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?

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.

Link Spam — What’s Old Is New Again

Link spam is like the proverbial crabgrass in the digital lawn. It requires continuous attention to keep it from taking over.

spamLink spam is like the proverbial crabgrass in the digital lawn. It requires continuous attention to keep it from taking over.

Recently, Google noted an increase in spammy links contained in articles referred to as contributor posts, guest posts, partner posts or syndicated posts. This new outbreak has been particularly virulent among sites publishing articles that are generally written by or in the name of one website, and published on a different one.

This informative blog post set my spidey-sense tingling. Should it be interpreted as more than a bland warning about the evils of link-building? Google usually signals major changes prior to implementation of what would, in this instance, be corrective action. Savvy SEOs know that these bland-seeming alerts should be heeded, for they give just enough time for alert site owners to correct any problems.

Link-Building — An Unusual Approach

In more than 15 years as a full-time SEO, link-building has always been the last effort on my list of must-do’s. Here are some reasons for my somewhat iconoclastic view:

• Links Are an Invitation for Your Visitor to Leave

Most of my clients are in the e-commerce space. Links, even links that open in a new window, still take a valuable visitor away from the site. If the information is essential, it should be on the page or somewhere on the site. Links should be references.

• Links Require Management

Links to and from outside sites can go bad, just like milk or fruit. There are tools available for managing links to make sure that your site does not have a load of dead links, but this just adds yet another line into an already too-long list of site maintenance tasks. For very large sites, this can become a non-trivial task; hence, it is too easy to let hygiene slip by the wayside. Just ask any email marketer about the problems and challenges of list maintenance.

• Good Content Attracts Links

A build-it-and-they-will-come approach has always been my recommendation. Content that is original, useful and highly targeted to your users will attract not only readers/users, but also links. This is completely congruent with Google’s recommendations.

What Are the Bad Links Google Is Targeting?

Google does not discourage linking in articles when they inform users, educate another site’s audience or bring awareness to a cause or company. This type of link can readily grow from quality content. Google is discouraging link-building schemes where the main intent is to build links in a large-scale way back to the author’s site. Google also indicates the traits of links in articles that violate their guidelines. These include:

  • Stuffing keyword-rich links to your site in your articles that appear on other sites.
  • Having the articles published across many different sites; alternatively, having a large number of articles on a few large, different sites.
  • Using or hiring article writers who aren’t knowledgeable about the topics they’re writing on.
  • Using the same or similar content across these articles; alternatively, duplicating the full content of articles found on your own site (in which case, use of rel=”canonical” in addition to rel=”nofollow” is advised).

Google notes that when the search engine detects such spammy links, it may alter its perception of the site and impact its ranking.

In short, punishment in the form of ranking demotion should be expected for those who do not heed this warning and clean up their acts. So, if you use contributor posts, guest posts, partner posts or syndicated posts as part of your marketing, review how you are handling linking. Not sure of the value, but not ready to let them go, just “nofollow” the links.

Consider yourself warned, don’t persist, or you will be downgraded. Maybe not today, but sometime soon.

Fake News Marketing: The Bad Side of SEO

Many of the click-bait stories were carefully optimized to respond well for search. Add in the search engines’ bias toward displaying trending or popular stories, and you have an ecosystem that nurtured and supported click-baiting.

Gyre that fake news causes in search
A woman walks on a Hawaiian beach where plastic from the ocean washes onto the shore. Fake news SEO causes this in search results.

The recent news is ablaze with discussions and accusations that any dissenting opinion to our current administration is fake news. Even unfavorable polls are declared fakes. These accusations are often presented along with risible oxymoronic “alternative facts,” or lies by another name.

As I have watched this descent into journalistic maelstrom, I have wondered about whether click-baiting and SEO copywriting might have contributed to the growth of this toxic environment.

Many fake news stories started as a form of click-bait, providing tabloid sensationalism to mundane topics. These were often created to draw traffic to accompanying advertising or even to sell products or create advocates for various online organizations.

Unwitting Search Engine Complicity

The bad news is that many of these click-bait stories were carefully optimized to respond well for search. Add in the search engines’ bias toward displaying trending or popular stories, and you have an ecosystem that nurtured and supported click-baiting.

Efforts by Google, Bing and Facebook to sift out the garbage from the river of putrid information being cast into the Internet are ongoing.

Given how we depend on search to provide authoritative answers on almost any topic, it is incumbent on them to ensure the integrity and veracity of the information delivered in the search results.

SEOs, Use Your Power for Good (And Your Brands Will Benefit)

As a successful SEO, I am always amazed at the power of SEO content and copywriting.

Yes! Content is king, and solid SEO copywriting and optimization works, whether you are an e-commerce vendor (where my search practice focuses) or in some other business. Many e-commerce sites, coming late to the party, are just now discovering the power of content. They are adding volumes of content to their sites. It is often carefully written — using SEO principles and curated by content strategists.

But I find myself asking if it really adds anything of substance. Is it just irresistible cotton candy for the mind with no intellectual nutritional value? Does each piece give helpful information about the product that might be useful as it drives the consumer to purchase?

The lack of intellectual nutritional value in product content, coupled with a distrust of advertising, motivates the consumer to seek reviews or other sources of validation.

Out in the northern Pacific Ocean, there is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an enormous debris field the size of Texas, filled with of garbage, plastic and other non-degradable material. The Pacific Ocean is vast and fills one with awe at its majesty and beauty. So this huge depository of rubbish is a nasty blemish.

In the future, will the huge server farms that make up the “cloud” become cluttered with an equivalent garbage patch of information that adds little or nothing to man’s vast store of knowledge? The advertisement with the Geico gecko wandering in a Silicon Valley server farm touches this nerve.

Just as search engines must root out “fake news” and click-bait, any of us who create SEO content, whether as a copywriter, editor or strategist, should ask ourselves if each piece of content adds to man’s vault of information or is more debris for the digital garbage patch floating in the cloud.

2017 Search Trends — No. 1, Faster Sites

Before turning the last page on the 2016 calendar and welcoming in 2017, I’d like to pause for a moment and look briefly at some important trends in organic search that will strongly impact search performance in 2017. These should not be mysterious hints of things to come, but rather strong signals — claxons, if you will.

faster seoBefore turning the last page on the 2016 calendar and welcoming in 2017, I’d like to pause for a moment and look briefly at some important trends in organic search that will strongly impact search performance in 2017. These should not be mysterious hints of things to come, but rather strong signals — claxons, if you will.

Faster Site Speed Is Now an Imperative

If you have not been working on improving your site speed, by 2017 you will be left in the slow lane and passed by sites that have taken on the challenges of improving end-to-end speed.

You might ask: Why is it so important now? Google has been nudging site owners to improve their sites for several years. They have offered tools for site speed measurement and guidelines for improvement. The search giant even announced that its algorithm would give a boost to faster pages. The boost proved to be minimal; so many site owners did not see it as an imperative. Besides, in many organizations site performance improvements are seen as the province of the technical team, not marketing. Now, a slow site will inhibit your ability to successfully execute other trendy initiatives.

Mobile Is First

In 2015, more searches were done on mobile devices than on desktops.

The trend to more mobile usage has not abated. Google noted the growing use of mobile and is now working on a mobile-first approach. Because more people see pages on a mobile device, Google will be indexing and ranking based on the content of the mobile pages.

Guess what? Slow sites deliver slow mobile pages, which users rapidly abandon. Some site owners chose to address the need for a mobile site by offering stripped-down versions of their sites. With the mobile-first imperative, these sites will be judged based on the content given on the mobile version, not their “full” sites.

Several years ago, Google began advocating for using responsive design for mobile sites. As we move into the future, responsive design will simply be table stakes for mobile search performance. With mobile-first, it is more than likely that even mobile-friendly, slower performing sites will be left in the search rankings dust.

Now, with accelerated mobile pages (AMP) expanding beyond news content, fast, lean pages are leaping to the forefront. Google is even identifying them in the search results so that users can choose these fast, lean pages for themselves. The number of AMP pages is expected to continue to grow in the future.

In 2017, not having a fast, mobile site will put you behind the curve.

Secure Is Better

Google continues to push for more secure sites. It has already been announced that in 2017, users of Google Chrome will see clear designations on the browser bar whenever they are visiting insecure pages.

Google intends to essentially shame sites into moving to secure environments. Because of the encryption, secure sites tend to be slower than insecure sites.

Once again, this cries out for a need to improve site speed.

If there is a single unifying theme that should drive organic search efforts in 2017, it can be summed up in this slogan: Get fast or get left behind.

I Am the Judge of You

Pointing the finger has never been so easy … and so anonymous. I suppose it’s human nature to feel (and act on) the need to take pot shots at others—whether it’s their point of view, their creations or their behavior. But to be able to do so without the fear of repercussion seems to be a growing trend. And as the owner of a product or service, it’s never been more infuriating

Pointing the finger has never been so easy … and so anonymous.

I suppose it’s human nature to feel (and act on) the need to take pot shots at others—whether it’s their point of view, their creations or their behavior. But to be able to do so without the fear of repercussion seems to be a growing trend. And as the owner of a product or service, it’s never been more infuriating.

Many small business owners complain about the power of Yelp, and understandably so. But the concept is actually brilliant. Interact with a business and, whether your experience was good or bad, you have a very large forum where you can share the love (or not). The fatal flaw is that you can do so without the business owner having the ability to correct the situation because, inevitably, pot shots are done from behind the shield of anonymity.

My Dad always used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I believe in the concept of healthy debate, so I don’t necessarily agree with my Dad, but to have a healthy debate, you need to know the enemy.

Many sites (like this one) require you to log in before you can post a comment. However you can log in with your gmail or yahoo account … and if your user name is not your actual name, it’s easy to start the attack without your boss, co-workers, spouse or clients judging you for your aggressive behavior and unsportsmanlike conduct.

The behavior is not limited to consumer sites like Yelp. On business-to-business sites like this one, there are lots of negative posts from unknown readers, and I wonder, what do they hope to accomplish??

I was recently planning a trip to Mexico and visited several travel sites trying to get the inside scoop on hotels and restaurants. While I was delighted with the many insights like “try to stay on the 4th floor or higher because the thumping beat from the dance floor will keep you awake until midnight,” I was also stunned by the spewing rants from individuals who have logged in with names like “CrabbyinNJ.”

How do we, as brand ambassadors, overcome these customer feedback challenges?

First, and foremost, train AND empower those who are on the front lines of customer engagement to act like the customer—is—always—right. Granted, you can never please all the people all of the time, but sometimes a lot of customer sympathy and a few “my apologies!” can go a long way to diffuse a situation. There is nothing more infuriating than having an issue and the person serving you is either indifferent or plainly unequipped to help solve your problem.

Second, don’t just send blanket “How did we do?” emails to every customer after an interaction. If the customer has had an issue, there should be a place to flag that issue in your customer database, so it can be quickly followed up on by someone who is in authority. Many situations can be rectified before the individual decides to go into a public forum to publicly skewer you and your business.

Third, listen to complaints and actually try to think about ways you may be able to change your policies or procedures in order to ensure the issue doesn’t repeat itself.

Finally, circle back to those customers who had an issue, got it resolved satisfactorily, and ask them if they’d be willing to write about the incident. I hear many business owners say they’re worried that if the customer “advertises” they got something for free or at a deeper discount as a way to try and resolve the issue, it will set the stage for a future customers demanding the same thing. My response is that if, as a rule of business, you treat people the way they want to be treated in the first place—with respect, concern and understanding—you shouldn’t have a problem.

As for those who slap others from behind the shield of anonymity (and you know who you are), man up.