Outdated SEO Practices You Need to Avoid in 2020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 Learn which outdated SEO practices you must avoid in 2020.

Like zombies in “Dawn of the Dead,” there are some outdated SEO practices that will not die.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.


Using Headlines Well in Your Content Marketing

How you construct your content marketing headlines will impact your ability to reach and engage your target audience. Different approaches are appropriate for different goals.

Last time out, we talked about ways to make your content marketing work harder for you. We can continue that conversation by turning our attention to how headlines impact your ability to attract your target audience.

Headlines Can be Clever or Conceptual

First, there are two very broad approaches to writing headlines: clever and conceptual.

Clever headlines are interestingly written and meant to be attention-getting. They pique curiosity. So, for example, I could have titled the post I mentioned above something like, “Build It and They Won’t Come.” A dyed-in-the-wool SEO would take issue with that — and with this approach, in general — as it simply isn’t geared for SEO performance. More on that in a moment.

The other approach, broadly, is to highlight the concepts or topics you’re discussing, as in the case of that article’s actual title, “3 Ways to Make Your Content Marketing Work Harder for You.”

Clearly, if strong SEO performance is your goal, then the conceptual approach is the way to go. There are going to be far more searches done each month along the lines of, “How can I make my content marketing work harder” than there are for, “If I build my website will they come?”

On the other hand, if your goal with a particular piece of content is to engage more deeply with an audience who already knows you well, then the clever approach can be a better choice. Remember that as much as we want to be informed when we’re consuming marketing content, we also want to be entertained. You’re probably never going to rise to the level of enjoyment that the latest bingeworthy streaming show will have, but that doesn’t mean you need to be the content consumption equivalent of a root canal. Have some fun and your audience likely will, too.

Keyword Considerations

Implied above are considerations about keyword usage. If you can include them, do. That’s generally going to be harder to do with clever headlines; though you may be willing to make that sacrifice, depending on your goals. For more topical headlines, be sure you’re using the best keyword phrases you can. (In my example, we would want to know for sure that “making content marketing work harder” is likely to get more search attention than “making content marketing more effective.”)

How Long Should Your Headlines Be?

Once you decide on your approach, there are more technical matters to address. For example, headline length. According to research done by Backlinko, “headlines that are 14-17 words in length generate 76.7% more social shares than short headlines.”

If your goal is generating something other than social sharing, you might need to look at different metrics. (Which is one reason to take all metrics like these with a grain of salt. Even if they were generated using rigorous protocols, they might simply not be appropriate for your situation. Use them as a guide and gather your own data.)

Should Your Headlines Be Questions?

Backlinko data also tells us that headlines in the form of a question “get 23.3% more social shares than headlines that don’t end with a question mark.”

Again, that’s a very specific metric, aimed at achieving a very specific goal. So don’t twist yourself or your ideas into knots just to tick off a particular box.

The point of these examples isn’t for you to view any of these data points as the gospel truth for your own content marketing work. It’s to encourage you to recognize that paying attention to the details can yield great benefits in your content marketing.

6 Google Ads Trends You Should Be Using in Your Marketing

Google Ads, formerly AdWords, has been a mainstay of PPC marketing since its introduction in 2000. Businesses now have access to new tools that allow them to refine their PPC marketing and generate more leads. Make sure your campaigns are taking advantage of the most popular Google Ads trends.

Google Ads, formerly AdWords, has been a mainstay of PPC marketing since its introduction in 2000. A lot has changed over the last 19 years, and businesses now have access to new tools that allow them to refine their PPC marketing and generate more leads. Make sure your campaigns are taking advantage of 2019’s most popular Google Ads trends.

2019 Google Ads Trends

1. Personalization

Personalizing your Google Ads means relying on the insights gleaned from your visitors to refine your ads toward specific audiences. Learn to match ads back to specific landing pages, which lets your visitors understand the relevancy of the page relating to the ad they just clicked. That helps reinforce the impact of your branding strategy, along with your message.

Use tools like geo customizers that pinpoint a visitor’s location or a place they are looking to visit. You can also upload your lists of emails into Google’s Customer Match product to help direct ads from your campaign at specific audiences.

2. Optimize for Voice Search

With 55% of households expected to own some speech-enabled device, voice search must be accounted for when designing your ads for campaigns. When users issue commands into apps powered by Alexa or Siri, they speak in more natural patterns that do not conform to standard keyword patterns.

Instead of keywords, center ad content around accurately responding to user questions. If they ask, “Where is the nearest Mexican restaurant,” ads that highlight Mexican cuisine near their location should be what appear. Clarity takes precedent over conciseness when it comes to voice search.

That does not mean that marketers should abandon keywords entirely. They should, however, focus on longer-tailed keywords that allow for more natural phrasing. Keywords no longer have to fall into a specific pattern, thanks to the advancement in algorithms used by Google.

3. Write for Your Audience, Not Keywords

The Google Ads interface now allows you to drill down and target audiences based on demographics, the reason why they may be making a purchase, and many other patterns. That means leaning less on keywords and more on gearing your ads toward items of interest to your audience.

With the array of tools now at a marketer’s disposal, keywords will decrease in importance, making it vital that marketers put in the work to truly understand what their visitors desire. That will help them design better quality ads that can elevate their conversion rates.

4. Make Use of Smart Campaigns

Google Ads users now have the option of creating “Smart Campaigns.” They simplify ad creation by making it easier for marketers and small businesses to target specific audiences. You include the address of your business, images, and other information into Google Ads templates that automatically accounts for your CTR and CVR.

Google algorithms take over and locate audiences fitting your information. You keep your volumes growing without having to do a lot of hands-on configuration.

5. Gear Ads Toward Remarketing

You can keep visitors interested in your site offerings by designing ads full of products or services in which they expressed interest. It is a matter of adding a small piece of code to your website that captures information about your visitor’s attention. You can use that information to create ads aimed at bringing them back to your site.

6. Tie Ads Back to In-Store Offerings

Localizing your Google Ads can help drive customers into your physical stores. Many people do research online when looking for goods or services. Design ads that feature inventory in your store and whether you currently have it in stock. That can motivate customers to go ahead and visit your store to make a purchase.

Summing It All Up

  • Personalize your ads to appeal to specific audiences
  • Account for voice search when designing ads
  • Think beyond keywords when creating ads for your audience
  • Maximize the benefits of Google Ads Smart Campaigns
  • Build ads targeted at previous visitors to your website
  • Use Google Ads to promote your in-store offerings.

Keep an eye out for more changes to Google Ads that will likely impact your campaigns for 2020.

Is Your SEO Thinking Showing Its Age? Here’s How to Fix It

Are you still thinking that your SEO success can be measured in keyword rankings? If you are, you are a bit behind the power curve and your SEO thinking is passé.

Are you still thinking that your SEO success can be measured in keyword rankings? If you are, you are a bit behind the power curve and your SEO thinking is passé.

Today, SEO is all about audience and relevancy, not just keywords and rankings. Yes!

I do not deny that until we can telepathically transmit our queries to an all-encompassing search engine, we will be using language. Language is created from words, but words have multiple meanings. Words are freighted with emotional baggage. The same word can connote or evoke a different response from different individuals.

In the early days of search, we were forced by the technology to focus on text and words. This was because the earliest search engines used word/text matching to find the documents that fit the query. They were essentially large-scale word matchers.

What has changed? Search technology has evolved and artificial intelligence is no longer a science fiction oxymoron. Today, search engines can use both the searcher’s own search history and performance data gleaned from each site to inform the search results delivered. This has forced SEO professionals to reconsider the venerable keyword and how they approach and measure success.

Every Site Has an Audience

If you do not have a clear picture of whom you want to reach with your site, then why bother having a site at all?

The greater the clarity around who your customer is and the more knowledge you have about the information your audience might find useful, the easier it is to develop a coherent SEO strategy.

In the past, when search technology was word-matching, we could define our audience in terms of the keywords.

Today, with the advances in search technology and the more sophisticated tools and metrics, we can more precisely target an audience and offer highly relevant content. Audience definition is first a business strategy and then a marketing exercise. If the business management does not have clear vision of who its customer is and why the customer would want to visit the site, then search success is constrained.

There are plenty of tools for the search marketers to use in the process of keyword research once the audience is defined, but without a clear definition of the audience, you are back to relying on inefficient word-matching.

Beyond Content Curation

Success comes when the content offering is highly relevant to the specific target. It is like fishing. Fly fishing enthusiasts will tell you that the successful fisherman knows how to match the hatch to present exactly the fly (or, it works with lures, too) that the desired species of fish expects to see at precisely that time of year.

Today, successful search marketers are matching the hatch so that their carefully crafted content matches exactly what their specific audience is looking for at that moment in time. This requires more than content creation and curation. It is an exercise in creating fresh content to meet the audience’s current wants to pull the audience through search to the site.

Any muddiness in defining the audience and creating optimized content that matches what the target audience is looking for yields a ticket to suboptimal results.

How Do You Know?

Research and metrics are the keys to success. Tracking success is more of a business exercise than a slavish following of rankings performance. The content and the keywords become potent revenue-drivers only when there is a congruence between the business goals, the audience and search as a revenue-pulling source. This does not begin to suggest that you should neglect the elements of technical search. They are table stakes in a bigger marketing game.

The Google Ads Budget Formula and a Metric to Help You Beat Your Competitors

Struggling to calculate your Google Ads budget? Learn a quick formula to use when you’re just getting started and also learn the most important metric to gain a competitive advantage.

Google Ads have helped many businesses thrive because of their power in generating leads and sales. The problem is that this power can be difficult to navigate, which has left some businesses on the sidelines wondering why they didn’t see results.

The topic of how much to spend is one that is tossed around among users and professionals, alike. The answer depends on how well you run your ad campaigns.

Budget for New Google Ads Campaigns

When you first use Google Ads, limit your budget. At this point, you do not know which keywords, ads or landing pages will be most effective, so you need to test different strategies. Because some of the money will be lost, you don’t want to waste too much.

The goal during this stage isn’t to make a huge profit. It’s to either make a small profit, break even or only lose some money. Your mindset should be that you’re investing in market research for a much more successful future with Google Ads.

Limiting your budget is a bit arbitrary. Simple math can give you a concrete amount for a budget.

Multiply the estimated cost per click of each keyword you want to test by a minimum of 100 to 200 clicks. This will ensure you’re giving each keyword a fair test. For instance, if you are testing 10 keywords with a cost per click of $1, you should consider having a budget of $1,000 to $2,000.

Growing Out of the Budget

You will know when you’re out of the testing phase when profits exceed your budget. This is the sign that tells you to abandon the budget.

Yes, you read that right — no budget.

It’s not about how much you spend on Google Ads — it’s about how much return on investment (ROI) you’re get from it.

Think about it for a minute. If you’re making $2, $3 or $4 off a $1 investment, why would you want to cap that? That’s success right there, and you might as well run with it.

Switching From CPC to EPC

Too many people focus on the cost per click of their keywords when they really should be paying attention to their earnings per click (EPC). If you have the highest earnings per click vs. your competitors, then you know you can outbid them to gain more clicks, more leads and more customers.

So, how do you calculate your EPC? All you have to do is multiply your conversion rate (the percentage of people who become paying customers) by your customer value (the amount of money you earn from that customer).

To understand this better, let’s say one customer generates $500 for you. If your conversion rate is 1%, then your earnings per click is $5. This is your golden number. Keywords with a CPC less than $5 will be profitable if your conversion rate remains 1%.

With this in mind, it’s important to note that increasing your EPC is the best way to compete in Google Ads.

The cost per click for your target keywords is not likely going to go down … In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll need to pay more per click in the coming months and years. That means your EPC is your biggest competitive advantage.


You know that spending a lot of money on Google Ads isn’t what produces results. Ad campaigns need to be run effectively and a budget needs to be used in a way that helps identify what works best in your market. Once that information reveals itself, removing the budget (if possible) and focusing on ROI is the best decision, moving forward.

And remember, the business with the highest EPC has the advantage in Google Ads.

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


4 Factors That Cause Google Ads Campaigns to Fail

Google Ads campaigns can be a very effective way to generate leads if you know what you’re doing. The problem is that many people jump into Google Ads blindly. They figure Google will lead them through the steps and instantly, they will start getting sales and phone calls.

google ads campaigns
Creative Commons license. | Credit: Pixabay by lukasbieri

Google Ads campaigns can be a very effective way to generate leads if you know what you’re doing. The problem is that many people jump into Google Ads blindly. They figure Google will lead them through the steps and instantly, they will start getting sales and phone calls.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Google Ads can be a lot like riding a bull. You jump on the bull, and you think you got it. But all of sudden, it starts jerking around, and you immediately see that it really isn’t as easy as it looked at on TV. After a few close calls, the bull flings you off and you hit the ground. All you can do is look up at the bull and think, “What just happened?”

Some businesses spend thousands of dollars on Google Ads every single month and don’t see nearly enough return on investment. Many businesses vow to never use Google Ads again because it’s “a waste of money.” The reality? Often the campaign failed because of common mistakes many beginners make.

Knowing what factors contribute to failing campaigns is important for success. Learn them now, so you can get back on the bull, and take it by the horns next time.

1. Using Too Many Keywords

Don’t get greedy with keywords. You only need the ones that will reach your target audience interested in your products and services. Adding other keywords will not lead to more business, but instead, drain your budget.

Some key takeaways here are:

  • Focus on “buying-intent” keywords, not “research-intent” keywords. Ask yourself, is the person more likely to be searching this keyword in order to make a purchase or to do research?
  • Use Phrase and Exact match keywords. By default, Google will use Broad match keywords which means your ads will show for any search Google thinks is related to your keyword. Don’t let Google decide how to spend your money!
  • Let your conversion data guide your bidding decisions. Bid more aggressively on the keywords that are driving leads and sales and lower bids on keywords that are not converting.

2. Bad Ad Copy

Once you’re targeting the right keywords, then the next area to focus is your ads. People have limited attention spans, and if those ads don’t spark their attention, they will move on. As Seth Godin would say, “Be Remarkable!”

Plus, focus on benefits. People always want to know how something will benefit them. So, ask yourself: How does my product or service benefit customers? It’s the benefit that you want to market — not the product or service.

Lastly, make your ads congruent with the keywords and website landing page. Ultimately, this means you’ll need different ads for all the different keyword phrases you want to target. If your ads are not congruent, or relevant, then your prospective customers are not likely to click. Even worse, if your ads are not congruent with your landing page, then the prospective customers who do click are going to quickly leave, because the message on the website doesn’t match the message in the ads.

3. Insufficient Ad Budget

With Google Ads, there is no minimum budget. However, depending on your industry and the keywords you want to target, the cost per click for your ads can vary from $1 to $10 or even $50 or more. If the cost per click for your keywords is on the lower end at $2, then you can generate 500 clicks for $1,000 per month. But if your keywords cost $20, then that same $1,000 budget will only generate 50 clicks per month.

Fifty clicks are not going to give you much data to work with in order to optimize your campaign month after month.

Another way to look at this is to calculate your daily budget. If your monthly budget is $1,000 and you want your ads to display every day of the week, then your daily budget is about $33. Again, if your keywords cost $20 per click, then you would only be able to generate one click per day! That’s just not enough; you’ll need to increase your budget and/or limit the days your ads will run during the month.

4. Not Spending Enough Time Managing the Campaigns

Google Ads campaigns aren’t like Crockpot meals. You can’t set it and forget it.

Your campaigns need attention. They need nurturing. This is true whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran.

A lot can change in just a day or two. New competitors can start advertising and increase the cost per click of your keywords and steal impression share. Alternatively, competitors may leave or run out of budget, which gives you an opportunity to lower your bids to get the same amount of traffic for less! Unless you’re closely monitoring, you’ll miss these important changes that affect the profitability of your campaigns.


OK, let’s review what we’ve learned here.

Don’t try to attack every keyword you can find for your campaigns. Instead, use the best buying-intent keywords for your target audience. When you create ads, be sure to highlight the benefits of your products and services. Don’t over-promise anything, and match the message of the ad to the keyword and the message of the landing page. Make sure to test out different times to run your ads, as well, if you don’t have enough of a budget to run them all day and night. Finally, manage your campaigns by paying close attention to what works, what doesn’t work and the moves of your competition.

Using SEO Profitably Is All About Tactics and Timing

Are you using SEO profitably? The fourth quarter is already well underway, and the holiday season with Black Friday and Cyber Monday is hard upon us. For retailers and many e-commerce merchants, this is make-it-or-break-it time. Will this be a good year or one to regret?

Are you using SEO profitably? The fourth quarter is already well underway, and the holiday season with Black Friday and Cyber Monday is hard upon us. For retailers and many e-commerce merchants, this is make-it-or-break-it time. Will this be a good year or one to regret?

A successful season is really the final constellation of many interconnected tactical plans — the merchandise must be what the customer is looking for and the marketing and distribution must bring the merchandise and consumer together in a timely fashion.

SEO is by now deeply engrained in retail strategies, but the annual SEO planning process varies from site to site. As the year closes out, now is the time to review your plans. Did everything come together in a timely fashion? What changes in tactics or timing should you consider?

Don’t wait until the start of the new year, for you will already be behind. Here are some thoughts on what not to miss.

Technical Changes Must Be Done First

If your annual SEO plan is like most, it will include technical changes and enhancements that are designed to improve search and the customer experience. After 30 years (no, you did not read that wrong!) in technology, it has been my experience that technical changes almost never are completed with enough time for live shakedown cruises.

This is not necessarily the fault of the development staff. It is inherent in the complexity of the tasks. Deadlines are often slipped, or unforeseen problems arise.

With search, the problem is compounded. The plan must include adequate time to ensure that the changes were made correctly, that the site is crawled and that the technical SEO works. This is one of those times, when to go slow is to go fast.

Keywords Must Be Done Before Content

In 2018, keywords and content are the drivers of search. How often do you review your keywords? When was the last time you pruned or added to the list?

Keyword lists are dynamic and must reflect both changes in language and business focus. Some words simply fall out of use or morph to new usages:

“Cellular phone” has shifted from referring to the phone to now referencing service plans for communicating with a “cellphone.”

E-commerce sites that deal in fashion must keep a steady eye on what is coming off the runway to their site and how it is referenced by fashion mavens.

It is my preference to review keywords on an annual basis, and plan to do a thorough renovation about every two years for established sites and more often for newer sites. This should be completed in advance or in coordination with content planning.

Fresh, relevant content is today the single best driver for search. Because your keywords establish the focus and language of the site, they should also drive the content. New content should be planned to support major revenue-generating keywords. Content gaps and voids should be identified and remedied.

This represents a substantial amount of work, and it must be planned and prioritized so that it fits with the tactical plan.

Just as technical changes need to be completed with adequate time for the search engines to crawl and index your changes, the new content must also go live with adequate time for crawling and relevancy determination.

Because search is an iterative process, it is helpful to give yourself enough of a planning cushion that you can readjust, refine and enhance the content based on how the pages rank.

Did I fail to mention that part of the SEO annual planning process is determining who and how success will be measured? This must also fit into the tactical planning process. It is time to get to work on that plan. I’m not going to wait for you to begin. I’ll be working on mine immediately.

SEO Best Practices: Hashtags or Keywords?

With the popularity and increasing influence of social media, marketers are rushing to select or create just the right hashtags to add to their social media posts. Hashtags, although useful, are not the same as the venerable search keywords and should not be confused with each other or, so to speak, concatenated in the best SEO marketing strategy.

With the popularity and increasing influence of social media, marketers are rushing to select or create just the right hashtags to add to their social media posts. Hashtags, although useful, are not the same as the venerable search keywords and should not be confused with each other or, so to speak, concatenated in SEO best practices marketing strategy.

Each has its own place. It is my own contrarian view that the marketer has more control over the interpretation of a keyword than a hashtag. The immediacy of the hashtag creates areas of unexpected ambiguity. In this article, my recommendation is that marketers should take care in how they select and use hashtags in SEO best practices.

When to Use a Hashtag

Hashtags should be treated as ephemeral in the same vein as marketing slogans. Because they are short and often require context for clarification of their meaning, they do not have staying power.

You might say: “What about #metoo or #neveragain?” Both have huge current social significance and have garnered tremendous support for the movements they represent. Many thousands have tagged social media posts or searched social media sites for posts tagged with #metoo or #neveragain. These hashtags have been very useful in providing a vehicle for social engagement. These are examples of hashtags used exceptionally well.

However, in 10 years, will people remember what these were and what they represented? It is hoped that they represent more than just a moment in time. These are powerful examples, and few marketing programs have been able to develop hashtags that have the kind of market power that these represent. Most are barely memorable even in the moment.

Keywords, when used in site content, represent blocks of language that are more universal and not as temporal. Keywords are seldom freighted with the social baggage created by their use in social media. They are easily clarified and amplified; therefore, it is my contention that in site content and meta data keywords are preferential. This does not suggest totally avoiding hashtags in site content, but use them in conjunction with keywords to carry the main meaning.

The Law of Unforeseen Consequences

Because the social media platforms were not all launched at the same time, most individuals and organizations do not have consistent nomenclature across all platforms. This can create some startling results when hashtags enter the mix.

I am an avid sports fan, and have refereed multiple high school and collegiate events over the years. Currently, my fan fixation is the University of North Carolina’s baseball team (basketball season is over, so). The team is known as the “Diamond Heels,” a nice play on baseball’s diamond and the Tarheels. Fans can follow games and get up-to-date information on Twitter @DiamondHeels. There are also official Facebook and Instagram accounts.

One day, I popped into Instagram and did a quick search for #diamondheels. Lo and behold, there were many baseball images tagged @diamondheels, but they were intermixed with some that were not suitable for office viewing. This is the law of unforeseen consequences at work.

Social media is consumer-generated media where everyday individuals create the message. I doubt the baseball team wants its brand side-by-side with some of these images, but fans placed it there by their use of the seemingly innocuous hashtag #diamondheels. That’s because hashtags are not restricted in their use and unforeseen and unseemly juxtapositions will occur.

To prevent such occurrences, marketers must aggressively research and promote the hashtags they want to see used. In selecting hashtags, marketers need to consider just how and where they might encounter the law of unforeseen consequences and try to limit its impact.

How Voice Search Is Changing SEO

By 2020, half of all searches will be performed as voice search. Up until now, Internet users typed what they wanted to find into a search engine’s search bar. Typed keywords don’t make much sense because people know that Google will get the gist of it and give them the results they need. But since speaking is much easier than typing, people are more likely to make complete statements. So, how will this change SEO?

By 2020, half of all searches will be performed as voice search. It’s easy, fast and effective.

Up until now, Internet users simply typed what they wanted to find into a search engine’s search bar. The words people type in are known as keywords, and usually the words don’t make much sense. For example, “Italian restaurant NYC” rather than “I need an Italian restaurant in NYC.”

Typed keywords don’t make much sense because people know that Google will get the gist of it and give them the results they need. Since speaking is much easier than typing, people are more likely to make complete statements, such as “I need an Italian restaurant in NYC.”

So, how will voice search change SEO? Let me explain.

How SEO Is Now

SEO is the practice of optimizing a website for keywords Internet users use when searching for products, services, or information the site offers.  For instance, the website of an Italian restaurant in NYC would try to rank for “Italian restaurant NYC” by using these words across its site.

Besides using the words that searchers would put into the search bar, a site will also ensure it adds content regularly, has active social media accounts, and reaches out to share its knowledge with other websites. In the instance of this example, all of the content relates to Italian restaurants located in New York City.

What Voice Search Will Do to SEO

Voice search is going to change the way content is written and what it is optimized for in a number of ways.

  1. People speak more than they type, so keyword phrases will be longer. For instance, “I need an Italian restaurant in NYC” is what content will need to address, rather than just the “Italian restaurant NYC.” Content may include benefits of eating at a particular Italian restaurant in the city, or it may identify menu items at the Italian restaurant.
  2. Keyword phrases are more specific with voice search. People are more likely to go into detail when they search by voice, so they may say, “I need an Italian restaurant in NYC with seafood and cozy atmosphere.” Websites with content that identifies them as an Italian restaurant in NYC that serves seafood in a cozy atmosphere will be ranked higher and shown to searchers.
  3. Content needs to be written in a way that can easily be spoken by mobile devices. This means articles need to include short, clear statements. Think about how you would answer the question, “Where is the closest Italian restaurant in NYC?” You would likely say, “The closest Italian restaurant in NYC is Mama Rita’s on 21st.” This type of statement needs to be in your content for voice search results to share it with users.

SEO isn’t going to be based off what people type into search bars anymore. It’s going to be based off what people say when they are searching by voice. This means that your content is going to need to change to cater to what people say when they want to find something online.

Getting Ready for the Changes

Over half of all teenagers use voice search already, and more than 40 percent of adults use it. It’s now time to start implementing SEO that will cater to voice search. By the time everyone is using it, you want your site to be ahead of your competitors. The only way to do that is to make your website have exactly what voice search technology needs as well as what voice searchers need.

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