMBtu of PM. The figure below graphically depicts the criteria pollutants from a new controlled plant vs. a new uncontrolled plant.

Source: NETL

Cost Factors in Emission Reductions

According to the EIA, the costs of adding flue gas desulfurization (FGD) equipment to remove sulfur dioxide, in 2015 dollars, range from $952 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $417 a kilowatt for a unit 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for SCR equipment to remove nitrogen oxides range from $424 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $193 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for fabric filters (FF) range from $274 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $141 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for direct sorbent injection (DSI) range from $196 per kilowatt for a unit that is less than 100 megawatts to $30 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs per megawatt of capacity decline with plant size.  FGD units are assumed to remove 95 percent of the SO2 and SCR units are assumed to remove 90 percent of the NOx. DSI units remove 70 percent of SO2, but DSI is available only under MATS as its primary function is to remove hydrogen chloride. [xi] (See table below.) 

 

Coal Plant Retrofit Costs

Source: EIA

The NETL study provides estimates of both the capital cost and the levelized cost of these technologies, which are given in the table below in 2011 dollars. The levelized cost is the present value of the total cost of building and operating the plant over its economic life, converted to equal annual payments. The plant costs range from $1,960 to $2,026 per kilowatt for a 550 megawatt coal plant and $685 per kilowatt for a 630 megawatt natural gas combined cycle plant. The levelized plant cost was computed using the following fuel prices: $2.94/MMBtu for coal and $6.13/MMBtu for natural gas. The levelized coal plant costs are about 8.2 cents per kWh and for natural gas combined cycle 5.76 cents per kWh.

Source: NETL

Coal-fired electricity generation is far cleaner today than ever before. The popular misconception that our air quality is getting worse is wrong, as shown by EPA’s data.[xii] Modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are a success story and are currently providing about 30 percent of our electricity. Undoubtedly, pollution emissions from coal-fired power plants will continue to fall as technology improves.

Cap-and-Trade: “Acid Rain” versus Greenhouse Gases

The results of using a cap-and-trade system to fight “acid rain” have led some to argue that it is a model for efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the analogy fails. Stark differences exist between the “acid rain” emission-reduction program and the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct of combustion, emitted by natural and man-made sources.

Carbon dioxide is emitted in the U.S. by hundreds of millions of sources, including every personal automobile, the appliances many of us use to cook our food and heat our homes and the businesses upon which we depend for our livelihoods, to name a few. The “acid rain” emission reduction program was initially limited to 110 site-specific utility plants, and then later expanded to 445 plants.[xiii] In addition, carbon dioxide is a world-wide byproduct of combustion, whereas all criteria pollutants are local or regional. In other words, what the United States did for SO2 and NOx directly affected air quality here, while national action to limit carbon dioxide emissions will have little bearing on aggregate global emissions.

Furthermore, at the time of the SO2 and NOx reduction program, alternative low sulfur coal sources existed and utilities had available affordable and proven technologies to utilities to reduce their emissions. When Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, coal-fired utilities could responsibly reduce emissions from their plants using various options that limited cost impacts to the consumer.

In addition, attempts to extrapolate the “acid rain” success story to the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide emissions fail to recognize the history of similar programs in other parts of the world. For example, the “Emissions Trading Scheme” of the European Union has been ineffective at reducing carbon dioxide emissions at the same time it has increased prices and harmed businesses and consumers.[xiv] Further, the EU program has enriched some companies and industries at the expense of consumers.

A recent study by Laurie Williams and Allen Zabel, career employees of the Environmental Protection Agency, makes these points about what the authors call the “Acid Rain Myth.”[xv] As the authors explain, those who champion the use of cap-and-trade to address global warming ignore the crucial distinctions between the issues we faced in 1990 with acid rain and the issues we face today with global warming.

The following highlights Williams and Zabel’s study demonstrate that the experience of the acid rain program cannot and should not be compared to cap and trade for greenhouse gas emissions:

  • “Most importantly, the success of the Acid Rain program did not depend on replacing the vast majority of our existing energy infrastructure with new infrastructure in a relatively short time. Nor did it depend on spurring major innovation. Rather, the Acid Rain program was successful as a mechanism to guide existing facilities to undertake a fuel switch to a readily available substitute, the low sulfur coal in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.”
  • “The goal of the Acid Rain program was to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, while keeping the cost of energy from coal low. To be effective, climate change legislation must do the opposite; it must gradually increase the relative price of energy from coal and other fossil fuels to create the appropriate incentives for both conservation and the scale-up of clean energy.”
  • “Further, the Acid Rain program did not allow any outside offsets and so provides no basis for the widespread assumption that an offset program will help with climate change. In addition, the success of the program was aided by the low, competitive price of low-sulfur coal.”
  • “According to Professor Don Munton, author of ‘Dispelling the Myths of the Acid Rain Story’ the impact of the program has been overstated: The potential for a massive switch to low sulfur coal was no secret. Such coal was cheap and available, and it became cheaper and more available throughout the 1980s. Indeed, low-sulfur coal became very competitive with high-sulfur supplied well before the Clean Air Act became law.”

Conclusion

Coal remains an economically vital component of the U.S. and world energy market. Coal-fired electricity is now an environmental product, utilizing the latest technology to control each of its major criteria pollutants. The aspersion that coal is the “dirtiest fossil fuel” masks this reality.

In many parts of the world, the major environmental opportunity is to clean-up existing coal plants and build new plants using modern emission-control technology. The false choice is to close plants (or not build them) in favor of intermittent renewables.

The U.S. success story is a model for the developing world. The mechanisms available to reduce pollutants allow for more generation of energy with less pollution. But this success cannot be extrapolated to the regulation and reduction of carbon dioxide, a much more challenging undertaking. None of the conditions existing at the time of the apparent success of the SO2 and NOx reduction program apply to carbon dioxide. The challenges presented by the control and regulation of carbon dioxide have no parallels in the history of emission regulation.


[i] Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec7_5.pdf

[ii] Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.php#elecenv

[iii] Environmental Protection Agency, https://gispub.epa.gov/air/trendsreport/2017/#growth_w_cleaner_air

[iv] Wikipedia, Prairie State Energy Campus, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prairie_State_Energy_Campus

[v] Prairie State Energy Campus, http://www.prairiestateenergycampus.com/

[vi] BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy/downloads.html

[vii] Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2017, Tables H12 and H15, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/ieo/ieo_tables.php

[viii] Energy Information Administration, Electricity Market Module, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/electricity.pdf

[ix] Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual, Table 9.2, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.php#elecenv

[x] National Energy Technology Laboratory, Cost and Performance Baseline for Fossil Energy Plants, July 31, 2015, https://www.netl.doe.gov/energy-analyses/temp/CostandPerformanceBaselineforFEPlantsVol1bBitCoalIGCCtoElecRev2bYearDollarUpdate_073115.pdf

[xi] Energy Information Administration, Assumptions to the Electricity Market Module for Annual Energy Outlook 2017, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/electricity.pdf

[xii] Environmental Protection Agency, https://gispub.epa.gov/air/trendsreport/2017/#growth_w_cleaner_air

[xiii] Kenneth P. Green et. al, Climate Change: Caps vs. Taxes, American Enterprise Institute, (June 2007) http://www.aei.org/publication/climate-change-caps-vs-taxes/

[xiv] See European Union, Emissions trading: 2007 verified emissions from EU ETS businesses, May 23, 2008, http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/08/787&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

[xv] Keeping Our Eyes on the Wrong Ball, 2/21/09, http://www.carbonfees.org/home/Cap-and-TradeVsCarbonFees.pdf

 

The post Cleaned-Up Coal and Clean Air: Facts About Air Quality and Coal-Fired Power Plants appeared first on IER.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Geomodified Searches, Localized Results, and How to Track the Right Keywords and Locations for Your Business - Next Level

Posted by jocameron

Welcome to the newest installment of our educational Next Level series! In our last episode, our fearless writer Jo Cameron shared how to uncover low-value content that could hurt your rankings and turn it into something valuable. Today, she's returned to share how to do effective keyword research and targeting for local queries. Read on and level up!


All around the world, people are searching: X sits at a computer high above the city and searches dreamily for the best beaches in Ko Samui. Y strides down a puddle-drenched street and hastily types good Japanese noodles into an expensive handheld computer. K takes up way too much space and bandwidth on the free wireless network in a chain coffee house, which could be located just about anywhere in the world, and hunts for the best price on a gadgety thing.

As we search, the engines are working hard to churn out relevant results based on what we’re searching, our location, personalized results, and just about anything else that can be jammed into an algorithm about our complex human lives. As a business owner or SEO, you’ll want to be able to identify the best opportunities for your online presence. Even if your business doesn’t have a physical location and you don’t have the pleasure of sweeping leaves off your welcome mat, understanding the local landscape can help you hone in on keywords with more opportunity for your business.

In this Next Level post, we’ll go through the different types of geo-targeted searches, how to track the right keywords and locations for your business in Moz Pro, and how to distribute your physical local business details with Moz Local. If you'd like to follow along with this tutorial, get started with a free 30-day trial of Moz Pro:

Follow along with a free trial

Whether your customer is two streets away or gliding peacefully above us on the International Space Station, you must consider how the intertwining worlds of local and national search impact your online presence.


Geomodified searches vs. geolocated searches

First, so you can confidently stride into your next marketing meeting and effortlessly contribute to a related conversation on Slack, let’s take a quick look at the lingo.

Geomodified searches include the city/neighborhood in the search term itself to target the searcher’s area of interest.

You may have searched some of these examples yourself in a moment of escapism: “beaches in Ko Samui,” “ramen noodles in Seattle,” “solid state drive London,” or “life drawing classes London.”

Geomodified searches state explicit local intent for results related to a particular location. As a marketer or business owner, tracking geomodified keywords gives you insight into how you’re ranking for those searches specifically.

Geolocated searches are searches made while the searcher is physically located in a specific area — generally a city. You may hear the term “location targeting” thrown about, often in the high-roller realm of paid marketing. Rather than looking at keywords that contain certain areas, this type of geotargeting focuses on searches made within an area.

Examples might include: “Japanese noodles,” “Ramen,” “solid state drive,” or “coffee,” searched from the city of Seattle, or the city of London, or the city of Tokyo.

Of course, the above ways of searching and tracking are often intertwined with each other. Our speedy fingers type demands, algorithms buzz, and content providers hit publish and bite their collective nails as analytics charts populate displaying our progress. Smart SEOs will likely have a keyword strategy that accounts for both geomodified and geolocated searches.

Researching local keywords

The more specific your keywords and the location you’re targeting, generally, the less data you’ll find. Check your favorite keyword research tool, like Keyword Explorer, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. In this example, I’m looking at search volume data for “japanese noodles” vs. “japanese noodles london.”

"Japanese noodles"

"Japanese noodles London"

So, do I toss this geomodified keyword? Hold on, buddy — while the Monthly Volume decreases, take a look at that Difficulty score — it increases. It’s an easy search term to dismiss, since the search volume is so low, but what this tells me is that there's more to the story.

A search for “japanese noodles” is too broad to divine much of the searcher’s intent — do they want to make Japanese noodles? Learn what Japanese noodles are? Find an appetizing image?… and so on and so forth. The term itself doesn’t give us much context to work with.

So, while the search volume may be lower, a search for “japanese noodles london” means so much more — now we have some idea of the searcher’s intent. If your site’s content matches up with the searcher’s intent, and you can beat your competition in the SERPs, you could find that the lower search volume equates to a higher conversion rate, and you could be setting yourself up for a great return on investment.

Digging into hyperlocal niches is a challenge. We’ve got some handy tips for investigating hyperlocal keywords, including using similar but slightly larger regions, digging into auto-suggest to gather keyword ideas, and using the grouping function in Keyword Explorer.

Testing will be your friend here. Build a lovely list, create some content, and then test, analyze, and as the shampoo bottle recommends, rinse and repeat.


Localized ranking signals and results

When search engines impress us all by displaying a gazillion results per point whatever of a second, they aren’t just looking inwards at their index. They're looking outwards at the searcher, figuring out the ideal pairing of humans and results.

Local rankings factors take into consideration things like proximity between the searcher and the business, consistency of citations, and reviews, to name just a few. These are jumbled together with all the other signals we’re used to, like authority and relevancy. The full and glorious report is available here: https://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors

I often find myself returning to the local search ranking factors report because there's just so much to digest. So go ahead bookmark it in a folder called “Local SEO” for easy reference, and delight in how organized you are.

While you may expect a search for “life drawing” to turn up mostly organic results, you can see the Local Pack is elbowing its way in there to serve up classes near me:

And likewise, you may expect a search for “life drawing london” to show only local results, but lookie here: we’ve also got some top organic results that have targeted “life drawing london” and the local results creep ever closer to the top:

From these examples you can see that localized results can have a big impact on your SEO strategy, particularly if you’re competing with Local Pack-heavy results. So let’s go ahead and assemble a good strategy into a format that you can follow for your business.


Tracking what’s right for your business

With your mind brimming with local lingo, let’s take a look at how you can track the right types of keywords and locations for your business using Moz Pro. I’ll also touch on Moz Local for the brick-and-mortar types.

1. Your business is rocking the online world

Quest: Track your target keywords nationally and keep your eye on keywords dominated by SERP features you can’t win, like Local Packs.

Hey there, w-w-w dot Your Great Site dot com! You’re the owner of a sweet, shiny website. You’re a member of the digital revolution, a content creator, a message deliverer, a gadgety thingy provider. Your customers are primarily online. I mean, they exist in real life too, but they are also totally and completely immersed in the online world. (Aren’t we all?)

Start by setting up a brand-new Moz Pro Campaign for your target location.

Select one of each search engine to track for your location. This is what I like to call the full deck:

Another personal favorite is what I call the "Google Special." Select Google desktop and Google Mobile for two locations. This is especially handy if you want to track two national locations in a single Campaign. Here I’ve gone with the US and Canada:

I like to track Google Mobile along with Google desktop results. Ideally you want to be performing consistently in both. If the results are hugely disparate, you may need to check that your site is mobile friendly.

Pour all your lovely keywords into the Campaign creation wizard. Turn that keyword bucket upside-down and give the bottom a satisfying tap like a drum:

Where have we found all these lovely keywords? Don’t tell me you don’t know!

Head over to Keyword Explorer and enter your website. Yes, friend, that’s right. We can show you the keywords your site is already ranking for:

I’m going to leave you to have some fun with that, but when you’re done frolicking in keywords you’re ranking for, keywords your competitors are ranking for, and keywords your Mum’s blog is ranking for, pop back and we’ll continue on our quest.

Next: Onward to the SERP features!

SERP features are both a blessing and a curse. Yes, you could zip to the top of page 1 if you’re lucky enough to be present in those SERP features, but they’re also a minefield, as they squeeze out the organic results you’ve worked so hard to secure.

Luckily for you, we’ve got the map to this dastardly minefield. Keep your eye out for Local Packs and Local Teasers; these are your main threats.

If you have an online business and you're seeing too many local-type SERP features, this may be an indication that you’re tracking the wrong keywords. You can also start to identify features that do apply to your business, like Image Packs and Featured Snippets.

When you’re done with your local quest, you can come back and try to own some of these features, just like we explored in a previous Next Level blog post: Hunting Down SERP Features to Understand Intent & Drive Traffic

2. Your business rocks customers in the real world

Quest: Track keywords locally and nationally and hone in on local SERP features + the wonderful world of NAP.

What if you run a cozy little cupcake shop in your cozy little city?

Use the same search engine setup from above, and sprinkle locally tracked keywords into the mix.

If you’re setting up a new Campaign, you can add both national and local keywords like a boss.

You can see I’ve added a mouthwatering selection of keywords in both the National Keywords section and in the Local Keywords field. This is because I want to see if one of my cupcake shop’s landing pages is ranking in Google Desktop, Google Mobile, and Yahoo and Bing, both nationally and locally, in my immediate vicinity of Seattle. Along with gathering comparative national and local ranking data, the other reason to track keywords nationally is so you can see how you’re doing in terms of on-page optimization.

Your path to cupcake domination doesn’t stop there! You’re also going to want to be the big player rocking the Local Pack.

Filter by Local Pack or Local Teaser to see if your site is featured. Keep your eye out for any results marked with a red circle, as these are being dominated by your competitors.

The wonderful world of NAP

As a local business owner, you'll probably have hours of operation, and maybe even one of those signs that you turn around to indicate whether you’re open or closed. You also have something that blogs and e-commerce sites don’t have: NAP, baby!

As a lingo learner, your lingo learning days are never over, especially in the world of digital marketing (actually, just make that digital anything). NAP is the acronym for business name, address, and phone number. In local SEO you’ll see this term float by more often than a crunchy brown leaf on a cold November morning.

NAP details are your lifeblood: You want people to know them, you want them to be correct, and you want them to be correct everywhere — for the very simple reason that humans and Google will trust you if your data is consistent.

If you manage a single location and decide to go down the manual listing management route, kudos to you, my friend. I’m going to offer some resources to guide you:

3. You manage multiple local businesses with multiple locations

Quest: Bulk-distribute business NAP, fix consistency issues, and stamp out duplicates.

If you are juggling a bunch of locations for your own business, or a client’s, you’ll know that in the world of citation building things can get out of hand pretty gosh-darn quick. Any number of acts can result in your business listing details splitting into multiple fragments, whether you moved locations, inherited a phone number that has an online past, or someone in-house set up your listings incorrectly.

While a single business operating out of a single location may have the choice to manually manage their listing distribution, with every location you add to your list your task becomes exponentially more complex.

Remember earlier, when we talked about those all-important local search ranking factors? The factors that determine local results, like proximity, citation signals, reviews, and so on? Well, now you’ll be really glad you bookmarked that link.

You can do all sorts of things to send appealing local signals to Google. While there isn’t a great deal we can do about proximity right now — people have a tendency to travel where they want to — the foundational act of consistently distributing your NAP details is within your power.

That’s where Moz Local steps in. The main purpose of Moz Local is to help you publish and maintain NAP consistency in bulk.

First, enter your business name and postcode in the free Check Listing tool. Bounce, bounce...

After a few bounces, you’ll get the results:

Moz Local will only manage listings that have been “verified” to prevent spam submissions.

If you’re not seeing what you’d expect in the Check Listing tool, you’ll want to dig up your Google Maps and Facebook Places pages and check them against these requirements on our Help Hub.

When you’re ready to start distributing your business details to our partners, you can select and purchase your listing. You can find out more about purchasing your listing, again on our Help Hub.

Pro Tip: If you have lots of local clients, you’ll probably want to purchase via CSV upload. Follow our documentation to get your CSV all spruced up and formatted correctly.

If tracking your visibility and reputation is high on your to-do list, then you’ll want to look at purchasing your listings at the Professional or Premium level.

We’ll track your local and organic rankings for your Google My Business categories by default, but you can enter your own group of target keywords here. We account for the geographic location of your listings, so be sure to add keywords without any geomodifiers!

If you want to track more keywords, we’ve got you covered. Hop on over to Moz Pro and set up a Campaign like we did in the section above.

4. You’re a dog trainer who services your local area without a storefront

Quest: Help owners of aspiring good dogs find your awesome training skills, even though you don’t have a brick-and-mortar storefront.

At Moz HQ, we love our pooches: they are the sunshine of our lives (as our Instagram feed delightfully confirms). While they’re all good doggos, well-trained pooches have a special place in our hearts.

But back to business. If you train dogs, or run another location-specific business without a shop front, this is called a service-area business (or SAB, another term to add to the new lingo pile).

Start by tracking searches for “dog trainer seattle,” and all the other keywords you discovered in your research, both nationally and locally.

I’ve got my Campaign pulled up, so I’m going to add some keywords and track them nationally and locally.

You may find that some keywords on a national level are just too competitive for your local business. That’s okay! You can refine your list as you go. If you’re happy with your local tracking, then you can remove the nationally tracked keywords from your Campaign and just track your keywords at the local level.

Pro Tip: Remember that if you want to improve your Page Optimization with Moz Pro, you’ll have to have the keyword tracked nationally in your Campaign.

In terms of Moz Local, since accuracy, completeness, and consistency are key factors, the tool pushes your complete address to our partners in order to improve your search ranking. It's possible to use Moz Local with a service-area business (SAB), but it's worth noting that some partners do not support hidden addresses. Miriam Ellis describes how Moz Local works with service-area businesses (SABs) in her recent blog post.

Basically, if your business is okay with your address being visible in multiple places, then we can work with your Facebook page, provided it’s showing your address. You won’t achieve a 100% visibility score, but chances are your direct local competitors are in the same boat.


Wrapping up

Whether you’re reaching every corner of the globe with your online presence, or putting cupcakes into the hands of Seattleites, the local SEO landscape has an impact on how your site is represented in search results.

The key is identifying the right opportunities for your business and delivering the most accurate and consistent information to search engines, directories, and your human visitors, too.


Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don't have time to hunt down but want to read!

Rural Renewable Energy Alliance and SEI partner to teach a Liberian technician training

The following is a guest blog post submission from Carol Weis, former SEI staff member and co-founder of Remote Energy, who recently completed a training with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance.

In October 2017, Solar Energy International (SEI) taught a 2-week intensive battery-based class, partnering with Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) at their facility in northern Minnesota for technicians from Africa. This training was part of RREAL and the Northeast MN Synod Women of the ELCA’s Skip the Grid effort to bring solar electricity to hospitals in West Africa, and followed a large PV diesel hybrid installation at Phebe hospital in northern Liberia. Several of the hospital technicians were invited to attend this course, and were joined by students from Zambia and Nigeria. SEI hired me, co-founder of Remote Energy and former SEI staff member, to customize the curriculum for the students and to be the PV technical trainer for the class which was supported by Outback Power.

The Dynamic 5

The “Dynamic 5” – or D5 as the five students called themselves – came to the class with the desire to bring solar back to their communities, which largely lack electricity. Because this was a small group of five students with a shared common vision, I  was able to set up the class in a way that allowed the students to actively participate and use their new growing vocabulary of solar terminology each day to teach each other.

Each day the students came to class with a new solar application in mind, as they learned about what is technically possible.

Muzalema, a Mandela Washington Fellow, came to the course with the single focus of learning how to design an off-grid freezer so she could freeze fish for the aquaculture women’s center that she had helped start in Zambia. The women in this group are taught about aquaculture, given fingerlings to raise, and then the cooperative buys the fish back once raised to boost enterprise and food in the community.

Once in class, other ideas started percolating, and she saw another application for DC solar lighting for the maternal health clinics she works with which do not have electricity. Another organization she is active in, Safe Motherhood Alliance, provides maternal kits already that women have to purchase before giving birth which include sterile bedding, a sterile razor – and a candle to see if at night. Off-grid solar lighting would eliminate the need for candles and provide better lighting for the delivery room.

Muzalema was concerned though, that if the local fish center and the clinic were the only buildings in town with solar electricity, that many of the community members would try to bring their phones there to charge resulting in the failure of the batteries. Her classmates agreed, and had already experienced similar problems in their communities, so the class decided to design a solar phone charging station as a class exercise which would charge phones from the sun instead of the more common petroleum charging stations.

Bobo and Jojo are both technicians at Phebe hospital, and had participated in the earlier RREAL installation. They are also part of a team of technicians that installs Outback Power systems on smaller clinics. Because they needed specific equipment training, Outback generously donated funds, and their product technical curriculum, to the project, which allowed the purchase of live equipment, and the ability to trace wires, commission, and learn programming on a system.

Wole, from Nigeria, was the human calculator for the group – trained as a nuclear engineer – he would do all calculations in his head. By mid-week had declared he wanted to make a career move to solar and saw many applications back in his country of origin. Dikar, originally from Liberia, was the glue for the class with his extremely funny demeanor and ability to make us all double over laughing. Still just saying his name brings a smile to my face.

Final Projects

Because this was a small class – on the final day, the students were required to give a presentation to the RREAL staff and their classmates on a project of their choice that they wanted to install in their country. They were asked to make it as realistic as possible and to demonstration as much of their new found solar knowledge as possible.

Wole, from Nigeria, chose to demonstrate the solar charging station. He discussed the benefits of using solar in this application versus the more common method of using petroleum generators. He walked through his design parameters and explained his choices, he drew out a full schematic – adding future expansion needs and some creative theft protection ideas as well.

Bobo and Muzalema role played a scenario of making a presentation to a UN commission of Health Ministers, proposing the idea of adding 20 new Outback Power systems to maternal health clinics. They used the live system in class to talk about how the system would work, and to explain the components function.

Dikar and Jojo role played the scenario of giving a presentation to elders in their village proposing a small DC lighting system for a school in their village so that students they knew could study at night. Their business name was D & J Solar – and I suspect that this business will become a reality soon.

RREAL and the Lutheran Women

The Lutheran Women of Backus, MN generously provided housing for the participants and lunches each day at the class. My compliments go to BJ and Jason at RREAL, who are a model organization reaching many people with energy assistance. Their Skip the Grid efforts are now focused on a second project for Curran Hospital in Liberian, and the two trainees will be part of the installation crew again next year.

Carol Weis can be reached at carol@remoteenergy.org, or see the website at remoteenergy.org.

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