Here’s a Website Performance Checklist to Kick 2020 Off Right

Reviewing your website’s security practices, privacy policies, accessibility, and analytics can help improve performance over the course of the year. You can still pledge to get the most from your website. This website performance checklist can help.

No need to abandon all hope if your New Year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. You can still pledge to get the most from your website in 2020. This website performance checklist can help.

None of these topics are particularly sexy. Nor are they likely to have the kind of top-line impact (read: massive increases in revenue) that lead to promotions and bonuses. But they can save you a ton of pain and regret throughout the year. And without a doubt, they will make those revenue-spiking initiatives that much more successful.

Security Review

Having your domain blacklisted is nobody’s idea of fun. Because there’s no “Undo” button, once you’re in trouble, it’s time-consuming to get out. So, it is well worth reviewing your site’s security to ensure that no evil lurks in the heart of your coding.

Check your traffic logs and firewall settings to make sure you’re still keeping as much malicious activity off your site as possible.

If your site is custom coded, confirm with your developers that the code base is being updated regularly to guard against malware and other attacks. (Even fully customized sites generally rely on code libraries or frameworks that can be the target of attacks.)

If you use a commercial CMS, do a similar check with the vendor. It can be helpful to also do a web search for “[my CMS name] vulnerabilities” and other phrases to find reports of attacks.

An open-source CMS requires a similar review:

  • Do you have the most recent version installed?
  • Are all of the plugins, modules, widgets, and other helper programs up to date?

In all of these cases, you should be on a regularly scheduled maintenance plan with your development team. Now is the time to make sure you have the most appropriate level of protection.

Don’t forget the basics. A quick review is all that should be required to make sure that your registrar and hosting accounts are secure and your domain name and SSL certificate are in order and not at risk of cancellation. If you host internally, review server access to eliminate the chance of former employees making mischief.

Privacy Review

If GDPR and CCPA sound like alphabet soup to you, it’s definitely time to review your site’s privacy policy and things like data retention. This is now true even for non-transactional sites. GDPR may apply only to those of us who work with E.U. residents, but CCPA applies to most firms who interact with California residents. The Shield law applies to every firm in New York State.

That’s a lot to keep track of and understanding your responsibilities can be overwhelming. Given the potential fines involved, this is not an area where you want to take all of your advice from a marketer, coder, or (ahem) digital strategist. Be sure to have a knowledgeable lawyer review your privacy policies and practices.

Accessibility Review

Making websites accessible to people with disabilities is an area that has grown in importance over the past 18 months or so because of an increase in legal actions, even though the relevant regulations aren’t new.

The good news is that building new websites to be accessible isn’t particularly difficult, nor is maintaining that accessibility as new content is added. Both require an understanding of the requirements and a shift in approach.

The story is not quite as rosy for bringing existing sites into compliance, which tends to be more labor-intensive. Adjustments may include changes to branding and in-depth review of content (image alt tags, for example), as well as less visible coding changes.

There are a number of excellent assessment tools that can help you get an understanding of the effort required to make the site compliant. But a deeper, manual scan will also be required to uncover everything.

Analytics Review

Finally, don’t forget to review your analytics. This is one area that just may uncover insights that can lead to revenue growth that and a move closer to the corner office, though more likely those improvements will be incremental.

  • Compare statistics year-over-year to see where you’ve improved and where performance has fallen off.
  • Determine whether your mobile audience is growing or holding steady. (It’s probably not shrinking.)
  • Review traffic sources to see how visitors are finding you. That can guide adjustments to your marketing efforts.

You may be doing quite a bit of this on a monthly or quarterly basis as part of your marketing efforts. Still, it’s worth it to expand beyond that scope to look at broader performance and strive for continual improvement throughout 2020 and beyond.

Flash — It’s Gone: In 2020, Google Search Will Ignore Adobe Flash

When it first launched, Flash was the answer to a static Web, providing rich animation and action. Flash was eagerly welcomed and embraced by Web developers and users. It grew so popular that the Adobe Flash Player runtime, which lets users play Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013.

When it first launched, Flash was the answer to a static Web, providing rich animation and action. Flash was eagerly welcomed and embraced by Web developers and users. It grew so popular that the Adobe Flash Player runtime, which lets users play Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013, with 300 million installations on Android and iOS alone.

Even with this huge popularity, Flash is going to be gone by the end of 2020, replaced by new, faster, more efficient, and secure open standards development technologies, such as HTML5. These newer technologies are more search-friendly than Flash, which required significant efforts to ensure successful indexing.

The lifespan of webpages in search does not neatly coincide with corporate end-of-life announcements for support of specific technologies; therefore, Google’s Oct. 28, 2019, announcement is noteworthy. It says that later this year, Google Search will stop supporting Flash content, will begin ignoring it for search, and will stop indexing standalone SWF files.

Flash Has Burned Out Slowly

In July 2017, Adobe announced that it would no longer be updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020, and has been actively encouraging content creators to migrate their existing Flash content to the new open formats.

Browser developers have been sunsetting their support for Flash content, forcing users into elaborate workarounds to view Flash content. For example, Microsoft Edge, FireFox 69, and Chrome Version 76 launched in July 2019, and have — by default — disabled Flash.

However, a large volume of Flash content remains on the Web.

In the search-related announcement, Google blithely noted that “Most users and websites won’t see any impact from this change.” I would like to suggest that, as they say in the auto industry, mileage may vary.

How to Check for Search Impact?

Many large sites have thousands of pages, a volume containing valueless antiques. They are in the company’s digital attic. These treasure troves of forgotten content are often the product of unredirected orphaned initiatives.

Did your site once have a little Flash game or a Flash-powered carousel?

These once loved, but now forgotten, pages may still be in the Google index. To ensure that you indeed see no impact from the end of Flash, run a quick check for Flash files on your site. If you have converted all of your content to new technologies, you can still not rest. Just run a check for Flash files from your site that may be in Google. If you do not find any, then enjoy the ride.

If you still have Flash content, you need to convert it to a newer technology. Don’t just use an online converter. These are not necessarily secure. If the file is worthy, redevelop it or make sure that it is properly redirected.

For Improved Search Results, Try Pruning Your Content

Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States. As an avid gardener, both indoors and out, I’m always searching for how to improve how my garden grows. As a search consultant, I am always looking for how to improve a site’s organic search performance.

Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States. As an avid gardener, both indoors and out, I’m always searching for how to improve how my garden grows. As a search consultant, I am always looking for how to improve a site’s organic search performance. The nexus of these two quests lies in the site’s content.

Search has become content-driven. Google is hungry for quality, fresh content and rewards it in the results; but, like a garden, content must be pruned.

Like amateur gardeners, many site owners have added loads of evergreen content to their sites and layered more content on top of even more content. It is sometimes lost that each new layer of content must balance and play off the existing content; otherwise it can obscure and diminish the desired result. The site can easily become — in gardening terms — overgrown.

If you have added extensive content over the past two-to-three years, it is probably time to step back, assess organic search results and prune your content. You may even need to reorganize some pages and site areas so that they are more visible, just as a gardener moves a plant to improve its exposure to sun and moisture.

Here are some suggestions for how to prune and garden your content:

Content Pruning Differs From Content Curation

Content curation involves the process of discovering, gathering, and presenting digital content that surrounds a specific subject matter. It does not specifically involve the generation of new content. The activity of content pruning is somewhat different, in that it specifically addresses content created to improve search performance.

Why Prune Content?

Pruning, in gardening parlance, is clipping or cutting away of branches, buds and leaves, both living and dead, that sap energy from the plant. A properly pruned plant grows healthier and stronger. Because SEO content is developed to support traffic to specific pages, SEO pruning can yield a page that provides a stronger set of search signals and yields improved performance.

When and How to Prune?

Your business cycle will set the proper time for SEO pruning. It is not a task that should be undertaken during peak sales season. Schedule it for off-peak times.

Begin by evaluating how long your so-called evergreen content has been sitting without being critically evaluated for how well it is performing. For each page and section, ask yourself:

  • Is the page being found for your keyword targets?
  • Does it compete with another page on your site?

If so, then some serious pruning needs to be done. You may find that the page simply needs to be tightened or freshened. If it has links, check if any are broken. If so, then these need to be fixed immediately, for broken links are deadwood. Do you have newer, stronger imagery that can add impact? If so, this is the equivalent of enhancing new growth in a plant.

Conclusion

For a large site with a substantial amount of older evergreen content, the results can be startling. If you have done the process critically and removed the deadwood and made the main thrust of each page, and by extension each site section, more clearly defined, you will be sending a clearer set of search signals. Watch the results and just as with gardening, you will enjoy a more bountiful harvest of search traffic.

How Your Site Speed Could Be Slowing Your Business Growth

Site speed not only hurts conversions, but it can also hold back your search engine optimization efforts. Learn how to identify and fix site speed issues that may be slowing your business growth.

Imagine that you are casually browsing through a clothing store and something catches your eye. You are interested in buying the item, but all the lines are backed up in the store. Not wanting to wait around, you put the item back on the shelf and move on to a different store.

That same scenario can happen on your website if your site speed is too slow. And the end result is the same — lost sales.

The Impacts of a Slow Site

Your website should be capable of allowing visitors to quickly answer questions that inform their decisions on making a purchase or using your business’s services. They do not want to wait around forever to read a product description or to go through checkout with items in their online cart. Every second your visitors waits around is a potentially lost conversion.

Fifty-three percent of mobile users abandon a site that takes longer than three seconds to load. Here are other ways a slow website can impact your business prospects.

  1. Lower Search Engine Rankings — Google began using site speed as one of its criteria for organic search rankings back in 2010. It updated the algorithm in July 2018, making speed an even more critical factor. That means your best SEO efforts could go to waste if the pace of your site causes high bounce rates.
  2. Poor User Experience — Slow load times discourage users from revisiting your site. Seventy-nine percent of web shoppers won’t return to a slow-moving website. (Opens as a PDF)
  3. Bad Word of Mouth  — The impacts of slow load times extend beyond a single visit. Forty percent of visitors let others know about the bad experience they had, which keeps other potential customers from paying a visit. (This PDF shows that percentage is higher)

You can see a lot of money spent on advertising and other digital marketing go down the drain, thanks to slow website speeds.

Testing Your Site Speed

Speed tests on your website will tell you how fast your website moves for visitors and how search engine algorithms would rank you.

Speed Tool Options

  • PageSpeed Insights — PageSpeed Insights from Google measures your site speed and gives you details on improving your load time. The tool can also be accessed from Google Analytics under Site Speed in the Behavior section.
  • GTmetrix —  GTmetrix provides you with feedback on your site loading times and makes recommendations on improvements and optimizations. It also offers a guide full of suggestions on optimizing your WordPress pages.
  • WebPage Test — Use WebPage Test to find out what’s happening behind the scenes of your site. One great feature offered is the ability to test loading from different devices and server locations.
  • TestMySite — This Think With Google tool informs you of areas around your website where you have an opportunity to improve your page load time on mobile devices.

Many of these tools do not require administrative access to a website, meaning they can be run on both your own and competitor sites. You can gain insight into rankings for both yourself and rivals in search engines.

Improving Your Site Speed

Once you have a good idea on where your site ranks speed-wise, you can opt for a variety of tools to improve your page loading. One thing you can start doing is tracking any alerts Google puts out around changes to its speed algorithm, which usually happens six months before they go into effect. Use that time to make some of the following updates to improve your site-load time.

  1. Utilize Website Cache — If you’re not already using cache, then this is a quick way to improve your site speed. Think of cache as a copy of your webpages that can be served much faster to visitors.
  2. Use AMPs (Accelerated Mobile Pages) — AMPs point your standard HTML web page to a stripped-down version for mobile devices. They load much more quickly, cutting load times by as much as 85 percent.
  3. Watch Your Image Size — As much as you might love the header image on your site, the size of it might be impacting your page speed. It is recommended that you keep web pages under 500 KB in size.
  4. Think About User Intent — Because so many users issue voice commands, it is essential that your site accounts for conversational queries vs. static keyword phrases, which can make searches faster for visitors. Localizing your content can also speed up searches issued by users in your area.
  5. Review Your Site Construct — Take the time to have your page documentation reviewed. Unwieldy JavaScript and CSS can add to your page load times.

Summing It Up

Slow site speed can stunt the impact of any digital marketing plan. Use the recommended tools above to measure your site speed and get insight on how to improve your site speed on web and mobile. Lastly, review your site content for ways to reduce your page size and improve page loading.

Investing the time to improve your site speed will improve the user experience and ultimately boost your conversion rates.

Do you want more tips to improve your SEO? You can  grab a copy of the “Ultimate SEO Checklist.”

Does Google Really Need Your Website? Well, How Mobile-Friendly Are You?

In the last two months alone, two significant updates have occurred to the Google algorithm — creating volatility in the search results. The second update happened around March 15, and was a major update — a Core Algorithm Update.

In the last two months alone, two significant updates have occurred to the Google algorithm — creating volatility in the search results. The second update happened around March 15, and was a major update — a Core Algorithm Update.

These core updates occur several times a year. Recovering from rankings drops created by a core algorithmic change is not about fixing a page. I contend that just fixing a few pages is an exercise as fruitful in arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Instead, you site owners should ask yourselves, honestly, does Google really need the website? The answer is often “no,” so Internet management teams avoid the question and pour their efforts and funds into fixing pages in response to algorithmic updates.

The way to avoid making fixes is to think like long and big. Think like Google, and use its learning on search and user intent to make your site valuable.

Why Should Google Want Your Site?

With its proclaimed intent to index all the world’s knowledge, it could be argued that Google needs your site to fulfill this mission.

But just being included does not mean showing up in the top results. What brings a site to the top of the results? It is the user and whether your site answers the intent of the user’s query.

If a page and, by extension, the entire site addresses the user’s intent per the query and provides clear expert, authoritative and trustworthy (E-A-T) content, then it will show up in the top results.

There is an added wrinkle. With Google moving to a mobile-first, mobile-focused environment, your mobile site must meet the user’s intent.

As I write this post, I am working at a laptop linked to a large monitor, the typical configuration of an Internet worker. This is not where the searchers are. They are on mobile devices.

If your analytics don’t show more than half your visitors are mobile, then you are an outlier.

If you are looking to fix your search results, think mobile. I would suggest getting away from the monitor at your desk and using your mobile device to conduct a series of searches your typical user might perform. You may find yourself frustrated. If you typically chase rankings, you may find lots of reasons why you are not in the top search rankings.

How Do You Fix the Problem?

Because SEO success is tied to meeting the user’s search intent, then it is imperative to attach more significance to a creating successful user experience for mobile users.

This does not push aside all of the other elements of good SEO, it simply creates a delivery system for meeting the user on the user’s terms.

Getting there goes beyond simply doing searches on a mobile device. It forces a rethinking of how and why data is presented. Begin by reading. Here are several points of departure. If you love deeply technical information or suffer from insomnia, spend some time reading Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. (Opens as a PDF) These are the guidelines that Google’s team of human evaluators use to determine the quality of sample pages. The results from the evaluators are used as part of the training data that flow into creating the algorithm.

Here, you will quickly see what makes a page good. This is just the first stop on the tour.

Then, check out the much more user-friendly and readable UX Playbooks available for various types of sites. The retail playbook is eye-opening. (Opens as a PDF)

First, all of the examples and screenshots are mobile.

For an even longer view of where Google Search is headed in the future, read Ben Gomes’s blog post on “Improving Search in the Next 20 Years.

Instead of worrying about fixing pages in response to updates, consider how well you and your site will fit with what Google wants now and into the future.

Almost the Ultimate in ‘Not Interested’ Segmentation

If data is the fuel that is powering today’s marketing engine, Google has discovered a real gusher. Google, or any other AI-aided advertising sales effort, can add these datasets to already copious databases and use them as the almost ultimate tool to segment advertising messages to people most likely to be interested in them and to avoid sending ads in specific categories to those people who have signaled they are “not interested.”

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes.

Peter J. Rosenwald illustration one
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

That “i” with a circle around it and the accompanying “X” may have been there before, but I must never have noticed. They certainly didn’t leap off the page at me (that’s why I added the arrow) and would have had a hard time competing for attention with those cool 3D T-shirts.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

But there they were, hiding in the upper right hand corner of lots of ads, placed every five paragraphs or so by those lovable folks at Google, certainly intended to interrupt my reading of every salacious breaking news story about the White House and porn star Stormy Daniels (upright in real life, Ms. Stephanie Clifford).

Seduced away from learning the latest secrets of how to earn $130,000 for allegedly having a soft porn one-nighter with a presidential candidate who, between rallies imploring the U.S. electorate to make America great again, found time for a little R & R, I became intrigued by those mysterious letters and moved my cursor to discover what they were telling me.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

OK as far as it went, but by now in a state of aroused curiosity about the encircled “i” and accompanying “X,” I wanted to know more. Click on the encircled “i” and it takes you to AdSense, a website providing everything you ever wanted to know but perhaps never thought to ask, about Google’s targeted advertising and data protection policies.

Click on the “X” and here is what you get.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Google has now neatly positioned me to click on “Stop seeing this ad” or “Ads by Google,” un-highlighted and again accompanied by the encircled “i.” Addicted as I am to Sherlock Holmes, I felt compelled to move ahead and to click the “Stop” button.

But before I did, I began wondering; what’s in this for Google other than having delivered a possibly unwanted ad, then creating a nice warm “feel good” atmosphere. It’s rather like the guest who tracks mud into your living room, and then apologizes and promises to try not to do it again.

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Now I get it.

It’s a brilliantly laid back survey generating invaluable data about;

  • Those “Not interested in this ad,” those on whom promotion money for this category should not be wasted.

The first time I clicked on “Not interested,” I was taken to a section of the site which showed me a wide range of interest categories and asked me to eliminate those for which I had no interest. As I’d indicate one, it would go away and another one would pop up in what became an endless five-minute project. Wanting to show it here, I tried again to find it, but Google had obviously gotten what it wanted from me and it mysteriously disappeared.

  • Those who didn’t have anything against the specific category but had seen it “multiple” times (too many), that number informing Google to limit the ad frequency for this person;
  • Those who consider the ad “inappropriate,” a clear signal to Google to send only “Jello’” ads here; no “Tamale flavored hot, spicy yogurt.”
  • When I clicked on “Ad-covered content,” I received a message that the ad had been ‘closed’ by Google, nothing else that might have explained what “Ad-covered content” might have meant.

If data is the fuel that is powering today’s marketing engine, Google has discovered a real gusher. Google, or any other AI-aided advertising sales effort, can add these datasets to already copious databases and use them as the almost ultimate tool to segment advertising messages to people most likely to be interested in them and to avoid sending ads in specific categories to those people who have signaled they are “not interested.”

It’s a win, win. For Google, because it should be a very sexy addition to its advertising sales platform. For advertisers, who must applaud a new ability not to spend the marketing budget talking to people who do not wish to hear their message.

3 Quick Ways to Sabotage SEO Efforts

Are you sabotaging your own SEO efforts? As an SEO consultant, I see numerous well-intentioned business leaders make decisions that, in effect, sabotage and trash months and even years of SEO work.

Are you sabotaging your own SEO efforts? As an SEO consultant, I see numerous well-intentioned business leaders make decisions that, in effect, sabotage and trash months and even years of SEO work.

Because of these poorly thought-out decisions, organic search traffic craters and sales decline. This situation is often an indirect result of site owners making decisions without estimating or understanding the impact these might have on the long-established SEO efforts. Tactical SEO mistakes are easier to recover from than ill-thought out business decisions.

Here are three business decisions that can sabotage your SEO efforts:

  • Change your brand name
  • Dramatically shift your product offering
  • Target a different customer segment, while abandoning the previous target audience.

Here is how and why each of these marketing/business decisions can have a long-term negative impact on the site.

Changing Your Brand Name

As businesses grow, shrink and change ownership, there is often a desire to rebrand the company. This decision is usually made many pay grades above the SEO team. The assumption is that altering the name will be simply a matter of shifting the website over to a new address. This is what it takes technically, but it greatly oversimplifies the impact such a change can have on organic search traffic. A quick look at what percentage of traffic is first-time visitors and how dependent your site is on new customers coming in from search will give you the scary truth of how much of an impact a change might have.

If your site is a commerce one, there is more to lose. Google gives brand names preference in the search results, so you will be found for the new name on the door; however, this does not account for the broader loss of name recognition in the marketplace. If you are in a pitched battle for search placement with established brands, you will be giving them a gift; for until your new name is broadly known, you will be a nobody. Searchers do not see your lovely rebranding visuals or associate your once trusted name with the new name. There are ways to mitigate the impacts. Begin with a rebranding strategy that includes a thorough understanding of its impact on your organic search strategy and seek to mitigate upfront any impact. In short, don’t make the change and then ask why organic search traffic has declined.

Shifting Your Product Offering

Most e-commerce businesses change their product offering regularly as the seasons shift and styles change. This type of change is accounted for in the SEO workflow and causes little disruption to the flow of organic search traffic. It is dramatic shifts that can severely interrupt search traffic. You cannot go easily from selling gardening supplies to quilting fabrics without an appropriate segue. Before extinguishing a product offering, try adding the new offering and devise ways to inform your audience that you are shifting. This lets your content, links and traffic ramp up organically without injuring the site’s overall reputation. Organic search is not simply a spigot that can be turned on or off at your whim.

Shifting Your Audience

Search is still accomplished through keywords and hyperlinked text. Your search program is designed to optimize your visibility to a target audience. It has been my experience that search exposes how completely a business is focused on and aware of its audience. The SEO program hones the vocabulary so that the site brings the customers whose needs match your offering. When there is a mismatch of site content and keyword emphasis to target audience, search traffic declines. If there is an ambivalence as to who your target customer is, this will be apparent as well in diminished, sub-optimal results.

Conclusion

There is an overarching theme in this analysis of just a few of the ways you can sabotage your search traffic: Tie search into the major business decisions early on and seek ways to mitigate any negative potential negative impacts before they occur.

Still No Magic Bullet for SEO

SEMrush’s “Ranking Factors Study 2.0” confirms yet again that there is no single “open sesame” tactic that will magically net your site’s URLs the top placements in the Google search results. I am sure that this is terribly disappointing for site owners and practitioners who have long-sought to replace solid valued and valuable content, technical excellence and a commitment to the user with a magic bullet tactic.

SEO
“SEO,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Global Panorama

SEMrush’s “Ranking Factors Study 2.0” confirms yet again that there is no single “open sesame” tactic that will magically net your site’s URLs the top placements in the Google search results. I am sure that this is terribly disappointing for site owners and practitioners who have long-sought to replace solid valued and valuable content, technical excellence and a commitment to the user with a magic bullet tactic.

This study and other similar studies that look for keys to unlocking the Google algorithm increasingly confirm the need for a holistic, user-centric approach to search.

The SEMrush study used a 600,000-keyword worldwide data set and examined the first 100 SERP positions for each keyword. To crunch this big data and reveal the importance of the ranking factors, it applied a machine-learning algorithm called Random Forest. This methodology is one of the most effective machine-learning regression models used for predictive analysis. As the name implies, random forest is decision-tree methodology that teases out the most significant factors. Those with a statistical interest will find SEMrush’s choice of this methodology interesting.

What Were the Results?

The study identified 17 factors that influence how a page ranks in the Google SERPs. The study found that direct website traffic is the most influential ranking factor. A high volume of users directly navigating to the site is a key indicator to Google that the domain has authority and value.

What drives an individual to directly navigate to a site? The answer is easy: content and presentation that users value. The study shows that user behavior signals, such as time on site, pages per session and bounce rate influence rankings. They are indicators of site quality and its relevance for users. It should be noted that the study authors point out that the factors are intertwined, so focusing on a single factor does not strongly influence the overall result. They all fit neatly together.

What About Links?

The study shows that backlinks and link profiles are still key factors in rankings. The volume of referring domains, volume of backlinks and referring IP addresses are key metrics. The authors caution that “all the metrics of the backlink portfolio are interconnected, and a blind manipulation of only one of them will not increase your rankings, unless you also work on the other metrics.”

A well-orchestrated digital marketing effort can yield a surprising number of quality links. It has been my practice to focus on quality, and let the quantity flow from the overall value of the site’s offering as enhanced and exposed through the total marketing effort.

Does Content Matter?

The research clearly shows that content is crucial to ranking. There is no magic bullet length. If the content is irrelevant to the user’s query, it doesn’t matter how long it is — it will still be irrelevant.

The message is clear that by creating relevant content, you can improve your ranking. The research indicates that pages that rank higher have longer content, on average. This is particularly important for high search volume competitive keywords. For long-tail keywords, don’t scrimp on the content. Narrow your focus and cover the topic in depth, and you will be rewarded.

The Key Takeaway

The study also looked at on-page optimization factors and the impact of Google’s push to make the Web more secure by rewarding secure sites and shaming insecure sites. The results make interesting reading and, in my opinion, this entire study is a must-read for search marketers.

The key takeaway for me is that given the importance of direct traffic and user experience, that building brand awareness and enhancing user experience is as important as a strong SEO program. A holistic approach to addressing the dynamics of generating search traffic is essential.

Shared Accountability — A Frightening Concept

With Halloween right around the corner with all of its goblins and scarecrows, it seems appropriate to ponder the frightening — accountability.

Halloween SEO
“Boo The Penguin Pug,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by DaPuglet

With Halloween right around the corner with all of its goblins and scarecrows, it seems appropriate to ponder the frightening — accountability.

As a practicing SEO, my clients expect me to provide advise they can trust and to offer recommendations that are effective. It is my belief that the search marketer must work as a collaborator with the site owners to accomplish their marketing goals.

This does not mean always doling out easy-to-accomplish, short-term strategies that have all of the staying power of Halloween candy. The quick-fix treat will fast turn into a trick if it is not grounded in long-term strategic thinking. Accountability must be shared for results to continue past the turn of the calendar page. The SEO/client relationship does not work if both parties are not willing and able to commit the time and resources to accomplish the strategic and tactical recommendations.

Was It Bad Advice or Bad Consent?

Most SEOs, myself included, will admit that not every project undertaken, every client engagement, every campaign launched was a total, unqualified success.

Not every client becomes a raving fan — much though we would sure love it and work hard to make it happen. I am no longer taking new clients and have the pleasure of taking time to reflect on what has made some engagements a wonderful journey, an exploration into the heights and depths of search marketing success, and others a tough slog in a trackless wasteland.

What separates one from the other? It has not been how difficult the tasks were to accomplish, for all SEO is just technology and marketing. I have worked with as many struggling and stumbling teams as brilliant marketers and terrific technologists. This does not seem to be the deciding line.

What I have come to realize is that projects that didn’t work were not necessarily the product of bad advice, but rather a mismatch of advice and consent. All too often, I have encountered ambitious eager marketers who underestimated the technical challenges that their site presented. They were gung-ho to conquer their marketplace, and didn’t realize the limitations of their technology or team. Sometimes they have encountered a technology roadmap so long that the marketing team’s requirements are an outpost on the map that won’t be reached in this century.

This is a hard realization for those whose results hinge on site changes that no one else considers significant. Sometimes, the mismatch was due to no one realizing just how much real work must go into SEO in a content-driven search environment. Little magic elves don’t create quality content in just a few moments.

The most successful and rewarding client engagements have required a shared set of goals (SEO, marketing and technology) coupled with a real understanding of the task at hand and mutual accountability on all sides for accomplishing the milestones needed to meet the goals. This requires a level of honesty and openness that is refreshing as it is infrequently encountered.

When it all works together, the results can be truly gratifying. It has been my pleasure to enjoy more than my share of these sweet successes.

SEO Measurement Challenges Continue

The measurability of Web traffic has still stands as both a promise and a challenge. As an SEO practitioner who has covered many miles of digital road, I am still amazed at how often site owners are bewildered at how to measure the success of their organic search programs.

The measurability of Web traffic still stands as both a promise and a challenge. As an SEO practitioner who has covered many miles of digital road, I am still amazed at how often site owners are bewildered at how to measure the success of their organic search programs.

In my opinion, the measurement problems for search will continue to grow and expand as search options grow. For example, once upon a time, we only measured desktop traffic and did not have to think about tablets, phones or IoT devices. As search has integrated more deeply into our lives, the challenges have multiplied. It is not just the impact of a variety of devices that have swelled the problem, but also the complexity of what is offered on the search page.

When it was just 10 blue links, it was easier to work with and analyze search program success. Many site owners still rely on tools and thought processes that are archaic for their success measurement.

Casting Just a Wee Bit of Shade

In the early days, SEO practitioners measured success based on keyword rankings. Some of the earliest tools were ranking tools. These gave a clear measurement of where in the search results a site’s pages ranked for selected keywords.

Lots was missing from this approach, including how the page converted and whether the selected phrases were the right ones for the business. As the discipline has grown in sophistication, these early approaches have been abandoned by most savvy practitioners, but many site owners still cling to these keyword and page-placement metrics.

It is our fault as an industry that we have not clearly articulated new ways for how to measure optimized pages. This is incumbent on us. As a practitioner, I abandoned rank-checking as a measurement tool years ago. When Google took away the referrers to protect privacy (their claim), I stopped being able to use the keyword-focused data from the analytics. This pulled me further from my attachment to my beloved keyword data.

Where Now?

A quick tour of the Webmaster Tools Search Console will also show how transient and variable the keyword placements are in a given timeframe.

Some things have not changed. I still use a language-based optimization focus. This is because we still search using words — words matter.

Every site owner should have a clear view of what the site is about and be able to articulate it in very clear words. I have never forgotten a lesson I learned when, after reading an entire site, I still had no idea what the business did and had to call the site owner to ask some pointed questions about the business. I discovered that none of the language that actually described what the business did was on the site. My first recommendation was a site rewrite.

These clunkers are fewer and further between today, but a lack of clear focus is still a problem. When Google wants relevant content, it is a cry for clarity. How does this effect measurement? The single easiest measurement is in sales results that can be attributed to search. This may seem very simplistic. It is, but so too are the macro-econometrics of GDP and GNP. Once past this metric, the question of what to measure is as varied as the site’s intent.

Working in e-commerce, the measurement is easier and more direct. For the goal is get the cash, get the cash, get the cash.

But for other types of businesses the metrics may be more nuanced. The point is to stop measuring rankings and measure real results.