Greg’s SEO Articles

Top time-saving tools for SEOs

I recently moved to a new position at a new company, with a new computer and a new, clean install of Google Chrome. It wasn’t clean for very long, though, as I logged into my Chrome account and watched my address bar shrink as all of my extension icons flooded the right-hand side of the window. I was determined to use this as an opportunity to pare down the extensions that I had accumulated over the years.

I didn’t do a great job cutting back. As an SEO, I lean heavily on these time-saving tools. So in the spirit of new beginnings and sharing knowledge, here’s a selection of my favorite Chrome SEO extensions (with a few apps sprinkled in).

The basics

These are the simple extensions I can’t live without, and often use outside of SEO work.

Word count tool

SEO is content (well, in part), and an important piece of content is length. One of those extensions that I didn’t know I needed until I had it, this basic word count tool makes roughly assessing a page’s content length a cinch. I generally use this in discussion about competitor pages or to quickly assert whether my client’s copywriters are hitting the length benchmarks they need.

Site lookup

If I can avoid opening a new tab to search, I will. That’s why so many of these extensions allow me to do things in-page. The ‘Search the current site’ plugin is a tiny tool that essentially auto-completes the ‘site:’ operator in a Google search for you.

Hunter

I’ve been using Hunter (formerly Email Hunter) for years now and not just for link building (though it’s been essential for that). It’s also great for following up with potential clients or employers when you haven’t been given an email address.

MailTester

Hunter gets it right a lot of the time, but MailTester can help you ensure the address is correct before you hit send. It’s got its limitations – many servers will block the request – but on the whole it’s a good insurance policy.

Link Klipper

There are a number of ways to pull the links from a page, whether it’s a SERP, a directory, or a partner page. Link Klipper’s handy click-and-drag function can help fill in the gaps by selecting a subset of links, or pulling them from tricky-to-isolate groups like dropdown menus.

Redirect path

How did I get here? Ayima’s simple Redirect Path tool lets you see how your browser arrived at a given page. This tool is particularly useful for isolating complicated or broken redirect paths and ensuring link equity is passing properly.

Advanced

Depending on the type of SEO you are, you may use one or all of these extensions, or have 15 others that offer similar functionality. Here’s what’s in my rotation right now.

MozBar

Every proprietary metric should be taken with a grain of salt, but Moz’s MozBar is still great for quickly assessing a site’s relative quality through its ‘Domain Authority (DA) mode that displays DA in the tool icon without crowding the page with other details (though you can still display those metrics by clicking on the icon).

Tip: As a bonus, MozBar allows you to quickly extract results when you’re on a SERP. It’ll only pull the displayed results so change your settings if you need more than 10 sites.

NoFollow

NoFollow is a simple plugin that highlights nofollow links on the page you’re viewing. You can also set it to check the robots.txt file against the links to indicate any disallowed pathways.

Web Developer

A powerful plugin with a robust suite of tools, Web Developer allows you to quickly disable JavaScript, cookies, CSS, as well as displaying web page info, styling tools, and more. Chances are if you want to modify, block, or load it, Web Developer can help.

BuiltWith Technology Profiler

See at a glance what’s going on in the background with this plugin from BuiltWith. With just a click, you’ll be able to identify tracking, frameworks, content delivery, and a lot more. Used in conjunction with Web Developer, you’ll be able to troubleshoot issues across myriad systems, all in-browser.

Ayima Page Insights

On-page issues plaguing you? Not sure why a particular page is underperforming? Ayima’s Page Insights extension can help you quickly identify issues like multiple H1 tags, alt attributes, and header problems. It can also display HTML elements like title and meta description without having to hunt through the source code.

Bonus: Chrome DevTools

One reason that Chrome is the first thing I install on a new computer is its powerful developer tools that let me dig into the guts of a web page. DevTools may not be easy to learn or master, but learning the ins and outs like how to view a page as various mobile devices, or manipulate HTML to mock up recommendations can make life a lot easier for an SEO.

Non-specific to SEO (but still helpful)

LastPass

As someone who is simultaneously forgetful and terrified of identity theft, I’ve become a LastPass evangelist over the past few years. Store all your passwords in one place, share them temporarily, and generate complex passwords that you don’t have to write down anywhere else. I’m slowly working my way towards only having to remember one password ever.

Google Dictionary

Double-click on a word to bring up its definition in pop-up bubble with a link to read more. Google Dictionary is very helpful when reading technical SEO documents (or Heidegger).

Super Simple Highlighter

I’ve recently been searching for better ways of keeping track of interesting points within articles. Super Simple Highlighter lets you highlight passages on page and store the URL for later perusing.

Nimbus Capture

Windows’ built-in snipping tool is extremely handy, but for more complex capture, you’ll have to use something more robust. Nimbus lets you capture all or part of your screen, a whole web page, select and scroll, and plenty more. You can also record a video – super helpful for demonstrating all of your other thousands of extensions.

For the writing of this article, I solicited recommendations from the SEO team at Croud, and as such am currently experimenting with even more extensions like Keywords Everywhere. Watch this space!

Adam Clemence is Senior SEO Manager at Croud

 

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Beyond keywords: What really matters in SEO content

— so important that a new sub-industry has squeezed its way into the search engine world: SEO content writing.

Otherwise referred to as “SEO copywriting,” SEO content writing has a bad reputation for being chock-full of keywords and little else. Though this may be more of a stereotype than reality, there is something to be said for going beyond keywords to write high-quality content that attracts new customers AND is SEO-friendly.

What’s the deal with ‘high-quality’ content?

The focus is typically on “high-quality” content — a term that becomes more subjective by the minute. It leads to questions like

  • What really makes SEO content “high-quality?”
  • Is it measurable?
  • More importantly, can it be recreated again and again?

The standard formula of:

keyword research + good writing + on-page SEO = high-quality content

may not be the move anymore. It’s simply not enough. In fact, keywords may be even less important than we all think.

Uh-oh.

Beyond keyword research

Being consistent with great SEO content writing doesn’t mean it should be formulaic.

Depending too much on robust keyword research and on-page SEO will result in dry content that appeals more to search engines than it does your target audience. Mastering the art of SEO content writing can be the difference between attracting a few website visitors and creating dedicated customers

That all being said, there is a sweet spot between creative content and “content” as we know it. The key lies in going far beyond keyword research and really understanding how words can be used to both attract traffic and drive conversions.

1. Keyword research, the right way

Though this post is all about going beyond keywords, it’s worth addressing what level of keyword research should be done before hopping into content writing. Keywords are still a component of SEO content — but perhaps shouldn’t be as important a component as traditionally thought.

First, your approach to writing new content should fit in with your existing SEO strategy. This should be a no-brainer, but it is a frequent issue I see in SEO content.

For instance, many business owners and SEOs outsource copywriting with little collaboration with the writer on what keywords are to be used. And, even if keywords are provided, it is unlikely that the writer really understands the fundamentals of using keywords in their writing beyond “keyword density.” This results in content that is incohesive and not SEO-friendly.

Second, when it comes to performing keyword research for your new content, look beyond the data. Sure, SEO tools can tell us a lot in terms of search volume and competition level, but can they tell us what content is really engaging to users? Doing a Google search on your target terms and seeing what post titles come up and how many comments and even social shares they get will give you some ideas as to what content is drawing people in and enticing them to engage.

Finally, SEOs and copywriters alike can spend far too much time focusing on terms they think are relevant without stepping back to see the full picture.

Sure, your rankings may increase due to great SEO, but there are many other factors to consider. Is your audience reading through the entire post? Are they sharing it? Are they opting into your calls to action? These elements of your writing should be your main focus. Be sure to have an outline in place, along with your keyword research, to ensure that you aren’t skimming over what matters most: what is going to help you drive conversions.

2. Get organized

How often have you had a new content idea pop into your head and instantly put fingers on the keyboard?

As much as I am a fan of writing when you feel inspired, there needs to be a structure for your content from the very beginning. Content that is too “stream-of-consciousness” or unorganized simply doesn’t convert well. There is a difference between having a conversational tone and writing whatever comes into your brain. I’m here to say that there is a way to capture that creative flow, all while putting out content that works.

Create an outline of the potential post or page, including the title and headings. Organize your content into sections that are cohesive and keep the reader interested. Figure out if and where the content fits into your website overall and what purpose it serves. You can even go as far as to decide what internal links will be used. Having a plan will both help in overall organization and ensure that it fits into the framework of your existing site.

3. On-brand is your best friend

One component of SEO content writing that is rarely, if ever, talked about is branding. As more SEO experts become aware of the intersection between SEO and a larger marketing strategy, it becomes apparent how big a role branding plays in a business’s success.

Your website content is no exception. This is why hiring out for copywriting outside of the brand, or even the industry, can be a risky move. For one, you risk having the overall tone of the writing shift and become incohesive with the rest of the brand message, and even the most subtle variations can be picked up by readers.

A good way to ensure that your content is on-brand and stays true to the business message is to utilize language that is used throughout the existing site and marketing materials.

For instance:

  • Does the brand use the word “passionate” rather than “driven?”
  • Are there elements of their tagline that can be broken down and used throughout the text?
  • Does their About page have a conversational tone or a professional one?

These are all subtleties to look out for that can make all the difference.

A great SEO copywriter will be able to pick up on the tone, vocabulary and message a brand is putting out and capture it in the posts and pages. There should be no question from the target audience who the content came from and what the message is.

On-brand content means that users can come to depend on the brand acting and sounding a certain way. It ultimately comes down to trust. If a user trusts a brand and understands its core mission, then they are more likely to buy.

4. Integrity & authenticity matter

Integrity and authenticity may seem like “fluffy” words that have no place in the often formulaic world of SEO. But when it comes to writing content that drives more than just traffic (i.e., sales), then these two elements can be the difference between website visitors and paying customers.

There are many SEO and marketing strategies that can drive traffic to a page. What matters is what actions users take once they get there. No amount of strong-arming will convince a user to buy. It takes integrity and authenticity to get them there.

People are becoming more and more aware of shady marketing tactics, and traditional methods of manipulation simply don’t work anymore. A website that makes it clear what the brand’s message is, the service it provides and how it can help potential customers truly has a leg up on the rest. Your content should be authentic, honest and in line with the ethics of your business. Otherwise, you will lose your customers before you even get them.

5.Know your target audience

 

Creating great SEO content goes beyond writing what you think your target audience wants to read to truly listening to what they want to know.

Are you in tune with their needs? Are there questions in the comments section that should be addressed? Are you writing down their common concerns and pain points? If so, these all open the door to creating solid content that will meet their immediate needs and drive them to seek out your services.

It is not enough to do keyword research to see what they are searching for. If that is the foundation of your content, you are likely to attract some readers but little else. But if you are able to keep them on site longer by creating a vast web of information, you are more likely to get them hooked from start to finish.

Even more, if you engage with them using language they understand and bring up their pain points, you are likely to convince them to fill out that contact form, subscribe or pick up the phone.

If you are struggling to think up fresh and engaging content ideas, be intentional about paying attention to what your customers and potential customers are telling you and asking for. Then, do a quick search to see if any other sites have addressed this issue, and how.

If you aren’t snatching up those opportunities, and another business is, you may be leaving money on the table.

6. Micro-engagement makes the difference

Long-form content can be a bore. For that reason, keeping readers engaged throughout the content can be quite difficult. However, mastering the art of micro-engagement can take your SEO content to the next level.

When it comes to informative content that can be a bit of a yawn, it’s a good move to try some different tactics to keep users engaged. Micro-engagement, as I refer to it here, means incorporating elements in your content to keep readers clicking, scrolling and reading more.

This is where a solid understanding of your target audience really comes into play. You should have a sense of what kind of content keeps your audience engaged. Testing different approaches and looking at the results can be a great data-driven method for seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Here are some suggestions to boost micro-engagement:

  • Numbered or bulleted lists.
  • Engaging photos (that are relevant to the text).
  • Funny GIFs or memes.
  • Informative and interesting videos.
  • Infographics.
  • Quizzes or surveys.
  • Visually appealing design.
  • Calls to action.
  • Block quotes.
  • Bold text.
  • Thought-provoking questions.
  • Stories.
  • Examples.
  • Helpful tips.

Incorporate a few of these ideas into your SEO content and see the difference. Over time, you will get a sense of what your audience likes, what keeps them engaged and what entices them to perform certain actions on your site. This list is by no means exhaustive; feel free to get creative with it and see what happens!

7. Content ‘freshness’ and competitive analysis where it counts

“Freshness” usually refers to having fresh new content on your website, but I believe this should extend beyond that. In other words, you should be putting unique ideas out into the world. How do you do that? By making competitive analysis a part of your SEO content strategy.

Scroll through any SEO or digital marketing site, and you are likely to find the basic posts and pages: “What is SEO?,” “Why You Should Hire an SEO Expert” and the like saturate these sites, and these topics are covered ad nauseam.

What these sites, and others outside of the SEO industry, fail to do is proper competitive analysis when coming up with new content ideas. That is, they are rewriting and reworking the same content that their competitors are using. This is not a good move.

What takes businesses to the top is looking at what competitors are doing and doing it better. Sometimes this even means doing something different. Whenever you are about to write a new piece of content, look to see what your competitors are doing, and consider how you can take it up a notch.

Your best approach is to stay ahead of the curve.

8. Data is everything

You simply can’t create great SEO content without looking at the data.

With a vast array of tools, SEOs and business owners alike should be looking to see what content is performing well, and why. They should be tracking conversions everywhere users are performing an action and seeing what works. This data will indicate the kind of content they can and should create in the future.

Staying on top of your analytics will not only show you the numbers in terms of traffic, but time on page, bounce rate and other valuable metrics that indicate how your content is performing. Through these, you can learn from your mistakes and imitate the strategies that are working. Without this knowledge, you are essentially flying blind and are again playing the guessing game.

Following the data throughout the process will help ensure that you are on the right track and that your utilization of the above principles is working for your business.

To close

There is no cookie-cutter approach to SEO content, but the fundamentals are still there. Write content for people, structure it for search engines and create an experience that is engaging and bound to drive the traffic you deserve.

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Best Chrome Extensions for Social Media Professionals

Every social media manager has a favorite set of tools that help make their job easier. But when a tool is coupled with a Chrome extension, it adds an additional time-saving element that we all need.

In light of the recent release of our Social Media Poster’s Chrome extension, we decided to compile a handy list of the best extensions available for social media managers. To help you handle the list, we split all the extensions by the stage of a social media manager’s workflow where they best fit.

Plan & Organize Your Activities

Todoist

Todoist is a great task management extension. It has all the organization features you need to manage your tasks right from your browser.

It takes just one click on the top right of your screen to plan and organize a new task: add a deadline, set a reminder and a priority, and off you go. Going on a business trip? No worries: the tool allows you to sync all your devices so that you can manage your tasks offline wherever you are.

An added benefit is that you can save websites, articles, Amazon and IMDB pages, and Google Docs for future reference; your task will link back to the original web page so you can refer to it when you need to. Your team collaboration can also become easier with Todoist because you can share your projects, assign tasks to your team members, and add comments where necessary.

To help you stay motivated and productive, Todoist also offers their Karma system, which will visually display your progress and achievements in easy to read graphs that are color-coded by project, giving you that sense of accomplishment at the end of each workday.

The tool’s motto is ‘do more and stress less,’ which is a fair statement considering how much routine work it can help you with. This simple yet powerful task manager will definitely free up your mental space!

Search for Relevant Content

Inoreader

One of Feedly’s main competitors, and a very decent one. The tool allows you to keep up with your top information sources, save pages from the web for viewing later, and subscribe to social feeds.

The greatest thing about Inoreader is that it doesn’t restrict the number of sources you can subscribe to in the free version, which gives it a huge competitive advantage over other newsreader services.

The extension’s design is minimal, so you don’t get distracted. You get to choose your favorite topics, and then all the related content starts coming straight to you, saving you from having to go and check every site on your own. Whenever you are not sure which topic you need, you can monitor news about specific keywords or regular expressions.

Oh, and remember that article you read a few days ago that you liked, but you can’t think of its title? With Inoreader, you can easily find the content you have read by some keyword, and it is free for everyone.

For those night owls who prefer reading articles at night, the tool also has a night mode!

Schedule & Post

SEMrush Social Media Poster

How many times have you come across a great article and regretted not being able to share it with all your followers across all social networks at once? The new SEMrush Social Media Poster extension makes it possible.

Whenever you find something your followers would find valuable or if you find a website where you have been mentioned, you can post it on all your social media accounts with one click. It’ll help streamline your social media posting giving you the option of posting immediately, scheduling for later, or saving as a draft. Choose ‘Share via Poster’ on the right click menu or click on the extension button for the wizard to pop up. The tool will automatically pull pictures from the article you are going to post, and you can also write a message to accompany it:

The same goes for retweeting – just click on the extension’s icon below a tweet. This feature works great for those who need to schedule their retweets to create powerful themed series or launch event-centered marketing campaigns.

Here is another great feature of this extension: if the article’s title is not a straightforward one, you can choose to post only the selected text:

SEMrush Poster also has a built-in link shortening service (Bitly) for posting on Twitter. Once a link appears in your posting wizard, it automatically gets shortened:

Social Media Poster

Schedule Your Next Post

Grammarly

Social media can be merciless if you make a mistake.

If everyone had Grammarly installed on their browsers, the social world would never have seen the ‘seizure salad’ and the ‘undateable human bean.’ Misspelling words or making grammar mistakes can make you look uneducated and diminishes your credibility; and if you are posting on behalf of a brand, a tiny mistake could change how people think about that brand.

With Grammarly, you can be sure that your grammar, spelling, and punctuation are perfect. It is an indispensable tool for social media managers, who are always at risk of making small errors. Use Grammarly to keep your brand’s reputation intact.

Find Hashtags

RiteTag

This is an absolute must-have for any social media manager. The tool gives you tag suggestions for images or text on any site and multiple social networks like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook. All it takes is a right click on the image or text!

RiteTag has their own color system in place to indicate the hashtag strength. For example, using a red hashtag puts your posts at risk of disappearing in the crowd, while green gives you all the chances of getting seen right now.

Choose the Visuals

Lightshot

This extension is a no-brainer, must-have solution for every social media professional. Make customizable screenshots of any selected area by hitting the Lightshot icon on the toolbar. What is great is that you instantly get a link to a screenshot you have just uploaded so you can share it with others very quickly. This is a simple, convenient, and, more importantly, lightweight tool!

Awesome Screenshot

If you want to get a little more advanced with your screenshot editing, try the Awesome Screenshot extension. There are lots of nice little tricks in it, like the ability to blur sensitive information and add annotations to the screenshot. With this extension, you can even record what is happening on your screen and upload it to YouTube or Google Drive immediately:

Pablo

Each social network has its own size and format requirements when it comes to images. Instead of keeping all that information in your head, try using Pablo — an extension that creates images with the perfect size and format for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, and allows you to share your images to popular social networks directly from Pablo.

You can add a background picture to an inspirational quote you found, or you can use your image and add text; it is simple. If you need an image, highlight your desired text and right click to see an option for opening that text in Pablo to create beautiful images. If you are looking to add text to an existing image, right click on it to open it in Pablo for editing and choose one of the stylish fonts it offers.

Colorzilla

This extension does all sorts of color-related magic, from color reading to gradient generator and color history. It can also help graphic and web designers analyze a page and inspect a palette of its colors. Color management is easy with Colorzilla thanks to the built-in palette browser, which allows you to choose colors from pre-defined color sets and save the most used colors in custom palettes.

Colorzilla

Giphy

Using a funny GIF every now and then is a way to keep your audience engaged and entertained. With GIFs being highly situational and only needed there and then, having an extension that can find you a relevant GIF in a matter of seconds is just amazing.

Piktochart

Have you ever tried creating infographics from scratch? Have too little time to fill your presentation with easy to understand graphs and charts? Then this extension is for you. Piktochart offers dozens of ready-made graphic templates and downloadable materials to turn anything from a slide to a poster into a designer masterpiece.

Why Extensions?

Chrome extensions can be your time-savers, advisers, and to some extent even tutors. Most of these are free, require no special skills or experience. They can quickly take on the role of a designer, proofreader, secretary, data analyst and more — if the task is not too difficult, of course.  We made this list based on time-proven preferences of our team members.

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How to use SEO on LinkedIn

SEO on LinkedIn is too often overlooked, and it’s time you start viewing LinkedIn, just like Google, as a search engine. With access to a whole network of professionals, the opportunities for those who are savvy enough can be endless. LinkedIn is the most popular platform for B2B companies to acquire new clients so being able to optimize your LinkedIn presence has a whole array of potential benefits – both for your personal profile and also for your business.

Due to its high domain authority, search engines deliver a lot of results from LinkedIn in the SERPs for certain search terms, particularly those revolving around job roles. This post considers how you can stand out and how to occupy the top spot for your business.

Devil in the detail

The first step is to fill out as much of your profile as you possibly can. Don’t be lazy and avoid cutting corners – provide the details which will help to elevate your profile. But don’t just mindlessly fill in all the fields; make sure to be descriptive, engaging and use carefully chosen words. Keep it descriptive but to the point through revealing the important information but leave a tad of intrigue. Use bullet points or lists to make it more digestible and encouraging to read.

Remember to upload a clear, professional picture. If you still have your graduation picture, it gives the wrong impression and suggests you are a university grad, not a respected professional with three years of valuable experience under your belt. Right or wrong, consciously or subconsciously, people will inevitably base their first impressions on your picture. Give it a little thought and don’t just publish a pixelated picture from that bar the other night. As a final picture tip, make sure it is named appropriately to increase your chances of appearing in image searches.

Think in keywords

Just like you target certain keywords when optimizing a website, you need to do the same when optimizing your LinkedIn and give considerable thought to user intent when approaching the SEO of a website.

As with optimizing a website, be sure not to overdo keywords. It’ll be so obvious to anyone reading if you’ve stuffed the keyword ‘content marketing expert’ into one paragraph seven times. Remember to be engaging and genuinely interesting. Getting people to find you is only the first step – what’s going to make them ‘convert’, or hit you up with a snazzy job offer / potential new business?

Make use of the summary section to further amplify your keywords. This is likely the first section people will read on your profile, so it goes without saying that you need to make it absolutely flipping fantastic. Self-promotion is great, but put the focus on how you help others. People aren’t visiting your profile to see you congratulate yourself; the chances are that they want something and you need to demonstrate how you’re the right person to speak with.

Customize your URL

If you’ve never previously thought about this, then just take a second to glance at the URL for your LinkedIn profile. A vague reference to your name is not helpful for anyone, particularly not for search engines. Take a second to update your custom URL to something that includes your full name. If you’ve got a painfully common name like myself then you may need to be a bit creative, but keep it professional and as clear as possible. An easy way of doing this is to think whether you’d be happy seeing that URL on your business card.

Network as much as is socially acceptable

LinkedIn is, at the end of day, an online space for networking. So don’t just make your profile pretty – you’ve got to use it. In a very similar way to building links in SEO, if you haven’t got any connections on LinkedIn then you’re far less likely to appear in the search results.

Networking is arguably one of the most important points here. LinkedIn’s search algorithm is based first and foremost on showing people with similar connections and groups. You’ve probably noticed that the results which are prioritized when you search on LinkedIn are those with 1st, 2nd or even 3rd level connections to you. It, therefore, follows that the more people you are connected with on LinkedIn, the more likely you are to show up in the search results. It’s a social network after all, so be social, and network.

Engagement and interaction

You’ve got opinions, so share them. You’ve got expert knowledge, so divulge it. You’ve got a voice, so use it. Like any social network, it’s absolutely imperative to engage with people if you want to make the most out of it. Although this may not directly increase your chances of being found in the search results, it does increase your exposure to other people on LinkedIn. And one thing always leads to another.

Participate in groups

This is an extension of the points about engaging and networking. Groups are an excellent way of finding like-minded people in your industry. Spend some time identifying the groups most relevant to your expertise and profession. It also makes you more visible, as joining a group with thousands of people will suddenly make you more relevant to them in terms of the search results. You’ve got nothing to lose and you’ll probably gain a lot along the way.

Collect endorsements

Nobody seems to know whether or not a higher number of endorsements or recommendations helps your profile appear higher in the search results. Either way, it’s certainly worth trying to collect as many of these as possible. Just like buying a product based on positive reviews, it’s the same theory for hiring humans. Endorsements and recommendations imbue a level of confidence and trust in the authority and credentials of a given person or business.

Just being really good at what you do, sitting back and waiting for the endorsements to come in probably isn’t going to cut it. Take a proactive approach and start endorsing or recommending people in your network. Don’t expect to get anything back as standard, but with any luck, you’ll get at least some people to return the favor.

Sharing is caring

Let’s admit it, one of the primary functions of LinkedIn is shameless self-promotion. This is a place where you can proudly share your work, show it off to the world, and create open discussions.  Just remember that sharing is caring but oversharing is overbearing. As long as you are sharing content and updates which are genuinely interesting and provide value to people, then you’re golden. Don’t approach it as a way to stroke your ego – that’s a recipe for disaster – rather, it’s about collaborating on ideas and sharing value. In short, it’ a great way of interacting with your network and reaching new people. This leads to new connections and a wider network and, a better chance at ranking highly.

Publish posts on LinkedIn

This is different to sharing articles you’ve written elsewhere. Just click on ‘Write an article’ underneath the status update and lay down your best words. Pushing out content as part of an SEO strategy helps boost your authority and ramp up those rankings and the same goes for LinkedIn. Publish some brilliant articles and you’ll be hailed as the go-to industry expert in no time at all. Actually, it does take a bit of time but it’s absolutely worth doing if you are looking to build your LinkedIn profile and enhance your personal brand.

Writing optimized content for LinkedIn is no different to writing content as part of an SEO campaign with all the same rules applying. You can also repurpose content you’ve written elsewhere – just don’t duplicate content because we all know how Google feels about that. For example, if you have an article on your blog that’s no longer doing particularly well, it’s worth including a synopsis of the post as an article on LinkedIn and then link to the full article on your blog. This can also work vice versa.

Generate links to your profile

If you’re even a little bit familiar with the world of digital marketing then you’ll understand the importance of backlinks. It’s no different when you’re trying to rank your LinkedIn profile higher. Always be aware of trying to gain backlinks to your LinkedIn profile at every possible opportunity.

If you’ve got a blog, be sure to link back to your profile. Add a link to your email signature. Promote your LinkedIn profile across other social media accounts. Guest posting is another great way to build on those links, as it’s very common practice to include social links in your author bio. You’ll then find a snowball effect – the more links you have, the more people will see your profile, the more people will engage with you, the higher your profile will rank and the more links you’ll get… you get the idea.

Final words

Many of the above points can be applied to both your personal profile and your business page. Make the most of SEO on LinkedIn and you’ll be able to reach new audiences, generate leads and build on your professional profile. As a final point, don’t forget to make absolutely sure that your LinkedIn public profile is visible and not hidden.

 

 

 

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Let’s Make Money: 4 Tactics for Agencies Looking to Succeed – Whiteboard Friday

We spend a lot of time discussing SEO tactics, but in a constantly changing industry, one thing that deserves more attention are the tactics agencies should employ in order to see success. From confidently raising your prices to knowing when to say no, Moz’s own Russ Jones covers four essential success tactics that’ll ultimately increase your bottom line in today’s edition of Whiteboard Friday.

 

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans. I am Russ Jones, and I can’t tell you how excited I am for my first Whiteboard Friday. I am Principal Search Scientist here at Moz. But before coming to Moz, for the 10 years prior to that, I was the Chief Technology Officer of a small SEO agency back in North Carolina. So I have a strong passion for agencies and consultants who are on the ground doing the work, helping websites rank better and helping build businesses.

So what I wanted to do today was spend a little bit of time talking about the lessons that I learned at an agency that admittedly I only learned through trial and error. But before we even go further, I just wanted to thank the folks at Hive Digital who I learned so much from, Jeff and Jake and Malcolm and Ryan, because the team effort over time is what ended up building an agency. Any agency that succeeds knows that that’s part of it. So we’ll start with that thank-you.

But what I really want to get into is that we spend a lot of time talking about SEO tactics, but not really about how to succeed in an industry that changes rapidly, in which there’s almost no certification, and where it can be difficult to explain to customers exactly how they’re going to be successful with what you offer. So what I’m going to do is break down four really important rules that I learned over the course of that 10 years. We’re going to go through each one of them as quickly as possible, but at the same time, hopefully you’ll walk away with some good ideas. Some of these are ones that it might at first feel a little bit awkward, but just follow me.

1. Raise prices

The first rule, number one in Let’s Make Money is raise your prices. Now, I remember quite clearly two years in to my job at Hive Digital — it was called Virante then — and we were talking about raising prices. We were just looking at our customers, saying to ourselves, “There’s no way they can afford it.” But then luckily we had the foresight that there was more to raising prices than just charging your customers more.

How it benefits old customers

The first thing that just hit us automatically was… “Well, with our old customers, we can just discount them. It’s not that bad. We’re in the same place as we always were.” But then it occurred to us, “Wait, wait, wait. If we discount our customers, then we’re actually increasing our perceived value.” Our existing customers now think, “Hey, they’re actually selling something better that’s more expensive, but I’m getting a deal,” and by offering them that deal because of their loyalty, you engender more loyalty. So it can actually be good for old customers.

How it benefits new customers

Now, for new customers, once again, same sort of situation. You’ve increased the perceived value. So your customers who come to you think, “Oh, this company is professional. This company is willing to invest. This company is interested in providing the highest quality of services.” In reality, because you’ve raised prices, you can. You can spend more time and money on each customer and actually do a better job. The third part is, “What’s the worst that could happen?” If they say no, you offer them the discount. You’re back where you started. You’re in the same position that you were before.

How it benefits your workers

Now, here’s where it really matters — your employees, your workers. If you are offering bottom line prices, you can’t offer them raises, you can’t offer them training, you can’t hire them help, or you can’t get better workers. But if you do, if you raise prices, the whole ecosystem that is your agency will do better.

How it improves your resources

Finally, and most importantly, which we’ll talk a little bit more later, is that you can finally tool up. You can get the resources and capital that you need to actually succeed. I drew this kind of out.

 

If we have a graph of quality of services that you offer and the price that you sell at, most agencies think that they’re offering great quality at a little price, but the reality is you’re probably down here. You’re probably under-selling your services and, because of that, you can’t offer the best that you can.

You should be up here. You should be offering higher quality, your experts who spend time all day studying this, and raising prices allows you to do that.

2. Schedule

Now, raising prices is only part one. The second thing is discipline, and I am really horrible about this. The reality is that I’m the kind of guy who looks for the latest and greatest and just jumps into it, but schedule matters. As hard as it is to admit it, I learned this from the CPC folks because they know that they have to stay on top of it every day of the week.

Well, here’s something that we kind of came up with as I was leaving the company, and that was to set all of our customers as much as possible into a schedule.

  • Annually: we would handle keywords and competitors doing complete analysis.
  • Semi-annually: Twice a year, we would do content analysis. What should you be writing about? What’s changed in your industry? What are different keywords that you might be able to target now given additional resources?
  • Quarterly: You need to be looking at links. It’s just a big enough issue that you’ve got to look at it every couple of months, a complete link analysis.
  • Monthly: You should be looking at your crawls. Moz will do that every week for you, but you should give your customers an idea, over the course of a month, what’s changed.
  • Weekly: You should be doing rankings

 

But there are three things that, when you do all of these types of analysis, you need to keep in mind. Each one of them is a…

  • Report
  • Hours for consulting
  • Phone call

This might seem like a little bit of overkill. But of course, if one of these comes back and nothing changed, you don’t need to do the phone call, but each one of these represents additional money in your pocket and importantly better service for your customers.

It might seem hard to believe that when you go to a customer and you tell them, “Look, nothing’s changed,” that you’re actually giving them value, but the truth is that if you go to the dentist and he tells you, you don’t have a cavity, that’s good news. You shouldn’t say to yourself at the end of the day, “Why’d I go to the dentist in the first place?” You should say, “I’m so glad I went to the dentist.” By that same positive outlook, you should be selling to your customers over and over and over again, hoping to give them the clarity they need to succeed.

3. Tool up!

So number three, you’re going to see this a lot in my videos because I just love SEO tools, but you’ve got to tool up. Once you’ve raised prices and you’re making more money with your customers, you actually can. Tools are superpowers. Tools allow you to do things that humans just can’t do. Like I can’t figure out the link graph on my own. I need tools to do it. But tools can do so much more than just auditing existing clients. For example, they can give you…

Better leads:

You can use tools to find opportunities.Take for example the tools within Moz and you want to find other car dealerships in the area that are really good and have an opportunity to rank, but aren’t doing as well as they should be in SERPs. You want to do this because you’ve already serviced successfully a different car dealership. Well, tools like Moz can do that. You don’t just have to use Moz to help your clients. You can use them to help yourself.

Better pre-audits:

Nobody walks into a sales call blind. You know who the website is. So you just start with a great pre-audit.

Faster workflows:

Which means you make more money quicker. If you can do your keyword analysis annually in half the time because you have the right tool for it, then you’re going to make far more money and be able to serve more customers.

Bulk pricing:

This one is just mind-blowingly simple. It’s bulk pricing. Every tool out there, the more you buy from them, the lower the price is. I remember at my old company sitting down at one point and recognizing that every customer that came in the door would need to spend about $1,000 on individual accounts to match what they were getting through us by being able to take advantage of the bulk discounts that we were getting as an agency by buying these seats on behalf of all of our customers.

So tell your clients when you’re talking to them on the phone, in the pitch be like, “Look, we use Moz, Majestic, Ahrefs, SEMrush,” list off all of the competitors. “We do Screaming Frog.” Just name them all and say, “If you wanted to go out and just get the data yourself from these tools, it would cost you more than we’re actually charging you.” The tools can sell themselves. You are saving them money.

 

4. Just say NO

Now, the last section, real quickly, are the things you’ve just got to learn to say no to. One of them has a little nuance to it. There’s going to be some bite back in the comments, I’m pretty sure, but I want to be careful with it.

No month-to-month contracts

The first thing to say no to is month-to-month contracts.

 

If a customer comes to you and they say, “Look, we want to do SEO, but we want to be able to cancel every 30 days.” the reality is this. They’re not interested in investing in SEO. They’re interested in dabbling in SEO. They’re interested in experimenting with SEO. Well, that’s not going to succeed. It’s only going to take one competitor or two who actually invest in it to beat them out, and when they beat them out, you’re going to look bad and they’re going to cancel their account with you. So sit down with them and explain to them that it is a long-term strategy and it’s just not worth it to your company to bring on customers who aren’t interested in investing in SEO. Say it politely, but just turn it away.

Don’t turn anything away

 

Now, notice that my next thing is don’t turn anything away. So here’s something careful. Here’s the nuance. It’s really important to learn to fire clients who are bad for your business, where you’re losing money on them or they’re just impolite, but that doesn’t mean you have to turn them away. You just need to turn them in the right direction. That right direction might be tools themselves. You can say, “Look, you don’t really need our consulting hours. You should go use these tools.” Or you can turn them to other fledgling businesses, friends you have in the industry who might be struggling at this time.

I’ll tell you a quick example. We don’t have much time, but many, many years ago, we had a client that came to us. At our old company, we had a couple of rules about who we would work with. We chose not to work in the adult industry. But at the time, I had a friend in the industry. He lived outside of the United States, and he had fallen on hard times. He literally had his business taken away from him via a series of just really unscrupulous events. I picked up the phone and gave him a call. I didn’t turn away the customer. I turned them over to this individual.

That very next year, he had ended up landing a new job at the top of one of the largest gambling organizations in the world. Well, frankly, they weren’t on our list of people we couldn’t work with. We landed the largest contract in the history of our company at that time, and it set our company straight for an entire year. It was just because instead of turning away the client, we turned them to a different direction. So you’ve got to say no to turning away everybody. They are opportunities. They might not be your opportunity, but they’re someone’s.

No service creep

 

The last one is service creep. Oh, man, this one is hard. A customer comes up to you and they list off three things that you offer that they want, and then they say, “Oh, yeah, we need social media management.” Somebody else comes up to you, three things you want to offer, and they say, “Oh yeah, we need you to write content,” and that’s not something you do. You’ve just got to not do that. You’ve got to learn to shave off services that you can’t offer. Instead, turn them over to people who can do them and do them very well.

What you’re going to end up doing in your conversation, your sales pitch is, “Look, I’m going to be honest with you. We are great at some things, but this isn’t our cup of tea. We know someone who’s really great at it.” That honesty, that candidness is just going to give them such a better relationship with you, and it’s going to build a stronger relationship with those other specialty companies who are going to send business your way. So it’s really important to learn to say no to say no service creep.

Well, anyway, there’s a lot that we went over there. I hope it wasn’t too much too fast, but hopefully we can talk more about it in the comments. I look forward to seeing you there. Thanks.

 

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The 10 SEO ranking factors we know to be true

SEO has become extremely complicated and technical over the years. I’ve heard that organic search went from roughly 200 rankings factors to over 500, possibly more. But that’s speculation – only a few ranking signals were ever officially confirmed by Google. Some were “discovered” in studies, but most of them are either based on assumption or anecdotes. That creates too much room for uncertainty, speculation and straightforward wrong information.

Deep Dive: (for beginners) what is a SEO ranking factor?
An SEO ranking factor is a signal Google uses to rank pages in Google Search.

Google applies “Ranking Signals” to its index of web documents to return the most relevant result when a user performs a search. It’s important to distinguish between indexing and ranking. Google builds an index of pages by using hyperlinks to crawl through the web. Ranking doesn’t happen in this step. Many people think that when Google cannot properly index a page, say because it uses non-compliant Javascript, it is a ranking factor. That’s not the case.

Ranking signals take lots of different parameters on and off a web document into account: content, links, structure, etc. Our goal as SEOs is to figure out what ranking factors Google uses, so that we can optimize sites to rank higher in Organic Search.

We need more clarity about what we do know and what we don’t know in SEO to improve our credibility, have better conversations and achieve better results. Google’s use of Machine Learning is already making it harder to understand ranking signals and algorithm updates. It will not get easier and speculation only adds to the noise.

Instead of analogy, we need to reason from first principles.

HOW WE DISCOVER RANKING FACTORS IN SEO

“What ranking factors do we certainly know to be true?” is not a simple question. Google is a black box and it won’t tell us the secrets to its $100 billion algorithm [13]. It’s often impossible to create laboratory conditions in which we can isolate a factor and measure its impact on rank (people tried [27]). On top of that, ranking factors aren’t as “clear” as they used to be. They changed a lot over time and now even seem to be weighed different depending on the query. Yet, there are other systems of similar nature that have been reverse engineered. It’s not impossible.

To advance our understanding, we can draw evidence from 7 sources:

  1. Google’s blog
  2. Public statements by Googlers, e.g. on Twitter, in presentations or in interviews
  3. Ranking factor studies/analyses
  4. The Google Quality Rater Guidelines
  5. Google’s basic SEO guide
  6. Patents Google registered or acquired
  7. Anecdotes (people running tests and drawing conclusions

None of these sources are perfect, but in combination, they give us the best picture possible. There’s always an angle you can attack this from. For example, officially confirmed signals still don’t tell us how their weighted in the sum of all signals. Statements on Twitter are often very broad. And we even see data that conflicts with some things Google says. But, we have to work with what we have ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

ESTABLISHING FIRST PRINCIPLES OF SEO

First principles are the smallest building blocks; the things and laws we know to be true. Establishing first principles comes with three constraints. First, we have to distinguish between direct and indirect impact. Optimized meta-descriptions can positively impact organic traffic, but don’t have a direct impact on rank. Second, the questions “how much” and “in which case” are significant. Not every ranking factor applies to every query in the same way. For example, QFD (“query deserves freshness”) and HTTPS apply to only certain keywords. Third, we have to distinguish between positive and negative ranking factors (for example, 404 errors or “thin content”).

What’s the overarching goal I’m trying to achieve with this article? The goal is to sharpen our sense of proven truths in times of uncertainty. Google’s increasing usage of machine learning makes it harder than ever to understand the algorithm(s). But, by going back to the basics, we should be able to focus on results over speculative minutiae.

OFFICIALLY CONFIRMED RANKING FACTORS

We can put ranking signals into three groups:

  1. Officially confirmed by Google
  2. Discovered through analysis
  3. Speculated

I’m covering only confirmed and discovered signals in this article. I don’t see any sense in amplifying ranking signal speculations by covering them in this article.

The order in which the ranking factors are mention is my personal understanding of their significance. I understand content to be the most important signal on this list and E-A-T the least important. However, none of the signals are unimportant.

  1. Content
  2. External and internal links
  3. User Intent
  4. CTR
  5. User Experience
  6. Title tag
  7. Page speed
  8. Freshness
  9. E-A-T
  10. SSL encryption

RANKING SIGNAL 1: CONTENT

Returning the most relevant search results is the goal of every search engine. The roll-out of Hummingbird in 2013 was a milestone in getting closer to that goal: Google switched focus on entities and their relationships, which made it significantly better at understanding context and relevance.

In the early days of search, it was enough to mention a keyword many times on the page to be relevant. Now, content needs to have high relevance for the query, informational depth, answer all questions about a topic and match user intent. So, “Content as a ranking factor” means the length, depth, and relevance of body content for the targeted query.

Deep Dive: the nuance of content

Content is not only text; it’s also images, videos, gifs, and more. All these elements play together (more under “User Intent”). Ranking in Google’s image search is not the only benefit of optimizing images. Adding a descriptive alt-tag and file name increases the relevance of your content, especially for search queries that demand more visual results, like “star wars wallpaper”.

There’s also a difference between main content and supplementary content, i.e. text in the footer, header or parts of the site other than “the body”. It’s easy to see that the topic of “content” is very nuanced, but I’m trying to keep it high-level here.

Lastly, “pruning” low quality content has shown to be effective many times. The idea is to decrease the amount of low quality content on a domain by either improving or getting rid of it (noindex, 404 or redirecting). This indicates that Google measures content quality on a domain-level, at least to a degree. Note that this is not an official ranking factor, but John Mueller addressed the topic in a Webmaster Hangout, saying:

So in general when it comes to low quality content, that’s something where we see your website is providing something but it’s not really that fantastic. And there are two approaches to actually tackling this. On the one hand you can improve your content and from my point of view if you can improve your content that’s probably the the best approach possible because then you have something really useful on your website you’re providing something useful for the web in general. […] cleaning up can be done with no index with a 404 kind of whatever you like to do that.

How do we know this to be true?

Google SEO Starter Guide

  • Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.” [2]
  • […] optimizing your image filenames and alt text makes it easier for image search projects like Google Image Search to better understand your images.
  • If you do decide to use an image as a link, filling out its alt text helps Google understand more about the page you’re linking to. Imagine that you’re writing anchor text for a text link.

Presentations:

  • How Google works [18]

Interviews:

  • Andrey Lipattsev Q&A [20]

Articles:

  • “How Search Works”: “When we index a web page, we add it to the entries for all of the words it contains.” [1]
  • “Matt Cuts: Is speed more important than relevance?” [24]
  • “How Google is remaking itself as machine learning first company” [31]
  • “Better understanding of your site” [32]
  • “Good times with inbound links”: “*One of the strongest ranking factors is my site’s content. *” [34]
  • “Google Technology Overview” [36]
  • “Google Image Publishing Guidelines” [45]

RANKING SIGNAL 2: EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL LINKS

Links still have a decent influence on rankings, but ranking factor studies and Google statements have shown its decline over time. They still play a role in the ranking and indexation of web documents. And, like “content” as a ranking signal, backlinks are a bit more nuanced. Their quality depends on many factors, such as anchor text, strength of the link source, and matching content relevance between link source and target.

Internal links are powerful ranking signals, too. They pass link equity from page to page. Internal anchor text helps Google understand the topic and context of content like external backlinks. Already in 2008, Google recommended to “keep important pages within several clicks from the homepage“. So, URL-structure has a positive impact on rankings because it’s an indicator of a clear hierarchy of information (system taxonomy). URL optimization revolves around clean, descriptive directory-structures without duplicates or parameters.

Deep Dive: age as a quality indicator for links (and content)

I want to call out a patent invented by Matt Cutts (some might remember him) and Jeff Dean (Google’s current head of AI), amongst others. It describes using historic information in ranking, but I want to narrow down on the factor of document age and its impact on the quality of a link. A rapid spike in the number of backlinks might indicate a spam attempt or be okay depending on how old a page/site is.

In implementations consistent with the principles of the invention, the history data may include data relating to: document inception dates; document content updates/changes; query analysis; link-based criteria; anchor text (e.g., the text in which a hyperlink is embedded, typically underlined or otherwise highlighted in a document); traffic; user behavior; domain-related information; ranking history; user maintained/generated data (e.g., bookmarks); unique words, bigrams, and phrases in anchor text; linkage of independent peers; and/or document topics.” [40]

The patent contains all kinds of interesting hints, so give it a read when you have time.

How do we know this to be true?

Patents:

  • PageRank patent [14]
  • “Training set construction for taxonomic classification” [29]
  • “Information retrieval based on historical data” [40]

Interviews:

  • Andrey Lipattsev Q&A [20]

Google SEO Starter Guide [2]

  • The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important. Although Google’s search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.
  • Link text is the visible text inside a link. This text tells users and Google something about the page you’re linking to. Links on your page may be internal—pointing to other pages on your site—or external—leading to content on other sites. In either of these cases, the better your anchor text is, the easier it is for users to navigate and for Google to understand what the page you’re linking to is about.” (also applies to external links)
  • Think about anchor text for internal links too
  • URLs with words that are relevant to your site’s content and structure are friendlier for visitors navigating your site.
  • Use a directory structure that organizes your content well and makes it easy for visitors to know where they’re at on your site. Try using your directory structure to indicate the type of content found at that URL.
  • Provide one version of a URL to reach a document

Articles

  • “Importance of link architecture” [33]
  • “Technologies behind Google ranking”: “IR gave us a solid foundation, and we have built a tremendous system on top using links, page structure, and many other such innovations.” [17]
  • “Good times with inbound links”: “As many of you know, relevant, quality inbound links can affect your PageRank (one of many factors in our ranking algorithm)” [34]
  • “Google Turning Its Lucrative Web Search Over to AI Machines” [35]
  • “Google Technology Overview” [36]
  • “Content guidelines: Keep a simple URL structure” [44]

RANKING SIGNAL 3: USER INTENT

I’ve written about the different types of user intent and how to identify them for a large set of queries in “User Intent mapping on steroids”:

User intent” is the goal a user is trying to achieve when searching online. Old school SEO distinguished between “transactional”, “navigational”, and “informational” user intent. People either want to buy, visit a specific page or find out more about a topic.

That hasn’t changed dramatically, but in the 2017 version of its quality rater guidelines, Google distinguishes between four intents:
– Know
– Do
– Website
– Visit-in-person

Content relevance and User Intent are closely related, but not the same. First, if user intent isn’t met a page won’t rank, whereas content relevance exists on a spectrum. For example, a blog article cannot rank for a query that demands listings, say for jobs or real estate. Or when you search for “Sushi”, you get local search results. Google understands that more users are looking for restaurants than an explanation or definition in this case. For some queries, images are a better format than text, for example, “tattoo inspiration”. In this case, you want to create an image gallery to rank well, not an essay.

RankBrain is the engine behind user intent understanding and the third strongest ranking signal according to Google:

Of the hundreds of “signals” Google search uses when it calculates its rankings (a signal might be the user’s geographical location, or whether the headline on a page matches the text in the query), RankBrain is now rated as the third most useful.

It’s described to assess “how well a document in the ranking matches a query” (Jeff Dean, head of AI at Google in a Wired article 2016 [31]).

How do we know this to be true?
Presentations:

  • How Google works [18]

Interviews:

  • Andrey Lipattsev Q&A [20]

Articles:

  • “FAQ: All about the Google RankBrain algorithm” [23]
  • “How Search Works”: “Understanding the meaning of your search is crucial to returning good answers. So to find pages with relevant information, our first step is to analyze what the words in your search query mean. We build language models to try to decipher what strings of words we should look up in the index.” [..] “This involves steps as seemingly simple as interpreting spelling mistakes, and extends to trying to understand the type of query you’ve entered by applying some of the latest research on natural language understanding.” [1]

RANKING SIGNAL 4: CLICK-THROUGH RATE

Click-through rate is the ratio between clicks and impressions in the Google search results. It’s affected by:

  • Brand recognition
  • Relevance of title, description, and URL for the query
  • Whether you have a rich snippet or not
  • Other features shown in the SERP (and which ones)

The exact usage of CTR in ranking is not 100% clear. It often falls between the cracks of using general feedback mechanisms in search. The questions here are how strong compared to other signals CTR is, whether it affects rankings in real-time (unlikely), or if there is an accumulation time. Besides Google being unclear about its usage, two papers show strong evidence for Google using CTR to rank pages.

There’s also evidence that Google is able to distinguish between more than just long and short clicks: “[…] rather than simply distinguishing long clicks from short clicks, a wider range of click-through viewing times can be included in the assessment of result quality, where longer viewing times in the range are given more weight than shorter viewing times.” [15]

How do we know this to be true?

Patents:

  • “Modifying search result ranking based on a temporal element of user feedback” [15]
  • “Incorporating Clicks, Attention, and Satisfaction into a
    Search Engine Result Page Evaluation Model” [26]

Presentations:

  • Gary Illes’ presentation at SMX Munich 2015 [16]
  • How Google works [18]

RANKING SIGNAL 5: USER EXPERIENCE

User Experience is one of the blurriest ranking signals of all because it’s so had to define and overlaps with many other signals. It could entail all touch points a user has with a company, but that’s impossible to measure for a search engine. It’s too soft. Instead, we need to look for hard factors:

  • Accessibility
  • Usability
  • Design

A page is accessible when it loads completely, quickly, and without issues. One way to optimize for this particular case is by providing image dimensions to avoid the “jump” when a page loads. But Ad pressure and invasiveness of ads fit into the bucket as well.

Compatibility with different devices, search functionality, and 404 errors are indicators for usability.

What most people have in mind when thinking of “user experience” is design and it does carry some importance. For example, If a site looks spammy users bounce, which can have implications on rankings. Important factors for “design’ are how easy it is for users to find and consume information and how trustworthy the experience looks. The latter plays into the next signal: E-A-T.

Good indicators for User Experience are user signals (bounce rate, dwell time, pages/visit) and engagement signals (social shares, scroll depth).

How do we know this to be true?

Articles:

  • “How Search Works”: “These algorithms analyze hundreds of different factors to try to surface the best information the web can offer, from the freshness of the content, to the number of times your search terms appear and whether the page has a good user experience.” [1]

RANKING SIGNAL 6: TITLE TAG

The Title tag has been one of the stronger ranking signals from the beginning. It’s a strong indicator of relevance and affects CTR. Having the keyword in the title is still a requirement to rank, even though Google understands the context of queries. Google looks at “[…] how often and where those keywords appear on a page, whether in titles or headings or in the body of the text.

How do we know this to be true?

Articles:

  • “How Search Works” [1]
  • Google SEO Starter Guide [2]

RANKING SIGNAL 7: PAGE SPEED

Google confirmed page speed to have an impact on rank in 2010 for the first time [22] and in 2018 for the second time [21]. Where the former relates to desktop devices, the latter refers to mobile search (to no one’s surprise).

10 years ago, page speed was a simple metric. Nowadays, we need to measure several metrics to get a good understanding, as websites have become much more sophisticated. Google’s own page speed tool, WebPageTest, recommends “Speed Index” as unifying metric. It accrues metrics like TTFB (time to first byte), TTFP (time to first paint), TTFMP (time to first meaningful paint), and time to DOMContentLoad.

How do we know this to be true?

Articles:

  • “Using page speed in mobile search ranking” [21]
  • “Using site speed in web search ranking” [22]
  • “Google Technology Overview” [36]

RANKING SIGNAL 8: FRESHNESS AND QDF

Fresh results are a top goal of search engines, after relevance. As mentioned in the Google SEO Starter guide:

Traditional search evaluation has focused on the relevance of the results, and of course that is our highest priority as well. But today’s search-engine users expect more than just relevance. Are the results fresh and timely?

“Freshness” in search got a push when Google introduced its new indexation system “Caffeine” in 2010. [37] It allowed Google do index (new) pages in a matter of seconds and paved the way to assign a query “freshness”: a higher relevance for time. The query “Bitcoin” is highly sensitive to news these days, for example, while that wasn’t the case 2 years ago.

“Query deserves freshness” QDF is the ranking signal Amit Signal, former head of search at Google, talked about already in 2007: “The QDF solution revolves around determining whether a topic is “hot”. If news sites or blog posts are actively writing about a topic, the model figures that it is one for which users are more likely to want current information. The model also examines Google’s own stream of billions of search queries.” [38]

The difference between “Freshness” and QDF is that the latter measures spiking search volume to indicate whether a query is “hot”. It ranks newer content higher and shows more news integrations in the SERPs as a result. The former refers to keeping content up to date by adding new facts or findings. Search engines always want to return content that’s as up to date as possible, but that’s not the same as a query that suddenly has a high interest. The two vary in intensity.

How do we know this to be true?

Patents:

  • “Information retrieval based on historical data” [40]

Articles:

  • “How Search Works”: “We take note of key signals — from keywords to website freshness — and we keep track of it all in the Search index.” [1]
  • “Google SEO Starter Guide” [2]
  • “Giving you fresher, more recent search results”: “Different searches have different freshness needs. This algorithmic improvement is designed to better understand how to differentiate between these kinds of searches and the level of freshness you need, and make sure you get the most up to the minute answers.” [19]
  • New York Times: “Google Keeps Tweaking Its Search Engine” [38]

Videos:

  • Matt Cutts “Query deserves freshness.” Fact or fiction?” [39]

RANKING SIGNAL 9: E-A-T (EXPERTISE, AUTHORITY, TRUSTWORTHINESS)

E-A-T (“expertise, authority, trustworthiness”) is another broad signal, like user experience. To optimize for E-A-T, you need to add information to your site that helps Google understand whether you’re an authority, for example by adding an “about” page or providing a correct and full address. Your content needs to live up to the required expertise in quality and length. Writing about rocket science sounds and looks a lot different than writing about rap (no judgment). Google will also look at recommendations and endorsements from other, neutral sites. Yes, that also includes links from highly authoritative sites like Wikipedia.

E-A-T includes factors like domain age, reputation, reviews, and ratings. Some of us might remember the days of rel=author, an attempt of Google to measure the expertise of people for specific topics. Google retired authorship, but the idea is the same.

How do we know this to be true?

Articles:

  • “How Search Works”: “In order to assess trustworthiness and authority on its subject matter, we look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries. If other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign the information is high quality.” [1]
  • “Google Quality Rater Guidelines (2017)”: “The amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E­A­T) that a webpage/website has is very important. MC quality and amount, website information, and website reputation all inform the E­A­T of a website.” [30]

Presentations:

  • How Google works [18]

Articles:

  • “Obtaining authoritative search results” [28]

RANKING SIGNAL 10: SSL ENCRYPTION

Google confirmed SSL being a ranking signal in 2014, after migrating to https itself two years earlier. Once again, the question is and was how much that signal applies. Back when Google rolled it out, HTTPS affected about 1% of queries and seemed to carry less weight than content:

For now it’s only a very lightweight signal—affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content—while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.

Encryption is more important in industries like insurances, finance, and e-commerce than in others. It’s also more applicable in the check-out/login part than the blog of a site, for example. Google seems to give certain queries and parts of a website a higher relevance for HTTPS. That doesn’t make HTTPS unimportant in other cases: Google often emphasizes the benefits of HTTPS for general security.

How do we know this to be true?

Articles:

  • “HTTPS as a ranking signal” [25]
  • “Google I/O 2014 – HTTPS Everywhere” [43]

RANKING FACTOR STUDY “META-ANALYSIS”

The strongest evidence in scientific research comes from a meta-analyses study. It looks at the data from many different studies on the same topic to form a holistic view. I conducted a “pseudo ranking factor study meta-analysis”, in which I compared the results of 7 studies from the last 2 years by Searchmetrics, SEMrush and Backlinko*. It’s “pseudo” because I couldn’t get insight into the raw data of the studies, so all the scientists in the audience can calm down ;-). (If any ranking factor study provider wants to grant me access – I’m all ear!).

On the chart, you see the top10 ranking factors from each study. I grouped them into five bigger fields (colored), so we can see the overlaps.

(links = orange, content = yellow, user behavior = blue, social = green, technical = gray)

When we look at the ranking factors across different studies – I don’t think anyone has ever done that before – we see foremost one thing: a big mess. On second look, I see a slight dominance of content relevance and length paired with user behavior. Backlinks seem to live on the lower end of the top10.

When it comes to backlinks, the sheer number of links and linking domains seem to still be the most prominent factor.

We can debate the meaningfulness and interpretation of ranking factor studies for the SEO industry, but I’m always open to learning from large sets of data. This little analysis merely helps to see the bigger picture.

*More caveats: Also note the timeliness of the studies. Ranking factors seem to change (or adapt?) faster in the last couple of months. Lastly, some studies focused on broad keyword sets while others looked at specific industries. That makes them only comparable to a degree.

ORGANIC SEARCH IS A NON-LINEAR SYSTEM

Organic Search is a non-linear system, meaning the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Some factors seem to compound, others seem to be driven by thresholds. Having great content, links, and user, experience seems to have a stronger effect than each factor added in isolation. Google also seems to measure negative factors with thresholds: a few 404s won’t hurt, but after a certain percentage Google seems to reinforce negative consequences. I only have observational evidence for this, so I’m curious on your experience!

Fact is, we don’t know the exact relationship between each ranking factor. And, If there are really 200 (or more) ranking factors, we must admit that most are unknown to us. That doesn’t mean we cannot speak about them or do experiments, but we must be honest about what we know and what we don’t know.

But even without that knowledge, we can focus on the parts we know make a difference – on the first principles of SEO:

  1. Content
  2. External and internal links
  3. User Intent
  4. CTR
  5. User Experience
  6. Title tag
  7. Page speed
  8. Freshness
  9. E-A-T
  10. SSL encryption

You can never do the basics well enough.

References

  1. https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/crawling-indexing/
  2. https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/7451184?hl=en
  3. https://backlinko.com/search-engine-ranking
  4. https://backlinko.com/google-ranking-factors
  5. https://www.semrush.com/ranking-factors/
  6. https://www.searchmetrics.com/knowledge-base/ranking-factors/
  7. https://www.searchmetrics.com/knowledge-base/ranking-factors-finance/
  8. https://www.searchmetrics.com/knowledge-base/ranking-factors-travel/
  9. https://www.searchmetrics.com/knowledge-base/ranking-factors-media/
  10. https://www.searchmetrics.com/knowledge-base/ranking-factors-health/
  11. https://abc.xyz/investor/pdf/2017Q4_alphabet_earnings_release.pdf
  12. http://ilpubs.stanford.edu:8090/422/1/1999-66.pdf
  13. https://patentscope.wipo.int/search/en/detail.jsf?docId=US146703304
  14. http://www.thesempost.com/how-google-uses-clicks-in-search-results-according-to-google/
  15. https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/technologies-behind-google-ranking.html
  16. https://www.slideshare.net/SearchMarketingExpo/how-google-works-a-ranking-engineers-perspective-by-paul-haahr
  17. https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/giving-you-fresher-more-recent-search.html
  18. http://webpromo.expert/google-qa-march/
  19. https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2018/01/using-page-speed-in-mobile-search.html
  20. https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2010/04/using-site-speed-in-web-search-ranking.html
  21. https://searchengineland.com/faq-all-about-the-new-google-rankbrain-algorithm-234440
  22. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muSIzHurn4U
  23. https://security.googleblog.com/2014/08/https-as-ranking-signal_6.html
  24. https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/research.google.com/en//pubs/archive/45562.pdf
  25. https://engineering.purdue.edu/~ychu/publications/wi10_google.pdf
  26. http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=9,659,064.PN.&OS=PN/9,659,064&RS=PN/9,659,064
  27. http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&d=PALL&S1=08484194&OS=PN/08484194&RS=PN/08484194
  28. https://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/assets/searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf
  29. https://www.wired.com/2016/06/how-google-is-remaking-itself-as-a-machine-learning-first-company/?gi=e27d6becfaf8
  30. https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2006/12/better-understanding-of-your-site.html
  31. https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2008/10/importance-of-link-architecture.html
  32. https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2008/10/good-times-with-inbound-links.html
  33. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-26/google-turning-its-lucrative-web-search-over-to-ai-machines
  34. https://web.archive.org/web/20111115090558/http://www.google.com/about/corporate/company/tech.html
  35. https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/06/our-new-search-index-caffeine.html
  36. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/business/yourmoney/03google.html
  37. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=17&v=QyFlIhruda4
  38. https://patents.google.com/patent/US7346839
  39. https://patents.google.com/patent/US6285999B1/en
  40. https://www.seroundtable.com/google-improving-pruning-content-24706.html
  41. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBhZ6S0PFCY&utm_source=wmx_blog
  42. https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/76329?hl=en&ref_topic=4617741
  43. https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/114016?hl=en
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