Outdated SEO Practices You Need to Avoid in 2020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 Learn which outdated SEO practices you must avoid in 2020.

Like zombies in “Dawn of the Dead,” there are some outdated SEO practices that will not die.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



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.”

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.”



An SEO Consultant’s 4-Point SEO Holiday Wish List for Santa

This year, I want to take a more childish approach and write an SEO wish list for Santa. Here are four things that I want from Santa. These wishes are not big, so I hope Santa can deliver this list.

As I write this post, Thanksgiving and the rush to the end of the year are upon us. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, for it is filled with good cheer, good eats, and no expectation that gifts will be exchanged.

In the past at Thanksgiving, I have written about gratitude. But this year, I want to take a more childish approach and write an SEO wish list for Santa. Here are four things that I want from Santa. These wishes are not big, so I hope Santa can deliver this list:

  • Make all of my clients’ sites super-speedy
  • Teach all of my client teams how to write unique, valuable content — faster
  • Make all client structured data instantly accurate, complete, and error-free
  • Fix all mobile search/usability problems, immediately

Why Is This My Wish List?

Although each of these wishes are for client sites, this is, in fact, a selfish wish list. Fast sites are still the gold standard — table stakes for good SEO results. If Santa will supercharge all of my client sites, then the other SEO tactics that I recommend will have a firm and fast base to run from. It is foolish, read borderline delusional, to assume that a slow or marginally fast site is going to deliver a successful search optimization project.

Content Team Challenges Grow

Today, the message that high-quality content is an SEO must-have has finally seeped deeper into organizations, beyond just the SEO team. As the understanding the impact of content on SEO results grows, it is this SEO’s expectation that content teams will be tasked with creating more and more high-quality content. To meet the demand, content development teams will need to create more content, faster. This wish benefits the SEO consultant and the client.

Structured Data — A Key to Stronger Results

Structured data provide information that search engines can use to understand a site’s content and provide the best search results possible. Adding Schema markup to the HTML improves the way a page displays in search results pages (SERPs) by enhancing the rich snippets that are displayed beneath the page title. The rich results give searchers cues that a page may, in fact, address what they are searching. Clearer signals will result in improved results, but the structured data vocabulary is still evolving. My wish for instant, accurate, complete, and error-free structured data for client sites is a wish for an easier path.

Unaddressed Mobile Problems Are a Brake on Results

Mobile is firmly entrenched as the device of choice for a growing majority of searchers. To deny the importance of mobile is to fly in the face of reality. If a site has mobile issues that are flagged by Google’s Search Console, then it is fair to say that these will act as a brake on the search optimization program’s results. Mobile errors are — to use a sports metaphor — the equivalent of unforced errors. Quickly fixing mobile search/usability problems limits the damage; hence, my wish.

Perhaps, if you believe in Santa, you may get your wishes granted. I know Santa will bring me these four little wishes, because I’ve been very good this year. Maybe?

3-Part Pre-Production Content Marketing Checklist

Here’s a three-part pre-production checklist of the questions your content needs to answer in order for it to succeed. Last time around, we talked about how long the content on your website pages should be if your goal is to attract, engage, and retain your audience through content marketing.

Last time around, we talked about how long the content on your website pages should be if your goal is to attract, engage, and retain your audience through content marketing.

This month, let’s look at a checklist of what your articles need, regardless of length, in order to succeed as content marketing. We’ve found that the best way to build a checklist that works for you is to identify the questions you must answer before you put pencil to paper — or fingertips to tapping.

Who Am I Trying to Reach?

Your first checklist item should focus on who you are trying to reach. You may be pro or con when it comes to the value of creating prospect personae, but they are an excellent way to draw a clear picture of who your target audience is. If you have another approach you prefer, that’s fine. Just as long as your profile includes data points on your prospects’ professional lives, as well as demographic information. Here are a few examples. The data points that are relevant to your marketing will vary.

Professional Profile

  • Title
  • Role
  • Department
  • Company size
  • Location

Demographic Profile

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Level of education

What Is My Prospect’s Motivation?

Once you have a picture of who your prospect is, you need to understand what is driving them to seek the change that you could potentially provide. In other words, what are their pain points around this problem?

The key here is to dive into their pain points as deeply as possible. Your goal should be to not only know what their pain points are, but to understand why they are pain points, in the first place.

In most cases, that will require calculating what the value of solving the problem is to the prospect and his or her organization. That can help you determine your pricing and their sense of urgency.

As critically, you’ll want to identify what the costs will be of doing nothing. (That is often your biggest competitor, rather than another solution provider.)

As you identify the most critical benefits to your prospect, you may find your content beginning to take shape. Those benefits — or language alluding to them — are often best used as sub-headings in your article.

What Is My Goal for This Page?

Your goal is always the same: Get the prospect to take action.

What that action is will depend on all of the data we covered above, as well as where in the buying cycle your prospect is. That last piece will likely determine the nature of your offer: Asking someone who is just beginning their research to agree to an in-person meeting is likely a non-starter, while a prospect who is putting together her short list will be much more open to the idea.

What’s Next?

Regardless of the action you seek, be sure you are thinking a few moves ahead, as a good chess players does. Once they’ve taken this action, what action would you like them to take next? What content can help you move your prospects in that direction?

With luck, your pre-writing checklist can help you not only with the content piece in front of you, but with fitting what you create into a broader content library and content marketing strategy.

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.”


How Long Should Your Content Marketing Articles Be?

How long your content marketing articles are is critical to their success, but there is no one right length. How long any particular article should be depends on what that article’s purpose is, who you’re trying to reach, and where they are in the buying process.

If you’re like most marketers, you’ve got two very different voices whispering in your ears about length for your content marketing materials. They may not be devil and angel exactly, but they are most certainly not in agreement.

On the one hand, er, shoulder, you’ve got a voice telling you that nobody reads anymore, everyone scans, so don’t bother making long-form content. Keep it short and digestible.

On the other shoulder, there is a voice (perhaps in the form of your SEO expert) telling you that every article needs to break at least 300 words — ideally, 500 — to effectively rank well.

As you try to decide which voice to heed, here are a few things to consider.

What Data Tells Us About Content Length

A quick Google search will give you all sorts of information about how long your content marketing pages should be.

Plenty of sources will site the 300- to 500-word minimum mentioned above.

Neil Patel says that he focuses on content in the 2,000- to 3,000-word range. (While, at the same time, advising us to not write content that is too in-depth!)

Seth Godin seems to be doing quite well for himself with much shorter content.

So who’s right? Everyone and no one. Patel is doing what works for him. Godin has found a different path. You could — and should — argue that those aren’t really fair comparisons, as both of those marketers are “stars” on some level, and have much larger followings than you might.

That’s the point, though; there are always mitigating circumstances. And what’s right for you won’t necessarily work for someone else. Which means what the data should tell you is that you need to gather your own data.

Start with whatever you’re comfortable doing. If more frequent, shorter pieces feel right, dive right in. If you feel that longer-form articles are more your speed, that’s great. In either case, track what you’re doing, monitor the results, and experiment with content at other lengths. (And in other formats, for that matter.)

That’s the only way to find out what your audience wants from you.

What Is Your Article Designed to Do?

The next question you should be asking is, “What is my goal for this content?” Presumably, you’ll publish content of different types and with different goals in mind. Long-form content may be just the ticket for prospects who are close to making a buying decision, while shorter pieces that link to a lead magnet of some kind are the right way to gain trust with prospects who are just discovering you.

Similar differences might exist for different audience segments or for different product/service lines you may be marketing. Be sure you match the length and format of your content to its intended purpose and audience.

How to Use Varying Content Lengths to Your Advantage

Once we come to understand that different content lengths will work for us in different ways, we can layer on the ways in which our content elements should relate to one another. One popular way of thinking about this is the solar system model.

As you’d imagine, the idea here is to have a variety of “smaller” content elements orbiting around a bigger piece of cornerstone content. Not all of those orbiting pieces will necessarily be shorter, but there will be a general progression of large to small as you move away from the center.

For example, a how-to guide in the form of an eBook might be your cornerstone content. Each chapter of that book could perhaps be developed into a presentation (and slide deck) of its own. Many of the slides in that deck might work well as individual short videos.

Don’t Forget the Common Sense

What’s important to keep in mind is that while copy length does matter for your content marketing, there is no ideal length for all content marketing articles. There are many ideal lengths.

If you’re just starting out — or are wiping the decks and making a fresh start — and aren’t sure what lengths will work, it may be helpful to think about the conversations your sales, marketing, and customer service teams have with your prospects and clients. There will be an arc to those conversations that should guide the depth of your content for prospects at various places in the buying process. Your content length should match that arc.

When you’ve got it right, your data will let you know, and you would be wise to match your ongoing work to your data — while still experimenting to find the next great sweet spot for your content marketing.