SEO Success: The Motley Fool Story
Since it was founded in 1998, The Motley Fool has grown to become the most influential finance publisher in the world.
In the latest Deepcrawl webinar, Deepcrawl’s Ashley Berman Hale sat down with The Motley Fool’s SEO Director Alli Berry to discuss the strategies Fool uses to achieve success, and the challenges Berry has encountered to ensure the site stays visible in the SERPs.
Here are the key takeaways.
The Motley Fool: Beginnings
The Motley Fool’s history dates right back to 1993. Brothers Tom and David Gardiner were keen to help people invest smartly by offering financial advice across a range of media such as newspaper columns and their radio show.
Of course, when the internet arrived with the dotcom boom of the late 90s, the website was a natural avenue through which the brothers could reach a bigger audience.
Berry’s career in SEO goes back around ten years, starting with a link-building job for search agency Performics in Chicago.
‘I had just moved back to the United States from teaching in Japan and I had zero money,’ she says. ‘I knew nothing about SEO but they wanted to train us up. They wanted fresh minds.’
It was this on-the-job experience in link-building that piqued Berry’s interest in content. ‘The better the content, the better the link-building strategy is going to be,’ she says. ‘I got into the content route from that angle. Hey client, there are all these science blogs talking about this, can we have a page about this. We’d create that, and suddenly all these authoritative science blogs would link back.’
Berry then bounced between agencies and in-house SEO work before applying as an editorial strategist at The Ascent – one of The Motley Fool’s sub-brands. Soon, her role evolved to cover the whole fool.com domain and now she heads up a team of 18 including content strategists and technical SEO specialists.
How The Motley Fool has long-term achieved success
Fool.com has been something of a pioneer in its approach to content syndication. Long before it was ever useful as an SEO strategy, the site was generating a lot of content, pumping it out to other brands such as AOL, MSN, and Yahoo – and establishing massive brand recognition in the process.
‘For the most part, syndicated content is no-follow links,’ Berry says. ‘But you don’t know what’s really going to happen with those smaller publications. Now we have the most natural link profile I have ever seen and we’re one of the most authoritative websites on the internet.’
But it’s not only content quantity that has been key to The Motley Fool’s success. Berry also notes the number of correct calls the publisher has made in stock-buying advice for big names such as Amazon and Tesla over the years. ‘People have truly made a lot of money using our services,’ she says.
Clearly, the content quality on the site is high too. And it is actually useful. This has kept fool.com at the forefront of the industry.
SEO challenges at fool.com
The Motley Fool is a massive site of around 2 million pages. It is generating – and syndicating – a lot of content every day and this can be massively challenging for SEO.
‘Syndication is huge for us and it can also be really tricky from an SEO perspective,’ Berry warns. ‘You’re at the mercy of these partners. Some of them might not be willing to give canonical tags. They might not be willing to link back to the original. And at times you can get outranked for your own content by somebody else who’s syndicated it.’
This requires ongoing renegotiation between fool.com and the publishers who use their content.
Additionally, with being such a high-volume publisher, even old fool.com content can get in the way of fresh up-to-date articles where the SERPs are concerned. This means Berry’s team has had to figure out a strategy for deciding when to redirect old articles to newer pieces and evergreen content.
Onsite Navigation: How it is evolving and affecting SEO
Owing to fool.com’s massive size, its rapid content turnover, and the varying needs of customers who are new to finance, and those who have been signed up to the site for a long time, navigation has been important to get right and is something that Deepcrawl has assisted with to improve.
‘We’ve made huge strides,’ Berry says. ‘In the past, we have had a lot of different stakeholders who want an authoritative link from our navigation, and before we knew it we had a lot of links which didn’t make much sense to our users.’
Evergreen content has been helpful here. Berry and her team highlighted around 40 topics that are useful to new users (who aren’t logged in) and then carried out user-testing – with actual interviews to establish what type of content was most or least useful to them – before launching this new content structure.
But navigation at fool.com is continuing to evolve. Going forward, Berry wants more focus on services and brand. ‘There are so many things we should be highlighting about our brand,’ she says. ‘We’ve been around for so long.’
Fool.com and mobile experience
Berry wants to see more of the site to be truly responsive for mobile users.
‘When I started we were using three different mobile strategies,’ she says. ‘There was responsive for some pages, PWA for others, and AMP for others.’
PWA has since been dropped altogether. And while AMP is absolutely necessary at this point – with all of fool.com’s news content using this framework – Berry points to frustrations with it breaking down, the trustworthiness of the data that comes from it, and that it doesn’t leave much room for styling.
‘Responsive would be our ideal if we can make stuff as fast and seamless as AMP right now,’ Berry says.
How fool.com improves relationships between SEOs and developers
Berry has learned a number of lessons for improving business relationships between teams.
‘SEOs often don’t just bring the outcome they want, they bring the solution. That is where the friction comes,’ she says. ‘This is where SEOs fail all the time. I read this thing and if we do this and this…’
‘It is a good way to live your life too. To bring somebody an outcome and to let them figure out, with you, a way to get there.’
Berry admits there has been friction in the past, but points to the fact that she has more interaction with the developers at fool.com today than she ever has done before.
There is now a culture within the search team that SEO is not everything and that developers do know the best path forward. There is respect for the developer mindset and an understanding that they can see obstacles SEOs cannot.
Issues around Google News
The Motley Fool is reliant on Google News for visibility for a massive proportion of its content. Again, DeepCrawl has been working closely with the site here.
Perhaps the key takeaway Berry has about the service is that currently Google News really favors publishers with a long history. This has been a problem for trying to get content at some of fool.com’s sub-brands such as The Ascent to rank, but it also has wider implications for the news ecosystem online.
‘We did everything right. We submitted our schema mark-up, our sitemap, we used news-y headlines, we said it was news. But it just wasn’t showing up,’ she says.
Deepcrawl offered a comprehensive checklist of changes The Ascent could make to rank too. But, ultimately, it was tying it back to The Motley Fool – including adding it to the fool.com domain and calling the site a ‘Motley Fool service’ – that finally saw success in the Google News SERPs.
‘It feels super problematic,’ Berry says. ‘We are missing really good new publishers. But we see enough traffic that Google News is worth that time and headache.’
Fool.com’s 3 SEO best practices
At the close of the conversation, we asked Berry for three pieces of best practice advice. They go some way to summing up how fool.com has really succeeded in search over the years.
- Do what you are weak in. ‘That is the biggest thing you can take away,’ Berry says. ‘We were working on what we were weak in and everyone should be focused on what they are. Don’t let supposed experts in the field try to sway you otherwise.’
- Talk to real customers. Get reviews. Do user testing. Ask!
- Communication. Have regular communication with developers and other areas of marketing. ‘I spend most of my day not talking with other SEOs,’ Berry says.
Rewatch the webinar in full