The Surround Sound Series: How We Built a Bespoke SERP Tracker and Measured the Results of Our New Content Program (Part 3 of 3)
This post is a part of Made @ HubSpot, an internal thought management series through which we get lessons from experiments executed by our very own HubSpotters.
As our three-part series comes to an end, there’s one final question (or two) we need to address:
Does the surround sound strategy really work? And exactly what results have we observed since we started utilizing it?
The TL; DOCTOR answer is yes . It’s working and we’re sharing our preliminary results in this article.
When you’re looking to use surround sound in 2021, the two of us (that’s Irina Nica and Alex Birkett) thought we’d end this short series using a handful of resources: the formulation HubSpot uses to determine progress, our proprietary audio tracker (aka the SERP Tracker), and a sample associated with results to hopefully inspire your own endeavor.
What is the surround sound strategy?
At HubSpot, “surround sound” is the name Alex Birkett gave to a content marketing approach that aims to generate HubSpot products visible every time someone searches for a product-related keyword (e. g. “best help desk software” or even “best live chat software”).
The goal is for possible users to see HubSpot talked about in all or most of the web pages that rank in Google best results for those keywords. Look at first two articles in the series for a deeper-dive into what is the “surround sound” impact and how we scaled this program at HubSpot.
Surround Sound vs . SEO
Here’s where a lot of people get confused: The meaning of surround sound says the goal is to improve presence in search engines, but is not that what SEO really does, too?
The answer is audio includes SEO results, but doesn’t stop there.
Here’s an example: say we want to increase our visibility in search motors for the keyword “free CRM. ”
A first step will be to make sure our own domain ranks well for that keyword. That’s the “job” of the SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION function.
But visibility in SERP doesn’t cease there.
When potential customers are looking for a free CRM, they might not really stop at the first results. Rather, they click through various suggestions of curated listings that they find in search outcomes.
Our product awareness objective is to make sure HubSpot is seen in as many results as is possible, especially on third-party domain names. The level of SERP real estate that HubSpot is mentioned within (including owned and third-party domains) is what surround sound procedures.
That’s why we say that in order to measure audio results, we need to measure the visibility in SERP, to get a particular keyword or topic, beyond SEO.
But surround sound isn’t really a “mainstream” item awareness tactic — yet. So there are no strategies or tools to determine visibility in SERP, past rankings (as far even as we looked). That’s why, in order to scale our efforts, there were to build our own systems from the beginning.
How HubSpot Measures Audio Results
Let’s talk about scale.
If HubSpot were to have got only one high intent keyword in our purview (say, “best marketing automation software”), it wouldn’t be insane to measure our visibility by hand.
Once per month, you could just open Google, search “best marketing automation software, ” and count how many from the top 20 pages point out HubSpot.
This clearly turns into a problem when you add several keyword, however. Imagine the frustration of doing that intended for 600+ keywords per month.
In order to make this strategy “scalable” (a phrase I dislike, by the way, since it has been weaponized by curmudgeons who can all too easily shut down interesting ideas by saying ‘this won’t scale’), we needed to do a few details:
- Develop custom tools and facilities to automate aspects of the particular strategy
- Educate others on the surround sound process and playbook
- Evangelize and excite others into buying into the idea
These was easiest; once you acquire some results, others can easily grasp the importance of an idea.
I’ll concentrate here on building custom tools. First, I want to describe the value of investing in custom equipment, automation, and infrastructure, mainly because I can already sense the particular objections:
- “We don’t have the specialized resources to build our own equipment and automations! ”
- “Won’t building custom tools price us a lot of money and period? ”
To address the first point, there’s always a creative solution. Unless you have internal resources in order to code up new tools, you can easily outsource this as long as you have good specifications. Websites like Code Mentor or even Upwork are great for this. In addition , this is a good excuse for (mythical) non-technical marketers to build several new skills.
Second, creating tools to reduce the minor cost or effort over time increases the expected value of this program.
Lots of jargon in that word, so let me unpack that will with an example from experimentation.
Why invest in tools, automation, and infrastructure?
Imagine the expected value (the “predicted value of a variable, calculated as the sum of all possible values each multiplied with the probability of its occurrence”) of an A/B test is $1, 000.
Some proportion associated with A/B tests will fall short, which means you only “lose” during the experiment, some will do nothing, and some will earn (and those that win will do so by varying levels). All in, if you averaged out these values, a given A/B test could be predicted at a $1, 000 value.
Now imagine every time you wanted to run an A/B test, you needed to get two engineers, one developer, and an analyst not just to set up the test from scratch (you’ve got no testing tool here), but also, you have to do minimum one month of research, wait two weeks for approval once you submit your hypothesis, and after that you have to sit through, on average, four meetings with this crew.
What is the cost of all that? Over $1, 000? Congratulations, the anticipated value of your A/B test is now negative.
But what if, on the other hand, you had a screening tool that made it easy to set up and analyze experiments (with trustworthy data), and also imagine you prioritize to focus on only high impact tests. Now you lower the upfront price of each additional test you run (the marginal cost), which increases the expected associated with each test (just slightly). On a program level, though, now you are rewarded with regard to running more tests, since the expected value is good, and you’ve got very low limited costs. You spent a little time purchasing tools and automation, plus you’ve drastically increased the particular ROI of your program without even improving your win rate.
This is exactly what we needed to do to make the surround sound strategy economically viable.
The amount of effort to manually audit, measure, and store SERP visibility, and also the manual cost of outreach plus relationship management, would forever outweigh the positive benefits of the particular placements we could get on the SERP. That is, unless we’re able to lower the costs of data collection and storage as well as outreach and relationship management.
Enter: the SERP Tracker
Now we have a functional tool that will does all this for us! We call it the “SERP System. ”
Here’s the aesthetically-gorgeous interface:
(For any kind of fellow nerds, it was written in R and it is hosted and deployed along with Shiny. We’re using serpapi. com to get Google’s search results, and we’re also making use of Bing’s API [free up to a certain number of credits]. I have an older version from the generic script here readily available for viewing — we’ve considering that updated it many times, but this version will still be useful. )
I’ll walk a person through how it works, you could also watch this Weaving loom tutorial if you prefer movie:
Here’s a quick tutorial on how you can use the tool and what kind of data it can give you.
First, you have to validate simply by entering a password. Since we use various APIs, we want to limit the usage to converse credits (again, we track some 600+ keywords, so it’s a weighty endeavor)
Then you can enter whatever keyword you’d like (like “best form builder” or “best help desk software”).
Then you can select a region and the number of search engine results you want to pull (up in order to 10 pages, or hundred results).
Finally, you need to your URL that you want to check the particular search results against.
In other words, in order to check for the search key phrase “best live chat software program, ” then you could enter “hubspot. com” or “drift. com” to see how many of the Web addresses that rank for the research keyword “best live chat software” mention that LINK.
I have preset options for HubSpot URLs to check our product page, blog posts, or generic hubspot. com pages:
You can also enter a customized link by clicking “other. ”
This allows pertaining to, among other things, competitor searches plus custom HubSpot URLs (for example, if you just desired to see who mentions our Forms product page or who mentions Academy web pages – it’s also a workaround to check affiliate links, mainly because they’re often structured such as “affiliatesite. com/ref/hubspot” so you can just enter “hubspot” in the URL to check for those):
We use SEMRush’s API to pull keyword search volume, but there are times that SEMRush doesn’t have values for research volume. In this case, it just prints an error message:
If all information is came into correctly, click “Submit” and it will start computing. After several processing time, this is the review it will create:
You get a nice visual pie graph, beloved by analysts and data visualizers worldwide, representing how many ranking URLs retain the link (and how many don’t). This shows that, of the best 20 search results for the term “best live chat software program, ” our URL “hubspot. com” appears on 2 of them.
I also made it pull keyword level data too (in the above example this shows that “best live chat software” gets 390 lookups a month). This helps consider the relative importance of the keyword (ie if a key phrase gets 10000 searches per month or 100, that matters strategically)
Then below that will, you get a full data table that contains the domain and URL of all pages that will rank for that keyword, set up link you chose to check out against is included (TRUE or FALSE), the keyword a person searched (just for reference point and if you want to pull the data to Excel), the number of links included, and the full link (so if you checked “hubspot. com” and the ranking web page references “blog. hubspot. com/marketing/form-builder-tools, ” it will pull that will full link URL meant for you):
Like I mentioned above, you can use this to check other websites’ links as well. This one shows how many of the top 20 ranking web pages for “mailchimp alternatives” mention appsumo. com (which makes SendFox, an email marketing tool):
And like I mentioned above, you can choose the region. Currently, I have options for Australia, France, Spain, and Japan, though we can add a lot more regions fairly easily. This really is going to be incredible intended for international expansion (more on that later)
This just changed the data source to a different region (ie in case you choose German, it will show what ranks in google. de). This report shows the number of hubspot. com links appear on pages that rank regarding “marketing automation software” in Germany:
Next Degree: Automating Report for 600+ Keywords with Google Data Studio and Scripts
This particular data from the SERP Tracker, on its own, is valuable. One can quickly audit the search engine results pages for product describes, compare to other websites, and also do a bulk audit.
However , to truly get the wheels turning on the surround sound Strategy, it’s imperative to store plus access data across time in order to track results plus identify gaps and opportunities.
To do this, we extract information from the SERP Tracker, change it and blend it, and load it to BigQuery so we can visualize it and create reports using Google Data Studio.
All of this is performed automatically with an R software that runs once monthly. It pulls all SERP data for our list of key phrases, stores the data in Linens (in the future we’ll create directly to BigQuery). BigQuery is usually connected to Sheets, so we filter, clean, and blend the data with a quick SQL screenplay. This is then connected to Data Studio, where all filter systems are applied and we visualize our reports.
Our reviews start with the way we chart our target-keywords against the functions, products and Hubs. This database is the source for the SERP tracker as well and the Google Data Studio reports which we use to track progress and communicate with stakeholders.
First, we use a birds-eye view of all of our product Hubs to understand overall progress and how each Hub piles against the others. If you’re acquainted with HubSpot’s products, it will not come as a surprise that our Sales and Marketing Hubs lead the way when it comes to audio Visibility.
Our reviews go one layer much deeper and we can see in one graph how different features (e. g. HubSpot Email Marketing vs HubSpot Forms) perform against one another.
For a deeper analysis, we have feature-dedicated dashboards. In the example below, we see how one isolated feature (HubSpot CMS) evolved, as well as exactly how our visibility changed for your most important keywords related to that feature.
1 . Surround Sound: The First 6 Months
The main thing that you need to accept prior to starting a surround sound program is that you simply can never be fully in control of your visibility.
There are many aspects that play a role into how your visibility evolves:
- Search engine improvements cause the Top 20 results to fluctuate (sometimes quite dramatically)
- New content appears within Top 20 for the key phrases that you’re focusing, probably outranking you or outcomes that mention your brand name
- Competitors and other third-party webpages appear in Top 20 results, but don’t mention your brand
Even despite these problems, the results we’ve seen in the very first 6 months of our surround sound plan prove you can make a change inside your visibility by partnering with other websites.
If you want to learn more about how to execute a surround sound system, check out the previous article on this series.
In the graph below you can see how HubSpot’s visibility in SERP changed since April. The Google May 2020 core upgrade changed the SERP scenery quite dramatically, causing a lot of articles that used to mention HubSpot to disappear from your Top 20. After that, the visibility started climbing slowly, as we built more partnerships (e. g. more web sites joined our Affiliate program).
If we only look at all the pages that mention HubSpot, for the 600+ key phrases we’re monitoring for audio, about 50% of these are actually influenced by our surround sound program.
Conclusion: Final Thoughts
There is still a lot of work and opportunities to tap into for the product awareness program. However the most important learning we had so far is that surround sound is a race, not a sprint.
It takes effort and time to build genuine partnerships plus, as Brian Halligan generally “add value > get value”.
Also, having a strong brand name helps a lot, at least when first reaching out to a potential partner. In fact , it’s reasonable to say that if HubSpot were a startup, this progress wouldn’t have been possible in only 6 months. It takes time to build a brand and get others in order to recommend it.
As with everything, there’s no silver-bullet alternative. While we share plenty of our process and tools, the way we do surround sound at HubSpot might not work exactly the same for other brands. The main thing we hope you remove from this is: there’s another way of taking a look at your visibility in SERP that’s not just SEO .
Have you thought about adding surround sound to your content marketing and acquire strategies in 2021?
Want to learn more about the particular strategy and execution behind the surround sound strategy? Read part one and 2 of this series.