Archives February 2019

Page speed optimization: Six areas to focus on for better SEO results

Page speed optimization should be at the core of your SEO strategy. Your page speed is just as important as site speed is to SEO. Here, page speed should not be mistaken for website speed.

What is page speed optimization and how important is this factor to your overall website ranking? Your page speed is technically how long it takes the content of a specific page on your website to load completely – or in more technical terms, “time to first byte”, which the time it takes for your client’s browser to get the first byte of data from your web server. Just like site speed which measures how fast a sample of page views on your website, page speed is critical to your search rankings.

Several reports are saying, including Google admitting in 2010, that site speed due to the high relevance of page speed, is used as a web search ranking factor. Now that this is the case, how can you optimize page speed and improve your search rankings? Read on to learn more.

Site speed as Google’s page ranking signal

Since Google’s admission to the importance of page speed, we’ve seen several tutorials on how to understand page speed and improve it for your website. Given Google’s reputed tight-lipped stance on what makes for their ranking factors, it’s understandable to see the level of importance users have paid to page speed since the announcement.

In my view, page speed would be critical to Google owing to the fact that good user experience is one of its chief aim for its users. It’s now important to take measures to get your page speed right by focusing on the following areas.

1. Time to first byte (TTFB)

An area to focus on to get insight on how to improve your page speed is how long it takes your browser to receive the first byte of information from your web server. This is what is technically known as “time to first byte”.

A perfect tool to evaluate this is Google’s PageSpeed Insights, which measures reports from the FCP (First Content Paint) and DCL (DOM Content Loaded) by polling data from CrUX (Chrome User Experience Report).

Running a test using Google’s PageSpeed Insights doesn’t only provide you with site speed data but also includes suggestions on areas to work on to improve speed. An example is a test on NYTimes/section/politics which returned 45% for the desktop and 34% for mobile – which is actually more important.

2. Your web hosting

While most would go ahead and start tweaking their web design and looking at what plugins may cause a lag in page speed, the culprit is not always obvious.

Your web host would play the biggest role in how fast the pages of your website loads. You can run a lean one-page website on some hosting services and still come short on the page speed or website speed.

According to a guide on website speed published by Kinsta, mediocre web-hosting contributes significantly to how fast a website loads. Factors such as geographic proximity to users (cloud hosts are superior in this regard), the volume of clients on a single server and the size of a server’s RAM and bandwidth limit all contribute to the performance of a website hosted on any giving server.

Since 74% of users will never return to a website that takes longer than 4 seconds to load, a poor hosting provider could cost you thousands of dollars in lost revenue opportunities. This is not counting the loss of traffic as a result of negative search rankings from poor SEO.

3. Redundant and inactive plugins

Inactive plugins on your website are often serious culprits in slow site speed.

Although, the reason plugins have the option to “activate” and “deactivate” them is to make them dormant while you decide whether they may serve any need in the future, rather than deleting them. However, the most efficient way to prevent plugins that are not being used from dragging down your website is to remove it.

To prevent plugins from unnecessarily slowing down pages of your website, you can consider taking the following measures:

  • Only install plugins when they are absolutely necessary
  • Clear your website cache and Minified CSS/JS after removing a plugin
  • If a plugin hasn’t been active for three months, consider removing it from your website
  • Only install plugins that are up to date and marked as compatible with your WordPress version

Aside from causing lags in your website’s page speed, inactive plugins may cause vulnerability to the security of your website leaving you exposed to attackers and hackers. This undoubtedly will negatively affect your website’s SEO and rankings, costing you traffic and revenue.

4. Clean your website codes

Another area you should look out for when dealing with page speed is the codes that make up your website. While this is a more technical exercise and is better handled by technical professionals, taking care of your website codes and ensuring nothing is off can help you gain some speed.

When investigating website codes that could affect site speed, look into these areas:

  • JavaScript
  • CSS
  • HTML
  • Theme files

Poorly configured theme files, for example, may conflict with your users’ browser, thereby negatively affecting how fast your website loads. Below are some aspects you may want to investigate to make sure your website codes are in proper shape:

  • Enable dynamic caching
  • Minify JavaScript and CSS files
  • Avoid making changes to parent theme files and opt for child theme instead

5. Content delivery network (CDN)

Using a content delivery network or content distribution network, commonly known as CDNs can significantly reduce the time it takes to fully load pages of your website. When users are browsing the internet, proximity to your server can affect how fast content is delivered to them.

What CDN does is host your website content in the cloud, and let the nearest server to your clients handle the delivery of the content when they access your website. Since geographic proximity is also a factor in the speed of content delivery, using a CDN takes care of this and eliminates the associated delays that come with loading a website’s content from a distant location.

CDNs also utilize caching to reduce your hosting bandwidth, making room for smooth content delivery and rendering. Plus, it also helps prevent downtimes with your website.

When you opt for a CDN, the following aspects of your website’s content are taken care of:

  • Images and videos on your server
  • Your website JavaScript files
  • HTML pages
  • Stylesheets

Apart from speeding up your website and helping you to improve your SEO, utilizing a CDN can also be beneficial in the following areas:

  • Security: Your website can be protected from hackers and random attacks targeting your website
  • Mitigation against DDOS attacks: Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks is the most common form of hacks launched against websites to date when a malicious agent tries to disrupt the service of your website. CDNs can fortify your website against this common attack.
  • Increases content redundancy and availability: Since CDNs keep content distributed, pages of your website will remain active and accessible should there be a malware malfunction or spike in traffic

 6. Images

Images are important components of every webpage. And roughly nine out of ten pages on a website would include at least an image. It also goes without saying that images consume the most bandwidth on a website.

To boost your website page speed and enjoy solid SEO dividends, you should optimize images on your website to consume as little bandwidth as possible. Heavy and oversized images are among the top reasons a website may experience slow page speed.

Images that are wider than the content area of your website would overlap on the screen, causing the user experience to suffer. Getting your image size right can make a huge difference in how your page loads.

6a. Image compression

According to findings reported by Blake Hawksworth for effective inbound marketing on how to improve website page speed, it is revealed that –

“Compression has the potential to have the largest impact on page speed, as on average, images make up a total of 65% of a website’s weight.”

This further solidifies the fact that getting your image size and compression right can have the biggest impact on your page speed optimization.

In order to see gains on your SEO, improving page speed by compressing images on your website should be a top priority. To get this right, use image compression plugins such as WP Smush (for WordPress users) or Mass Image Compressor to reduce the file size of images that are uploaded to your website. On image width, ensure you’re not uploading images that are wider than the frame of your website content display area.

6b. Google’s guidelines for image optimization for page speed

Another reliable way to ensure images are well optimized for page speed on your website is to follow Google’s guidelines for image optimization. Realizing the traffic generated by images and their impact on a website’s page speed, Google decided to release a set of guidelines for webmasters to adhere to meet content efficiency and page speed optimization.

And since Google is releasing a set of guidelines for image optimization, it’s safe to assume that images would have significant outcomes on a website’s rankings. Since the scope of this article would not allow me to go over everything in Google’s image optimization guidelines, I recommend visiting the resource for consultation. Rather, I’ll share a breakdown of the most important factors required in the “image optimization checklist”, as recommended by Google, in the next point.

6c. Image optimization checklist

Google declares that there is no definitive answer for how best to compress an individual image, but there are “well-developed” techniques and algorithms that can help see improvements in size reduction. Below are the tips they shared:

  • Prefer vector formats: to meet the demands of a multi-device and high-resolution world, vector images which are resolution and scale-independent are the best option.
  • Minify and compress SVG assets: Ensure your servers are configured to apply GZIP compression for SVG assets.
  • Pick the best raster image format: pick images based on the most-suitable functional requirements.
  • Experiment with optimal quality settings for raster formats: Google recommends dialing down the “quality” settings and you’ll see significant byte savings.
  • Remove unnecessary image metadata: Google concludes that many raster images contain unnecessary metadata such as geoinformation, camera information, etc. They recommend using appropriate tools to strip this data.
  • Serve scaled images: Google recommends that you resize your images on the server and ensure that the “display” size is close to the “natural” size of the image. Pay more attention to large images because they account for the largest overhead when resized.
  • Automate: Google recommends investing in automated tools that will ensure all image assets are always optimized.

Conclusion

Page speed is, as we’ve seen, an important factor in Google’s SEO rankings. And from this article, it’s obvious that getting image optimization right takes the lead in improving your website’s page speed. Try the tips I’ve shared in this article and let me know how your page speed has improved, and if it translates to better rankings for you.

Ayodeji is the founder and CEO of Effective Inbound Marketing, a leading digital agency. He recently acquired BoostMyMedia.com to help clients in the online reputation area.

The post Page speed optimization: Six areas to focus on for better SEO results appeared first on Search Engine Watch.


WordPress robots.txt: Best-practice example for SEO

Your robots.txt file is a powerful tool when you’re working on a website’s SEO – but it should be handled with care. It allows you to deny search engines access to different files and folders, but often that’s not the best way to optimize your site. Here, we’ll explain how we think webmasters should use their robots.txt file, and propose a ‘best practice’ approach suitable for most websites.

You’ll find a robots.txt example that works for the vast majority of WordPress websites further down this page. If want to know more about how your robots.txt file works, you can read our ultimate guide to robots.txt.

What does “best practice” look like?

Search engines continually improve the way in which they crawl the web and index content. That means what used to be best practice a few years ago doesn’t work anymore, or, may even harm your site.

Today, best practice means relying on your robots.txt file as little as possible. In fact, it’s only really necessary to block URLs in your robots.txt file when you have complex technical challenges (e.g., a large eCommerce website with faceted navigation), or when there’s no other option.

Blocking URLs via robots.txt is a ‘brute force’ approach, and can cause more problems than it solves.

For most WordPress sites, the following example is best practice:

# This space intentionally left blank
# If you want to learn about why our robots.txt looks like this, read this post: https://yoa.st/robots-txt
User-agent: *

We even use this approach in our own robots.txt file.

What does this code do?

  • The User-agent: * instruction states that any following instructions apply to all crawlers.
  • Because we don’t provide any further instructions, we’re saying “all crawlers can freely crawl this site without restriction”.
  • We also provide some information for humans looking at the file (linking to this very page), so that they understand why the file is ’empty’.

If you have to disallow URLs

If you want to prevent search engines from crawling or indexing certain parts of your WordPress site, it’s almost always better to do so by adding meta robots tags or robots HTTP headers.

Our ultimate guide to meta robots tags explains how you can manage crawling and indexing ‘the right way’, and our Yoast SEO plugin provides the tools to help you implement those tags on your pages.

If your site has crawling or indexing challenges that can’t be fixed via meta robots tags or HTTP headers, or if you need to prevent crawler access for other reasons, you should read our ultimate guide to robots.txt.

Note that WordPress and Yoast SEO already automatically prevent indexing of some sensitive files and URLs, like your WordPress admin area (via an x-robots HTTP header).

Why is this ‘minimalism’ best practice?

Robots.txt creates dead ends

Before you can compete for visibility in the search results, search engines need to discover, crawl and index your pages. If you’ve blocked certain URLs via robots.txt, search engines can no longer crawl through those pages to discover others. That might mean that key pages don’t get discovered.

Robots.txt denies links their value

One of the basic rules of SEO is that links from other pages can influence your performance. If a URL is blocked, not only won’t search engines crawl it, but they also might not distribute any ‘link value’ pointing to that URL to, or through that URL to other pages on the site.

Google fully renders your site

People used to block access to CSS and JavaScript files in order to keep search engines focused on those all-important content pages.

Nowadays, Google fetches all of your styling and JavaScript and renders your pages completely. Understanding your page’s layout and presentation is a key part of how it evaluates quality. So Google doesn’t like it at all when you deny it access to your CSS or JavaScript files.

Previous best practice of blocking access to your wp-includes directory and your plugins directory via robots.txt is no longer valid, which is why we worked with WordPress to remove the default disallow rule for wp-includes in version 4.0.

Many WordPress themes also use asynchronous JavaScript requests – so-called AJAX – to add content to web pages. WordPress used to block Google from this by default, but we fixed this in WordPress 4.4.

You (usually) don’t need to link to your sitemap

The robots.txt standard supports adding a link to your XML sitemap(s) to the file. This helps search engines to discover the location and contents of your site.

We’ve always felt that this was redundant; you should already by adding your sitemap to your Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools accounts in order to access analytics and performance data. If you’ve done that, then you don’t need the reference in your robots.txt file.

Read more: Preventing your site from being indexed: the right way »

The post WordPress robots.txt: Best-practice example for SEO appeared first on Yoast.


Yearly Planning: Evaluating SEO Performance to Prepare for 2020 – Jordan Koene // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: In order to take a confidently informed step forward with your SEO plans and goals for the next year, it’s important to take a retrospective look back to ensure your plan starts off on the right foot. Join Ben and Jordan as they examine the best method to formulating a SEO strategy for next year, explain the benefits of inter-departmental goal setting and the different ways you can develop new career paths within SEO in 2020.

Summary

  • The best way to begin planning for next year is to evaluate the goals that were accomplished this year including measuring lead generation, examining how much traffic was generated, etc.
  • It’s vital to consult other departments in your business when considering aspirational SEO goals for the coming year as it will be easier to set achievable goals, execute initiatives easier and accomplish cross-departmental goals that will grow your business.
  • Positioning yourself as a go-to role in your organization that provides useful data other teams can utilize will help build a stronger relationship between search and content marketing and demonstrate your role’s value to your company, creating new career pathways and opportunities in the process.

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Ben:                 Welcome back to the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this month we’re starting the process of thinking about next year, in what we’re calling Planning November.

Ben:                 Joining us today is Jordan Koene who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc., and today Jordan and I are going to talk to you about what you need to know to understand what happened this year and make the most out of your SEO plans for next year. But before we hear from Jordan, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise-scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions.

Ben:                 To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a free trial of the Searchmetrics software suite and Content Experience tool. So if you’re ready to optimize your website content and SEO strategies, go to searchmetrics.com/freetrial. Okay. On with the show, here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, Lead SEO Strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome to Planning November on the Voices of Search Podcast.

Jordan:             Hey Ben, let’s figure out how we can help our audience here. I think this is one of the most underserved topics for many of our listeners.

Ben:                 I want to take a second and pop some champagne…

Jordan:             Oh, boy.

Ben:                 … because this is one of the first episodes, Jordan, that we’ve already recorded what’s-

Jordan:             Oh, we’re just going to redo it again?

Ben:                 We’ve been doing this for over a year. Yeah, we should have just played last year and just recorded the word, “2019,” and dubbed it over 2018, but a lot has changed in the SEO landscape, so let’s run it back and let’s talk a little bit about how do we evaluate what has happened in the changing landscape of SEO, and how should SEOs be thinking about getting ready for next year? Let’s start off at the top. How do you think about how you should evaluate your content and your performance from the previous year’s work?

Jordan:             Yeah, I think that there’s a lot of ways to do the retrospective, and I think that that’s one of the things that you want to start with in terms of your planning. Maybe it’s fortuitous or fortunate that we have done this episode and passed and so we can look back. But one of the key things that I always liked doing with my teams is looking at what has been accomplished. So what did we accomplish in the past year? How many tickets have been cleared? How many pieces of content have been produced? How has traffic has been generated? How many leads have we created? Just so you can get a good view as to what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done the previous year.

Ben:                 What’s interesting to me is you’re talking about this from a very quantifiable perspective. Hey, you’re an SEO. That’s expected. But there’s another side of the coin, which I sort of think about the qualitative aspect of, when I set my goals for my podcast production business or my consulting business, I think about things, first and foremost, less from the quantifiable perspective. My goals for my podcast business this year were first and foremost to understand who my audience was, to provide value in different formats of content to get these milestones accomplished in terms of learning and then backing that up with the qualitative stuff. Is this chicken or the egg, you do one and then the other, or how do you think about your non-quantifiable goals that fit in with the things that you can actually map to from a metrics perspective?

Jordan:             No, I absolutely agree, Ben, and actually, you’re dead on. It is a concept that I did not address in my various metrics-driven examples, but there are various aspirational goals that we have as SEOs, including aspects in terms of how we build relationships and partnerships within internal teams. How is our relationship and partnership with product engineering team, with the data and analytics team?

Ben:                 With leadership.

Jordan:             Or with leadership, even better. Yeah, yeah, and these are topics that SEOs often just don’t even address. They don’t even think about this component of the job, but it’s probably the most important because when things get difficult or when there’s an opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of, these are the relationships you rely on, merge, execute, and ensure that you’re delivering on your goals. That’s one component of aspirational goals that you might have. There are others that may be more connected to the holistic nature of your business and sitting down and looking at what are other channels, other departments … What’s the paid search team doing? What is the overall marketing team doing?

Jordan:             And connecting SEO to those, it can be often hard to measure. One great example, and I think that many large enterprises struggle with this, or even agency businesses struggle with this, which is what’s the relationship of SEO, with PR team? We still talk about awareness in the market as a key lever for SEO. Sure, we could talk about it in backlinks, but there are other aspects there in terms of brand awareness that are critical, but very few times do the SEO talk about how you impact or influence a PR cycle.

Ben:                 I think that there’s two things that I do in terms of valuation of your goals, and I think that it’s useful for SEOs as well in I will go back through and actually look at my calendar, first and foremost, and then I will map out in each given month what were my main priorities, where was most of my time spent to try to understand what my performance and my team’s performance was, and then I’m building my business evaluation, like what were the number of backlinks in every given month? And I’m charting those out so I can start to, not just backlinks, but what was the traffic and visibility and all the KPIs that I’m looking at.

Ben:                 So I can also get a sense of not only what was I working on but was the thing I was working on having a business impact. And when you lay those two charts over each other, you could see, I executed X project in January. February, we had a step forward in terms of business results and you can kind of get a sense of what worked and what didn’t.

Jordan:             Absolutely.

Ben:                 So do you have any recommended ways to evaluate your performance as you look back on, a relatively long period of time when you’re looking back over a year?

Jordan:             You know, I think that there’s a couple of ways to do this and I’m not here to dictate what the right way is. As a leader in the organization, or as a member of a team, what I encourage our listeners to think about is, “How will this message be received? Who is the audience that I’m trying to pour this message to?” And many times when you’re doing this retrospective component of planning, you’re looking at different mechanisms to evaluate your previous performance. You’re looking at things like red, yellow, green. You’re looking at high, medium, low. You’re looking at more of a visual representation of what’s been accomplished that your message can be conveyed to the audience that you’re passing that to.

Ben:                 So step one is really understand what the heck happened. Look back over your year, evaluate your KPIs, your performance. Look at your qualitative and your quantitative data, and the second thing is think about how you’re going to communicate this to the rest of the organization, which leads us into, “Great, I understand what happened this year. Here’s where we succeeded. Here’s where we failed. Here’s the narrative that we created in terms of what our team has done and whether it should or should not be prioritized. How do you take figuring out what your performance was and spin that into a message to help you perform better and continue to grow in the next year?

Jordan:             Absolutely. So one of the first steps in this process is collecting the feedback. What I’ve noticed from a lot of teams that we engage here at Searchmetrics, we’re very fortunate. We get to sit down with our customers and listen to their plans and see how these things unfold is that oftentimes, SEOs are not listening. They’re not listening to what the business’ priorities are. They’re not listening to what their partner’s objectives and goals are, and they’re often pushing the agenda that they might get from the SEO community, from maybe peers, and so, you might have something like a goal around, say, optimizing a set number of pages, and you missed that target the previous year, and then you talk with the various stakeholders about optimizing those pages for next year.

Jordan:             And what you’re getting is, “Hey, that’s not going to happen,” but you still set the same goal. That’s not really a great way of going about your planning. It’s setting yourself up for failure, and I see that often in our community and our space, and I think that that’s where it requires a leader to identify, “Well, what’s a better path forward here? Do we need to change the goal? Do we need to talk to other members of the organization to find another way to achieve this goal?” It really requires you to start to take a step back and listen to that partner’s expectations and find a way forward.

Ben:                 I’m going to stereotype SEOs for a second here, so everybody don’t be offended. I think people think of SEOs as being the geeky guys in the corner, and I say guys, because predominantly SEOs have been male. Ladies that are listening to this podcast, we appreciate that you are a huge and important part of the SEO community, obviously. Goes without saying that being the technically-savvy, introverted person sitting there, optimizing keywords in the corner leads to the typical SEO not being great at storytelling, upward communication.

Ben:                 And so building that narrative in terms of what your performance was in telling the story and delivering that message to the right person, I think is a lesson that a lot of SEOs can probably, should hear and something that needs to be practiced, and a skill that needs to be honed. So, as you are putting the story together and, you mentioned, hey look … and we started off by talking about evaluate all of your content and evaluate your performance and get your qualitative data.

Ben:                 You said get feedback from your peers to paint the whole picture. I think there’s an important step here before you start thinking about going forward. You have to think about, a, what your roadmap is and what you want to accomplish, but building the narrative and building the story is incredibly important, and I think that it’s something that’s probably overlooked by a lot of technically-focused, non-storytelling operators in marketing in that it seems like a binary thing. We perform this. We got this result, we need these resources to get that. And in reality, the way to get those resources is by painting a picture building the story. What advice do you have for SEOs to be able to tell their story more effectively?

Jordan:             You know, Ben, you’re absolutely right. There are a variety of tools out there to tell your story, and I think that … I don’t think. I know for a fact that SEOs are often reluctant to use these tools. It’s largely because it doesn’t fall in vein with the character of SEO, but let’s just take a few great examples. Many companies use an OKR system, or goal-setting system. Why not encourage your business to connect their goals, their key results to your SEO ambitions? So the more you’re able to tell that story and connect other people’s goals to your goals, the more likely you’re going to be able to succeed. A more rudimentary or more specific example that I see working a lot in many organizations, especially ones where there’s a heavy emphasis on technical SEO, is outlining a product roadmap that actually shows key milestones throughout the year and the impact that they will have on traffic or revenue basis.

Jordan:             This is something that many SEOs don’t do. They, they kick and scream and say, “I need this technical change done,” but there’s actually no view into the impact of that. Now, here’s the funny thing about creating a roadmap that way. Number one, if you don’t hit the goals, that’s not a bad thing. You need to go back to business and understand what happened. Do the postmortem here and figure out, “Why did we not get those goals and those targets?” But there’s often this lack of understanding around what accountability is when it comes to setting these goals.

Ben:                 Jordan, this is what makes you my favorite SEO is that you’re a great storyteller and you took the words right out of my mouth in terms of, the ability to do a postmortem. And I think that there is a process to follow when you’re communicating what happened previous year and to use it as your advantage, whether it was positive performance or negative. Let’s spin this back a little. We both worked at eBay a while ago. Hey, and 2008 when Jordan and Ben were working on SEO at eBay, we were focused on optimizing our search results pages, and we made these changes, and we saw that we had great performance in this category but subpar performance in this category, and our net gain was flat, and we executed against what we wanted to. We saw good performance in some sides and saw a negative performance, and here’s what we learned.

Ben:                 We learned that these are the categories that we need to focus on, so we want to build out more resources that are category specific because that maps against the company goals to verticalize more in 2019. So here’s the reason why we want these resources. Here’s what we think the impact is going to be and here’s why they are aligned with the rest of the organization’s goals. I’m obviously making this story up. That wasn’t exactly eBay’s business strategy and nor did Jordan and I work … I’m not sure if it was 2008 or when it was, but you get the idea of how you’re taking the business performance, positive or negative, getting your learnings out of it and coming up with a reasonable conclusion for why you need resources to move forward. That’s what I mean by telling the narrative, by building a story. It is not just, “Our performance was X. We need Y.” It is the rationale behind that, which is something that I encourage you in the SEO community to think about as you’re building out your roadmap and selling it upward and horizontally.

Jordan:             Yeah, there’s no question and a lot of our listeners right now, especially the more junior folks, may not feel like they’re sitting at the table making these decisions. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be speaking up. In fact, this is exactly when you should be speaking up and you should, in some cases be asking for help, in other cases, be sharing your input and opinion, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the SEO is largely forgotten because they’re not even heard. So being heard is oftentimes the first step.

Ben:                 So Jordan, you mentioned that the SEOs are often forgotten, the geeks that are sitting in the corner, that are just doing some keyword black magic. Last question for you today, as you’re thinking about planning for your next year, it is not just about thinking about what the business’ roadmap is and what resources it is. It’s also career positioning. As you’re looking back on your performance and where your career should go, how do you advise SEOs to try to take a step forward in the next year?

Jordan:             Great question. And you know, you put me on the spot here.

Ben:                 I got you, didn’t I?

Jordan:             Yeah, you did. Well, for our listeners out there, I want you to really take this as an opportunity because as I said previously, being heard is one of the most important aspects here, but how you’re being heard is just as important to that recipe, and in many cases, how we’ve been heard in the past has been in a way that isn’t constructed to building our careers, building the true impact narrative that’s happening in the business, and isn’t really connected to what Google’s objectives are for their consumers. Often, it’s been about tactics, and it’s been about quick wins, and it’s been about low cost, high return, and all those narratives often lead to short-term gains without any material long-term impact to the business. And so what I encourage our listeners to do is build relationships, build partnerships internally.

Jordan:             Your paid search counterpart is not the evil enemy. In many cases they might be your best ally because they can help you understand how to get ROI because I’m sure that that PPC manager is talking ROI every day with their manager because that’s how they’re evaluated, and maybe that could be a ticket in for you to communicating about SEO in your company. And so build these relationships. Find a narrative that’s genuine, that’s not about screaming at the top of your lungs, that’s not about, always asking for things without delivering something in return. But find a genuine way of being heard through your organization that connects to the company’s objectives and goals.

Ben:                 A lot of career development is about networking, and is about relationship building, and creating value for other people in the organizations, obviously, in addition to producing your own results. There’s so much data at our fingertips as SEOs that can be useful to other teams. We understand what is interesting to Google, which is a great signal for what is interesting to the end consumers. And that is powerful for your PR team, for your performance marketing team, for your leadership. Understanding where you fit in within this competitive balance as content marketing and search marketing become more and more intertwined, that’s really powerful and really valuable.

Ben:                 And so positioning yourself to be an ally for the other people in your organization, and as a go-to resource is going to do nothing but help you build those stronger relationships, help people, play nice in the sandbox, get the resources you need to show the business results to keep moving your career forward. So if I had any advice for you, play nice in the sandbox, try to understand what’s happening with the other people in your organization, and support them by providing them with the type of data and analysis that you’re doing to boost the SEO performance.

Jordan:             Absolutely, Ben. There’s no question that that fostering of a relationship is what makes you successful in any career track, but absolutely in SEO.

Ben:                 And take Jordan and my relationship as living proof there. He was the geeky SEO in the corner and I was the guy that was exiting eBay just about to start his own startup. We got put in the same room and, what, 10 years later, here we are making one of the world’s best SEO podcasts.

Jordan:             I don’t know if we want to go with that script.

Ben:                 You never know how it’s going to go, so play nice in the sandbox. So Jordan, you have some tips and some advice that are a little bit more proprietary, not necessarily something that we want to say on the podcast, but why don’t you give people a … We normally say your contact information at the end of the podcast. Tell everybody how they can get in touch with you if they’re looking for some sort of a tip or a template for doing their yearly planning.

Jordan:             Absolutely. Well, first of all, we have some great resources here in Searchmetrics when it comes to planning, whether it be more technical focused or content road mapping. We’ve got some great resources. Happy to share those with folks and happy to encourage you to use these resources once you get down to the more granular, “What am I going to do,” level of your planning process. If you’re at more of a higher level and you’re more thinking about “What is my strategy? How am I going to partner with certain teams in the organization? How do I develop my career search?” Reach out to me through LinkedIn or on Twitter. I am always happy to spend some time, have conversation and encourage our fellow SEOs in their journey.

Ben:                 All right, Jordan, putting himself out there, helping the SEO community, getting ready for 2020 in their new decade. Excited for it to come and hope we can help you do your planning, and that wraps up this episode of The Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, Lead SEO Strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, or you can send him a tweet where his handle is @jtkoene. That’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E. if you have general marketing questions, if you want to talk about this podcast, if you’re interested in being a guest on the show, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you could send me a tweet @Benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

Ben:                 If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/freetrial for your complimentary trial of our Searchmetrics Suite and Content Experience software. And if you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon to continue to talk about how to plan for 2020. All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.


Why Isn’t My Ad Showing Up on Google?

We’ve all asked or have been asked this question — why isn’t my ad showing up when I search on Google? There are a lot of factors that could be impacting ad delivery and visibility, both inside and outside of your PPC account. Let’s run through some of the main reasons why your company’s name isn’t at the top of the page.

Before we begin…

Google’s goal as a Search Engine is to always provide the most relevant results to the user for each and every search. When you search for your brand and don’t click on your paid ad if it shows up, you’re harming your clickthrough rate and sending a negative signal to Google. All of this impacts your quality score (we’ll get into this) and whether or not your ad shows up for other users in the future.

Google has a neat tool called Ad Preview and Diagnosis, which should always be used for these kinds of test searches.

pasted image 0 3

Not only does this prevent you from incurring impressions, but it also explains why you may or may not be showing for a specific query:

pasted image 0 4

Real talk, your ads aren’t guaranteed to show every time a search is performed. Sometimes your budget is exhausted, you have targeting exclusions in place, or Google is favoring organic results. It all ties back to Google trying to provide the best user experience for each search while taking into account the inputs of every ad auction. Let’s jump into the list of reasons!

1. Your budget is too low

If your campaign is limited by budget, it’s very likely that Google isn’t entering you into every auction. When your daily budget is too low for the amount of search volume and cost per click of the keywords in your campaign, Google gets selective with when to show your ads for relevant searches. If you want to see the percentage of impression share you’re losing due to a low budget or rank, pull in these competitive metrics:

pasted image 0 8

2. Your ad rank is too low

Ad rank = bid x quality score. Google’s Hal Varian explains it best here:

If your bid and quality score are too low, you might not be winning the auction due to low ad rank. Consider raising your bids (Smart Bidding can help with this!) and work to improve the three components of quality score:

  1. Ad Relevance – does your ad copy match the user’s search query and intent?
  2. Expected CTR – is your ad copy engaging enough to get the click?
  3. Landing Page Experience – does your landing page load quickly, match the user’s query, and provide a strong experience?

3. You’re searching outside of your ad schedule

If you have dayparting in place, your exclusions or negative bid adjustments may be preventing your ad from showing. Double-check your settings at the hour of day and day of week-levels.

pasted image 0 6

4. You’re being excluded based on…

Device

If you’re searching on mobile, you might be running into a device exclusion or negative bid adjustment, which could impact whether your ad shows or not.

Demographic Data

Is your campaign only targeting certain age ranges or genders?

Audience Membership

If you’re running a remarketing campaign, you’ll only see the ad if you’re part of the target audience. Alternatively, you might be in an excluded audience based on whether you’ve completed an action on-site or are part of a customer list.

IP Address

You might not be seeing your ad if your campaigns are excluding your company’s IP address. Check your settings to see if that’s the case.

Location

Only running ads in a few zip codes in Montana? You probably won’t see your ad if you search from elsewhere. Check out your location settings, and use the location tool in Ad Preview and Diagnosis as a workaround!

pasted image 0 7

5. You have a negative keyword conflict

With campaign and ad group negatives, and negative keyword lists, things can get sticky. It’s possible that some of your negatives may be preventing your ads from showing for certain queries. While Google alerts you of some of these conflicts in the UI, try implementing this script to get an exhaustive list of conflicts.

💡 While we’re on the topic of negatives, we have a great tool called Saving Ben Lite that mines your search queries for negative keyword opportunities. Adding the right negatives helps you reduce wasted spend (see reason #1) and improve CTR and ad relevance (see reason #2).

Less than half of Google searches now result in a click.

Google is providing clear answers to more and more searches with SERP features, pushing both paid and traditional organic results down the page. Take this search, for example:

pasted image 0 5

Google is showing a knowledge graph, answer boxes, and people also ask results instead of paid ads or traditional organic results. Even if you’re bidding directly on heart failure symptoms, Google believes these kinds of results provide a better experience for the searcher.

If you want to dig into whether your PPC search terms are triggering these kinds of results, check out Wil’s video:

It’s complicated.

Searching for your ad on Google is a tricky process, and there are tons of reasons why you might not be seeing it. Instead of doing live searches, side with the Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool or check the data for yourself! Pull the last 30 days of data for the exact keyword or search term you’re looking into in your own account — this is a much more accurate representation of your visibility and performance for the query.

Instead of saying “it depends…” take a little more time and explore the above reasons next time you’re asked why your ad isn’t showing up. Still need help? Let us know!


What can you find out about a brand new website?

For this weeks showcase site, we are going new. Brand new.

It was about 8pm in the UK on Monday 4th November when Chrissy Teigen, an American TV Personality, Chef, and ‘BRAND GENIUS’ launched her new website cravingsbychrissyteigen.com.

This offers us a unique opportunity to watch and explore the growth of a website in its early moments.

Searching for the ‘cravings’ website in Site Explorer shows us a number of interesting things.

cravingsbychrissyteigen.com in Site Explorer

Evolving Topical Trust Flow

The following screenshots were taken less than 12 hours apart.

As more websites start linking and we begin discovering these links, the Topical Trust Flow for ‘cravings’ continues to evolve.

Over time this will settle, and as we can see already, there is now a spread of topics that include Recreation/Food and Shopping/Food as well as the Society/People topic that was given initially.

One of the first links that we found was from the website ‘justjared.com’ which provides “Celebrity Gossip and Entertainment News”. This gave some initial influence for the Society/People topic.

It wasn’t until we found links from websites like ‘thekitchn.com’ and ‘delish.com’ that the Topical Trust Flow for ‘cravings’ began to evolve and get more accurate.

Indexed Pages

The number of pages that we have indexed is already at 495.

For a website that is (at the time of writing) 36 hours old, this shows the amount of time and effort spent populating the ‘cravings’ website with content for launch.

A look at the ‘Pages’ tab shows us 30 different pages that already have backlinks, which shows us that it’s also quality content that is worth linking to.

Distribution of Link Density

The distribution of Link Density for ‘cravings’ indicates that the majority of links are of an ‘editorial style’.

Our Link Density score shows how crammed full of links the area around the link to ‘cravings’ is.

An ‘editorial style’ link is a link in a block on text or content with a very low amount of other links near it.

We can see an example from the ‘Context’ area of the Summary page to see what this looks like.

A Breakdown of Link Types

Currently all of the links to ‘cravings’ are from ‘Deep Links’, which are links on any page that is NOT the homepage of a website.

The percentage of NoFollow links could be a point of concern – but this would depend on how these are distributed.

Currently ‘cravings’ has 73 backlinks from 25 websites.

If 24 websites all link to ‘cravings’ once with a NoFollow link, and the remaining 49 times are Follow links from just 1 website, it could give the impression to search engines that the content doesn’t have much value.

Fortunately for ‘cravings’ this isn’t the case, as we can see in the stats below for the websites that link to it.

Here we can see that 88% of them have a Follow link, which means that only 3 websites have used the NoFollow tag on their links.

This indicates a healthy backlink profile.

We can see this in more detail by visiting the ‘Backlinks’ tab, selecting 1 backlink per domain and filtering by NoFollow links.

What Anchor Text is being used

When looking at the links to a website, the words used in the link are important. It gives readers an expectation of what is at the other end of the link, it can offer instructions on what to do, and it can be helpful for search engines to understand the context of the link.

John Mu has previously highlighted the importance of Anchor Text: “anchor text helps us quite a bit in understanding context”.

Looking at ‘cravings’ it is great to see such a variety of anchor text already being used.

We can already pick out ‘brand’ anchors and recipes, as well as the number of times these words are used in backlinks.

Again this shows that the website launched with content that people care about and want to share.

Anything else?

For a website that is just 36 hours old, we can already make some fascinating discoveries and insights.

If you think we have missed anything, or can see something in this data that you think is useful, please leave a comment below.

We hope you’ll join us watching the growth of ‘cravings’ over the next few days, and enjoy the new insights that we will try and share.


Google BERT Algorithm Update: Contextualizing User Search Intent – Jordan Koene // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: Speculation and uncertainty surround Google’s sudden BERT algorithm update, raising questions among experts in the industry on how big of an impact it will have on search and marketing strategies. Join host Ben and Searchmetrics’ Jordan Koene as they discuss BERT’s initial impact, how it’s changing the way Google analyzes context behind user search queries and how companies should avoid making abrupt, reactionary changes to their marketing strategies.

Summary

  • Google’s rollout of previous updates show signs they may have begun testing BERT during previous algorithm updates.
  • The update modifies the language machine learning system behind Google search, which helps the engine better understand the contextual meaning behind both typed and voice searched queries.
  • Companies should avoid making abrupt changes to their strategies as it will take time to obtain actionable key insights regarding the update’s impact on search.
  • Google will continue to value strategies that identify the search intent of consumers and provide informative, valuable answers to consumer queries.

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Ben:                 Welcome to an emergency Google core algorithm update edition of the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and today we’re going to reevaluate the changing landscape of Google search post the second October algorithm update. Joining us today is Jordan Koene who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. and today Jordan and I are going to pull back the curtain on what is being called the Google BERT algorithm update.

Ben:                 But before we hear from Jordan, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses, monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. To support you our loyal podcast listeners. We’re offering a free trial, the Searchmetrics suite and content experience platforms.

Ben:                 If you’re interested in optimizing how your website content and SEO strategies perform, go to searchmetrics.com/freetrial to test out Searchmetrics suite. Okay. On with show, here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:             For whatever reason it feels like it’s been a while since I’ve been on the show.

Ben:                 I was going to say, dude, we got to stop meeting like this. Every three weeks there’s a freaking algorithm update and we’ve got to scramble to figure out what the heck is going on. Google, come on guys.

Jordan:             Everyone at Google, once you get their annual bonus, they’re just pumping out updates.

Ben:                 Take it easy, will you? And this is the big one, big one. We thought that the core algorithm update was, you know, the big daddy. No, this is meaningful. Ten percent of all searches, all queries are being impacted by BERT. So, let’s start off the top. What happened? How did they announce the update?

Jordan:             Yeah. So, the update was announced I believe on October 25th through a blog post shared on the Google Search Liaison blog. And it basically, it was kind of an under the radar type of updates. But basically the summary of it is, “Hey, look everybody, we’re applying an update to the search engine that allows us to better understand your search queries. Better understand the meaning behind what you’re searching for.”

Ben:                 So, unlike the previous two updates where there was a little communication saying an update is coming, here’s the things that we’re going to be addressing. This was kind of old school Google where like, you know, you wake up, it’s Tuesday morning and have your coffee and oh crap, hey, there’s a massive change to how Google thinks about your queries and about your search.

Jordan:             Well that’s one way to look at it. But I actually think that and Google actually states this in their post, there was a lot of testing that actually took place. So, Google was testing how to evolve and innovate BERT into search results and use this new rigor in identifying the intent behind queries. And I believe that actually the recent core updates that we’ve seen in September and I believe July, are testing of that testing. So I actually think BERT was being used during those algorithm updates. And now what we’re seeing is just more of a cross pollination of what they learned from those updates across the entire search landscape of queries.

Ben:                 So, you kind of answered my next question, but what did they change? You mentioned how Google is essentially interpreting language. Talk to me about what BERT is.

Jordan:             Yeah. So let’s talk about a little bit about what BERT is. Because I think that this can be a largely misunderstood, you know, I think that even the posts that we shared, by Pandu on Google’s blog can be somewhat misunderstood or correlated to other updates Google’s done.

Jordan:             Well, let’s talk about what this really is. What it’s based on is understanding national language. So it’s using an LP, which is a technique, it is a training module. It’s like a machine learning training module that allows you to understand or represent, transform the meaning of certain terms or language that we use to apply it back to search queries. So I know that that was a mouthful, but in its simplest form, this is the way that Google can better provide results based on what the full context of the word is that you use.

Ben:                 Jordan, I’m a little confused. Give me an example.

Jordan:             Absolutely. Ben, let me give you an example. So, you know I have kids and my kids play a lot of Pokémon. So, you know, you could do a search query of “Playing Pokémon with game console” or “Playing Pokémon without game console.” And in the past you get essentially a mashup of the same results for that query. But now today you get very distinct results because the real intent behind that query is based off of one word and that is the word “With,” or “Without.”

Jordan:             And so, BERT helps Google understand these things and understand what is the real desire of the search query and thus what results should I [inaudible].

Ben:                 So, I guess the underlying update is really, and putting it in non-SEO terms, Google’s language brain got an upgrade, right? They understand or it understands more context than it did before.

Jordan:             That is absolutely correct. And I’m glad that you used the work brain because Google I believe in 2016 released, or maybe it was in 2015, released an update, a machine learning based update that … It was called RankBrain. And it essentially is in the same vein. And rank vein… excuse me RankBrain is also closely connected to Hummingbird, another update where Google is looking at the genuine validity of their entire search engine based on understanding the meaning of language. And I think that that’s a really powerful statement behind these updates.

Ben:                 So, as we take a step back and we think about what’s happened in the last couple of months with the three updates, there was Google looking at and addressing specifically how they were going to handle news, right? That’s what we were calling the Real News update. There were some changes around how people can tag their content and no follow and how people are handling links. There was the core algorithm update and now Google is essentially updating what I’m calling the language brain related to RankBrain. How do you think about the difference in the overlap between these three updates and what should we take away from all of these updates happening in such a short timeframe?

Jordan:             You know, I guess one simple way of thinking about this is like building a car. You know, a carmaker can focus on making the engine faster. They can focus on making the interior more spacious. They could focus on improving the amenities, like the audio system, or the lighting, and what Google basically just did in a matter of three to four months is they just basically fixed all, and they just made the whole carpet. And in this particular case, when it comes to BERT this is really an engine update. They made the engine stronger and faster and more reliable. Because at the end of the day what consumers are getting here is a much cleaner set of results based on what they were looking for.

Ben:                 So, this is something that’s going to benefit consumers because Google has a better understanding of the context in which their users are typing in their queries or speaking their queries. Talk to me about the impact you see on SEOs. It’s obviously early days. Have we seen an impact and if we have not, what do you think the impact is going to be?

Jordan:             Yeah, so we’ve seen some fluctuation in ranking results. In particular where we’re seeing some of the biggest volatility is in heavy content based websites. So for example Wikipedia. Google itself, you know like Google.com and its own assets in the way that they showcase their own assets. Other big sites are also seeing impact that are content creators and content aggregators such as Instagram and other rich content type sites that have UGC.

Jordan:             But the reality is that volatility in these kinds of changes isn’t necessarily the best indicator. And if RankBrain is any indication of the volatility that we should expect off of BERT, we won’t necessarily see like these monolithic, you know, fluctuations for specific domains. But we will see some volatility.

Ben:                 I believe you and I don’t because everything I’ve seen from all of the last three updates … and look, you’re the SEO expert. I’m just a talking head sitting in front of a microphone. But everything Google has done recently has somehow had this massive trajectory changing impact on YouTube. And all of these changes and maybe just obviously there’s some separation of Church and State and Google can’t unfavorably favor YouTube, but boy, YouTube is doing really well in terms of SEO visibility over the last two months. And there’s been a lot of changes. You mentioned that some of Google’s other properties have seen an impact as well. Is it just YouTube or what are the other changes that you’re seeing in Google’s properties?

Jordan:             Yeah, so there are certainly other changes that we’re seeing across the landscape. YouTube being one of them. But also, I think that most notably we’re seeing some volatility here is in the utilization of featured snippets and other elements that show up in the SERP. So with BERT, one of the beauties of having a natural language filter for lack of better terminology that provides you with better results is that in some cases it may seem more relevant or less relevant for Google to showcase these featured elements. And so obviously many of those featured elements are rich with in some cases Google properties. But the reality is that this is essentially one of the main reasons why Google is evolving the relationship to search queries so that they can showcase more of these elements in search.

Ben:                 So, Google is essentially trying to better understand what consumers are looking for so they can create more rich snippets so they can essentially keep traffic on their pages. Is kind of the, “I don’t believe in Google or I think they’re evil,” view of the world.

Jordan:             Right? I mean that’s certainly one way to look at it. But the other way to look at this, and I think this is why at least from many of the brands that we’ve spoken to post-BERT here, they’re not seeing huge traffic impact is because in many cases these are not queries in which there’s a high volume of click behavior. You know, people are searching for an answer, they’re trying to explore an answer. And that answer isn’t necessarily solved by clicking on 10 results in Google. The answer’s typically resolved by one click or in many cases zero clicks. And so the reality here is that this isn’t necessarily to dictate click behavior, but it’s allowing Google consumers, their users, their searchers to identify the problem, the solution, the expectation, the anxiety that they have behind that search query.

Ben:                 It sounds like it’s more of a step towards getting ready to make voice search a more dominant part of Google’s portfolio as they’re moving more towards, you know, position zero type content where direct answers. The more Google is able to understand what the answer to your question is, the more they can keep that in their experience, the more they don’t need a webpage in front of you.

Jordan:             There is no doubt in my mind that voice search data was used to [inaudible] BERT and we’re seeing this evolution of RankBrain. They even state in their own public update around BERT that they are trying to understand the relationship of other words in a sentence. They didn’t even use the word keyword. They just said sentence. And then using the word sentence is its total clue and giveaway that when they’re looking at search behavior at a voice level. Because nobody searches on full sentences when they’re typing. They only do that when they’re doing voice search.

Ben:                 Well, I think the only time you type a full sentence is when you have a question. “What is two plus two?” Technically, that’s a full sentence, but yeah, I understand what you’re saying. It’s the type of queries that replicate what you would be saying in voice. Jordan we’ve seen so many of these updates happen in a short period of time. Do you want to just record the Ernie podcast now we already have Bert. Is Ernie coming?

Jordan:             Yeah. Well we’ll see if they can find an acronym for their next NLP pre-trained instead of technology, but yeah…

Ben:                 Is BERT actually an acronym?

Jordan:             It is.

Ben:                 What is it an acronym for?

Jordan:             Bi-directional Encoder Representations from Transformers.

Ben:                 What in the hell does that mean?

Jordan:             BERT.

Ben:                 BERT. And that again, that’s the language brand got updated, right? That’s what that means.

Jordan:             I had to add a few more new keywords to my brain after that one.

Ben:                 All right. Jordan, any last words on the BERT update? Anything else SEOs should know? Any advice as they try to interpret how this is going to impact their web properties?

Jordan:             I remember when RankBrain came out and there was just a lot of hands thrown up in the air. There was a lot of speculation about changes coming down pipe. People were living in this kind of like eggshell, like environment, waiting for Google’s rankings to drop. And I want to encourage you to really reconsider the fear factor here and go back, look at your plan, look at what are you executing on and ensure that you’re addressing the expectations of users.

Jordan:             Because again, many of these updates, these semantic updates, they are intended to help consumers. And so if your SEO strategy is focused on helping your end consumer, you’re going to be a winner in the long run. And so I think that not a lot of folks should scared right now. I think they should be looking at their analytics, looking at their data, but remember that if you’re reaching the intention of your consumer, Google will find that value and it’ll be part of these BERT updates as along with others.

Ben:                 No need to panic everyone unless you’re trying to figure out what BERT actually means. All right. And that wraps up this emergency Google algorithm update edition of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc.

Ben:                 We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile on our show notes or you can send him a tweet where his handle is JTKoene. J, T, K, O, E, N, E. If you have general marketing questions or if you want to talk to me about this podcast, if you’d like to be a guest on the Voices Of Search Podcast. You can find my contact information in our show notes or you can tweet me at Ben J. Shap, B, E, N, J, S, H, A, P.

Ben:                 If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head of the searchmetrics.com/freetrial for your trial of the search metrics, SEO suite and content experience software. And if you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed later this week. All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.


JavaScript SEO: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Server-Side Rendering

JavaScript SEO is currently one of the hot topics in the SEO industry, as the modern web evolves and more and more websites relaunch or are built on JavaScript-based web applications, mostly on React or AngularJS. With this, more complexity is added to SEO, as we need to make sure that Google is able to render JavaScript effectively, so that the pages can be indexed and ranked correctly. This can be achieved using server-side rendering. However, this doesn’t come risk-free. In this article, I go through five server-side rendering mistakes and explain how you can avoid them.

If you’re looking for support in the technical optimization of your website, then why not set up a non-binding appointment with our Digital Strategies Group consultants and find out where they can help you?

Request an appointment!

What different kinds of server-side rendering exist?

Pre-rendering your website for Google on your server (server-side rending, SSR) is one option for ensuring that your JavaScript website is Googlbot-friendly. In this way, you can deliver the pre-rendered HTML version of your website to Google, while the user gets the normal (not-yet-rendered) browser version.

how-dynamic-rendering-works

how-dynamic-rendering-works

However, when it comes to server-side rendering, there are also different ways to render, as you can see from the next chart, which has been helpfully provided by Google, with some useful additions from Jan-Willem Bobbink.

rendering-on-the-web-seo-version

rendering-on-the-web-seo-version

Source: (https://www.notprovided.eu/rendering-on-the-web-the-seo-version/)

There are three main ways for of setting up and executing server-side rendering:

1. Server-side rendering with dynamic HTML

Server-side rendering creates a rendered HTML version of each URL on-demand.

2. Static rendering with static HTML

Basically, this creates a pre-rendered (static) HTML version of a URL ahead of time and stores it in the cache.

3. Server-side rendering with (re)hydration with dynamic HTML and JS/DOMs

The server provides a static HTML version of the URL and the client (browser etc.) that already includes a structured Document Object Model (DOM) mark-up. The client takes this and turns it into a dynamic DOM that can react to client-side changes and makes it more interactive.

Google published a great overview of rendering the web, with all pros and cons, plus a deeper explanation if you are interested. But first of all, if you are looking for some help on the topic of JavaScript SEO or Server Side Rendering, make sure to contact us here at the Searchmetrics Digital Strategies Group.

Get in touch!

Pitfalls when rendering JavaScript websites via the server

We recently came across some SSR issues with one of our clients. They run their website on Angular JS and render it with Rendertron via a Headless Chrome.

They use a static SSR render approach, which means that they render a page and cache the rendered HTML on the server (ahead of time). The cached HTML will not be replaced automatically but is based on the rendering logic. The following are five issues that we encountered working on this website. I’m sharing them with you here, so that if you have similar challenges, you’ll have an idea how to deal with them. However this is can be considered as an unfinished/expandable list.

1. When you do nothing

When you don’t care and don’t pay any attention to how Google renders you page, then let me show you how Google renders (actually sees) your page. This is based on a website that is built on a Single-Page Application (SPA) using a JavaScript framework, without server-side rendering.

javascript-disabled

javascript-disabled

This doesn’t look particularly promising, does it? Which is exactly why it’s important to use SSR, because then it looks like this:

Javascript-Website-with-SSR

Javascript-Website-with-SSR

2 . Pagination

How to deal with your paginated pages when it comes to rendering?  Well, especially in publishing, paginated pages can still be a good thing to serve Google with your (most recent) articles while Google is crawling them. If you take a look at your log files, you’ll see how Google is accessing your pagination, so that you know where it makes sense to provide a prerendered version (Spoiler: You don’t need to provide 399 URLs with a rendered version)

As our client renders with a static SSR approach, they just rendered the first page and mirrored the cached version of Page 1 up until page 10. Without any rendered version from page 11 and onwards. Here are two screenshots that show the problem quite well, with exactly the same content from page 1 also provided on pages 2-10.

Screenshot of JavaScript paginated site with same content as page 1

Screenshot of JavaScript paginated site with same content as page 1

This means that you give Google 10 Pages with the same content and articles. Ideally, you want Google to render all pages as unique with correctly paginated articles.

3 . Renew rendered version of category pages after new article/product is published

Our client has increased its ranking in almost every Google News property pretty significantly, such as AMP Carousels, Google News Boxes and Mobile News Boxes, with Publisher Carousels the exception. We started to investigate this and it turned out that our client did not update their cached version when there was a new article published. We found out that they renewed their cached version of main categories a week later:

javaScript-rendering-Issue-on-SSR

javaScript-rendering-Issue-on-SSR

and on subcategories even a month later.

javascript-rendering-issue-on-serverside-e1570810168251

javascript-rendering-issue-on-serverside-e1570810168251

This led to the fact that they still had an old article on the topic of Brexit in their pre-rendered version, but they didn’t have all new articles published on the topic. Our assumption here is that, because of this issue, there were not enough fresh articles for Google to populate a carousel and this had a big negative impact on their performance. We are still investigating the impact of the change.

4 . Rendering can cause duplicate content and the wrong canonicalization

Providing a pre-rendered version of a URL can cause system-based problems. As our client delivered pre-rendered pages, each with its own URL created by the render engine, these URLs had the parameters “p=1; render=1” and were fully indexable:

google-serp-parameters-render-1

google-serp-parameters-render-1

There was even a new canonical set up by the SSR engine for that URL. Pretty spooky, huh?

screenshot-search-console-mit-canonicals

screenshot-search-console-mit-canonicals

Ideally, you want to exclude these parameters from Google crawling.

5 . Page title change when rendering

We also found out that current page titles were rendered through JavaScript. This was done in a way that meant the HTML meta title always showed the brand name when JavaScript was disabled. And when the user agent is not Googlebot, it only renders the HTML page title. See the following two examples below. The first shows the URL with JavaScript disabled. The second is the same URL, but with JavaScript enabled.

screenshot-javascript-disabled-1

screenshot-javascript-disabled-1

URL with disabled JavaScript in the browser showing a different (just the brand name) title. screenshot-javascript-enabled

screenshot-javascript-enabled

Same URL with enabled JavaScript showing correct HTML Title.

To ensure that metadata is always correctly rendered, you should include it in the non-rendered (JavaScript) version of the URL.

Conclusion

Server-side rendering can’t be used as a cookie-cutter approach for rendering singe-page applications. Special attention is needed for static approaches where you just provide a snapshot. As you can see from our client’s example, you need to make sure that the SSR engine always provides an up-to-date version of the URL, otherwise Google won’t be seeing and capturing your most recent articles, and you’ll be missing out on valuable traffic.

Before relaunching from an HTML-based website to a JavaScript-based framework, ensure that server-side rendering is included and that is is always dynamically serving!

If you’ve having JavaScript issues or you’re otherwise looking for support in the technical optimization of your website, then why not set up a non-binding appointment with our Digital Strategies Group consultants and find out where they can help you?

Request an appointment!


Low-budget branding for small businesses

Over the years, we’ve written quite a few articles about branding. Branding is about getting people to relate to your company and products. It’s also about trying to make your brand synonymous with a certain product or service. This can be a lengthy and hard project. It can potentially cost you all of your revenue. It’s no wonder that branding is often associated with investing lots of money in marketing and promotion. However, for a lot of small business owners, the investment in branding will have to be made with a relatively small budget. 

You might be a local bakery with 10 employees, or a local industrial company employing up to 500 people. These all can be qualified as ‘small business’. All have the same main goal when they start: the need to establish a name in their field of expertise. There are multiple ways to do this, without a huge budget. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on how to go about your own low-budget branding.

Define and communicate brand values

Branding with a limited budget starts with defining your company’s and your brand’s values. You need to think about what you, as a brand, want to communicate to the world. Doing this yourself won’t cost you, provided you are capable of doing this yourself. In fact, it’s a pretty hard task, when you think of it. It’s about your mission, the things that make your brand into your brand. Brand values relate to Cialdini’s seventh principle, Unity.

My favorite example illustrating unity: outdoor brands like Patagonia and The North Face, which make you feel included in their business ‘family’. “We are all alike, share the same values.” By being able to relate to these brands and their values, we are more enticed to buy their products. It’s a brand for us, outdoor people.

Take some time to define your brand values. That way, you’re able to communicate your main message in a clear and consistent way. It makes your marketing all the easier. You’ll be able to create brand ambassadors, even on a budget.

Come up with a proper tagline

Once you have defined your brand values, it’s time to summarize them all into one single tagline. For example, WordPress’ mission is to “democratize publishing“. In your tagline, you formulate your values and make sure your added value for the customer, user or visitor is also reflected. Again, be consistent. If you set a tagline, your actions and products should relate to that tagline, actually, even be based upon it. It summarizes your business.

Rethink your logo

Having a great logo is essential. When designing that logo, you’ll have to keep in mind that it’s probably something you’ll have for years. It’s the main thing – besides yourself – that will trigger (brand) recognition. It’s not that you can never change your logo, but don’t ‘just’ add a logo. Think about how it stands out from other logos, for instance on a local sponsor board.

Design that logo, print it, stick it on your fridge for a week or so, and see if there’s anything about it that starts to annoy you. If so, it’s back to the drawing board. Feel like you don’t relate to it in terms of business values or even personality? Back to the drawing board. When talking about low-budget branding, designing a great logo is probably your most expensive task.

Online low-budget branding

The online world is a great place to work on your low-budget branding. You need to establish a name in your field of expertise, and the surplus of social media can facilitate that by giving you a free platform.

Social media

I do a lot of local networking, because I really like the city we live in, and the huge variety of entrepreneurs that work in our hometown Wijchen. During network meetings, one of the phrases I often hear is: “Social media just takes me too much time”. To be honest, it might be wise to change your mindset about the costs and start seeing the revenue social media can bring you. It really is the easiest and probably one of the cheapest ways to promote your brand. Basically, the only cost is time investment (depending on how aggressively you want to use the medium). It may take a while before you find a strategy and/or platform that works, so give it some time and don’t just throw in the towel!

Read more: Social media for small business owners »

Share your expertise

You can use Twitter to stay in touch with like-minded business owners. Discover the huge number of Facebook groups in your area, and/or in your field of expertise. Bond with people that share the same values. Feel free to answer questions in your field of business and do this with confidence. Position yourself as the go-to company for these questions. Help people that way and create brand ambassadors. You really have to put some effort into establishing your position. It won’t happen overnight.

A bit of an extreme example: before Yoast became a business, Joost was already sharing content/expertise and our open source software. He engaged actively in forum and social media discussions about WordPress and SEO. Commenting on other people’s blogs. Time before revenue: 8 years. I’m not saying you need to wait eight years before making money with your passion. But I do think that you should be able to write, comment and take a stand in topics that matter to you from the start.

Make yourself visible

Eventually, it all comes back to business values. Everything you communicate should reflect these values. It’ll give you guidelines and will make sure your message is delivered in the same way, always. Low-budget branding is about just that: making yourself visible, in a consistent way.

Keep reading: The ultimate guide to small business SEO »

The post Low-budget branding for small businesses appeared first on Yoast.


Five sure-fire strategies to build inbound links

Google’s Matt Cutts declared guest blogging (and other tactics) as a way of generating SEO inbound links as a “spammy practice” that was dead and gone, way back in 2014. It was a statement that generated plenty of response, both defending and arguing against Cutts’ assessment of the practice.

Five years later, guest blogging — or guest posting if you prefer — hasn’t gone the way of the dodo.

Now as far as flooding your site with poor content that relies on tricking people with the anchor text, yes, those days are mostly behind us. Search engine algorithms have really wised up in recent years and the value of the inbound link hasn’t gone away. It’s only changed.

Before starting your link-building journey, it’s important to understand the primary objectives:

Value and quality take top priority

A guest post can be a great way to bring in new traffic and boost your SEO, but there’s a catch. It has to contain relative information that offers something of value to the audience. The choices on the internet are endless and in an age where everyone knows how to explore the internet, a clickbait guest blogging strategy doesn’t hold up for long.

As for what goes into that content, longer content tends to do better than the shorter stuff. This isn’t to say that an effective guest post needs to be 4,000 words. You don’t necessarily want to test the limits of your audience’s attention span, but the 125-word blurb isn’t likely to result in a lot of traffic.

The main focus is to provide value to the readers with the information and give them a reason to finish and share the content. Generally, the most successful guest posts tend to fall in the sweet spot of 300 to 1,600 words.

Grammar and voice of the content are also of importance. If you were writing a guest post for a medical journal, you would probably use a less conversational style than if you’re writing for “Parents Magazine”

Don’t go crazy with the keyword stuffing

Just because you have access to all the words, that doesn’t mean you need to use all the words. Throwing as many keywords into your post and finding a way to cram them into every sentence simply isn’t going to do much good in the long run. Google’s algorithms are going to pick up on this and if you really overdo it, the article could get marked as spam. Then all that hard work was for nothing.

It goes back to what we touched on earlier about adding value to the audience. Yes, keywords matter, but keyword stuffing is a frowned upon blackhat technique that works against your link goals. 

So how do you know when your content is in danger of falling under the keyword stuffing label? Say you’re working on a post and want to rank for “best gardening hose” and wrote something like this:

“If you’re looking for the best gardening hose the Acme Aqua 2000 is the best gardening hose on the market today and will meet all your needs. More people think it’s the best gardening hose than all the others and tell their friends that it’s the best gardening hose on the market today.”

Yikes! Not only will Google spot this as spam but your savvy readers will too. If you’re still unsure about how to recognize if you’re guilty of keyword stuffing, you may want to brush up on why it’s bad for SEO.

Target websites with a higher domain than yours

Just like we mentioned earlier in regards to content, quality counts as well when building in those links. The internet is a battlefield and websites are constantly vying for power in the form of higher search rankings. By guest posting for websites with higher domain authority, you’ll be giving yourself a leg up and getting the most value out of those blogging efforts — from an SEO perspective, of course.

Google cares not just about the number of links, but the quality of those backlinks. As to what makes a high-quality link in 2019, there are a few must-haves.

Consistent traffic flow is important because it shows that it’s active. Authority is also of importance and by that, we mean domain authority. Websites with a low domain authority as ranked by Moz, tend to have a low ranking of 0-20. They may be new or simply not very active. Whereas a website with a domain authority ranking of 60+ is going to be a well-established one that has a steady flow of traffic and is regarded for high-quality content.

All links are not created equal, so think critically about who you want to link to and who you want linking to you. Now that we understand this, it’s time to start on with link-building:

Five sure-fire strategies to build inbound links

So how to go about guest blogging with a strategy that actually works for you rather than throwing chance to the wind? Obviously, you need to find some places that would welcome a contribution to your knowledge.

1. Target keyword phrases

A Google search for a keyword phrase as simple as “write for us” or “become a contributor” is one way to go about it, but that approach can be a little tedious. A great way to hone in on potential places for guest posts is to check out relevant industry sites and competitor sites. Looking at where their inbound links are coming from can provide a valuable springboard to start with.

2. Use guest blogging platforms

If writing isn’t your forte or you don’t have the time, you can still use guest blogging as a viable means of high-authority link building. There are multiple outlets such as DFY Links that offer a variety of guest blogging campaigns with high-quality backlinks.

3. Build an authority content piece

Pitching a blogger for a backlink is a lot easier when it’s to a long-form resource page. Rather than just pitching a topical article to a blogger, focus on selling your existing authority content. Many bloggers have a “resource” section and are looking to populate it with the “right” content.

4. Provide a testimonial

Testimonial link building is a win-win scenario. On the one hand, this is a perfect way for them to build customer trust. Testimonials have an associated level of credibility that garners customer trust. Additionally, these mentions also include a rare backlink of high value that will pay dividends in your SEO strategy for years to come. Finally, some clients also find that these specific backlinks provide a steady stream of click-through traffic which augments their current SEO and paid ad efforts.

5. Using SERPs to find sites that accept guest posts

The internet is replete with a multitude of link building opportunities. Forums, blogs and millions of websites all host backlinks but one must be judicious in selecting which avenue to explore. After generating your list of potential opportunities, it’s time to start filtering by: 

  • Domain Authority 
  • Domain Rating 
  • Referring Domains
  • Spam Score (Moz)

By targeting sites of high domain authority and ones with low spam scores, you can develop a sound SEO strategy. Strong SEO strategies tend to remain relatively unaffected by search engine algorithm changes that may arise in the future.

A few search operations that I typically use

  • [target keyword] + “Become a Contributor”
  • [target keyword] + “Become a Guest Blogger”
  • [target keyword] + “Contribute”
  • [target keyword] + “Submit a Guest Post”
  • [target keyword] + inurl:guest-posts
  • [target keyword] + inurl:write-for-us

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, you should consider every link, both inbound and outbound as a potential place to establish a connection when building an effective guest posting SEO strategy.

The SEO shortcuts of just a few years ago are becoming a thing of the past. Trust and authority are more valued by today’s search engine algorithms. Thankfully, guest posting as an effective strategy for link building is still alive and well in 2019 and the years to come. It’s all about how one goes about it that determines its effectiveness. 

The post Five sure-fire strategies to build inbound links appeared first on Search Engine Watch.