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SEO is easy. The EXACT process we use to scale our clients' SEO from 0 to 200k monthly traffic and beyond
There's a TON of content out there on SEO - guides, articles, courses, videos, scams, people yelling about it on online forums, etc etc..
Most of it, however, is super impractical. If you want to start doing SEO TODAY and start getting results ASAP, you'll need to do a TON of digging to figure out what's important and what's not.
So we wanted to make everyone's lives super easy and distill our EXACT process of working w/ clients into a stupid-simple, step-by-step practical guide. And so we did. Here we are.
P.S: startups, and seo loved the guide, so I thought you guys might like it too.
A bit of backstory:If you guys haven't seen any of my previous posts, me and my co-founder own an SEO/digital marketing agency, and we've worked w/ a ton of clients helping them go from 0 to 200k+ monthly organic traffic. We've also helped some quite big companies grow their organic traffic (from 1M to over 1.8M monthly organic), using the exact same process.
So without further ado, grab your popcorn, and be prepared to stick to the screen for a while, cause this is going to be a long post. Here's everything I am going to cover:
- Get your website to run and load 2x - 5x faster (with MINIMAL technical know-how)
- Optimize your landing pages to rank for direct intent keywords (and drive 100% qualified leads)
- Create amazing, long-form content that ranks every time
- How we get a TON of links to our website with ZERO link-building efforts
- How to improve your content’s rankings with Surfer SEO
Step #1 - Technical Optimization and On-Page SEOStep #1 to any SEO initiative is getting your technical SEO right.
Now, some of this is going to be a bit technical, so you might just forward this part to your tech team and just skip ahead to "Step #2 - Keyword Research."
If you DON'T have a tech team and want a super easy tl;dr, do this:
- Use WP Rocket. It's a WordPress plugin that optimizes a bunch of stuff on your website, making it run significantly faster.
- Use SMUSH to (losslessly) compress all the images on your website. this usually helps a TON w/ load speed.
Technical SEO BasicsSitemap.xml file. A good sitemap shows Google how to easily navigate your website (and how to find all your content!). If your site runs on WordPress, all you have to do is install YoastSEO or Rankmath SEO, and they’ll create a sitemap for you. Otherwise, you can use an online XML Sitemap generation tool.
Proper website architecture. The crawl depth of any page should be lower than 4 (i.e: any given page should be reached with no more than 3 clicks from the homepage). To fix this, you should improve your interlinking (check Step #6 of this guide to learn more).
Serve images in next-gen format. Next-gen image formats (JPEG 2000, JPEG XR, and WebP) can be compressed a lot better than JPG or PNG images. Using WordPress? Just use Smush and it’ll do ALL the work for you. Otherwise, you can manually compress all images and re-upload them.
Remove duplicate content. Google hates duplicate content and will penalize you for it. If you have any duplicate pages, just merge them (by doing a 301 redirect) or delete one or the other.
Update your ‘robots.txt’ file. Hide the pages you don’t want Google to index (e.g: non-public, or unimportant pages). If you’re a SaaS, this would be most of your in-app pages. ]
Optimize all your pages by best practice. There’s a bunch of general best practices that Google wants you to follow for your web pages (maintain keyword density, have an adequate # of outbound links, etc.). Install YoastSEO or RankMath and use them to optimize all of your web pages.
If you DON’T have any pages that you don’t want to be displayed on Google, you DON’T need robots.txt.
Advanced Technical SEONow, this is where this gets a bit more web-devvy. Other than just optimizing your website for SEO, you should also focus on optimizing your website speed.
Here’s how to do that:
Both for Mobile and PC, your website should load in under 2-3 seconds. While load speed isn’t a DIRECT ranking factor, it does have a very serious impact on your rankings.
After all, if your website doesn’t load for 5 seconds, a bunch of your visitors might drop off.
So, to measure your website speed performance, you can use Pagespeed Insights. Some of the most common issues we have seen clients facing when it comes to website speed and loading time, are the following:
- Images being resized with CSS or JS. This adds extra loading time to your site. Use GTMetrix to find which images need resizing. Use an online tool (there are a ton of free ones) to properly resize images (or Photoshop even), and re-upload them.
- Images not being lazy-loaded. If your pages contain a lot of images, you MUST activate lazy-loading. This allows images that are below the screen, to be loaded only once the visitor scrolls down enough to see the image.
- Gzip compression not enabled. Gzip is a compression method that allows network file transfers to happen a ton faster. In other words, your files like your HTML, CSS, and JS load a ton faster.
- Use Cloudflare + BunnyCDN Why the combo? Why not just Cloudflare? Well, I won't get into details, I've experimented a bit with it, and if you are looking for something cheap and fast this is the best combo. Cloudflare you can opt in for the free account. BunnyCDN on the other hand is on a pay-as-you-go basis, and unless you are getting over 100K+ visits a month, you'll likely never go above their minimum monthly threshold of $1.
Lastly, if you want to validate the website speed optimization changes you've made, or if you simply want to test how your current site is performing, you can use Google Page Speed Insights*.*
In May 2020, Google rolled out its Core Web Vitals update, which in layman terms means starting next May (2021), the three most important website load speed metrics you will need to worry for ranking will be:
- LCP - Largest Contentful Paint -> under 2.5s
- FID - First Input Delay -> under 100ms
- CLS - Cumulative Layout Shift -> under 0.1
Step #2 - Keyword ResearchOnce your website is 100% optimized, it’s time to define your SEO strategy.
The best way to get started with this is by doing keyword research.
First off, you want to create a keyword research sheet. This is going to be your main hub for all your content operations.
You can use the sheet to:
- Prioritize content
- Keep track of the publishing process
- Get a top-down view of your web pages
- Target search phrase. This is the keyword you’re targeting.
- Priority. What’s the priority of this keyword? We usually divide them by 1-2-3…
- Priority 3 - Top priority keywords. These are usually low competition, high traffic, well-converting, or all 3 at the same time.
- Priority 2 - Mid-priority keywords.
- Priority 1 - These are low priority.
- Status. What’s the status of the article? We usually divide them by…
- 1 - Not written
- 2 - Writer has picked up the topic for the week
- 3 - The article is being written
- 4 - The article is in editing phase
- 5 - The article is published on the blog
- Topic cluster. The category that the blog post belongs to.
- Monthly search volume. Self-explanatory. This helps you pick a priority for the keyword.
- CPC (low & high bid). Cost per click for the keyword. Generally, unless you’re planning to run search ads, these are not mandatory. They can, however, help you figure out which of your keywords will convert better. Pro tip: the higher the CPC, the more likely it is for the keyword to convert well.
How to do Keyword Research (Step-by-Step Guide)There are a ton of different ways to do that (check the “further readings” at the end of this section for a detailed rundown).
Our favorite method, however, is as follows…
Start off by listing out your top 5 SEO competitors.
The key here is SEO competitors - competing companies that have a strong SEO presence in the same niche.
Not sure who’s a good SEO competitor? Google the top keywords that describe your product and find your top-ranking competitors.
Run them through SEMrush (or your favorite SEO tool), and you’ll see how well, exactly, they’re doing with their SEO.
Once you have a list of 5 competitors, run each of them through “Organic Research” on SEMrush, and you'll get a complete list of all the keywords they rank on.
Now, go through these keywords one by one and extract all the relevant ones and add them to your sheet.
Once you go through the top SEO competitors, your keyword research should be around 80%+ done.
Now to put some finishing touches on your keyword research, run your top keywords through UberSuggest and let it do its magic. It's going to give you a bunch of keywords associated with the keywords you input.
Go through all the results it's going to give you, extract anything that’s relevant, and your keyword research should be 90% done.
At this point, you can call it a day and move on to the next step. Chances are, over time, you’ll uncover new keywords to add to your sheet and get you to that sweet 100%.
Step #3 - Create SEO Landing PagesRemember how we collected a bunch of landing page keywords in step #2? Now it’s time to build the right page for each of them! This step is a lot more straightforward than you’d think. First off, you create a custom landing page based on the keyword. Depending on your niche, this can be done in 2 ways:
- Create a general template landing page. Pretty much copy-paste your landing page, alter the sub-headings, paraphrase it a bit, and add relevant images to the use-case. You’d go with this option if the keywords you’re targeting are very similar to your main use-case (e.g. “project management software” “project management system”).
- Create a unique landing page for each use-case. You should do this if each use-case is unique. For example, if your software doubles as project management software and workflow management software. In this case, you’ll need two completely new landing pages for each keyword.
You can do this by running the page content through an SEO tool. If you’re using WordPress, you can do this through RankMath or Yoast SEO.
Both tools will give you exact instructions on how to optimize your page for the keyword.
If you’re not using WordPress, you can use SurferSEO. Just copy-paste your web page content, and it’s going to give you instructions on how to optimize it.
Once your new landing pages are live, you need to pick where you want to place them on your website. We usually recommend adding these pages to your website’s navigation menu (header) or footer.
Finally, once you have all these new landing pages up, you might be thinking “Now what? How, and when, are these pages going to rank?”
Generally, landing pages are a tad harder to rank than content. See, with content, quality plays a huge part. Write better, longer, and more informative content than your competition, and you’re going to eventually outrank them even if they have more links.
With landing pages, things aren’t as cut and dry. More often than not, you can’t just “create a better landing page.”
What determines rankings for landing page keywords are backlinks. If your competitors have 400 links on their landing pages, while yours has 40, chances are, you’re not going to outrank them.
Step #4 - Create SEO Blog ContentNow, let’s talk about the other side of the coin: content keywords, and how to create content that ranks.
As we mentioned before, these keywords aren’t direct-intent (the Googler isn’t SPECIFICALLY looking for your product), but they can still convert pretty well. For example, if you’re a digital marketing agency, you could rank on keywords like…
- Lead generation techniques
- SaaS marketing
- SEO content
On top of this, blog post keywords are way easier to rank for than your landing pages - you can beat competition simply by creating significantly better content without turning it into a backlink war.In order to create good SEO content, you need to do 2 things right:
- Create a comprehensive content outline
- Get the writing part right
How to Create a Content Outline for SEOA content outline is a document that has all the info on what type of information the article should contain Usually, this includes:
- Which headers and subheaders you should use
- What’s the optimal word count
- What information, exactly, should each section of the article cover
- If you’re not using Yoast or Rankmath, you can also mention the SEO optimization requirements (keyword density, # of outbound links, etc.)
At the same time, even if you’re the one doing the writing, an outline can help you get a top-down idea of what you should cover in the article.
So, how do you create an outline? Here’s a simplified step-by-step process…
- Determine the target word count. Rule of thumb: aim for 1.5x - 2x whatever your competitor wrote. You can disregard this if your competition was super comprehensive with their content, and just go for the same length instead.
- Create a similar header structure as your competition. Indicate for the writer which headers should be h2, which ones h3.
- For each header, mention what it’s about. Pro tip - you can borrow ideas from the top 5 ranking articles.
- For each header, explain what, exactly, should the writer mention (in simple words).
- Finally, do some first-hand research on Reddit and Quora. What are the questions your target audience has around your topic? What else could you add to the article that would be super valuable for your customers?
How to Write WellThere’s a lot more to good content than giving an outline to a writer. Sure, they can hit all the right points, but if the writing itself is mediocre, no one’s going to stick around to read your article.
Here are some essential tips you should keep in mind for writing content (or managing a team of writers):
- Write for your audience. Are you a B2B enterprise SaaS? Your blog posts should be more formal and professional. B2C, super-consumer product? Talk in a more casual, relaxed fashion. Sprinkle your content with pop culture references for bonus points!
- Avoid fluff. Every single sentence should have some sort of value (conveying information, cracking a joke, etc.). Avoid beating around the bush, and be as straightforward as possible.
- Keep your audience’s knowledge in mind. For example, if your audience is a bunch of rocket scientists, you don’t have to explain to them how 1+1=2.
- Create a writer guideline (or just steal ours! -> edit: sorry had to remove link due to posting guidelines)
- Use Grammarly and Hemingway. The first is like your personal pocket editor, and the latter helps make your content easier to read.
- Hire the right writers. Chances are, you’re too busy to write your own content. We usually recommend using ProBlogger or Cult of Copy Job Board (Facebook Group) to source top writing talent.
Step #5 - Start Link-Building OperationsLinks are essential if you want your content or web pages to rank.
If you’re in a competitive niche, links are going to be the final deciding factor on what ranks and what doesn’t.
In the VPN niche, for example, everyone has good content. That’s just the baseline. The real competition is in the backlinks.
To better illustrate this example, if you Google “best VPN,” you’ll see that all top-ranking content pieces are almost the same thing. They’re all:
- Easy to navigate
- Well-formatted (to enhance UX)
Meaning, to compete, you’ll really need to double-down on your link-building effort.
In fact, in the most competitive SEO niches, it’s not uncommon to spend $20,000 per month on link-building efforts alone.
Pro TipNow, let’s ask the million-dollar question: “how do you do link-building?”
Got scared by the high $$$ some companies spend on link-building? Well, worry not!
Only the most ever-green niches are so competitive. Think, VPN, make money online, health and fitness, dating, CBD, gambling, etc. So you know, the usual culprits.
For most other niches, you can even rank with minimal links, as long as you have top-tier SEO content.
4 Evergreen Link Building Strategies for Any WebsiteThere are a TON of different link building strategies on the web. Broken link building, scholarship link building, stealing competitor links, and so on and so on and so on.
We’re not going to list every single link building strategy out there (mainly because Backlinko already did that in their link building guide).
What we are going to do, though, is list out some of our favorite strategies, and link you to resources where you can learn more:
- Broken link building. You find dead pages with a lot of backlinks, reach out to websites that linked to them, and pitch them something like “hey, you linked to this article, but it’s dead. We thought you’d want to fix that. You can use our recent article if you think it’s cool enough.”
- Guest posting. Probably the most popular link building strategy. Find blogs that accept guest posts, and send them a pitch! They usually let you include 1-2 do-follow links back to your website.
- “Linkable asset” link building. A linkable asset is a resource that is so AWESOME that you just can’t help but link to. Think, infographics, online calculators, first-hand studies or research, stuff like that. The tl;dr here is, you create an awesome resource, and promote the hell out of it on the web.
- Skyscraper technique. The skyscraper technique is a term coined by Backlinko. The gist of it is, you find link-worthy content on the web, create something even better, and reach out to the right people.
However, if you’re looking for something a bit different, oh boy we have a treat for you! We’re going to teach you a link-building strategy that got us around:
- 10,000+ traffic within a week
- 15+ leads
- 50+ links
Link-Building Case Study: SaaS Marketing“So, what’s this ancient link-building tactic?”
I hear you asking. It must be something super secretive and esoteric, right?
Secrets learned straight from the link-building monks at an ancient SEO temple…
Well, not quite.
The tactic isn’t something too unusual - it’s pretty famous on the web. This tactic comes in 2 steps:
- Figure out where your target audience hangs out (create a list of the channels)
- Research the type of content your audience loves
- Create EPIC content based on that research (give TONS of value)
- Promote the HELL out of it in the channels from step 1
Well, you’d be surprised how many people don’t use it.
Now, before you start throwing stones at us for overhyping something so simple, let’s dive into the case study:
How we PR’d the hell out of our guide to SaaS marketing (can't add a link, but it's on our blog and it's 14k words long), and got 10k+ traffic as a result.
A few months back when we launched our blog, we were deciding on what our initial content should be about.
Since we specialize in helping SaaS companies acquire new users, we decided to create a mega-authority guide to SaaS marketing (AND try to get it to rank for its respective keyword).
We went through the top-ranking content pieces, and saw that none of them was anything too impressive.
Most of them were about general startup marketing strategies - how to validate your MVP, find a product-market fit, etc.
Pretty “meh,” if you ask us. We believe that the #1 thing founders are looking for when Googling “saas marketing” are practical channels and tactics you can use to acquire new users.
So, it all started off with an idea: create a listicle of the top SaaS marketing tactics out there:
- How to create good content to drive users
- Promote your content
- Rank on Google
- Create viral infographics
- Create a micro-site
On one hand, oops! On the other hand, we had some pretty epic content on our hands. We even added the Smart Content Filter to make the article much easier to navigate.
Once the article was up, we ran it through some of our clients, friends, and acquaintances, and received some really good feedback.
So, now we knew it was worth promoting the hell out of it.
We came up with a huge list of all online channels that would appreciate this article:
- entrepreneur and startups (hi guys!). The first ended up loving the post, netting us ~600 upboats and a platinum medal. The latter also ended up loving the post, but the mods decided to be assholes and remove it for being “self-promotional.” So, despite the community loving the content, it got axed by the mods. Sad. (Fun fact - this one time we tried to submit another content piece on startups with no company names, no links back to our website, or anything that can be deemed promotional. One of the mods removed it for mentioning a link to Ahrefs. Go figure!)
- Hacker News. Tons of founders hang out on HN, so we thought they’d appreciate anything SaaS-related. This netted us around ~200+ upvotes and some awesome feedback (thanks HN!)
- Submit on Growth Hackers, Indie Hackers, and all other online marketing communities. We got a bunch of love on Indie Hackers, the rest were quite inactive.
- Reach out to all personal connects + clients and ask for a share
- Run Facebook/Twitter ads. This didn’t particularly work out too well for us, so we dropped it after 1-2 weeks.
- Run a Quuu promotion. If you haven’t heard of Quuu, it’s a platform that matches people who want their content to be shared, with people who want their social media profiles running on 100% auto-pilot. We also got “meh” results here - tons of shares, next to no likes or link clicks.
- Promoted in SaaS and marketing Facebook groups. This had awesome results both in terms of traffic, as well as making new friends, AND getting new leads.
- Promoted in entrepreneur Slack channels. This worked OK - didn’t net us traffic, but got us some new friends.
- Emailed anyone we mentioned in the article and asked for a share. Since we mentioned too many high profile peeps and not enough non-celebs, this didn’t work out too well
- Emailed influencers that we thought would like the article / give it a share. They didn’t. We were heart-broken.
Overall, this netted us around 12,000 page views in total, 15+ leads, 6,000 traffic in just 2 promotion days.
As for SEO results, we got a bunch of links. (I would have added screenshots to all of these results, but don't think this subreddit allows it).
A lot of these are no-follow from Reddit, HackerNews, and other submission websites, but a lot of them are also pretty authentic.
The cool part about this link-building tactic is that people link to you without even asking. You create awesome content that helps people, and you get rewarded with links, shares, and traffic!
And as for the cherry on top, only 2 months after publishing the article, it’s ranking on position #28. We’re expecting it to get to page 1 within the new few months and top 3 within the year.
Step #6 - Interlink Your PagesOne of Google's ranking factors is how long your visitors stick around on your website.
So, you need to encourage users reading ONE article, to read, well, the rest of them (or at least browse around your website). This is done through interlinking.
The idea is that each of your web pages should be linked to and from every other relevant page on your site.
Say, an article on "how to make a resume" could link to (and be linked from) "how to include contact info on a resume," "how to write a cover letter," "what's the difference between a CV and a resume," and so on.
Proper interlinking alone can have a significant impact on your website rankings. NinjaOutreach, for example, managed to improve their organic traffic by 40% through better interlinking alone.
So, how do you do interlinking “right?”
First off, make it a requirement for your writers to link to the rest of your content. Add a clause to your writer guidelines that each article should have 10+ links to your other content pieces.
More often than not, they’ll manage to get 60-70% of interlinking opportunities. To get this to 100%, we usually do bi-annual interlinking runs. Here’s how that works.
Pick an article you want to interlink. Let’s say, for example, an article on 'business process management'.
The goal here is to find as many existing articles on your blog, where ‘business process management’ is mentioned so that we can add a link to the article.
Firstly, Google the keyword ‘business process management’ by doing a Google search on your domain. You can use the following query:
In our case, that’s:
site:example.com “business process management”
You’ll get a complete list of articles that mention the keyword “business process management.
Now, all you have to do is go through each of these, and make sure that the keyword is hyperlinked to the respective article!
You should also do this for all the synonyms of the keyword for this article. For example, “BPM” is an acronym for business process management, so you’d want to link this article there too.
Step #7 - Track & Improve Your Headline CTRsArticle CTRs play a huge role in determining what ranks or not.
Let’s say your article ranks #4 with a CTR of 15%. Google benchmarks this CTR with the average CTR for the position.
If the average CTR for position #4 is 12%, Google will assume that your article, with a CTR of 15% is of high quality, and will reward you with better rankings.
On the other hand, if the average CTR is 18%, Google will assume that your article isn’t as valuable as other ranking content pieces, and will lower your ranking.
So, it’s important to keep track of your Click Through Rates for all your articles, and when you see something that’s underperforming, you can test different headlines to see if they’ll improve CTR.
Now, you’re probably wondering, how do you figure out what’s the average CTR?
Unfortunately, each search result is different, and there's no one size fits all formula for average CTR.
Over the past few years, Google has been implementing a bunch of different types of search results - featured snippet, QAs, and a lot of other types of search results.
So, depending on how many of these clutter and the search results for your given keyword, you’ll get different average CTRs by position.
Rule of thumb, you can follow these values:
- 1st position -> ~31.73% CTR
- 2nd pos. -> ~24.71%
- 3rd pos. -> 18.66%
- 4th pos. -> 13.60%
- 5th -> 9.51%
- 6th -> 6.23%
- 7th -> 4.15%
- 8th -> 3.12%
- 9th -> 2.97%
Use a scraping tool like Screaming Frog to extract the following data from all your web pages:
- Page title
- Page URL
- Old Headline
- CTR (28 Day Range)
- Avg. Position
Now, check what your competition is doing and use that to come up with new headline ideas. Then, put them in the Title Ideas cell for the respective keyword.
For each keyword, come up with 4-5 different headlines, and implement the (seemingly) best title for each article.
Once you implement the change, insert the date on the Date Implemented column. This will help you keep track of progress.
Then, wait for around 3 - 4 weeks to see what kind of impact this change is going to have on your rankings and CTR.
If the results are not satisfactory, record the results in the respective cells, and implement another test for the following month. Make sure to update the Date Implemented column once again.
Step #8 - Keep Track of Rankings & Make Improvements On-The-GoYou’re never really “done” with SEO - you should always keep track of your rankings and see if there’s any room for improvement.
If you wait for an adequate time-frame after publishing a post (6 months to a year) and you’re still seeing next to no results, then it might be time to investigate.
Here’s what this usually looks like for us:
- Audit the content
- Does your content have an adequate word count? Think, 1.5-2x your competitors.
- Is the content well-written?
- Do the images in your article add value? E.g. no stock or irrelevant images.
- Is the content optimized for SEO? Think, keyword density, links to external websites, etc.
- Audit internal links
- Does the content link to an adequate number of your other articles or web pages?
- Is the article linked to from an adequate number of your web pages or blog posts? You can check this on Search Console => Links => Internal Links. Or, if you’re using Yoast or RankMath, you can check the # of internal links a post has in the WordPress Dashboard -> Posts.
- Audit the backlinks
- Do you have as many backlinks as your competitors?
- Are your backlinks from the countries you want to rank in? If you have a bunch of links from India, but you want to rank in the US, you’d need to get more US links.
- Are your links high quality? More often than not, low DA / PA links are not that helpful.
- Did you disown low-quality or spam links?
- Audit web page
- Does the web page load too slow? Think, 4+ seconds.
- Did you enable lazy loading for the images?
- Did you compress all images on the web page?
Hope you guys had a good read and learned a thing or two :) HMU if you have any questions.
If you want to read the full version in a more reader-friendly format, you can check out our SEO process blog post here.
My initial G2 impressions vs. my Quest 2 and Vive Pro
Just got my G2 yesterday, and thought I'd share some thoughts on how it stacks up against some of the other VR headsets I own. For reference, I'm comparing the stock G2 to a modded Vive Pro and a modded Quest 2.submitted by TeTitanAtoll to HPReverb
NOTE: These are my initial impressions after only about 4 hours of time with the G2, as compared to a couple months with the Quest 2 and about a year with my Vive Pro, so my opinion is subject to change as I spend more time with the G2 and try more settings, etc. I've seen some comments about folks cancelling their G2 orders based on my opinions here, and I certainly wouldn't recommend that, particularly as it pertains to visuals, as this can be very subjective.
BackgroundI first dipped my toe into VR last Christmas with the Quest 1. I was immediately smitten by the technology, and as I'm also just a bit of an obsessive-compulsive technophile (is there any other kind of technophile?), I've actually owned several different headsets over the past year in search of the most optimal VR experience available, including the Quest 1, Vive Pro, Valve Index, Quest 2, and now the Reverb G2. The Quest 1 and Valve Index have since found new homes, but I still actively use the Vive Pro and more recently the Quest 2.
My Vive Pro is modded, with USB-C earbuds, non-fresnel Gear VR lenses, a Vive Wireless Adapter, and a custom-made battery clip that allows the wireless adapter battery to be mounted directly beneath the adapter on the HMD, resulting in a truly wireless PCVR experience. This headset has the typical level of SDE associated with pentile OLED displays, but especially with the Gear VR lenses installed, it has zero god-rays, and is the true king of black levels, contrast and clarity. I picked up the headset used on Craigslist for a good price, so total cost to me after upgrades was just a bit over $1K, including base stations.
My Quest 2 is also modded, including the Deluxe Audio Strap and a custom battery mount to extend play time and provide a counter balance to the otherwise front-heavy headset. As I primarily consume PCVR content, I also have a dedicated WIFI-6 router directly connected to my RTX-2080TI gaming PC, which I use in conjunction with Virtual Desktop to stream PCVR games to the Quest 2. The only thing that connects to that dedicated router is the PC (via Gig-E) and the Quest 2 (via WIFI-6), resulting in a surprisingly low-latency (~20ms-25ms) connection, with virtually no compression artifacts that I can perceive (92mbps). I honestly didn't expect to be, but I'm thoroughly impressed by what the Quest 2 can manage with PCVR when paired with a powerful gaming PC and a good WIFI router. It is worth noting that you do need a beefy GPU to hit this performance level...running this same configuration from my GTX-1070 gaming laptop resulted in visible compression artifacts and noticeable lag even when connected to the same dedicated router. Total cost for this solution, including the deluxe audio strap, dedicated router, and virtual desktop was right around $600.
So, this is what the $600 Reverb G2 was up against as I evaluated it. It's worth noting that when I placed my G2 pre-order back in May, I didn't expect the Quest 2 to be in the picture at all, but it is, and so I'm left to answer the question of where, or if, the G2 fits into my VR lineup.
Given that the G2 would re-introduce wires into my now fully-wireless PCVR setup, I'm looking for either a pretty significant bump in overall visual clarity as compared to the near-4K Quest 2 display, or enough of an improvement in black levels that it could supplant my Vive Pro for games that are heavily dependent on darkness (a feat that the Quest 2 with it's LCD panels failed to accomplish).
These headsets are all very comfortable. The Vive Pro has always been (and still is) my most comfortable headset, even when wearing glasses, to the point where I haven't even bothered with a prescription lens adapter.
With the Deluxe Audio Strap and 10,000mah extension battery acting as a counter-weight, the Quest 2 is also very well balanced and comfortable. It's a bit cramped for wearing with glasses, so I do use it with a prescription lens adapter.
The G2 is a snug, but also a very comfortable fit. I really like the padding HP used on the face plate. It's very similar to the foam on the Vive Pro, as compared to the much harder and rough foam used on the Quest 2. It's also fairly comfortable with glasses, much more so than the Quest 2 with glasses, though in extended use, I did start feeling the pressure of my glasses on my nose, so if I keep this headset, I will opt to use it with a prescription lens adapter (once one is available to 3D print).
I'd say on the whole the G2 is slightly more comfortable than the modded Quest 2, but still not quite as comfortable as the Vive Pro. Also, with the snug fit, I did find my glasses fogging up a bit more on the G2 than with the other two headsets, so a vented faceplate would be nice at some point, but it wasn't a major issue.
Any of these headsets are fine for longer gaming sessions without comfort issues.
Figured I'd throw this one in there simply because the G2 does such a fantastic job here. Unlike both my Quest 2 and Vive Pro, the G2 nose piece pretty much blocks all external light...nothing sneaks in. Not sure why more headsets don't offer a similar solution. This is also true for light leak around the faceplate. I do get some subtle light leakage shining through and reflecting off my lenses from the sides on my Vive Pro, but with the snug fit of the G2, there's no such issue there.
Controllers & Tracking
My controller experience with the G2 so far...OK.
Ergonomically, the G2 controllers are very comfortable to hold, and the button placement is great. In my opinion, the Oculus touch controllers are still king in the ergonomics department, but I'd put the G2 controllers in an easy 2nd above both the Valve Knuckles and Vive Wands. The one exception being Beat Saber, where the Vive Wand in a B grip reigns supreme (that happens to be the only area where the Vive Wands reigns supreme in anything).
In the haptics department, the G2 is fairly anemic. I feel like I hear the haptic feedback almost more than I feel it. In Beat Saber, for example, I really don't get that sense of striking a block with my saber, and I actually had to pop my headset off the first time I played it to convince myself they were actually vibrating (they were). I didn't realize just what an important element of the game that haptic feedback was until I used the G2 controllers and couldn't really feel it as much as I am used to with all the other controllers I've used.
Much has already been said about the fact that the G2 controllers are battery hogs, so I already had a set of four rechargeable 1.5v batteries standing by, 2 per controller...but just to underscore the point, I didn't even make it through a full evening of testing before my first low-battery warning popped up. Compare that to my Quest 2, which I think I used heavily for over 2 weeks before I needed to swap out the single AA batteries. Rechargeable batteries are a must with the G2 controllers.
Now, for what is probably the most important aspect of the controllers, the actual tracking performance...
EDIT (11/17/2020): I realize at this point I'm not the only one who's called out the tracking deficiencies on the G2 controllers, but in fairness, my observations were based primarily on one game, and it happened to be an Oculus game running via Revive, so it's possible there may be a software compatibility issue that may have been a factor there. I will try out a few more native Steam VR games to see if it changes my initial impressions on the tracking.
Edit (11/18/2020): I do think perhaps there is an issue with Revive and the G2. I popped some fresh batteries into the G2 controllers, and played through another quick round in Drop Dead, and I encountered all the same issues I described yesterday. I then fired up Arizona Sunshine (native Steam version), which has many of the same tracking mechanics, and I didn't see any of the same issues. No problems grabbing or holstering weapons from my hip, even with hands resting at my side for an extended time. I even dropped a weapon on a crate, turned away from it and reached behind my back to where I thought it should be, and I was able to grab it, so hard to fault the tracking there.
I also did another round of beat saber...noticed my left saber sometimes got a bit flighty while it was by my side...jumping forward a bit, but when I swang it up to swipe a block, it went where I needed it to go, and as I said yesterday, when actually swinging it in front of me, no problems with it going where I expected it to. I also observed a few more instances where my hands danced around a little forward of me while wandering around my Steam Home environment, even when I wasn't moving them.
So, there still does seem to be some wackiness with the tracking when the controllers are in the blind spot as compared to the Steam VR or even Quest 2 controllers, but aside from Drop Dead, which may be a software issue, nothing I can say disrupted the actual gameplay in any way. So, still not up to the standards of the competition overall, I think, but probably not a reason to walk away from the G2 if it checks all the other boxes for you.
(11/18/22-1): Adding another example where I noticed tracking differences between the Quest 2 and the G2 controllers. As has been mentioned elsewhere, anything close to the head isn't tracked very well. A good way to see this is to just take your hand in Steam VR Home, hold it to one side of your head, and slowly move it across the front of your face to the other side of your head...and then back and forth. With the Quest 2, your virtual hand moves smoothly with the controller back and forth. With the G2, it stops about half way and then jumps around. Probably not a scenario you will encounter a lot in a game, but I did first noticed this in a game where I held something up to my ear to listen to it, and then tried to bring it into my field of view to take a closer look.
I actually picked up a couple of Vive receiver dongles during the long wait between pre-order and my G2 arriving so that I'd have the option to use my Valve Knuckles with the G2, and after using the G2 controllers for an evening, I do plan to set that up so I have that option.
Field of View
I have never owned or used any of the Pimax headsets with an ultra-wide FOV, but I did briefly own the Valve Index with it's 130 degree FOV. I could see the improvement there, but at the time I evaluated that headset, my focus was really dominated by the stark differences in black levels and clarity between my modded Vive Pro and the Valve Index, and those aspects trumped both the FOV and the higher refresh rate of the Index for me at that time.
With regard to the G2, Vive Pro, and Quest 2, I have not yet attempted any objective measurements, but subjectively, I actually find they are all in the same ballpark when it comes to FOV. There's no question I get the widest FOV with the Vive Pro when I have the lenses adjusted to sit as close to my glasses as possible, but it's not really significantly better than the G2 or Quest 2, with their fixed lenses. The variance between them is probably on the order of a few degrees, as compared to something like the Valve Index, with 10's of degrees of difference. I will try and take some actual measurements this evening and post those results here.
EDIT: I took some quick measurements via Steams "ROV Test FOV & Resolution" environment. Here's what I observed in terms of FOV:
This is probably the main reason I pre-ordered the G2. At the time of pre-order, the Vive Pro was my sole VR HMD, and frankly, I think the combination of the Vive Pro + Gear VR lenses still offers one of the best overall visual VR experiences available. The OLED displays with their vivid colors, high contrast, and and near-perfect blacks, uninhibited by fresnel lenses, really is something to behold. While there is certainly visible SDE on the Vive Pro, unlike poor blacks or contrast in a dark games, I find that the SDE mostly disappears when I'm engaged in active gameplay and not looking for it. On the flip-side, the SDE does stand out and is much harder to ignore in more passive activities, such as watching a video or movie...which is something I typically haven't done in VR for precisely that reason. With the G2 I was hoping for more of a best-of-both worlds compromise.
So, with regard to SDE, both the G2 and the Quest 2 effectively eliminate it as compared to the Vive Pro. Between the G2 and the Quest 2, I wouldn't say one is better than the other in this regard...the SDE simply isn't there in either case.
As for blacks and contrast, I had no illusions that an LCD would be as good as OLED, but I was hopeful based on early review reports of black levels from the G2, that it might be "good enough" to use in place of my Vive Pro for cases where I find deep blacks are important. It is not, and it's not even a close call. I'd say the black levels are fairly comparable between the Quest 2 and the G2, with neither being even in the same league as the Vive Pro, so no miracles from those LCD panels here. To be clear, I'm not talking about games like Elite Dangerous here, where you have a bright cockpit to stand in contrast to the blackness of space. I think all of these headsets look fantastic in scenarios such as this. I'm talking about games where you are meant to feel that you are in the dark, think caves, the darkness of night, dimly lit rooms, etc. Some examples of games that fit this mode would be the Mine and Refinery levels in Arizona Sunshine. Night and Caves in The Forest. The Room VR, etc.
In terms of lens clarity, the Gear VR lenses exhibit no glare or godrays with pretty much edge-to-edge clarity. With both the G2 and Quest, I really have no trouble finding the sweet spot, so it's a pretty healthy size, and clarity across the field of view is pretty good once I have the sweet spot. Both Quest 2 and G2 do exhibit godrays and blur on high contrast white-on-black, but not as bad as I recall with the Valve Index. The G2 is slightly better than the Quest 2 in this regard, but neither is particularly bad as far as fresnel lenses go.
In terms of brightness, The Vive Pro is the brightest, to the point that I typically reduce brightness to around 80% via the Advance VR Settings app. The G2 is just a tad brighter than the Quest 2, which gives the display a bit more "pop", but I personally find the colors on the Quest 2 to be just a bit
EDIT (11/17/20): Based on some of the comments, I've gone back and taken a closer look at some different content, also ensuring that I'm driving the resolution in games to fully utilize the higher resolution and display bandwidth of the G2 via Display Port, and I am able to see the differences between the G2 and the Quest 2 in game a bit more pronounced here.
EDIT (11/18/2020): I spent a lot of time during those first several hours with my G2 in Virtual Desktop comparing the difference I could see from the actual desktop, watching videos, etc. In further testing I've discovered that Virtual Desktop apparently reverts the display to 1080p each time you fire it up, even if your desktop is set to 4K before you run it, so for that portion of my evaluation, I was effectively comparing 1080p content to 1080p content there, which obviously will skew results.
After bumping the desktop back up to 4K, I saw an increase in sharpness in both the G2 and the Quest 2, but the improvement was more profound with the G2. At 300% desktop scaling, the two were still pretty darn close, but at 100% scaling, the desktop on the G2 was quite usable (though still not as crisp as an actual monitor), whereas the desktop on the Quest 2 was not...text just didn't resolve well enough there.
As far as video content from the desktop goes, it's honestly still very hard to distinguish any notable difference between the two on that type of content.
The desktop resolution would not have impacted my observations in actual VR, so let me add one more example of what I'm seeing there. Let's just take something from my Steam VR Home environment, which is currently "The Gulping Goat Space Farm". When I pop into that environment on the G2, I get a general sense that it's a bit more crisp, but it's not an immediate "Wow, this is just so much better"...this is a very subjective observation, but back when I moved from the Quest 1 to the Vive Pro it definitely was a "Wow, this is so much better moment". Perhaps my impressions are skewed by the lack of SDE on both headsets here, but it just looks really good in both cases as you casually look around the environment. Now, if I walk out the door, and around the corner of the house, there's a sign in the distance by the chicken coop. On the Quest 2, I can make out "No Trespassing", and there are two small blurbs of text below that which I can't make out. On the G2 I can make out "No Trespassing - Violators will be Milked", still can not make out the 3rd blurb from that distance even on the G2.
I'm also finding that the more time I spend in the G2 headset, the more the visual differences stand out when I move back the the Quest 2.
Conclusions (Updated 11/18/2020)The biggest conclusion I would draw is that even with the Reverb G2 now on the scene, there is no "perfect" VR headset. Pick your poison...you either get Screen Door Effect, or less than ideal blacks and contrast...there is no one option that eliminates both. Perhaps someday we'll have VR displays that eliminate SDE while maintaining OLED level blacks and contrast, but that day is not today. That means one way or another I'll be keeping my Vive Pro around for the foreseeable future. I play too many games where those black levels take priority over SDE for me.
At the same time, the overall quality of the LCD and lenses on the G2, and to a lesser extent, the Quest 2, are quite simply amazing, particularly for content that is mostly bright or mixed bright and dark, which probably represents the bulk of what we consume in VR.
I'm finding that the G2 is definitely a bump up in visuals and sharpness as compared to the Quest 2. For desktop use, it's pretty significant, and this probably translates to SIMs as well, but for run-and-gun shooters, or even a game like Beat Saber, the differences are visible, but subjectively perhaps a bit more subtle than I might have expected. At this point, it's a question of whether or not those improvements are enough to offset the conveniences of the Quest 2 with regard to wireless capability and mobility given how well it performs in that regard. Dollar for dollar, I might actually give the early nod to my $600 Quest Bundle (including router, DAS, and power-pack) over the $600 G2. More so if you opted to replace the G2 controllers with a couple of base stations and a pair of knuckles controllers, as that would add quite a bit more cost to the latter. In my case, I already have the latter, so that's not so much of a consideration.
Now, If I was basing this decision solely on the visuals, and not the full packages (as described in the opening section), the G2 is the clear winner here. I don't see myself parting with either my Quest 2 or Vive Pro given their individual strengths, so it's really a question of whether there's a place for the G2 with it's sharper visuals in my specific situation.
I know that was a bit long-winded, but hopefully someone will find my observations helpful.
Final Words (Added 11/19/2020)I realize that even though this post is only a few days old, it's stale in reddit-time, and probably not getting that many views, but I wanted to add one final update now that I've had a few more days with my G2.
Yes, I will be keeping my G2, but I'm also keeping my Quest 2 and Vive Pro as well for now...it's going to be interesting to see how I decide when to use each, but they each excel in different areas, so until someone can build a wireless 4K+ OLED HMD with no SDE and great tracking...
With regard to the tracking on the stock G2 controllers, I'll let my comments above stand where I left them. As for my own setup, I now have the Valve Knuckles controllers working with the G2, and I don't expect the G2 controllers will see much action going forward.
With regard to the visual fidelity and sharpness of the G2, yes, it is visually superior to the Quest 2 with the VD streaming setup I have described above, but with the exception of the G2, I think the Quest 2 does a great job as compared to every other VR headset I've tried, including the PCVR headsets.
When compared to the previous generation VR headsets, it's very subjective, but I'd say visually the Quest 2 is maybe 85% of the way to where the G2 landed...but the more I use the G2, the more that last 15% really stands out, so no question that HP nailed it with the G2 HMD.