YouTube’s experimental tool for creators simplifies keyword research and identifies content gaps

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in SEO Articles | Comments Off on YouTube’s experimental tool for creators simplifies keyword research and identifies content gaps

YouTube’s experimental tool for creators simplifies keyword research and identifies content gaps

YouTube Search Insights is an experimental feature that shows creators search data such as the queries that led viewers to their videos or query data across YouTube’s entire audience. It can also identify content gaps (when viewers can’t find the exact content they’re looking for). Search Insights was announced on YouTube’s Creator Insider channel on Thursday, November 25, 2021; the company has not provided a timeline for the rollout.

The new features are spread across two tabs within YouTube Insights: “Your viewers’ searches” and “Searches across YouTube.”

Why we care. This experimental feature provides brands and creators with keyword data that can be used to hone in on their audience’s interests or gauge interest for any topic across YouTube’s entire user base. It also provides them with data on how important those keywords are to their overall view count. And, if it works well, the content gap feature may streamline workflows even further by simply highlighting content opportunities that YouTube has identified.

When YouTube Search Insights becomes widely available, brands and creators will be able to use it to improve their content planning to make more relevant videos for their audiences.

Your viewers’ searches. The “Your viewers’ searches” tab (shown below) displays the top searches from your viewers or from channels similar to yours. YouTube-wide search volume for the term is also available, although it is described generically as low, medium or high.

“Your viewers’ searches” within YouTube Insights. Image: Creator Insider.

And, creators can also see the number of views their channel received for a given query (this data is only available for the previous 28-day period).

Searches across YouTube. This tab goes beyond a channel’s own audience and allows creators to explore searches across YouTube’s entire audience. This data is searchable, so creators can, for example, type in “Chromebook” to view the most popular keywords viewers are using to find Chromebook-related content.

“Searches across YouTube” within YouTube Insights. Image: Creator Insider.

Similar to the Your viewers’ searches tab, search volume is described as high, medium or low and data for views your channel received from these terms is only available for the previous 28-day period.

Content gaps. “We’re also testing a new concept called content gaps,” Alina Verbenchuk of Creator Insider said, “A search becomes a content gap when viewers can’t find the information they were looking for.” Content gaps can include instances when users can’t find any results for a particular query or the content they found is low quality, she provided as examples. When applicable, content gap labels appear next to keywords (as shown above) and content gap filters will be available in both the Searches across YouTube and Your viewers’ searches tabs.

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60,000 websites using Cloudflare turned on IndexNow

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in SEO Articles | Comments Off on 60,000 websites using Cloudflare turned on IndexNow

60,000 websites using Cloudflare turned on IndexNow

IndexNow has now been turned on by over 60,000 websites that use Cloudflare in less than two months after IndexNow was announced by Microsoft. IndexNow is an open protocol that any search engine can participate in to enable site owners to have their pages and content instantly indexed by the search engine. 

Microsoft and Cloudflare announced today that “more than 60,000 unique websites that have opted-in to Crawler Hints. Those zones have sent Bing about billion Hints for when specific assets on their websites have changed and need to be re-crawled.” I turned it on for the Search Engine Roundtable, my personal search blog, when it was announced.

How to turn it on. It literally is controlled by the flip of a switch in Cloudflare under the crawler hints section that you can access under the cache tab, then under the configuration section:

Microsoft said once this setting is enabled it, IndexNow “will begin sending hints to search engines about when they should crawl particular parts of your website.”

Google may adopt it. Google said recently that it too will test the IndexNow protocol for indexing. So while Microsoft Bing and Yandex are the only two who have fully adopted it, if Google adopts it, you can expect other search engines to as well.

Why we care. Like we said before, instant indexing is an SEO’s dream when it comes to giving search engines the most updated content on a site. The protocol is very simple and it requires very little developer effort to add this to your site, so it makes sense to implement this if you care about speedy indexing. Plus if you use Cloudflare, it can be turned on with the flip of a switch.

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Google November 2021 core update is finished rolling out

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in SEO Articles | Comments Off on Google November 2021 core update is finished rolling out

Google has confirmed that the November 2021 core update is now finished rolling out.

The announcement. “The November 2021 Core Update rollout is now complete,” Google wrote on the Google Search Central Twitter account.

The November 2021 Core Update rollout is now complete.

— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) November 30, 2021

November 2021 core update. As a reminder, the November 2021 core update started to roll out at about 11 a.m. ET on November 17, 2021. This update took 13 days to roll out after it was announced. So this update started on November 17, 2021 and lasted through November 30, 2021.

When and what was felt. Based on early data, this update seemed to roll out fast and in a significant manner for many queries the data providers track. We did see some “tremors,” shifts in volatility, after the initial update the day before and the day of Thanksgiving, as well as on November 30th, these are the final sets of volatility you would see from the initial broad core update release.

More on the November 2021 core update

The SEO community. The November 2021 core update, like I said above, was felt fast and hard. Not just in terms of the ranking impact but the timing. I was able to cover the community reaction in one blog post on the Search Engine Roundtable. It includes some of the early chatter, ranking charts and social shares from some SEOs.

What to do if you are hit. Google has given advice on what to consider if you are negatively impacted by a core update in the past. There aren’t specific actions to take to recover, and in fact, a negative rankings impact may not signal anything is wrong with your pages. However, Google has offered a list of questions to consider if your site is hit by a core update. Google did say you can see a bit of recovery between core updates but the biggest change you would see would be after another core update.

Why we care. Whenever Google updates its search ranking algorithms, it means that your site can do better or worse in the search results. Knowing when Google makes these updates gives us something to point to in order to understand if it was something you changed on your website or something Google changed with its ranking algorithm.

If your site saw any changes between November 17 and November 30, it was likely related to the November core update.

More on Google updates

Other Google updates this year. This year we had a number of confirmed updates from Google and many that were not confirmed . In the most recent order, we had: The July 2021 core updateGoogle MUM rolled out in June for COVID names and was lightly expanded for some features in September (but MUM is unrelated to core updates). Then, the June 28 spam update, the June 23rd spam update, the Google page experience update, the Google predator algorithm update, the June 2021 core update, the July 2021 core update, the July link spam update, and the November spam update rounded ou the confirmed updates.

Previous core updates. The most recent previous core update was the July 2021 core update which was quick to roll out (kind of like this one) followed by the June 2021 core update and that update was slow to roll out but a big one. Then we had the December 2020 core update and the December update was very big, bigger than the May 2020 core update, and that update was also big and broad and took a couple of weeks to fully roll out. Before that was the January 2020 core update, we had some analysis on that update over here. The one prior to that was the September 2019 core update. That update felt weaker to many SEOs and webmasters, as many said it didn’t have as big of an impact as previous core updates. Google also released an update in November, but that one was specific to local rankings. You can read more about past Google updates over here.

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MVP First Saves Money by Building Smarter, Faster, and Better

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in SEO Articles | Comments Off on MVP First Saves Money by Building Smarter, Faster, and Better

An MVP focus first approach safeguards against running out of time or budget and allows you to launch your website or product quickly and with lower costs.

5 steps to automate your SEO processes using simple programming tactics

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in SEO Articles | Comments Off on 5 steps to automate your SEO processes using simple programming tactics

5 steps to automate your SEO processes using simple programming tactics

“Everyone has annoying tasks in their job that you wish you could hire someone else to do, and at this point, you could automate it,” said Colt Sliva, SEO Engineer at iPullRank, in his presentation at SMX Next. “Additionally, you can be effective even when you’re not available.”

Many SEOs, however, lack the programming knowledge to set these systems up themselves, which is why automation tools are on the rise. Choosing one may seem daunting with so many automation resources, including no-code, low-code, and maximum-code options. But, as Sliva points out, there is always a tool available, no matter your technical literacy.

Selecting a marketing automation tool is just the first part of this process. Here are some actionable steps Sliva recommends marketers take to automate their SEO tasks.

Create a data storage space

Every marketer has their tool preferences, but Sliva recommends using Google Sheets and its macro scheduling when setting up SEO task automation. “What it will do is run a crawl in your site on a schedule and then write that straight into a single excel sheet,” he said, “You get a summarization of all the features of the crawl, and that data is saved in a sheet.”

Craft data visualizations

Whether you want to focus on missing HTML elements such as title tags, meta descriptions or H1 tags, or more technical components like orphan URLs or XML sitemap issues, creating visualizations can help marketers better analyze their data.

Sliva shared some helpful SEO data visuals from Dan Sharp of Screaming Frog, highlighting different ways marketers can display their automated crawl data.

Image: Dan Sharp and Colt Sliva

Develop a feedback loop

Once the data storage and visualization elements are in place, marketers will want to ensure their automation systems can detect significant crawling issues on a regular basis. SEO should use tools that highlight these problems.

Image: Colt Sliva

Sliva pointed to a significant indexability issue shown in his own automated report: “I can see that there’s been an issue in the past here with total internal non-indexable URLs, where the number of indexable URLs completely flip-flopped and most of the site was non-indexable. That is a clear problem that we would want a feedback loop for.”

Build SEO alerts

Automation systems that fail to notify SEOs of issues aren’t helpful, even if they can identify them properly. Sliva recommended using a script that pings specialists when a set number of issues arise — in his case, non-indexable URLs.

“It grabs the active spreadsheet of the current sheet and then it gets the range of data and grabs the last column and last row. So we have a complete section, and then it grabs the 11th column, which just happens to be the non-indexable column.”

Image: Colt Sliva

SEOs can use scripts of this sort to set automated alerts for a variety of issues, allowing team members to begin working on solutions as soon as problems arise.

Automate SEO processes with programming tools

Here are some additional tasks SEOs can automate with their chosen tools, according to Sliva.

Automated segmentation;Internal link analysis; andSEO data extraction.

“There are endless automation opportunities,” he said. “And that is exciting once you start to track these patterns and these simple programming concepts to get this work done.”

Image: Colt Sliva

Sliva offered a caveat to automation implementation: “If you could spend 10 minutes doing the task manually and then you decide to spend 10 hours writing the code — and you don’t do that task very often — you probably don’t need to automate that task.”

But often, the advantages outweigh the costs. It all depends on your campaign goals and workload. “The benefits are speeding up your tasks, removing obstacles, and lightening your workload,” said Sliva.

“It’s just a fun problem to solve. If you enjoy solving problems, this is for you,” he added.

Watch the full SMX Next presentation here (registration required).

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Yoast SEO 17.7: Introducing a free configuration workout

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in SEO Articles | Comments Off on Yoast SEO 17.7: Introducing a free configuration workout

Yoast SEO 17.7: Introducing a free configuration workout

These past couple of months, we’ve brought you several innovative SEO workouts. Our workouts help break down specific SEO tasks so that you can follow a step-by-step process to fulfill these tasks. They are easy and practical, targeted at getting your work done without issue. In Yoast SEO 17.7, we’re introducing a new configuration workout to help you set up the Yoast SEO plugin properly from the get-go.

What are SEO workouts?

There are a ton of things you need to do to optimize your site for search engines. After installing Yoast SEO, some of the technical work is done for you, but there is still so much you need to do yourself. Yoast SEO is not a set-it-and-forget-it solution. You have to put in the work and do it regularly.

But there are hundreds of things you can do with SEO. Different routes lead to the same goal. Different ways of thinking and doing. Where do you even start? That’s one of the reasons we came up with the SEO workouts in Yoast SEO Premium. The workouts are actionable exercises focused on a particular task, like fixing your site structure by proper internal linking. Or, cleaning up outdated content. Let us take you by the hand!

Our newest SEO workout is all about getting the basic settings of Yoast SEO right and it is free to use for everyone. This helps you properly introduce your site to Google, helping them quickly get to know you. This workout replaces the old configuration wizard and, of course, you only have to do this workout once.

You can find three SEO workouts in Yoast SEO

Getting the basic settings right in Yoast SEO

Getting the basic setup right is very important — it’s like handing your business card over to Google. It’s nothing fancy, but it does a lot to help search engines’ understanding of your site. Unfortunately, many people forget this all-important first step. Or, they haven’t filled it entirely or maybe haven’t looked at it for quite some time. That’s unfortunate because now you might hand Google a business card with outdated information — or nothing on it at all!

The new configuration workout in Yoast SEO 17.1 aims to fix this problem quickly. We’ve identified the key steps you need to take to set everything up correctly. Here’s the rundown:

Run the SEO data optimizer to help Yoast SEO build an understanding of your site.Choose the site representation for structured data. Google uses this structured data to identify who you are or what your business is.Choose whether your site represents a person or an organizationFill in the name of the person or organizationUpload a logo or an avatarFill in the tagline of the siteFill in the corresponding social profiles for this site or personThe final two steps ask if you want to share data with Yoast that we can use to improve our products. Plus, you can sign up for our newsletter.That’s it, you’re good to go!

Yoast SEO will use the information you enter about your site in its structured data output. We tie every part of your site together and serve that to the search engines in that output. The more you provide to search engines, the better they can understand it! Need more insights into that process? Join our resident SEO expert Jono Alderson for his free webinar Boost your organic visibility with structured data.

Of course, there’s no need to run the configuration workout if you already filled everything out before. But, it can’t hurt to check your settings. Your existing settings will remain active until you run the configuration workout — we won’t override anything unless you tell us to do so.

Simply follow the steps and you help Google understand your site better

What else is new in Yoast SEO 17.7?

Every new release of Yoast SEO comes with a round of fixes and enhancements. In Yoast SEO 17.7, we improved several things, including two language-related improvements. We’ve added more French transition words to the list so the transition words assessment in the plugin can recognize these. We’ve also fixed a bug where non-passive Greek words ending in -ου or -είτε were previously identified as passive.

Update now to Yoast SEO 17.7

Yoast SEO 17.7 comes with a new, free addition to our SEO workouts. The SEO workouts you can find in Yoast SEO Premium help you get your SEO tasks done in a structured way. The newest one is available for everyone and allows you to set up your site data correctly from the start. Try it!

Go Premium and get serious about your SEO!

Unlock all of the SEO workouts, other features and get free access to all of our SEO courses with Yoast SEO Premium:

Get Yoast SEO Premium ▸Only $89 USD / per year (ex VAT) for 1 site

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Our new workout helps Google understand your site!

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in SEO Articles | Comments Off on Our new workout helps Google understand your site!

Our new workout helps Google understand your site!

When you started your business, what were the first steps you took to establish yourself in the market? You probably thought of a name and created a logo to go with it. Who knows, maybe you also created a few social accounts to introduce your business to potential customers right away. But like most businesses, both online and offline, you probably also created a website to reach your audience. Which is great. However, it’s also important to properly introduce your website to Google, even when your website has been live for a while. In this post, we’ll explain why and how you can do this using our new configuration workout!

Pro tip

Since Yoast SEO 17.7, we’ve replaced the configuration wizard with our new configuration workout. If you haven’t updated to the latest version of our plugin yet, make sure to do so and you’ll be able to do this workout right away! The configuration workout is available in both the free and Premium version of Yoast SEO.

Why introduce your site to Google?

There are many ways to promote your website and get your audience to visit you online. Investing in SEO and optimizing your pages for the search engines is also very much worth your while. Which you might already be aware of. But did you also know that you can enhance Google’s understanding of your website which helps them present your site even better? By providing Google with some basic, but vital information on your business you’ll have a higher chance of Google showing the right information to your users. It can also increase your chances of getting a knowledge panel about your business, the block you sometimes see on the right side of your search results.

However, providing Google with this information, and making sure that it’s correct, doesn’t happen automatically. You need to help Google to better its understanding of your website and business. By properly introducing yourself. Because if you don’t, Google might not understand what your website has to offer. Kind of like a shop without a name sign out front. And this makes it less attractive for Google to direct people to your website as they’re not quite sure what they will find there.

Structured data is the way forward

So how do you help Google get a better understanding of your website? By using structured data. Essentially, structured data is a way of describing your site and its content in a way that’s easy for search engines to understand. It changes your content into code that search engines can process right away. Search engines like Google read this code and use it to display your pages in a much better and richer way in the search results. And adding this piece of code to your website is not something that you need to do yourself. Yoast SEO automatically adds a lot of this structured data for you, helping Google get a better idea of what your pages are about. Want to know more about this? Join our free workshop Boost your organic visibility with structured data on the 7th of December.

Yoast SEO makes it easy for you to add structured data to your pages, by creating a structured data framework of your pages, allowing you to set different types of content and by offering structured data blocks. But it is important to start at the beginning and get your basic information right. That’s why we’ve created this new configuration workout. This workout allows you to provide this information and provide Google with the first piece of information it needs.

Get the most out of Yoast SEO with this workout

This new workout takes a few minutes, but it allows you to give some basic information about your website and business. This helps Google form an understanding and show this information in a rich way. Like we said before, this information can help you get your very own knowledge panel that stands out from the normal search results.

In addition to this information that you’re providing to Google, this workout also helps Yoast SEO get a better understanding of your website. Why would you want that? Well, because it makes it possible for us to give you better SEO tips that will help you with your rankings. Plus it allows us to improve on technical SEO settings, like automatically adding the right structured data to your pages. That way you can make sure that your SEO settings have been set up just right. It helps you get the most out of Yoast SEO.

The workout has 5 steps that configure the essential Yoast SEO settings and tell Google what kind of site you have. It will take you by the hand and explain exactly what’s happening with every step you take.

Preview of the first steps in the configuration workout

If you’re curious about all the steps in this workout and how to complete them, read our help article on how to use the Yoast SEO configuration workout. And after you’ve completed all 5 steps, you’re good to go! You won’t have to repeat this workout, as this is something you set once for both Yoast SEO and Google. That is unless you change your business name or logo! But we wouldn’t recommend doing that too often.

Yoast SEO comes with other SEO workouts

So make sure to get off on the right foot and do the configuration workout! It doesn’t take up much of your time and helps Google get a better understanding of your website. While you’re at it, make sure to check out the other SEO workouts that we’ve added to Yoast SEO. In addition to the configuration workout, we also have a workout that helps you rank with the content you want to rank with and a workout that you can use to make your unlinked content findable for people.

The SEO workouts in Yoast SEO

SEO can be difficult and take up a lot of your time. To make it easier and more manageable, we’ve created these SEO workouts that you can do on a regular basis to keep your website fit. To get access to these two workouts you need to go premium, but trust us when we say that they are worth it! And we’ll be adding new workouts that help you step up your SEO game along the way.

Go Premium and get serious about your SEO!

Unlock all of the SEO workouts, other features and get free access to all of our SEO courses with Yoast SEO Premium:

Get Yoast SEO Premium ▸Only $89 USD / per year (ex VAT) for 1 site

Read more: Clean up your old content with one of our other SEO workouts! »

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Lost SEO traffic in 2021? Here are 3 potential reasons why (and how to recover your rankings heading into 2022)

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in SEO Articles | Comments Off on Lost SEO traffic in 2021? Here are 3 potential reasons why (and how to recover your rankings heading into 2022)

Lost SEO traffic in 2021?  Here are 3 potential reasons why (and how to recover your rankings heading into 2022)

Navigating Google updates, algorithm changes, and diagnosing specific causes of traffic loss can be challenging.  Throughout the past year, Google has been more aggressive, rolling out changes to their search algorithm, launching three Core Updates along with a variety of more narrowly focused improvements during the year.  Complicating things further, many of these updates overlapped or occurred within the same date range, making it more difficult to understand which update(s) may have caused traffic & ranking loss for webmasters.

If your SEO traffic is on the decline, let’s take a look at three potential reasons why and discuss how to reverse the trend heading in 2022.

1. Page Experience, Site Speed, and Core Web Vitals

The first phase of Google’s Page Experience Update had a three-month rollout this past summer, concluding in early September.  This update rewards secure & fast-loading pages on mobile devices which pass Core Web Vitals requirements as described by Google.  While the search impact thus far has been largely flat, we’ve seen numerous websites in competitive verticals lose mobile traffic throughout the update.  Further, Google has announced they are bringing this update to desktop search results in the first quarter of 2022, presenting an opportunity to improve existing site performance while staying ahead of future updates.  If you lost mobile SEO traffic in late summer and failed the new requirements, it may be worthwhile spending time improving your site’s Page Experience and Core Web Vitals metrics.

Not sure where to begin?  Google has recently updated their PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse tools which can help you better understand specific causes of slow site speed and pinpoint Core Web Vitals failures.  Search Console offers additional insight regarding your website’s performance, and can help developers get a deeper look at the situation.

It’s important to note this is largely a page-level update, so webmasters will need run diagnostics at the URL level.  For larger websites, this can present a significant time investment and may be why Google gave such advance notice of this update.  To help diagnose more quickly, begin by analyzing your website’s pages on a template or page-type level to uncover solutions that can likely be applied to all pages of that page type and template.

Taking things a step further, it may be worth utilizing cloud hosting services like AWS or Cloudflare for your website.  These solutions have built-in speed and security optimizations that can help your site load more quickly on desktop and mobile devices.  You may also choose to hire a professional who can make a complex technical project more approachable for you & your developers.

2. Being authentic and serving your users

The latest version of Google’s Search Quality Guidelines refines their guidance for content quality, especially pertaining to YMYL industries (finance, healthcare, e-commerce, and so on).  We’ve seen content quality consistently be a key indicator of how your website will perform throughout a Core Update, so it’s always a good idea to stay on top of Google’s recommended best practices and produce content that meets your users’ needs – especially as compared to your competitors.  If you lost SEO visibility during June, July, or November, a Core Algorithm update could be the reason, and it’s likely a lack of content quality or a poor user experience may be reasons why.

When analyzing your site’s content, it’s important to ask yourself:

Is the content on your website authored by a topical expert, and are you proving this in your author profiles and bylines?  This is especially important in YMYL categories to convey E-A-T, although there are certain situations where it may not be needed.Are you removing bias and presenting both sides of a story?  The pros, cons, and alternatives of a product?  The differences between Option A and Option B?  In most situations, it’s important to paint a complete picture of the topic at hand to best serve your users and encourage Google to rank your content.Gone are the days of trying to meet a minimum word count to rank well.  Instead, put yourself in the users’ shoes and focus on intent – for example, a user searching for “Nike Sneakers” doesn’t need a 500-word history of the brand, rather a category page with size, color, and price filters to meet their needs.Are there excessive ad units on the page, especially ads above the fold, interstitials, popups, or overlays?  When possible, advertising should complement your content, not distract from it.Is your content easy to consume?  Comprehensive information is great, but formatting long paragraphs into lists, bullet points, tables, and so on can help users better digest what you have to say (and can help you capture SERP features in Google, too).Are media objects (videos, images) or references (external links to trusted citations) integrated within your content?  This isn’t always needed but can further help position you as a trusted authority and gain more SEO traffic.

3. Link spam & guest blog posts

Quality, relevant backlinks are still a strong indicator of how well a site will rank, and obtaining natural links remains one of the most challenging areas of SEO to get right.  Google has a long history of taking action against unnatural links, and we’ve seen the search engine continue to filter out links they believe violate their webmaster guidelines in 2021.

Google rolled out their latest “Link Spam” Update in July, which specifically targets links from guest blog posts, affiliate links, and links within sponsored content.  Why are they focusing on filtering links from these areas?  These link tactics scale incredibly well but are often low-value and low-effort.  They form easily detectable unnatural link patterns and pose a long-term risk.  This update reminds us of something we’ve seen over and over throughout the years: when a link-building approach becomes too popular, Google will eventually take action.  No surprise here, Google is algorithmically filtering out links fitting these criteria. 

If you experienced a drop in rankings during late July and know you may have these types of links in your backlink profile, it’s very likely some of those links which once helped you rank are no longer providing any value.  If you haven’t already, a backlink audit and disavow may be in order, but proceed with caution – even Google acknowledges you can do more damage disavowing links if you don’t know what to look for.  This includes relying on software to quickly identify “toxic” links; automated solutions are never a substitution for human review for such an important ranking factor.

So what can you do to replace lost link equity?  It’s important to keep in mind that natural link acquisition can be THE most effective part of your SEO strategy.  Earning natural links from trusted websites, industry publications, and media outlets will provide safe, effective, and long-lasting results.  Acquiring these types of links on a regular basis relies on the quality of your content and its audience, so the best approach marries your outreach strategy with your content plan and editorial calendar.

Wrapping things up

2021 has been a challenging year for many of us.  Losing traffic during this time has many potential causes but also presents opportunities to better focus your SEO efforts heading into 2022.  Taking a holistic approach to your SEO efforts across technical, content, links, speed, and UX factors will help put you in the best possible position to recover your rankings and reduce the risk of being negatively affected by a Google update moving forward. 

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20211130 SEL Brief

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in SEO Articles | Comments Off on 20211130 SEL Brief

The post 20211130 SEL Brief appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Diagnosing ‘no return tag’ errors in GSC when hreflang, on the surface, looks optimal…

Posted by on Nov 30, 2021 in SEO Articles | Comments Off on Diagnosing ‘no return tag’ errors in GSC when hreflang, on the surface, looks optimal…

Bio | Annaleis is currently working as an SEO Consultant at Brainlabs. Her experience lies in digital marketing, with a specific focus on search engine optimization (SEO), in developing and executing SEO strategies for a variety of global accounts, in varying industries. She is building her specialty in luxury, e-commerce clients. Prior to this, Annaleis worked in digital marketing for a conference company that runs search & digital marketing conferences.

We’ve all been there – you’re looking over a client’s hreflang; everything looks alright, nothing alarming is jumping out. You then go across to check Google Search Console and see month on month hreflang errors increasing. Sorry?! 

Hreflang is one of those areas of international SEO that looks deceivingly straightforward (John Muller tends to agree), but as soon as something doesn’t add up, it becomes a minefield of rabbit holes.

Luckily, I experienced this recently and was able to identify a few issues that were occurring site-wide, across multiple international sites that were the main cause for the increasing “no-return tag” hreflang errors. 

Firstly, what is hreflang?

Hreflang is a specific markup code that tells Google and other search engines which geographical location and language a specific page is targeting.

When do you need it?

Hreflang is needed for any site that has international equivalents. For example, you have a website that is, which is for people in the United Kingdom, who speak English. 

However, you also want your website to be accessible and available to people in Italy, who speak italian. You can’t serve them with the English site, as that wouldn’t serve the users well, instead, you’d want to create a site that is for Italy, and the content is in Italian. 

You would need to tell Google that whilst the content is the same, and it’s the same site, it is serving a different purpose and audience. This is when hreflang is used. 

Why do you need it?

Hreflang tells Search Engines that a site does not have duplicate content, however, this content is targeting a specific country & language.

This helps search engines better understand the language and country preferences for those particular pages and understand the relationship between web pages in alternative languages.

Search engines use the hreflang information to decide which version of your website to display in their search results, depending on the country and language the user is searching in. For example, a user searching in Spain will want to see the Spanish version of the page, compared to a user searching in Germany, who would want to see a German version of the same page.

What are some best practices?

The hreflang attribute should be placed in only one location. This can be in either the on-page markup, the HTTP header, or the sitemap.

Every hreflang link should have a return link → corresponding pages need to point to each other, acknowledging the different versions.

Hreflang requires a country and language code. Google supports the ISO 639-1 format for language codes. This hreflang generator can be useful to test your hreflang setup. 

Set up an x-default hreflang attribute value to signal to Google’s algorithms that a page doesn’t target any specific language or locale, and is the default page when no other page is better suited. 

What are “no return tag” errors?

The errors discussed in this piece are from Google Search Console, and are labeled “no return tag”. This is when the original URL and the alternative URL don’t have return tags. 

A return tag is when one page (Page A) has hreflang set up and points to Page B as a language/country alternative. 

But Page B doesn’t point back to Page A. 

Therefore there is no returning hreflang tag.

Return tags are important to prove to search engines that you, as the webmaster/SEO, have control over both page variants and that they are correctly associated with one another.

Get the data 

Step 1: Go to google search console

Step 2: Scroll down the left-hand side menu 

Step 3: Under “Legacy Tools and reports”, go to “International Targeting” 

Source: Google Search Console

The screenshot below shows the dashboard within International Targeting. 

We can see the list of errors, sorted from most to least, occurring across the various international sites. 

Source: Google Search Console: International Targeting

We will use “en” no return tags to explore. Click through to one of your issues. 

Source: Google Search Console: International Targeting

Step 4: Check the hreflang set up on the issue page. There are some great guides showing you the key steps; see Screaming Frog’s guide and Moz’s guide

Weird and Wonderful Issues Found:

Issue 1: Are your redirects & canonicals causing no return tags?

Here is a scenario:

An e-commerce retail website has many pages, ranging from product pages to category/head pages. Because of the nature of the product offering, product pages often have many variations due to filters being applied (such as colors, sizes, etc.). Products are also known to go out of stock or become no longer available / sold. 

With these two issues, canonicals can be used to help crawlers focus their attention on the important pages we want to rank. 

For example, we would want the category page of “women’s bodycon dresses”, 

To rank over a parameterized page that has filters applied, such as “women’s bodycon dresses, in blue, size M”; 

Similarly, when products are sold out or are no longer offered / available, companies have various ways of dealing with this. A couple of ways are to either 301 redirect the page to a relevant main category page (if this product is never coming back), or keep the page and make it clear it is out of stock. You can then add a canonical tag to that page pointing to a more relevant page you want to rank. 

Some useful resources for handling out of stock pages include: 

How to Handle Temporarily Out-of-Stock Products for SEO

How to Handle Out-of-Stock Products on Ecommerce Platforms

For pages that have been 301 redirected; you should add in the hreflang annotation to the final URL showing the content, not the page that is 301 redirecting. If the hreflang annotation is on the redirecting page, this could flag a “no return error” in Google Search Console. This is because the crawlers can’t read that the hreflang is on that page as it is being redirected to read the new page. 

Action: Removing the hreflang annotations from the redirecting page and adding them to the final destination page will reduce the number of “no return tag” errors occurring in Google Search Console (GSC). 

For pages that have been canonicalized; you should remove the hreflang annotation from any page that is canonicalizing to another page. This is because all of these pages are canonicalizing to the primary / clean version of the product page, so any search engine crawlers will abide by that directive and treat the canonical URL as the page from which to follow instructions (which has the hreflang on it). If the page that is canonicalizing has hreflang annotation on it, it will appear as a “no return tag” error as it is being directed to not read that page’s HTML. 

Action: Removing the hreflang annotations on pages that canonicalize (not to itself), will reduce the number of “no return tag” errors occurring in GSC. 

Issue 2: Googlebot is being blocked

Is your site-blocking Googlebot from crawling? We have found instances where large websites will block Googlebot (both desktop and mobile) from crawling.

You may be wondering, why would you ever block Googlebot?

Preserve crawl budget and ensure that Google isn’t crawling lots of low-value pages (which can happen with large, product-based websites) 

Prevent pages from appearing in the search results, such as sensitive information

Protect server load to prioritize user navigation (especially common for larger sites)

What can happen when you block Googlebot? It can affect Googlebot’s ability to crawl and index a site’s content, which can lead to a loss of ranking in Google’s search results (as it can’t find/read the content to index) when used inappropriately.

Here is the scenario.

The same e-commerce retail website is experiencing increasing “no return tag” errors in Google Search Console. This was identified by going into Google Search Console and looking at the International Targeting data. 

Once a country and language list were downloaded, we ran both the “originating URL” pages and the “alternative URL” pages in two separate Screaming Frog crawls to identify their status codes. 

This process was repeated across multiple different countries & language websites. 

Numerous pages were returning a 403 status code. However, when these pages were checked manually, these pages were 200 status codes and both the originating and alternate URLs had corresponding hreflang annotations. 

A number of pages were listed as 200 status codes, both also containing corresponding hreflang annotations. However, these pages were pulled from Google Search Console, which meant there was an issue occurring with the returning hreflang tags. 

The screenshot below shows that when we look at the page from the Googlebot Smartphone user-agent, it comes up as a 403. To do this, you right hand click on the page: Inspect element → click the 3 dots at the top right hand corner, select More Tools → Network Conditions. 

Source: Client website: Inspect Element 

Then under User Agent, click the drop-down menu and select your crawler of choice (we selected Googlebot Smartphone as our client’s site was mobile-first indexing). As seen above. 

Source: Client website: Inspect Element 

For pages that we’re returning a 403 status code from the crawl, we identified that these were not being read/found by Googlebot (desktop or mobile), due to it being blocked from crawling them. This was confirmed by the client, that they were blocking Googlebot due to crawl budget issues. If the crawler can’t read the page, it can’t identify that there is hreflang set up on the page. 

For pages that we’re returning a 200 status code from the crawl and had reciprocating hreflang annotations, we determined these too weren’t being properly accessed or crawled by Googlebot. This was confirmed by the client, as they had crawl budget issues. If they had been properly crawled, they wouldn’t be included in the list of pages that had a “no return tag” error. 

Action: To unblock Googlebot crawlers (both desktop and smartphone) from crawling the site (as long as these pages didn’t need to be blocked for other reasons, which in this case, they didn’t), as this is causing an increase in hreflang errors, as well as having the potential to affect pages to not be indexed. 

If it can’t be unlocked for other reasons, increasing the crawling capacity could help identify more pages & hreflang, and therefore help decrease the number of errors. 


Hreflang can be very useful and important when it comes to international websites. If set up properly, it can run smoothly and be left alone. However, as with most sites, pages are added/removed, site structures change, and ranking importance for pages shifts; which is when hreflang can cause issues. 

While these hreflang scenarios are rather specific, hopefully, they can shine some light on the idiosyncrasies that hreflang can have and help others investigate and solve similar issues occurring with their sites. 


Here are some resources I’ve found useful for the wider explanation of hreflang and how it is implemented. These also include the ones I’ve linked to throughout the post. Thanks!

Hreflang Tag

Hreflang: The Easy Guide for Beginners

hreflang: The ultimate guide

How To Audit Hreflang Using The SEO Spider

How to Handle Temporarily Out-of-Stock Products for SEO

How to Handle Out-of-Stock Products on Ecommerce Platforms