Outdated SEO Practices You Need to Avoid in 2020

SEO is constantly evolving and if you don’t keep up with the latest SEO developments, you may end up doing more harm than good. Learn which outdated SEO practices you must avoid in 2020.

Like zombies in “Dawn of the Dead,” there are some outdated SEO practices that will not die. They exist in this strange netherworld between legit SEO and blackhat tactics and they’re often marketed to small business owners who don’t know any better.

At best, these tactics are ineffective, but at worst, they can tank a site’s rankings.

Shady Backlinking Schemes

If I had a nickel for every email we get from someone wanting to share a guest post on our blog, I’d be sitting on a beach in Cabo sipping a margarita instead of writing this article. Whether it’s a collection of Tiger King memes or a snoozer of a listicle about productivity, there’s often an inconspicuous little link in there to something completely off topic.

Sometimes, the pitch is direct with an offer for cash in exchange for a link.

Google considers these unnatural links and they penalize sites for having them. That’s not to say guest posting and link outreach is a waste of time, but the way to go about doing it is to carefully select a small number of quality sites, write a useful, thoughtful post, and link organically.

Keyword Repetition

For a long time, keywords made up the biggest piece of the SEO pie and we did all kinds of crazy things to shoehorn as many keywords onto our pages as possible. Invisible text, dozens and dozens of tags on a blog post, and anything else to max out that keyphrase density.

Back in the day, there was no such thing as too many keywords. Now, it’s important to watch your keyword density and make sure you land in that sweet spot between too much and too little. The WordPress plugin, SEO Yoast, is great for helping with that — it recommends a density between 0.5% and 3.5%. More than that, and Google is increasingly likely to judge your content as keyword stuffing rather than legitimate, useful content that serves its users.

While you should forego the keyword stuffing, one thing you can do to help your page get ahead in the SERPs is use synonyms and related keywords to paint a better picture of what you’re writing about. The more you flesh out your content, the more likely Google is to rank it well.

Comment Spam

Seriously, I can’t believe I’m still writing about this. How is comment spam still a thing that happens in 2020? This is one of the outdated SEO practices that baffles me the most. It hurts my heart whenever we have a new client sign up with us who has a gazillion links on forums and comment sections left by their former SEO consultants.

Odds are, if you’re reading here, you know not to leave comment spam all over the web. But also, make sure you’re moderating your own site so that comment spam does not get published on your posts.  All those comments send a message to Google: This site is not well-moderated or maintained and probably shouldn’t rank high as a result.

Meta Keywords

There’s really not much to say here, but many small businesses who run their own websites and blogs still use the meta keywords tag for SEO. It’s been over 10 years since Google even looked at meta keywords and Bing only uses them to penalize sites (i.e., the presence of excessive meta keywords is an indication that a site is attempting to game the system and likely spammy). Always fill out the meta title and meta description fields, but skip the keywords tag.

Content for the Sake of Content

No content is better than crappy content. Don’t push out blog posts, contributed guest articles, and other content just to have something there. Quality always trumps quantity. Google’s algorithms are sophisticated and can easily detect article spinning and scraped content.

Maybe you think you know better and instead of scraping content to populate a blog, you hire someone from overseas to write posts for a few dollars a pop. Most likely these won’t pass muster with Google. They want high quality content written with authority. Spelling errors, bad grammar, and posts that are written in a way that’s hard to follow are all signs that tell Google not to send users your way.

The Bottom Line

Working in SEO is a little bit like being a doctor. You have a foundation of knowledge that will always serve you well, but if you don’t keep up with the latest developments in the field, you may end up doing more harm than good. It’s not that hard to make some changes in order to avoid these outdated SEO practices, and the sooner you do it, the better.

Want more tips to help your website rank higher in Google?  Click here to grab a copy of our Ultimate SEO Checklist.

 

5 Ways to Improve Your Blog Posts for Search in 2020

Google never fails to keep us on our toes. Luckily, Google is pretty clear about what they want from content and these general guidelines stay the same regardless of algorithm changes. Here are five strategies to improve blog posts for search in 2020 — and beyond.

Google never fails to keep us on our toes. Just when we think we’ve perfected our content creation strategies, an algorithm update happens and everything is upended. Luckily, Google is pretty clear about what they want from content and these general guidelines stay the same regardless of algorithm changes. Here are five strategies to improve blog posts for search in 2020 — and beyond.

1. Write for Humans

Repeat after me: Google is not your audience. Many of us who work in SEO fall into the habit of writing for Google and not for people. If you construct your blog posts based on a checklist of what you think Google wants to see, it leaves them subject to all those algorithm changes we so dread.

Write for your reader. (And yes, you should have readers.) What do readers want? First, they want topics they’re interested in — this happens to work out well for SEO because people search Google for these same topics. They also want expertise about these topics. Maybe the business you’re creating content for doesn’t have time to write their own blog posts, but they should at least be reviewed for accuracy and noted as such in the post; this alone will set your content apart from the rest.

Finally, people want engaging writing. If you or a member of your team can’t write your blog content due to time constraints/resources, don’t outsource your blog writing to the lowest bidder. We all know these types of posts when we see them — 1000 words that say nothing at all and add nothing to the conversation. When someone lands upon a post like that and quickly leaves, your bounce rate goes up.

Don’t think Google doesn’t notice when you’re not meeting users’ needs.

2. Choose the Right Keywords — and Don’t Overdo It

This connects with the last point, as writing that attempts to stuff in as many keywords as possible isn’t engaging or easy to read. In fact, it can be quite cringe-worthy and, unfortunately, it’s often the standard when it comes to SEO writing. If you’re using WordPress, then you can use a tool like the SEO Yoast plugin to review your keyword ratios, which can help you find the right balance.

Don’t shoehorn unnatural keywords into your copy. You might be targeting “sparkly cowboy hats Nashville,” but insert an “in” in there so it sounds natural.

3. Make Content Skimmable

People don’t read the Internet the same way they read a book. Instead, they skim the content they’re reading. Google skims too, so setting up blog posts to be skimmable is a win-win proposition.

Skimmable means:

  • No giant walls of text
  • Small paragraphs
  • Using relevant images
  • Bullet points (yep, just like this)
  • Using headings and subheadings logically

Let’s talk about that last point. The value of a compelling headline should be no surprise. But remember the humans we’re writing for — headlines should make sense and add order to a post, not a sense of chaos. Using an <h2> tag every few sentences makes it harder to skim, not easier. Headings should tell Google what’s most important; when you use too many, you’re telling Google everything is important.

4. Put the Topic in Context

Rather than repeating keywords, build a robust web of related keywords in your content. In your blog post about sparkly cowboy hats in Nashville, perhaps write about sparkly cowboy boots too. Maybe even bedazzled jean jackets and rhinestone cowboys!

What if Sparkly Cowboy Hats was the name of a country band, though? Well, then you’re going to build that web of keywords differently. You’ll pepper your post with words like music, country, album, gig, guitar, singer. How does Google know the difference between sparkly cowboy hats and Sparkly Cowboy Hats? It’s in the context.

To use a more serious example that I often fall back on, think about contract law. Contract law could be a class in law school. Or it could be a practice area at a law firm. “Contract law” is an important keyword, but it’s the supporting, related keywords that really tell Google what the page is about.

5. Optimize Outside of the Copy

If you’re writing copy for readers, then the page title, meta description, and alt tags are where you can go to town (within reason) and optimize for Google.

Remember, though, Google wants alt tags that are written for people with visual impairments who use screen readers. They’re not a place to shove all your keywords; instead, use a keyword in the context of a description of what the image depicts. Metadata should also reflect what your blog post is actually about rather than attempting a bait-and-switch.

I’m not going to promise that following these guidelines will leave you completely immune to every upcoming algorithm change, but these simple-to-apply strategies will improve your blog posts for search and for your audience.. If anything, 2020 has already taught us to expect the unexpected. That said, if you create solid content for real people rather than jumping on every SEO trend you see, it usually pays off in the end.

Want more tips to improve your SEO?  Click here to grab a copy of our Ultimate SEO Checklist.

 

4 Takeaways From Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines Every Marketer Should Know

Google employs a massive team of quality raters across the globe to help it assess its search results. The data Google gathers from these raters is used to improve algorithms, ensuring that only the most useful and relevant pages show up in the first page of search results. But why does this matter to marketers?

Google employs a massive team of quality raters across the globe to help it assess its search results. The data Google gathers from its search quality raters is used to improve algorithms, ensuring that only the most useful and relevant pages show up in the first page of search results.

Why is this important?

In a remarkable show of transparency, Google actually makes its search quality rater guidelines available to the general public. That’s right, the same company whose make-or-break algorithm updates are cloaked in secrecy shares nearly 170 pages detailing exactly what their search quality raters are instructed to do. While quality raters do not directly influence search engine results pages (SERPs) or a site’s ranking, we can look at this document to determine what Google wants from a website — and what they don’t want, too.

The Quality of Some Pages Matters More Than Others

“Your Money or Your Life” sounds like an especially grim gameshow, but it’s the term Google uses for pages with higher stakes than others: pages that can impact a user’s happiness, health, finances, or safety. These pages are held to a search quality higher standard than other types of content.

The takeaway here is that if the site you run or perform SEO for is in one of these categories, you’re going to have to mind your Ps and Qs. Per Google’s quality rater guidelines, Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages include:

  • News and Current Events
  • Civics, Government, and Law
  • Finance
  • Shopping
  • Health and Safety
  • Groups of People (i.e., information about racial, ethnic, and social groups that could be potentially used to discriminate)

There’s also an Other category, in which raters are instructed to use their own discretion — these include nutrition, housing information, job search topics, and education. Recent algorithm changes have been hitting sites hard for proving themselves unreliable through the YMYL lens. Alternative medicine, for example, was seriously downgraded in the SERPs last fall, with science-based health sites including articles vetted by medical professionals taking their place.

Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)

Remember Google Plus? It may have proven completely worthless, but it did give us insight into Google’s shift in focus to evaluating not just the content on the page, but the person or people creating it. E-A-T matters across the board, but not surprisingly, it matters more for YMYL sites. E-A-T means:

  • An article about Multiple Sclerosis should be written or reviewed by a physician or nurse, not someone touting a vegan diet as a cure.
  • News articles should be written by a journalist using proper grammar and come from a legitimate website, not a mysterious .news domain of unknown origin.
  • Science content should come from people or organizations with experience in the field and reflect scientific consensus. (Sorry, flat-earth enthusiasts.)
  • Financial, legal, home remodeling, and parenting topics must also be well-researched and written by trustworthy sources.

Even content on hobbies should be written by people with expertise. In short, Google is raising the bar in order to eliminate content farms. It also impacts those of us in the SEO field, who often use freelance writers to create a wide variety of content for an even wider variety of clients. It’s important to have your clients read and vet anything produced by a ghostwriter before it gets posted so it bolsters your client’s E-A-T score, rather than harming it.

Reputation and customer reviews are two other factors that are weighed when determining E-A-T—anyone offering professional services should send out reminders to clients asking them to write reviews because Google instructs its quality raters to look at these, which means that Google’s algorithms are also looking at these factors.

Supplementary Information Is Important

Related to this last point, search quality raters also are told to visit other pages on a website in order to make their evaluations. Transparency is critical here — an “About Us” page should not be vague, but crystal clear about the business being run and the team behind it. There should be a contact page on every website — and it should have actual contact information, not just a form to fill out.

This, too, is weighed differently for YMYL pages. Per Google’s search quality rater guidelines:

“If a store or financial transaction website just has an email address and physical address, it may be difficult to get help if there are issues with the transaction.”

The takeaway here is that even email and a physical address may not be enough to satisfy Google in some circumstances. You (or your client) should be comfortable putting it all out there if they have a YMYL page and they want to rank well in the SERPs.

Content (Is Still) King

Content is king. It is still king. It will always be king.

Ultimately, Google’s goal has been the same since it began: to make money. And how does Google make money? By delivering users the best content to meet their needs. The days of hiring people in far-flung places to write a garbled blog post about conveyor belts for $5 are over. SEO isn’t about tricks; it’s not about gaming the system.

Many people in our field spend a lot of time fretting about algorithms and jump on every SEO trend they read about. The danger in this is that as soon as you start implementing some shiny new strategy, Google catches on and adjusts its algorithm and the rankings plummet. You start feeling like a hamster on a wheel, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Read Google’s search quality rater guidelines and see what they look for and do those things. Without good content, none of the other SEO techniques you use will matter.

The Bottom Line

What does Google want in a website? High-quality content from reliable sources. Accuracy matters, but so does the quality of writing. User experience should be good, sites should be viewable and usable on mobile, and if a website has ads, they should not render a site unusable. Take a step back and evaluate each page on a site and ask yourself if you’d find it helpful before you release it into the world.

Want more tips to improve your SEO?  Click here to grab a copy of our Ultimate SEO Checklist.

 

 

Has It Has Really Been a Quarter Century?

Early search marketers literally created on-the-fly the methodologies that are still in use today. Clever developers constantly wrote and marketed new tools that would gather the data more rapidly that we needed for deeper insights and better campaign performance.

Most early Internet marketers came into the online space accidentally. I was no exception. We all raised our hands at an opportune moment. We stepped off the edge into a void. For me, building a website seemed like a good way to increase the reach of a public relations client’s message. It was a good idea. It was 1995 — a quarter of a century ago. In fact, this good idea launched the second half of my marketing career, with a focus on search marketing.

Lots of Energy and Sharing

Early search marketers literally created on-the-fly the methodologies that are still in use today. Clever developers constantly wrote and marketed new tools that would gather the data more rapidly that we needed for deeper insights and better campaign performance.

There were numerous search engines and directories all vying for dominance, and Google wasn’t even founded until 1998. The big names were Alta Vista, Yahoo! As the industry has matured, it has lost the edginess of the early days. Today there are monoliths that dominate the search industry.

Early on, the sharing of information was essential. The industry grew through sharing what was online in forums like Webmaster World, in person at conferences bearing titles like Search Engine Strategies (that by the title alone clearly gave the prospective attendee a clear picture of what might be learned from attending), and in the written word through numerous online and print publications. I trained to be a college professor, albeit not in technology, but I jumped at any chance to teach/share with my colleagues (and anyone who would listen) my digital marketing insights and discoveries.

It was a wonderful heady ride, but for me the carousel of speaking and traveling came to an abrupt halt five-plus years ago when I returned home from a Pubcon in Las Vegas with my arthritic knees too painful to walk through the airport. I decided to hang up my spurs and stay at my desk and write instead of speaking at conferences; to travel less and train smaller groups.

Grateful for the Opportunity

An opportunity met my decision to focus on writing when I was approached to write a search marketing regular column for Target Marketing. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to continue having my voice heard without the stress and strain of travel. I will confess that writing a regular column has often forced me to think more deeply about strategies my clients might use — a bonus. I am grateful for this opportunity.

Not Yet Over

Writing a monthly column about search marketing is an excellent discipline, but it can be a distraction. I have found myself increasingly unwilling to let it distract me from other writing tasks. So, as you may have guessed, I am signing off. I am not gone yet, for I am working on a monograph on search and have other writing projects outlined that are calling me. For now, let me say thank you once again for listening to my conference panels and reading my columns.

The Smart Way to SEO Success

Google’s algorithm updates may be incremental, but the effect on SEO over time has been anything but. And while the relentless pace of those updates may make SEO feel like a game of whack-a-mole, attention to the fundamentals can make all the difference to your SEO success.

Google’s algorithm updates may be incremental, but the effect on SEO over time has been anything but. And while the relentless pace of those updates — and the churn of the competitive landscape in your industry — may make SEO feel like a game of whack-a-mole, attention to the fundamentals can make all the difference to your SEO success.

Focus on SEO Fundamentals to Start

No surprise, the first things you should examine are the fundamentals. Your page titles and headers should be keyword rich, as should your copy. (Particularly the copy nearest the top of each page.) Meta descriptions should be informative and enticing, as they’re a key factor in encouraging clicks from the search results pages.

Alt tags — and accessibility more broadly — should also be a part of your pre-publication checklist for all content. There has been increased scrutiny on accessibility compliance over the past few years. This may require a shift in your approach to coding, design, and content. It’s not directly related to SEO success, but quite a bit of accessibility compliance best practices overlap with SEO best practices.

Technical performance counts, too. Search engines use page load speeds and other measures as factors in their rankings, knowing that how quickly a page loads contributes significantly to overall user experience.

Finally, be sure you understand your analytics data. Ask the questions that get you information you can turn into actionable insights. Get your analytics team to set up reports to include those data points on your dashboard.

Do Your Research

There’s keyword research, of course, which will tell you what language your prospects are using to find the information they want. Don’t forget that the same research can also paint a useful picture of what your prospects’ pain points are.

You should also be doing competitive research. Identify which of your competitors are having SEO success and understand what keywords and kinds of content they are producing to help them win.

Chart Your Own Path with Great Content

Once you’ve identified your most successful competition and their methods, it may make sense to zig where they’ve zagged. Carving out your own niche is often preferable to trying to unseat the incumbents. Just be sure the niche you create still serves the needs of your audience.

Then, it’s all about the quality of the content. It must be useful, actionable, and engaging. No one expects your B2B content to be as entertaining as the latest Netflix sensation, but it’s wise to remember that no matter how boring your industry, your prospects still go home at night to Netflix, Hulu, and other highly entertaining diversions.

The bar is lower for us as marketers, but only if our content helps our prospects succeed.

How Marketers Can Craft Content With Search Intent in Mind

Keywords, of course, still matter. They will always matter. Some might even argue they matter most — they are the foundation for much of what we do in SEO. But the rise of search intent represents a sea change in how we think about keywords.

If you’re my age, you remember the bad old days of the Internet. Remember the flashing banner ads, animated GIFs, and website visitor counters? Back in the ’90s, the Internet was pretty ugly, because the technology was in its infancy.

SEO was also in its infancy. To rank high in the search results, simply repeat the same keyword over and over again. Eventually, Google joined the search game and its algorithm used off-page factors, like backlinks. Unfortunately, the focus on keywords was ingrained in the minds of webmasters, SEO consultants, and small businesses. So keyword stuffing persists to this day.

Keywords, of course, still matter. They will always matter. Some might even argue they matter most — they are the foundation for much of what we do in SEO. But the rise of search intent represents a sea change in how we think about keywords.

What Is Search Intent?

Traditionally, search engines focused on what people were searching for. Now, many more factors are at play—how they search (mobile, desktop, or voice) and why they search matter too. Search intent is about understanding why someone is searching for something and what information they’re looking for.

Targeting Keyphrases vs. Targeting Intent

When someone searches for “contract law,” what is the user searching for? It could be a class in law school; it could be a resource for attorneys or laypeople about the ins and outs of contracts. Odds are, though, that it’s not a search for an attorney to hire. That kind of search would be more likely phrased as “contract lawyer” or  “contract lawyer austin tx.” If you’re an attorney optimizing a services page for the term “contract law,” then you’re not helping the user find what they need.

By targeting intent, we give Google contextual clues to better match their users’ queries. Optimizing for intent isn’t about repetition and stuffing the same, or slight variations of, keywords onto a page ad nauseam. Instead, it involves building rich, high-quality content with related keywords, context, and concepts. By meeting users’ needs better, we reduce bounce rate, and in turn, drive more leads and sales.

Types of Search Intent

Google’s rater guidelines define three types of search intent, although other sources sometimes list a fourth (more on that below). Searches can be:

  • Navigational, where the intent is to find a specific website or page on a website. (Examples: “gmail login,” “facebook”)
  • Transactional, in which the user’s intent is to purchase a product or service. (Examples: “purchase iPhone,” “contract lawyer austin tx”
  • Informational, when a user is researching a topic or needs information. (Examples: “president of Canada,” “list of federal holidays”)

Commercial investigation is sometimes cited as another type of search intent; this type of search probably falls under informational, as its focus is finding information about a product before making a purchase, but it has the potential to convert, so it may also be categorized as a transactional search.

How to Use Search Intent to Match the Needs of Users

When we perform on-page optimizations for search intent for our clients, we add context to a page’s content to match the intent of the user:

  • For a transactional search, we use words like “buy” and “purchase,” or for a service, we use words like “hire” and “consultation.” This tells Google that the page is not informational or navigational.
  • A blog article or FAQ is often used to target informational searches. Tutorial and question-and-answer formats do particularly well. Instead of targeting one specific keyword, build rich content with a web of related keywords. For example, in a blog post about tonsillectomies, phrases like “sore throat,” “recovery,” “ear nose throat doctor,” “adenoids,” and “coblation” all add context to the page.
  • Robust branding is the best way to boost a client’s ranking for navigational searches. Business information, including address, business hours, and services offered, should be readily available on the site.
  • For commercial investigation, include words like “best” and “review,” or add product comparison charts and rankings.

It’s important to note that, as search has shifted away from simple keyword optimization to search intent, it means that not every page on a website needs to include a 500-word wall of text. For a blog post targeting someone researching a particular topic? Absolutely. For a product page on an e-commerce site? Focus more on conversion tactics, like adding big “Buy” buttons, shipping information, product specs, and customer reviews.

In the early days of search engines, beating a competitor’s ranking was a matter of mentioning a keyword 10 times if they mentioned it five. Now, the goal is to meet users’ needs better. When researching competitors, note what their sites are missing. This works particularly well for informational pages. If, for example, you’re adding a blog post about litigation to a contract law attorney’s website and their competitors also have blog posts about litigation, but none of them have details about what occurs during a trial, adding that information to the post can help you rise to the top of the SERPs.

We shake our fists at the sky whenever Google makes changes to how it ranks websites, but the focus on intent is actually a beautiful thing. Unlike those old website visitor counters that you could hit refresh on repeatedly, it’s hard to game the system when it comes to search intent — that’s good news for users, for us, and for our clients.

Want more tips to improve your SEO? Click here to grab a copy of our “Ultimate SEO Checklist.”

Why Google Going to the Dark Side Is Bad for Advertisers

Over time, the simplicity of Google’s results page has clearly eroded. In the beginning, Google’s clear user interface was beloved to search users for its ease of access and clarity. It was easy to spot ads, because they were clearly marked. The Google SERP today is visually very noisy, with lots of distractions.

Over time, the simplicity of Google’s results page has clearly eroded. In the beginning, Google’s clear user interface was beloved to search users for its ease of access and clarity. It was easy to spot ads, because they were clearly marked. The Google search engine results page today is visually very noisy, with lots of distractions.

Google rolled out its new UX on mobile several months ago, and — in mid-January — applied the changes to desktop search. Contrary to the company’s claims that the new design “puts a site’s brand front-and-center, helping searchers better understand where information is coming from, more easily scan results and decide what to explore.”

But the change, in fact, blurs the user’s ability to easily differentiate ads from organic listings. These most recent changes have taken the desktop search engine results page into the dark side, for its UX exhibits “dark patterns” in how it differentiates advertising from organic results. This has a significant downside for advertisers, organic search marketers, and their audiences.

Dark Patterns

Coined by Harry Brignull, a London-based UX designer in July 2010, “dark patterns” are user interfaces that are carefully crafted to trick users into taking an action. Although the current layout places a bold “Ad” indicator next to text ads, and shows favicons next to organic brand listings, it is easy for the user scanning a search page quickly to overlook the ad notation or confuse the ad notation with the similarly placed favicons. Many users choose not to click advertisements, preferring to skim the listings for the page that most clearly suggests the answer to their search query. Savvy users know that the ad may not, in fact, deliver the most relevant page for their query and are wary of paid advertisements.

Google has made it harder for the user to rapidly differentiate, particularly on noisy desktop pages, paid ads from organic content. This new layout is not as distracting on mobile, where the small screen makes each listing stand out. The smaller screen visually reduces the clutter, forcing the user to focus on each result card.

A single search for “high heels shoes” on a desktop yields a cluttered page that includes “sponsored” shopping ads, ads (marked with bold Ad indicator), a set of accordions with “People also ask,” a map and local listings box, and finally organic results.

With all of this distraction, the user is likely to click unintentionally on a poorly differentiated ad. In the future, it will be easy for Google to slip more ads into the pages without creating user awareness of the volume of ads being served.

Why Is This Bad?

When the user cannot clearly differentiate an ad from an organic listing, the advertiser pays for clicks that are unintentional. This depletes the advertiser’s budget, without delivering sales conversions. It is too early to tell the exact levels of the unintentional clicks, but it is my clear bet that there will be a significant volume of them.

Contrary to claims, the new UX is not good for the user. It forces the user to slow down to avoid making a perhaps erroneous decision. Rather than enhancing the user experience, the user will be less satisfied with the results delivered.

For organic search marketers, the redesign makes it imperative to have a favicon that works and clearer branding in the search Titles and Descriptions — because the actual link has been visually downgraded. It is now above the Title.

It is expected that Google will continue to test new ways to demarcate ads from content, but the continued blurring of paid and organic results only really benefits Google.

3 Google Analytics Tips for E-Commerce

There’s a lot more to Google Analytics than looking at basic traffic metrics. These tips will help you make improvements to drive more e-commerce sales from your different marketing channels. 

Many businesses using Google Analytics are only scratching the surface of what Google Analytics can do. By not taking advantage of the platform’s more powerful features, they lose out on getting a lot of valuable insights about their marketing and how to make the most of their budgets.

Covering every aspect of Google Analytics would require an e-book. So in this article, I’ll walk through three steps to get you started and more familiar with Google Analytics.

1. Base Your Website Objectives on Specific Business Needs

You can use Google Analytics to measure how well your website performs in helping you hit your company’s target KPIs. Do not rely on the defaults set up in Google Analytics. Those are meant to cover a broad range of companies, and some of them are not applicable to your business needs.

Instead, take the time to define the important KPIs that your website should be hitting. For example, in addition to online sales, is your goal to generate quote requests for larger/bulk orders? Is another goal to collect email addresses by offering a free report? Where do visitors need to go on your website if they are interested in your products or services?

As you think through these goals, you’ll start to identify conversions that you need to set up in the Google Analytics admin area. This is a critical step that will allow you to monitor the performance of all of your different marketing channels. For example, if your goal is to generate quote requests, then you’ll need to set up a conversion to measure quote requests. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to run reports to see how many quote requests were generated from SEO vs. Google Ads vs. Facebook, or any other marketing channel you’re using.

We also recommend using the audience reporting views to see if your website visitors are actually your ideal customers. You can create customized segments for tracking important demographic points, like age, gender, and location.

Reviewing the information on your visitors may give your more perspective. Maybe your company needs to change its marketing strategy or website layout to resonate more with your target market.

2. Use E-Commerce Tracking

Google Analytics offers a feature called Enhanced E-Commerce. You should see it when setting up your Google Analytics account. Here are a few ways you can use the feature to get a better understanding of the customer journey through your website and shopping portal.

  1. You can track the shopping and checkout behavior of each visitor to your site. That includes product page-views, shopping cart additions and removals, abandoned items, and completed transactions.
  2. You can view metrics, like revenue generated, average transaction quantity, conversion rates for specific products, and how quickly products get added to a shopping cart. You can see what point a customer loses interest in the shopping experience. That lets you focus on tactics that keep them engaged and encourage them to complete a purchase.
  3. You can measure the success of various internal and external marketing efforts meant to encourage shopping and checkouts by visitors. For example, you can see whether the new product banner put up increased conversion rates.

The various reports give you a clear view of the path customers take as they shop on your website.

3. Sync Google Analytics With Your E-Commerce Platform

Many e-commerce platforms, like Shopify, have the ability to quickly sync with Google Analytics. This can save you and your team a lot of time and frustration trying to set everything up manually.

For example, the e-commerce analytics reporting mentioned above requires knowledge of Javascript, if you want to set it up yourself. Always check with the support team for your e-commerce platform to see if they have already synced up with Google Analytics. If they have, then you could be set up in a matter of minutes.

Look Beyond Surface Data

There’s a lot more to Google Analytics than looking at basic traffic metrics. These tips should allow you to gain a better understanding of where you can make improvements to drive more e-commerce sales from your different marketing channels.

  • First, identify your business goals and set up conversions in the Google Analytics admin area.
  • Second, set up enhanced e-commerce analytics either manually or by syncing your e-commerce platform with Google Analytics.
  • And third, review all the e-commerce reports to see which marketing channels can be improved to increase your sales.

Want more tips on how to use Google Analytics? Click here to grab a copy of our “Ultimate Google Analytics Checklist.”

 

Search Needs Computational Linguistics to Solve Its Problems

The increased use of mobile devices means search must learn to answer questions posed in natural language. Research and tech development at Google on natural language processing is filtering into the search results. So SEOs need to step beyond the keyword into computational linguistics.

As users have become increasingly dependent on their digital devices, they expect to search on them using more natural language to shape the queries. Search is deeply embedded in the fabric of our lives, and we expect more from it than previously.

We spend hours on our mobile devices every day and have devices that rely on natural language processing in our homes to turn the television on or entertain us. Every search is a quest, and users are constantly looking for and expect answers.

The terrain and contours of most e-commerce quests are reasonably easy to interpret, and SEOs have carefully developed methods for identifying keywords and concepts that apply to the most important quests that buyers/searchers will undertake for the products on offer.

Does this extend far enough? Not hardly.

We must stay with our consumers and develop an understanding of the challenges of search and how they are being addressed by those who build and operate search technology.

What’s Going On?

Each day, Google processes billions of searches and has publicly noted that 15% of those queries were previously unseen. This means that Google has no history of what the most relevant pages are to deliver for the query. These queries represent unfamiliar terrain, and Google has built ways to navigate this space.

What Needs to Happen?

The increased use of mobile devices that encourage the use of natural language means search must learn to answer questions posed in natural language. Current research and technology development at Google on natural language processing is filtering into the search results. SEOs need to step beyond the keyword into — are you ready — the arcane science of computational linguistics.

Computational linguistics is an interdisciplinary field that studies language from a computational perspective. Computational linguists build statistical or rule-based models and approaches to linguistic problems, such as natural language and search. The huge computational power available today has opened the door for rapid advances in the last five years. It is time for SEOs to integrate some of these learnings into their SEO practice.

Improving Natural Language Search

In October 2019, Google announced that it would be launching worldwide the BERT algorithm. BERT, short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. Training and tuning are very important steps in developing working search algorithms. (For more on the science, see this Google blog.)

Google expects this improved model to impact 10% of all searches. It will be particularly helpful for improving queries written or spoken in natural, conversational language.

Some savvy searchers search in keyword-ese, putting long strings of disconnected words together in their queries. By keyword stuffing their query, they hope to get better results.

My own research has shown that the most frequent queries are multiple nouns strung together with an occasional adjective for refinement — long (adjective) house (noun) coat (noun). This is a simple example, but queries that are questions are much more difficult to parse. BERT will go a long way toward eliminating the need to use keyword-ese.

BERT is not to be confused with Google’s improved AI-based system of neural matching that is used to understand how words and concepts relate to one another, a super-synonym system. Combine BERT with the other advances, and we can surely expect better quality results.

Search, as a Study, Is Not Static

SEOs need to learn as much as they can about these technologies. Although it seems — at first blush — that we cannot optimize for it, we can create better content that reacts better to the new technology, watch our performance metrics to see how much and if we are improving, and then make more changes as needed. Now, isn’t that optimizing?

SEO in 2020: 3 Trends Marketers Can’t Ignore in the New Year

SEO requires a long-term mindset, and sometimes it’s better to ignore the daily noise and shiny new SEO objects. Of course, there are some trends you can’t ignore, and in this article I’ll highlight three important ones that will impact your SEO efforts in 2020.

Keeping up with changing SEO practices can seem challenging, because every day there’s news about a new tweak to the search engine algorithm, a new must-have tool, or some new technique to be mastered. SEO in 2020 will require knowledge of these three trends.

Just remember that SEO requires a long-term mindset, and sometimes it’s better to ignore the daily noise and shiny new SEO objects. Of course, there are some trends you can’t ignore, and in this article I’ll highlight the important ones that will impact your SEO efforts in 2020.

1. Use UX Design Principles to Improve Your Mobile SERP Rankings

Combining UX with the best SEO practices gives businesses a powerful combination to work with, when it comes to the mobile experience. SEO helps put your information in front of visitors when they are looking for the services you offer. Using UX design principles in the layout of your mobile site encourages visitors to “stick” on your site, rather than bounce.

Some ideas to keep in mind when it comes to UX include rearranging the site structure for more straightforward navigation, making the design clean and simple, and putting the essential information about the user’s interest above the fold. That means it should be front-and-center, as soon as they navigate to your mobile site.

Do not let a focus on logos and flashy advertising overwhelm the information your visitor wants. Make sure the font is large enough to be read without straining. Finally, optimize (AKA, resize) images so that they do not impact your mobile site speed. Your visitor does not want to watch a spinning icon for ages while your pictures struggle to load.

2. Capture User Attention Using Snippets

Zero-click searches have taken off over the past few years. Featured snippets and rich snippets on the front pages of Google make it possible for a user to have their question answered without having to click anything. In 2020, focus on making this new trend work for your business.

Optimize your website information by making it appear as featured snippets or rich snippets. Featured snippets are results that show up as a block of information at the top of SERPs, and rich snippets are enhancements to search engine listings, like business reviews, ratings, product prices, etc.

To get your webpage information to appear as a featured snippet or rich snippet, you should add structured data. Structured data is code that you can add to your website that tells search engines like Google exactly what is on your webpage. For example, you can use structured data to specify business reviews and ratings and product prices, as mentioned above. You can also use structured data to specify your business location, which helps with local SEO.

Long story short, add structured data to your site to improve your SEO in 2020.

3. Make Security a Priority When It Comes to Collecting Visitor Info

One of the hottest topics in 2019 was security, and this trend is not going away in 2020. Everyone is concerned about data security.

Many businesses fail to realize that attacks from hackers have an impact on how search engine bots access a website. Assaults on your site cause it to slow down and even prevents your page from showing up in search engines like Google. Visitors instead get a 404-error page, because the search engine can’t reference your page.

Monitoring for attacks, data theft by automated web scrapers, and other cybersecurity issues should be considered as part of your SEO strategy for 2020.

Summary of the 3 Important SEO Trends in 2020

SEO and UX are merging and both need to be considered, especially with your mobile website. Featured snippets and rich snippets continue to gain traction on Google’s first page and that means businesses must add structured data to their websites. Last but not least, website security should be a top priority in 2020, if it’s not already.

Want more tips to improve your SEO? Click here to grab a copy of my “Ultimate SEO Checklist.”