by David Kirkpatrick
There are times when what seems like an optimal approach to a marketing challenge turns out to be anything but effective. This MarketingSherpa case study takes a look at a major website design issue faced by Aquent, a creative staffing agency. The entire foundational structure of its website was essentially hiding most of its content — including freshly updated content — from search engine crawlers, effectively (and passively) causing major harm to the company's organic search results.
has been in business for over 27 years and is a global staffing agency with the goal of matching the right candidate to its client's needs. The company serves mostly Fortune 500, enterprise-level businesses. It considers its client as anyone with a staffing need — temporary or permanent — through contract work and temp-to-permanent placements.
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Most of the company's marketing is geared toward these clients and includes local representation, although a smaller portion of the marketing strategy is applied toward talent. Nidhi Modi, Director of Digital Marketing, Aquent, explained that the level of marketing activities applied toward talent was based on geography because the company focuses more on talent acquisition in certain countries.
Aquent also has a three-year-old offshoot — Vitamin Talent
— which is geared toward any sized business, including agencies and smaller companies.
Because Aquent is a staffing agency, a major piece of content on its website was daily updated job postings. Another source of regular fresh content was blog posts. As Modi explained, "That's where we have fresh content all the time."
The problem was that the company's website was based on parallax design and created in Java script. The design was great for a website responsive to different devices such as desktops, laptops and mobile handhelds, but the combination was killing the website's SEO performance.
Basically, the design created one big page that didn't allow search engine crawlers to find and index job postings and blog posts.
According to Modi, "This is obviously impacting our ability to show up on relevant searches, and it was really impacting our natural search results."
Parallax design creates a scrolling website that can look flashy and interest site visitors, but it also comes with drawbacks. One major drawback is that the entire site is contained in one long scrolling page, and the website essentially offers web crawlers one URL, one set of meta information and one h1 header tag. Other issues can be a lack of internal linking since the website consists of only one URL. If the large single page includes a lot of images, the site's load time can become unwieldy for the site visitor.
At the onset of this effort, Aquent faced some of these problems with its website, with the key issue being search engines were not finding and presenting searchers with Aquent's two main areas of fresh content — blog posts and, more importantly for a staffing agency, new job listings.
Step #1. Find the website performance problem
The original website design in Java had a "load more" command to cause the site to scroll and allow the visitor to continue viewing the site. The problem was that links below that command — such as links to daily updated job listings and new blog content — were never seen by search engine crawlers and thus were never indexed as being part of the website.
This issue was uncovered when the company felt its website was underperforming for organic search and implemented an in-depth tech log on the site, finding that all of Aquent's fresh content, which was being updated at least once per day, wasn't getting indexed by Web crawlers due to foundational structure of the website.
Step #2. Fix the website performance problem
After understanding what was causing the website performance issue, the fix was relatively simple — add crawlable links that would lead search engines to articles and job postings.
To achieve this, Modi said, "We incorporated pagination using crawlable links
above the 'load more' functionality that linked to interstitial pages that included a list continuation of either articles or job postings. The list pages included a headline, summary and crawlable link to the actual article or job posting for each listing."
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Step #3. Increase SEO tactics to take advantage of improved website performance
Modi said organic search was an extremely important part of Aquent's marketing strategy. After learning about and fixing the issue that had been dramatically affecting the website's organic reach, the team implemented a number of tactics for SEO in an effort to improve organic search. These included:
This was Aquent's marketing vendor's proprietary solution for identifying keywords that produce high search volume but with less competition. This information is used by the team to improve organic search by developing new content and optimizing existing content with target keywords.
Every month, Aquent distributed its articles throughout the blogosphere, reaching out to relevant bloggers in an effort to gain article mentions and link shares.
Aquent worked with its vendor to develop a keyword map for its articles and job postings. Essentially, by the team utilizing the map when creating content, dynamic page elements, such as article titles, are leveraged, manipulated and combined with high-priority, keyword phrases. This also meant consistency, such as a blog post title having a certain format or syntax and automatically incorporating a primary keyword into the post's title.
In addition to developing content based on keyword listening and providing default optimization driven through the keyword maps, Aquent also worked with its vendor to periodically refine keyword optimization based on analytics reporting.
For example, if reporting revealed that a particular page delivers a high conversion rate or that a specific article drives high engagement, but is only ranked number eight for the target keyword within the search results, the team might choose to further refine those optimizations to increase rankings for that page.
Step #4. Expand the content strategy beyond blog posts
Although blog posts were the primary source of fresh content for Aquent's website, the content team's efforts went beyond the blog, including white papers and articles for industry newsletters. The content team was also responsible for speaking engagements.
Another source of material was third-party content in the form of tips and advice for job seekers from Aquent's online community. Modi said the online community also provided tools and resources for companies seeking online talent.
Content at Aquent included a series of free online classes created by the team and included third parties such as industry leaders with experience in the topic.
Step #5. Track and measure website performance
Along with providing third-party content for Aquent, its online community of around 400 people also served as a base for concept testing and research. Modi said, "We actually do a lot of our primary research through that online community."
Aquent has an in-house research team that sought customer insights through activities such as focus groups and look-alike client visits, and the idea for the online community emerged mid-2014. This group is utilized to test tools and is also asked questions on various staffing topics.
After taking these insights and applying them to the marketing efforts, the team monitored key performance indicators, including organic search sessions, engagement and keyword rankings.
Diagnostic metrics tracked include site saturation, link popularity and MozRank.
After the "load more" problem was uncovered and fixed, Aquent's website performance improved:
- Percentage of articles and job postings indexed by Google increased from 10% to 99% (890% lift) on Aquent.com
- Percentage of articles and job postings indexed by Google increased from 30% to 99% (230% lift) on VitaminTalent.com
- Organic search increased 29% on Aquent.com and 48% on VitaminTalent.com
Modi said balancing all the elements of a website was her key takeaway from this campaign.
"Marketing. Usability. SEO. Technology. If you think about it, a website has all of these different levers, if you will," she explained. "I just feel that everything just needs to be balanced very carefully when you're planning a new site design. And then I also feel it's actually very critical to include SEO in the discussions earlier rather than later so that these issues can be avoided whenever possible."
- Aquent.com homepage
- Vitamin Talent homepage
- Crawlable links
— Aquent's marketing vendor
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