Outdated SEO Practices You Need to Avoid in 2020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 Learn which outdated SEO practices you must avoid in 2020.

Like zombies in “Dawn of the Dead,” there are some outdated SEO practices that will not die.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

 

 

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.”

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.”

 

 

3 Tips for Search Engine Optimization on a Budget

You do not have to break the bank to get quality SEO results. But you do need to figure out the metrics that matter when it comes to delivering a return on your investment. It is also important to temper expectations, when it comes to results. Search engine optimization typically takes longer to drive leads and sales, when compared to PPC advertising campaigns.

You do not have to break the bank to get quality SEO results. But you do need to figure out the metrics that matter when it comes to delivering a return on your investment. It is also important to temper expectations, when it comes to results. Search engine optimization typically takes longer to drive leads and sales, when compared to PPC advertising campaigns.

Getting the Most for Your Money

Let’s go over some ways that companies can make their sites SEO-friendly, without breaking the bank.

1. Get the Architecture Right

If you are going to spend money anywhere, make sure some of it goes toward building a quality website. It should have a clean design, an intuitive navigation experience, and be accessible to search engines. Menus, content, and other information should be organized in a way that makes sense and is easy to find. There are plenty of SEO-savvy developers capable of providing a new website or revamping your existing one for a reasonable price.

Google and Bing both offer free webmaster guidelines that businesses can use as a guide to creating search-friendly websites. They are an excellent resource for businesses, even if they are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of technical SEO.

2. Small Details Matter

With SEO, small details can make all of the difference in your rankings.

Here are some cost-effective ways of upgrading your website’s SEO.

  • Page Titles — Google uses the page title (aka, Title tag, or <title> in HTML) as a shortcut to know what the page is about. Think of it like the chapter name in a textbook. Include the most relevant keyword(s) you’re trying to rank for in the title so that Google knows the page is 100% relevant to those search phrases.
  • Meta Descriptions — Take the time to fill in the meta descriptions for your website content. Search engines like Google will use this as the excerpt below the hyperlink to your website. A clean, precise description can be the difference-maker in getting a visitor to click through to your site.
  • Header Tags — No one likes reading big walls of text. You could have the most amazing, enlightening content on your web pages, but no one is going to read it without proper formatting. Headers and subheaders are vital in making content easier to read and absorb. Search engines also use the headers to better understand what the page is about, so make sure to include variations of your target keywords in your page headers.

3. Use Free SEO Tools

What better way to understand how Google views SEO than by using the tools it provides? Google Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools) gives you incredible insight into your SEO, all for free! Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to evaluate your website speed and identify opportunities to improve. Plus, with Google’s move to a mobile-first Index, you’ll want to take the Mobile-Friendly Test and fix any issues right away.

For a more advanced analysis, I highly recommend the Screaming Frog SEO Spider. You’ll be able to quickly review all the pages on your website to identify issues with your page titles, descriptions, headers, and even broken links.

Final Thoughts on SEO on a Budget

Businesses can use a variety of resources to improve their SEO without breaking their budget. Improving the architecture of a website is a great place to start, because a poorly structured site will be very difficult to rank high in Google.

And pay attention to the details. Make sure your page titles, descriptions, and headers are all optimized for search engines.

Lastly, take advantage of the free tools and resources available online. Just because they are free, doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. In fact, many of the tools mentioned above are as good or even better than the paid options.

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

 

3 Tips to Refine Your Current SEO Strategy

It’s a good time of the year for digital marketers to take a closer look at the success of their SEO efforts. What SEO strategy seems to have worked best? How successful have you been in attracting your core audience? Now is not the time to coast on what you are doing, even if you’ve hit or exceeded your goals this year.

It’s a good time of the year for digital marketers to take a closer look at the success of their SEO efforts. What SEO strategy seems to have worked best? How successful have you been in attracting your core audience? Now is not the time to coast on what you are doing, even if you’ve hit or exceeded your goals this year.

Use the last few months of the year to refine your SEO strategy and pinpoint opportunities for driving more high-converting visitors to your website. A quick audit like the one below can highlight places where these SEO tactics could yield better results.

1. Polish Your Technical SEO Components

You would be surprised at how many seemingly polished websites neglect basic SEO techniques, like optimal keyword placement and appropriate headers. Keyword research is one thing that remains vital in a sea of SEO changes over the years. Of course, don’t mistake an emphasis on keywords as an invitation to start using outdated keyword-stuffing tactics.

Unnaturally stuffing keywords into your pages is unnecessary and reads awkwardly to your target audience. Sprinkle your focus keywords throughout your content organically, in a way that makes sense. You can also target multiple, related keywords by optimizing their placement in the headings (H1, H2, H3, etc.) of your content.

Meta descriptions are another SEO component many marketers neglect. Optimizing meta descriptions is a quick, easy way to help drive more clicks to your website; which, in turn, can improve your search engine rankings. Don’t just let Google decide what to use as your description in its search results. Draft compelling meta descriptions that will help your business stand out to prospective customers.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when it comes to SEO is the intent. How well are you matching the page titles and descriptions to what your prospective customers are searching for?

2. Upgrade Your Content

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating, content is king. Google’s goal is to provide the absolute best search results possible for its users, and that means you must have the best content if you want to compete in SEO.

What can visitors find on your site that they cannot get anywhere else? Home contractors can create video guides for common do-it-yourself scenarios that often stump potential clients, while making it clear when they should call in a professional. Creative types can take their visitors through their process of coming up with their final product, whether it is a song or a new cake design.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Look at what is already ranking at the top of Google for your target keywords. How can you do it better? What new angle can you cover that can fulfill the needs of your visitors? The voice of experience should be evident throughout, showing customers why you should be their top choice over other competitors.

3. Improve Tracking Across Your Pages

Tracking is a marketer’s best tool when it comes to finding SEO improvements. It can tell you exactly where the issues are and what changes can have the most significant impact, when properly implemented. If you haven’t done so already, then I suggest installing Google Analytics across your entire website and linking it up to your account with Google Search Console. Those two tools will give you invaluable insights into your SEO efforts.

You’ll be able to track keyword rankings, search engine click-through rates, and SEO landing page conversions.

For locally-focused businesses, I recommend BrightLocal for tracking your Google My Business rankings, over time. This will help you spot trends and continue to make improvements with your local SEO efforts.

It’s Time to Work on Your SEO Strategy

We’re in the fourth quarter, so it’s time to set up your SEO for success in the next year. Review the basics and make sure you’ve optimized your website correctly for your target keywords. Then review your content, compared to what’s already ranking in Google. How can you compete and create superior content for your target audience? Lastly, don’t forget about tracking. It’s never too late to get proper tracking installed so that you have the tools readily available to improve your SEO.

Want more tips to help you with SEO? Click here to grab a copy of my “Ultimate SEO Checklist.”

Why You Should Stop Keyword Stuffing in SEO Now

Keyword stuffing is like Michael Myers in “Halloween” — it refuses to die. It’s also very dangerous for your business, because it will kill your search engine rankings.

Keyword stuffing is one of those things left over from the earliest days of digital marketing that refuses to go away.

You have already seen in it in action if you have come across blogs full of phrases like “best seafood near me” or “women dress store Atlanta.”

It is awkward, unnatural, and still one of the go-to techniques for many content creators. Why?

Why Keyword Stuffing Became So Popular

As digital marketing and search engines evolved, it became clear that people tended to use specific phrases when doing an Internet search. Marketers figured out that they could get high rankings for their clients by filling content with these phrases. That led to lots of ads and other content filled with popular search phrases.

As the practice spread, so did the number of keywords crammed into the content. It got to the point where popular keyword phrases were making their way into landing pages and blogs, even if they didn’t fulfill the user’s intent. That meant lots of annoyed users who didn’t end up finding “red sandals Dallas” when they clicked on an ad or link.

How Keyword Stuffing Hurts You Today

Connecting audiences to their desired result is the primary goal of search engines. Having tons of users annoyed by low-quality results does not allow them to do that. Search engines now reward content written for actual human consumption, not to game their algorithms in pursuit of higher search rankings. Spammy content that does not satisfy user intent now gets driven down in SERPs.

One of the things search engines judge when determining whether the content is useful is the keyword density throughout a piece of content. You may be using keywords that tie into your client’s product, but the sheer volume used could have it penalized.

That also applies to your hidden web content. Some content creators attempt to circumvent search engine penalties by stuffing multiple keywords into the alt tags in images or the meta tags in their HTML. Search engines are aware of these tactics, and will penalize your pages in response.

Better SEO Techniques for Your Keywords

Keywords still help improve page rankings, when used correctly. Working the following techniques into your content will earn better rankings by Google and other search engines.

User-Friendly Phrasing

One thing you can let go of is the idea that you must use common search phrases in a specific order.

Let’s go back to our “red shoes Dallas” example from before. You could easily rewrite the phrase to read, “We have many red high-heeled shoes in stock at our Dallas location.” and get the desired result.

Google, for example, understands how to match that directly to the keyword phrase in question and pull back the proper result. The content itself is richer and much more comfortable for a visitor to consume. Using keywords this way also helps when users issue voice searches through IoT or mobile devices.

Lower Keyword Density

Make sure the body of your blogs and articles contain at least 300 words. The longer and more useful you make them, the easier it will be to naturally work in keyword phrases, while maintaining a keyword density of around 2 percent.

You should also use secondary keywords and other long-tailed keywords that tie back to your content. Search engines will continue to give you better rankings, if you maintain a proper balance.

Summing It All Up

Keyword stuffing is an outdated methodology that unfortunately still gets widely used. Search engines penalize pages that use keyword stuffing techniques.

Instead of unnaturally adding keywords to your pages, use natural phrasing and long-tailed variations in rich content to help content rank better in SERPs.  Ultimately, letting go of outdated keyword stuffing benefits content creators, search engines and, most importantly, your prospective customers.

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

 

 

Why Google’s SEO Strategy May Drive You Back to Digital Display

Bit by bit, Google has been changing the terms of its SEO strategy deal with healthcare marketers. Google’s strategy is shifting away from matchmaker to one of being a destination in and of itself, with fewer hand-offs necessary to your non-e-commerce site.

Bit by bit, Google has been changing the terms of its SEO strategy deal with healthcare marketers.

Health systems produced content and then made it “findable” by following established search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, in exchange for greater visibility when Google’s users plugged in related search terms. With more than 60% market share, Google’s importance as a matchmaker between content and curiosity could not be overstated.

But Google’s strategy is shifting away from matchmaker to one of being a destination in and of itself, with fewer hand-offs necessary to your non-e-commerce site. As your organic traffic plateaus, marketers will be forced to re-balance their digital tactics, just to hold onto the same user volume.

Google’s changing approach is based on old trends, as well as new ones. Marketers have long known that the longer a user spends on a site, the more opportunity there is to capture value from the visit. Google now leverages that logic for its benefit. The more information previewed in the top-level results, the more likely it is that the user’s question will be satisfied without the need to click through your site. The results from voice-based searches are even more succinct and less subject to commercialization (at this point).

What Healthcare Marketers Can Do

Are you unsure if this trend applies to your hospital?

Do a condition-based search, relevant to your facility, on a desktop. The results page probably starts with knowledge panels and instant answers, a map with showing facilities like yours, followed by paid ads, and then organic results — where SEO lives.

This hierarchy is more pronounced on mobile. Google depends on your site to serve up information that it compiles and displays in an at-a-glance format, regardless of device. A substantial number of searches relevant to your core content can be addressed, without ever registering on your analytics as a site visit. The irony is you can be getting better at SEO; especially with speakable schema, but not see the growth in traffic you’ve come to expect.

So, do you abandon SEO efforts? No. Digital queries in all forms will continue to increase, and competitors will not sit still. Quality content will retain its value, but likely needs additional behind-the-scenes mark-ups to be optimized.

Beyond that, you may need to revise your assumptions about traffic volume that will be produced by organic results and offset that volume loss with traffic generated from targeted outbound display ads. Of course, this has implications for your budget and audience mix.

The good news is that digital display on reputable outlets can give you the targeting and frequency levels necessary to generate awareness. And, creativity will once again become the focus of display ad development to pique the viewer’s interests and earn the click.

Like so many things, what was old is new again.