SEO Articles

The Secret Behind My 1,866,913 Monthly Search Visitors (It’s Not What You Think)

The Secret Behind My 1,866,913 Monthly Search Visitors (It’s Not What You Think)

How many visitors do you think NeilPatel.com generates each month?

Maybe a million… maybe 2 million?

I bet you’re going to guess 1,866,913.

If that’s what you guessed, you are wrong. This blog actually generated 2,530,346 visitors. 1,866,913 is the number that came from search engines.

So, what’s the secret to my ever-growing Google traffic?

Sure, I have optimized my on-page SEO, I’ve built links, written tons of blog post… I’ve done all of the stuff that most of my competition has done. But doing the same stuff as your competition isn’t enough.

My secret sauce is that I optimize for user signals.

Last week, I broke down some of the user signals Google looks at, as well as providing benchmarks to aim for if you don’t want to be penalized by Google.

If you aren’t familiar with user signals, check the article I linked to above.

So, how do you optimize for user signals?

Well, I know everyone has different types of websites, so I thought I would share the process I use to optimize NeilPatel.com.

Are you showing people what they want?

Google Analytics is an amazing tool. I’m so addicted to it that I log in at least 3 or 4 times a day. Heck, I even log in on weekends.

But here’s the thing, it only tells you half the story. It gives you numbers, but it doesn’t help you visualize what people are doing and what they aren’t.

For example, here is what my main blog page looked like according to Crazy Egg:

What’s wrong with the image?

Everyone is going to the blog to learn more about marketing. Above the fold, I have a box that showcases an SEO Analyzer. But there is one big issue: it’s barely clicked compared to the drop-down that lets you filter the blog content.

The SEO Analyzer had 128 clicks versus 359 clicks to the content filtering option.

Because you didn’t care for it as much, I removed it from the main blog page. And now when you head to the blog page you can see the filtering options above the fold.

I am looking to see what you click on and what you don’t. Simple as that.

If I keep showing you something you aren’t clicking on, I am wasting the opportunity to present you with something you do want to see. Which means I either need to adjust it or delete it.

Now, let me show you my current homepage:

What’s wrong?

Go ahead, take a guess…

Well, looking at the image you’ll notice there are tons of hot spots in the footer. That’s where the navigation is. With there being all of the clicks on the navigation, I should consider adding a navigation menu bar in the header.

Are you getting the hang of how to make your website more user-friendly? Well, let’s try another one.

Here’s an element in the sidebar of my blog posts:

That element only has 1 click. That’s terrible considering that the blog post generated 10,016 visits. And to top it off, that click came from a repeat visitor.

My goal is to convert more first-time visitors into leads, which makes up the majority of my visitors, but they are the lowest percentage of my leads.

So, what did I do? I deleted that element and you no longer see it in my sidebar.

Are you optimizing for mobile?

Let’s face it, more people are visiting your site using mobile devices than laptops or traditional computers.

If that’s not the case, it is just a matter of time.

So, have you optimized your site for mobile? And no, I’m not just talking about having a responsive design because everyone is doing that these days.

If you look at the image above, you’ll notice that I removed the image of myself and a few other elements. This helps make the loading experience faster and it helps focus people’s attention on the most important elements.

Similar to the desktop version, my mobile homepage has a 24% conversion rate. When my mobile version included a picture of me above the fold, my conversion rate dropped to 17%… hence there is no picture of me. 😉

Now, I want you to look at the mobile version of my main blog page and compare it to my homepage.

Do you see an issue?

The blog page generates a lot of clicks on the 3 bars at the top… that’s my navigation menu.

My developer accidentally removed that from the mobile homepage. That’s why the contact button in the footer of the homepage gets too many clicks.

Hopefully, that gets fixed in the next day or two as that could be negatively impacting my mobile rankings.

On top of optimizing the mobile experience, you need to ensure your website loads fast. It doesn’t matter if people are using LTE or 4G, sometimes people have terrible reception. And when they do, your website will load slow.

By optimizing it for speed, you’ll reduce the number of people who just bounce away from your site.

If you want a faster load time, follow this.

And don’t just optimize your site for speed once and forget about it. As you make changes to your site, your pagespeed score will drop, which means you’ll have to continually do it.

For example, you’ll notice I have been making a lot of change to NeilPatel.com (at least that is what the heatmaps above show). As I am making those changes, sometimes it affects my pagespeed score negatively. That means I have to go back and optimize my load time again.

A second in load time delay on average will cost you 6.8% of your revenue.

Are you focusing on helping all of your users?

Not every person who visits your website is the same.

For example, a small percentage of the people who visit NeilPatel.com work at large corporations that are publicly traded and are worth billions of dollars.

And a much larger percentage of my visitors own small and medium-sized businesses. These people are trying to figure out how to grow their traffic and revenue without spending an arm and a leg.

And the largest percentage of my visitors don’t have a website and they are trying to figure out how to get started for free.

In a nutshell, I have three groups of people who visit my website. The first group tends to turn into consulting leads for my agency, but they make up the smallest portion of my traffic.

One could say that I should only focus on helping them and ignore everyone else. But I can’t do that for a few reasons…

I started off with having practically no money and people helped me out when I couldn’t afford to pay them. I love paying it forward and helping people who can’t afford my services because I have been there, and I know what it’s like.
If I only focused on the large companies, who would link to my website and promote my content? You can bet that Microsoft isn’t going to link to me on a regular basis. If you want to generate social shares and backlinks you have to focus on the masses.
Little is the new big… if you can please the masses, they will make noise and the big players will eventually hear about you. So, don’t just treat people with deep pockets kindly, treat everyone the same and truly care about your visitors.

Once you figure out the types of people coming to your website (and if you are unsure just survey them), go above and beyond to help them out. Create different experiences for each group.

On NeilPatel.com, I’ve learned that people who work at large corporations are busy and they want to listen to marketing advice on the run. For that reason, I have the Marketing School podcast.

And a lot of beginners wanted me to break down my steps over video, so they can more easily replicate my tactics. For that reason, I create new videos 3 times per week giving marketing and business advice.

Many of you want to attend the conferences that I speak at, but can’t afford to buy a ticket. For those people, I create weekly webinars that are similar to the speeches I give at conferences.

And best of all, I know the majority of you find it hard to follow along with all of these tips as it can be overwhelming. So, I created Ubersuggest to help you out.

In other words, I try to go above and beyond for all of my visitors.

Yes, it is a lot of work, but if you want to dominate an industry it won’t happen overnight. Expect to put in a lot of time and energy.

Are you taking feedback from people?

You are going to get feedback. Whether it is in the form of email or comments, people will give you feedback.

It’s up to you if you want to listen… but if a lot of people are telling you the same thing you should consider it.

For example, I get a ton of comments on YouTube from people asking me to create videos in Hindi.

And…

Now, I am not only working on adding Hindi subtitles to my videos, but I am also working on translating my blog content to Hindi.

I’m not doing these to make more money… I’m not doing this to become popular… I’m just trying to do this to help out more people.

It’s the same reason why I have Spanish, Portuguese, and German versions of this website. I had enough requests where I pulled the trigger even though I am not focusing on generating income in those areas.

But here is the thing that most people don’t tell you about business. If you just focus on helping people and solving their problems, you’ll notice that your income will go up over time.

Businesses make money not because their goal is to make money… they make money because they are solving a problem and helping people out.

Another piece of feedback I have been getting recently is that my blog is too hard to read on mobile devices.

For that reason, I’ve assigned a task to one of my developers to fix this.

Conclusion

Traffic generation is a business. It’s not a hobby. It’s competitive, and it’s difficult to see short-term gains.

If you want to rank at the top of Google, you can’t treat your website as a hobby. You have to treat it like a business.

And similar to any business, you won’t succeed unless you pay attention to the needs of your customers. That means you have to listen to them. Figure out what they want and provide it.

That’s what Google is trying to do. They are trying to rank sites that people love at the top of their search engine. If you want to be one of those sites, then start paying attention to your visitors.

Show them what they want and go above and beyond so that they will fall in love with your website instead of your competition.

If you aren’t sure if you are making the right changes, monitor your brand queries. The more people that are searching for your brand terms on Google is a big leading indicator that people are happy with your website.

Just look at NeilPatel.com: I get over 40,000 visitors a month from people Googling variations of my name:

And I generate over 70,000 visits a month just from people searching for my free tool, Ubersuggest.

That’s how I’m continually able to make my traffic grow.

Yes, I do pay attention to what Google loves, but more importantly, I pay attention to your needs and wants.

Are you going to start optimizing your website for user signals?

The post The Secret Behind My 1,866,913 Monthly Search Visitors (It’s Not What You Think) appeared first on Neil Patel.

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Local Business Transparency & Empathy for the Holidays: Tips + Downloadable Checklist

Posted by MiriamEllis

Your local business will invest its all in stocking shelves and menus with the right goods and services in advance of the 2018 holiday season, but does your inventory include the on-and-offline experiences consumers say they want most?

Right now, a potential patron near you is having an experience that will inform their decision of whether to do business with you at year’s end, and their takeaway is largely hinging on two things: your brand’s transparency and empathy.

An excellent SproutSocial survey of 1,000 consumers found that people define transparency as being:

Open (59%)
Clear (53%)
Honest (49%)

Meanwhile, after a trying year of fake news, bad news, and privacy breaches, Americans could certainly use some empathy from brands that respect their rights, needs, aspirations, and time.

Today, let’s explore how your local brand can gift customers with both transparency and empathy before and during the holiday season, and let’s make it easy for your team with a shareable, downloadable checklist, complete with 20 tips for in-store excellence and holiday Google My Business best practices:

Grab the Holiday Checklist now!

For consumers, even the little things mean a lot

Your brother eats at that restaurant because its owner fed 10,000 meals to displaced residents during a wildfire. My sister won’t buy merchandise from that shop because their hiring practices are discriminatory. A friend was so amazed when the big brand CEO responded personally to her complaint that she’s telling all her social followers about it now.

Maybe it’s always been a national pastime for Americans to benefit one another with wisdom gained from their purchasing experiences. I own one of the first cookbooks ever published in this country and ‘tis full of wyse warnings about how to avoid “doctored” meats and grains in the marketplace. Social media has certainly amplified our voices, but it has done something else that truly does feel fresh and new. Consider SproutSocial’s findings that:

86% of Americans say transparency from businesses is more important than ever before.
40% of people who say brand transparency is more important than ever before attribute it to social media.
63% of people say CEOs who have their own social profiles are better representatives for their companies than CEOs who do not.

What were customers’ chances of seeking redress and publicity just 20 years ago if a big brand treated them poorly? Today, they can document with video, write a review, tweet to the multitudes, even get picked up by national news. They can use a search engine to dig up the truth about a company’s past and present practices. And… they can find the social profiles of a growing number of brand representatives and speak to them directly about their experiences, putting the ball in the company’s court to respond for all to see.

In other words, people increasingly assume brands should be directly accessible. That’s new!

Should this increased expectation of interactive transparency terrify businesses?

Absolutely not, if their intentions and policies are open, clear, and honest. It’s a little thing to treat a customer with fairness and regard, but its impacts in the age of social media are not small. In fact, SproutSocial found that transparent practices are golden as far as consumer loyalty is concerned:

85% of people say a business’ history of being transparent makes them more likely to give it a second chance after a bad experience.
89% of people say a business can regain their trust if it admits to a mistake and is transparent about the steps it will take to resolve the issue.

I highly recommend reading the entire SproutSocial study, and while it focuses mainly on general brands and general social media, my read of it correlated again and again to the specific scenario of local businesses. Let’s talk about this!

How transparency & empathy relate to local brands“73.8% of customers were either likely or extremely likely to continue to do business with a merchant once the complaint had been resolved.”
GetFiveStars

On the local business scene, we’re also witnessing the rising trend of consumers who expect accountability and accessibility, and who speak up when they don’t encounter it. Local businesses need to commit to openness in terms of their business practices, just as digital businesses do, but there are some special nuances at play here, too.

I can’t count the number of negative reviews I’ve read that cited inconvenience caused by local business listings containing wrong addresses and incorrect hours. These reviewers have experienced a sense of ill-usage stemming from a perceived lack of respect for their busy schedules and a lack of brand concern for their well-being. Neglected online local business information leads to neglected-feeling customers who sometimes even believe that a company is hiding the truth from them!

These are avoidable outcomes. As the above quote from a GetFiveStars survey demonstrates, local brands that fully participate in anticipating, hearing, and responding to consumer needs are rewarded with loyalty. Given this, as we begin the countdown to holiday shopping, be sure you’re fostering basic transparency and empathy with simple steps like:

Checking your core citations for accurate names, addresses, phone numbers, and other info and making necessary corrections
Updating your local business listing hours to reflect extended holiday hours and closures
Updating your website and all local landing pages to reflect this information

Next, bolster more advanced transparency by:

Using Google Posts to clearly highlight your major sale dates so people don’t feel tricked or left out
Answering all consumer questions via Google Questions & Answers in your Google Knowledge Panels
Responding swiftly to both positive and negative reviews on core platforms
Monitoring and participating on all social discussion of your brand when concerns or complaints arise, letting customers know you are accessible
Posting in-store signage directing customers to complaint phone/text hotlines

And, finally, create an empathetic rapport with customers via efforts like:

Developing and publishing a consumer-centric service policy both on your website and in signage or print materials in all of your locations
Using Google My Business attributes to let patrons know about features like wheelchair accessibility, available parking, pet-friendliness, etc.
Publishing your company giving strategies so that customers can feel spending with you supports good things — for example, X% of sales going to a local homeless shelter, children’s hospital, or other worthy cause
Creating a true welcome for all patrons, regardless of gender, identity, race, creed, or culture — for example, gender neutral bathrooms, feeding stations for mothers, fragrance-free environments for the chemically sensitive, or even a few comfortable chairs for tired shoppers to rest in

A company commitment to standards like TAGFEE coupled with a basic regard for the rights, well-being, and aspirations of customers year-round can stand a local brand in very good stead at the holidays. Sometimes it’s the intangible goods a brand stocks — like goodwill towards one’s local community — that yield a brand of loyalty nothing else can buy.

Why not organize for it, organize for the mutual benefits of business and society with a detailed, step-by-step checklist you can take to your next team meeting?:

Download the 2018 Holiday Local SEO Checklist

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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What We Learned in August 2018: The Digital Marketing Month in a Minute

What We Learned in August 2018: The Digital Marketing Month in a Minute

The average Briton spends over 2 hours online per day

Several fascinating findings were revealed in Ofcom’s annual review of the UK communications sector. Key takeaways include:

On average, people in the UK spend the equivalent of a day online per week

Facebook’s reach among 18-24 year-olds is in decline (by 4% YoY)

The smartphone video advertising market is worth over 1 billion pounds

Read the full story (Linkedin)

Google risks class action due to “surreptitious” tracking of user location

A lawsuit was filed versus Google in California after it was found that Google still tracks a smartphone’s location, even when the “Location History” setting is turned off. Some of the implications may force Google to pay a substantial fine, together with deleting some its location tracking data. A few days after the lawsuit, the Location History support page on Google’s website was changed from “with Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored” to “some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.”

Read the full story (Marketing Land)

Google improves accuracy of Index Coverage report in Search Console

Google has updated the Index Coverage report within Search Console for the first time since its launch. This feature was originally introduced in 2017 in order to provide information on the pages of your website that have/have not been indexed (with instructions to fix issues). According to Google, the new update will heavily impact the accuracy of report starting from August. The only drawback of this refresh is that the index coverage data for the period July 14-August 1 was not fully recorded, so it was calculated as an estimate based on the values recorded on the 1st of August.

Read the full story (Search Engine Journal)

Google confirms core algorithm update

On August 1, Google confirmed industry rumours about remarkable ranking fluxes by stating the roll out of a core algorithm update. Named “medic update” in the SEO industry due to the large number of Health and Medical sites affected, it is worth mentioning how its reach expanded beyond just this bracket but affected the broader category of YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) sites.

Read the full story (Moz)

Study reveals truth behind shopping via voice search

Despite being one of the most hyped subjects of 2018, a recent study from The Information revealed that voice search does not yet seem to be driving sales. Only 2% of the customers who use Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant appear to have made a purchase via voice search, and only 10% of those have made a second purchase. This is probably due to an inefficient consumer journey, device limitations or simply that people are not generally aware of the capabilities yet. How soon might this change?

Read the full story (TechCrunch)

Schema markup for datasets now supported in the SERP

Google has confirmed that dataset markups will be supported in the SERP. By doing so, Google is trying to improve the way users visualise data in the search result page, rewarding organisations that mark up datasets such as tables, CSV files, images containing data and more.

As Google stated, this new markup aims “to improve discovery of datasets from fields such as life sciences, social sciences, machine learning, civic and government data, and more”.

Read our blog to learn how to understand and implement structured data.

Read the full story (Search Engine Land)

FB launches mobile-first video creation for better ads

Facebook has rolled out a new set of tools aimed at advertisers that produce assets with mobile-first in mind, since their research has proven that “mobile-first creative has a 27 percent higher likelihood of driving brand lift compared to ads that are not optimized for mobile.”

It is now possible to add motion to existing images/videos or create videos from assets such as pictures and logos.

Read the full story (Marketing Land)

Ad spend on Instagram on the rise

Despite Facebook having experienced the largest one-day fall in American stock market history on the 26th of July, the stock is still trading at May 2018 levels. In their latest earnings report, they disclosed strong growth in ad spend on Instagram in Q2, which was 177% compared to previous year.

Instagram’s customer base has surpassed a billion active users and, according to the social media listening company socialmediabakers, brands’ Instagram profiles have a much higher user engagement compared to their Facebook equivalents. While there are challenges around the advertising opportunities in the “stories” functionality, Facebook as a whole is continuing to see their playbook work supremely well.

Read the full story (Marketing Land)

Europe to fine sites for not taking down illegal content within one hour

The EU is planning to take a stronger position on illegal or controversial material posted online, especially on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Julian King, EU Commissioner for Security, has put forward legislation which would fine tech companies that do not remove illegal content within one hour. This follows wide reporting of a recent study which found a correlation between social media usage and hate crimes (study based on violence against refugees in Germany in 2018) though this study has received some criticism in particular related to its use of global “likes” for Nutella as a proxy for German Facebook usage.

Read the full story (Business Insider)

Twitter’s new tests: threaded replies and online status indicators

Twitter’s director of product management, Sara Haider, has posted a few screenshots that display some new features Twitter is working on to improve threaded conversations and add online status indicators. The reason behind these changes is to make Twitter “more conversational”. Neither feature appears to be groundbreaking if compared to other social media platforms: threaded replies will potentially look very similar to Facebook’s comments, while online status indicators have been used by Facebook Messenger and Instagram’s direct messages. The tech giant is currently collecting feedback before rolling out the changes.

Read the full story (Search Engine Journal)

Distilled News

We kick off the Distilled news this month with a post from Craig Bradford explaining what SEO split testing is.  The post focuses on the simple principle of split testing, how it differs from CRO and UX testing and covers a few examples to outline Distilled’s methodology. As VP in charge of Distilled’s ODN platform, Craig has a front-row seat to this hot area of SEO.

Analyst Paola Didone took her recent experiences of handling large data sets and wrote up a blog post about how to use Regex formulae in Google Sheets.

From the US, SEO Analyst Shannon Dunn suggests an easy approach to optimizing website internal linking structures.

Outside the SEO world, our People Operations Executive Kayla Walker shares her thoughts on how to give better positive feedback.

Distilled’s CEO, Will Critchlow, tried to address the industry’s confusion on the differences between URL structures and Information Architecture.

Last but not least, SearchLove London is approaching! Get your tickets here and do not miss out on the newest and hottest topics in digital marketing. At the time of writing, only 1 VIP ticket is left and you only have two weeks to take advantage of our early bird pricing (£150 off!) which is only available until the 19th of September.

Need further convincing? Will has written up 8 reasons why Search Love London is worth attending.

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Do 404s Hurt SEO and Rankings?

Do 404s Hurt SEO and Rankings?

Status code 404 is probably the most common HTTP error that people encounter when they’re browsing the web. If you’ve been using the internet for over a year, chances that you haven’t encountered one yet are pretty low. They’re very common.

 

Normally, people don’t pay too much attention to them. As a user, you will get frustrated at most and hit the back button or close the tab. As a webmaster, however, more things might be at stake. Many website owners ask themselves if 404 pages hurt their SEO and rankings in any way.

 

 

 

What Is Error Code 404?

How to Add/Customize a 404 Page
How to Find 404 Errors

Do 404 Pages Hurt SEO?

What Does Google Say About 404s?
Incoming 404s
How to Fix Incoming 404s
Outgoing 404s (Includes Internal 404s)
How to Fix Outgoing 404s

Building Backlinks with the Broken Links Method

 

Keep reading, as in this article we’ll go over how 404 pages affect your website, SEO and rankings and what you can do to fix things.

 
What Is Error Code 404?

 

Error 404 is a standard HTTP status code (also called response code). When you try to access a URL or a server, the server returns a status code to indicate how the operation went. Assuming that most of the web works fine, the most common status code is 200. If you’re reading this article now, it means that your browser was able to access our server and the server found the requested resource, so it returned a 200 response code.

 

When the client can establish a connection with the server but can’t find the requested resource, it pulls out a error 404 status code. It basically means that the page or whatever resource was requested cannot be found at that particular address.

 

To check the response code of a page you can right click anywhere on the page in your browsers, hit Inspect and then go to the Network section. If you can’t see the status codes, press the F5 key, or refresh the page while the inspector is still open.

 

Chrome Inspector

 

You will usually see a bunch of status codes there. That’s because a page will load multiple resources. For example, the requested page HTML/PHP file might be found, but some image resources have been misspelled or deleted. In this case, the page document type will return a 200 response code, while the missing image resources will return 404s.

 

A 404 status code in your browser will look something like this:

 

CognitiveSEO’s 404 Page

 

As you can see, we have a document type 404 error code, which means the page doesn’t exist or wasn’t found at that address, followed by two 200 status codes that represent a couple of images that have been found.

 

Another option would be to use a tool like https://httpstatus.io/. You can insert multiple URLs and it will return you their HTTP status codes. This will only pull out the main status code of the document, excluding any other resources. You can, however add the resource URL.

 

Response code tool

 

There are other response codes there that you might have heard of. 500, 501 and 503, for example, usually indicate a server error, while 301 and 302 stand for redirects. These, along with 200 and 404, make up the most common status codes on the web.

 

The 301s you see above in the tool and browser inspector are there because I’ve entered the HTTP version instead of the HTTPS version, so a 301 is performed by our server to redirect users to the secure version of our website. I’ve decided to leave them in the screenshots, because they’re a good example of how browsers and status code tools work.

 

It is really important for a page/resource that doesn’t exist to return a 404 status code. If it returns a 200 code, Google might index it.

 

However, to combat this, Google created a “Soft 404” label. Basically, if the page states that the content isn’t found, but the HTTP status code is 200, we have a soft 404. You can find these types of errors in Google’s Search Console (Former Webmaster Tools), under Crawl Errors. If you’re already on the new version of Search Console, the easiest way is to temporarily switch to the old one.

 

 

Soft 404s aren’t real error codes. They’re just a label added by Google to signal this issue or a missing page returning a 200 code.

 
How to Add/Customize a 404 Page

 

Normally, your web server should already handle 404s properly. This means that if you try to access a URL that doesn’t exist, the server will already pull out a 404.

However, sometimes the platform might not return a 404, but a blank 200 page. Also, as you can see above, the design isn’t very pleasant and the only option given is to refresh the page… which doesn’t exist. That will keep pulling up a 404 code.

 

It’s a very good idea to have a custom web design for your 404 page. Why? Well, because it can create a better experience for your users. I mean, the experience of not finding what you’re looking for is already bad. But you can add some humor to it, at least.

 

The most important part on your 404 page is to include a CTA (call to action).

 

Without a call to action, users will most probably leave when they see a regular 404. By inserting some links to some relevant pages, you can hopefully harvest some more traffic to your main pages.

 

Take a look at our example of 404 page. Big difference, isn’t it? It might actually convince you not to be upset with us. Also, we have a pretty clear CTA that tells you to click on it. It links to the homepage. Our homepage is our hub, from which you can access the most important and relevant parts of our website.

 

cognitiveSEO’s 404 Page Design

 

However, you don’t have to limit yourself to this. You can add links to relevant category pages or other sections of your site. A search bar would also be a great idea.

 

Be creative with your 404’s web design. If it puts a smile on the users’ faces, it might even be better than if they landed on the right page. You can take a look at a few examples in this article, to get your gears spinning.

 

If you have a cool 404 design, share your website with us in the comments section and let’s have a look at it!

 

Most popular CMS (Content Management Systems), like WordPress or Joomla, already have some sort of design implemented. You can easily add a custom design using a plugin. Here’s a plugin for WordPress.

 

If you have a custom built website, then you’ll have to create a 404 template. Log into your Apache web server and create a 404.php file. If you already have one, just edit that. Sometimes, it might have the .html extension. If it doesn’t return a 404 status code, change it to .php, because we’ll need to force the HTTP request header with the proper 404 error code using some PHP.

 

<?php
header(“HTTP/1.0 404 Not Found”);
?>

 

Then, find your .htaccess file and add the following line to it:

 

ErrorDocument 404 /404.php

 

This will tell the server which page should be shown when a 404 error code is detected. If the line is already there, just modify that. That’s it. Make sure you check everything again with your browser’s inspector or with the tool mentioned above. If it returns a 404 code, you’re good to go!

 
How to Find 404 Errors

 

An easy way to find 404 errors is to log into Google’s Search Console (Former Webmaster Tools). Those are the 404s that Google see, so they’re definitely the most important ones.

 

If you see Soft 404 errors, like mentioned above in the article, you have to make sure you 404 page actually returns a 404 error code. If not, it’s a good idea to fix that.

 

There are other ways to find 404 errors. If you’re looking for broken pages on your website, which other people have linked to, you can use the cognitiveSEO Site Explorer and check the Broken Pages section.

 

Screenshot from the CognitiveSEO Tool. More details about it below, in the article.

 

If you’re looking to find broken links within your own site, or links to other websites from your website, you can use Screaming Frog. A free alternative would be Xenu Link Sleuth.

 

I’ll show you how to use these SEO tools in detail below.

 
Do 404 Pages Hurt SEO?

 

There are a lot of experts out there stating that 404s will ruin your rankings and that you should fix them as soon as possible. But, the truth is that 404s are a normal part of the web and they are actually useful.

 

Think of it. If a specific place didn’t exist, wouldn’t you rather know it than constantly be directed to other random places? It’s the same on the web. While it’s a good idea to redirect an old page that’s been deleted to a new, relevant page, it’s not such a good idea to redirect every 404 to your homepage, for example. However, I’ve seen some sites redirect their users after a countdown timer, which I thought was a good idea.

 

In theory, 404s have an impact on rankings. But not the rankings of a whole site. If a page returns a 404 error code, it means it doesn’t exist, so Google and other search engines will not index it. Pretty simple, right? What can I say… make sure your pages exist if you want them to rank (ba dum ts).

 

So what’s all the hype about 404s? Well, obviously, having thousands and thousands of 404 pages can impact your website overall.

 

However, it’s not so much the actual 404 pages that hurt SEO, but the links that contain URLs pointing to the 404s.

 

You see, these links create a bad experience. They’re called broken links. If there were no broken links, there wouldn’t even be any 404 errors. In fact, you could say that there are an infinity of 404s, right? Just add a slash after your domain, type something random and hit enter. 404. But if search engines can’t find any links pointing to 404s, the 404s are… double non-existent. Because they already don’t exist… And then they don’t exist again. I hope you get the point.

 

I’ll explain everything in more detail soon, so keep reading.

 
What Does Google Say About 404s?

 

Google has always pointed out that 404s are normal. They also seem to be pretty forgiving with them. I mean, that’s natural, considering that they have 404s of their own:

 

 

In fact they’ve pointed these things out in an article from 2011 and also in this more recently posted video:

 

 

There’s also this source that also treats the issue:

 

 

If you want to read more on this, visit this link, then scroll to the bottom and open the Common URL errors dropdown.

 

However, let’s explain everything in more detail. People often forget that there two types of 404 pages. The ones on your site and the ones on other people’s website. They can both affect your site, but the ones that affect you most are the ones on other people’s websites.

 

“What? Other websites’s 404s can impact my website?”

 

Yes, that’s right. If your website links to other websites that return a 404, it can negatively impact its rankings. Remember, it’s not so much the 404s that cause the trouble, but the links to the 404s. No links to 404s, no 404s. So you’d better not create links to 404s.

 
Incoming 404s

 

Incoming 404s are URLs from other websites that point to your website, but return a 404. Incoming 404s are not always easy to fix. That’s because you can’t change the URLs on other websites, if you don’t own them. However, there are workarounds, such as 301 redirects. That should be kept as a last option, in case you cannot fix the URL.

 

These don’t really affect you negatively. I mean, why should you be punished? Maybe someone misspelled it, or maybe you deleted the page because it’s no longer useful. Should you be punished for that? Common sense kind of says that you shouldn’t and Google agrees.

 

However, this does affect your traffic, as when someone links to you, it sends you visitors. This might lead to bad user experience on your side as well. You can’t always change the actions of others, but you can adapt to them and you can definitely control yours.

 

Most webmasters will be glad to fix a 404, because they know it hurts their website. By sending their users to a location that doesn’t exist, they’re creating a bad experience.

 

If you’ve deleted a page with backlinks pointing to it (although it’s not a good idea to delete such a page) you must make sure you have a 301 redirect set up. If not, all the link equity from the backlinks will be lost.

 

If you don’t redirect backlinks to broken pages on your website to relevant locations, you won’t be penalized or anything, but you will miss out on the link equity.

 

A 301 is mandatory, because often you won’t be able to change all the backlinks. Let’s take social media, for example. On a social media platform like Facebook, one post with a broken link could be shared thousands of times. Good luck fixing all of them!

 

You could also link to your own website with a 404, from your own website. Broken internal linking is common on big websites with thousands of pages or shops with dynamic URLs and filters. Maybe you’ve removed a product, but someone linked to it in a comment on your blog. Maybe you had a static menu somewhere with some dynamic filters that don’t exist anymore. The possibilities are endless.

 
How to Fix Incoming 404s

 

Fixing incoming 404 URLs isn’t always very easy. That’s because you’re not in full control. If someone misspells a link pointing to your website, you’ll have to convince them to fix it. A good alternative to this is to redirect that broken link to the right resource. However, some equity can be lost in the process, so it’s great if you can get them to change the link. Nevertheless, the 301 is mandatory, just to make sure.

 

If you’ve deleted a page, you can let those webmasters know that link to it. Keep in mind that they might not like this and decide to link to another resource. That’s why you have to make sure that the new resource is their best option.

 

To find incoming broken links, you can use cognitiveSEO’s Site Explorer. Type in your website, hit enter, then go to the Broken Pages tab.

 

 

If you click the blue line, you can see what links are pointing to your 404 URL. The green line represents the number of total domains pointing to it. Some domains might link to your broken page multiple times. For example, the second row shows 33 links coming from 12 domains. The green bar is bigger because the ratio is represented vertically (the third green bar is 4 times smaller than the second green bar).

 

Then, unfortunately, the best method is to contact the owners of the domains and politely point out that there has been a mistake. Show them the correct/new resource and let them know about the possibility of creating a bad experience for their users when linking to a broken page. Most of them should be happy to comply.

 

Whether you get them to link to the right page or not, it’s a good idea to redirect the broken page to a relevant location. I repeat, a relevant location. Don’t randomly redirect pages or bulk redirect them to your homepage.

 

It’s also a good idea to do a background check on the domains before redirecting your URLs. Some of them might be spam and you might want to add them to the disavow list.

 

Remember, 404s should generally stay 404. We only redirect them when they get traffic or have backlinks pointing to them. If you change a URL or delete a page and nobody links to it or it gets absolutely no traffic (check with Google Analytics), it’s perfectly fine for it to return a 404.

 
Outgoing 404s (Includes Internal 404s)

 

Outgoing 404s are a lot easier to fix because you have complete control over them. That’s because they’re found on your own website. You’re the one linking to them. Sure, someone might have screwed you over by deleting a page or changing its URL, but you’re still responsible for the quality of your own website.

 

The only type of 404 links that really hurt your website are the ones that are on it. When you add a link from your website to another website, you have to make sure that URL actually exists or that you don’t misspell it. You might also have internal links that are broken. Similar to shooting yourself in the foot.

 

Broken links create bad user experience and we all know that Google (and probably other search engines as well) cares about user experience.

 

Google crawls the web by following links from one site to another, so if you tell Google “Hey man, check out this link!” only for it to find a dead end, I’m pretty sure whom Google’s going to be mad about.

 

That’s why, from time to time, it’s a good idea to check if you’re not linking out to 404s. You never know when one shows up. The best way to do it is to use some software that crawls your website. 

 
How to Fix Outgoing 404s

 

Fixing outgoing 404s is easier because you have full control over them. They’re on your site, so you can change them.

 

To find them, you can use either Screaming Frog or Xenu Link Sleuth. I know Xenu looks shady, but it’s safe, it works and it’s free.

 

If you have a Screaming Frog subscription, go ahead and crawl your website. The free version supports 500 URLs, but a new website with under 500 URLs rarely has broken links. After the crawl is finished (it might take hours or even days for big sites), go check the Response Code tab and then filter it by searching for 404. At the bottom, go to the Inlinks section to find the location of the broken URL on your website.

 

 

 

Another way to do it is to go to the External tab, but there you won’t find the internal broken links. To find its location, go to Inlinks, again.

 

 

If you want to use a free alternative, go for Xenu. However, things are a little more complicated with Xenu. Xenu doesn’t point out pretty much anything else other than URLs and their status codes. It also doesn’t always go through 301s to crawl your entire site, so you’ll have to specify the correct version of your site, be it HTTP or HTTPS, www or non-www.

 

To begin the crawl, go to File -> Check URL. Then enter your website’s correct main address and hit OK. Make sure that the Check External Links box is checked.

 

 

After the crawl is done, you can sort the list by status codes. However, a better way is to go to View and select Show Broken Links Only. After that, to view the location of the broken link on your site, you’ll have to right click and hit URL properties. You’ll find all the pages that link to it.

 

Unfortunately, I haven’t found a proper way of exporting the link locations, so you’re stuck with right clicking each link manually.

 

After you’ve located the links with either Xenu or Screaming Frog, edit them in your admin section to point them to a working URL. You can also just 301 them, but some link equity will be lost so the best thing to do is to fix the links themselves. Just remember that the 301 redirect is mandatory.

 
Building Links with the Broken Links Method

 

These 404s, always a struggle, aren’t they? That’s true, but there’s also a very cool thing about 404s. The fact that you can exploit them to build new links.

 

Sounds good, right? Let me explain.

 

Wouldn’t you like someone to point out to you a broken link on your site? I’d certainly like that. What if then, they’d even go further as to give you a new resource to link to, one even better than the one you were linking to before? Would you consider linking to it?

 

Well, if you find some relevant sites that link to broken pages, you might as well do them a favor and let them know. And how can you do that, exactly? Well, you can use the Broken Pages section of CognitiveSEO’s Site Explorer, of course.

 

 

However, you’ll also need some great content to pitch them if you want this to work. If you don’t have that, they won’t bother linking to you. They’ll just remove the broken link and thank you for pointing it out. So, if you aren’t already working on a great content creation strategy, you should get started.

 

The secret to broken link building, however, is to have awesome content that they can link to.

 

Once you find a website linking to a broken page, all you have to do is email them something like this:

 

Hey there, I was checking your site and followed a link but it leads to a page that doesn’t exist. You might want to fix that, as it creates a bad experience for your users. Also, if you find it appropriate, I have a pretty good resource on that topic you could link to. Let me know if you like it.

 

I’d go one step further and actually search the site which has been linked to for the resource. If it’s there, at a new location, point that out before your article. You’ll have more chances of them trusting you this way. Your article will be an alternative. Also, if the old resource is worse, they’ll be able to compare them and see the difference.

 

The broken link method is one of the best SEO strategies for link building. If you want to learn more about this method and how to apply it effectively, you can read this awesome article about broken pages link building technique.

 

Conclusion

 

So, if you were wondering if 404 errors hurt SEO, now you know the answer. Anyway, let me summarize it:

 

404 error pages don’t really hurt your SEO, but there’s definitely a lot you can miss out if you don’t fix them. If you have backlinks pointing to pages on your website that return a 404, try to fix those backlinks and 301 redirect your broken URLs to relevant location. If you have links on your site that point to broken pages, make sure you fix those as soon as possible, to maximize the link equity flow and UX.

 

What are your experiences with 404 pages? Do you constantly check your website for 404s? Have you ever used the broken pages link building method mentioned above? Let us know in the comments section!

The post Do 404s Hurt SEO and Rankings? appeared first on SEO Blog | cognitiveSEO Blog on SEO Tactics & Strategies.

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4 warning signs AdSense is ruining your contextual advertising strategy

4 warning signs AdSense is ruining your contextual advertising strategy

In the dark ages of the SEO era, when bloggers and webmasters were still familiarizing themselves with the process and its functionality, certain tactics and strategies had become industry standards.

The era I’m talking about is the one where Google AdSense was heavily built into the foundation of a blogger’s strategy. The “legacy” tactics associated with this approach can still be found in the way modern publishers think about SEO and branding strategy. However, AdSense’s limited customizability can hold back publishers. This needs be addressed and rooted out.

Before assuming AdSense is the best monetization partner for you, consider these four warning signs. If you’re guilty of practicing any of these points, it’s time you re-evaluated your monetization partner and strategy.

1. You haven’t considered other platforms

It’s no secret that AdSense as a standalone monetization stream isn’t enough to earn substantial revenue. Most solopreneurs that still operate in the “blogosphere” have understood for years that it is important to branch out and diversify revenue streams. So there’s nothing revolutionary about this concept.

Most of the focus on diversification has been on developing products to sell, with eBooks being a gold standard. This is great advice, even if it can become a bit boilerplate at times. But we’re not talking about selling products today. We’re talking about contextual advertising, which means placing relevant ads on your site that fit in with the content of your page. When it comes to contextual advertising, too many people still aren’t considering their other options.

Media.net, the second largest contextual advertising business worldwide by revenue, is a good place to start experimenting. The platform uses machine-learning algorithms to predict user intent, based on the content of your pages, and serves ads based on the associated keywords. With Media.net you get exclusive access to Yahoo! Bing’s $6 billion worth of search demand. This allows you to leverage quality advertisers even if you are in a smaller niche.

Performance is obviously different for every site, but Perrin Carrell of AuthorityHacker claims Media.net ads earns them 5x as much as AdSense ads, and Jon Dykstra of FatStacksBlog reported that some Media.net ad placements were earning more revenue than all other ad networks.

One of the biggest advantages of Media.net ads is that their ads are heavily customizable. Sizes and designs can be designed to match your site so that they are native to your content and inline with your branding, resulting in higher engagement and revenue. Native ads are a great way to offer your readers an uninterrupted experience since these ads look like a natural extension of your website. In fact, these ads are also mobile responsive, which means more revenue for you.

Media.net Native Ad Unit

 

Media.net Contextual Ad Unit

From there, you can also consider ad servers like the Google Ad Manager (formerly DoubleClick For Publishers) and OpenX. Ad server platforms like these give publishers great control over ads, including the ability to set preferred deals with a CPM floor, and the option to interact directly with the ad marketplace.

In short, if AdSense is the only ad platform you’ve experimented with, you are missing out on great revenue-generating opportunities.

2. You are picking topics based on AdWords keyword bids

The SEO industry grew up on the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, and its successor, the Keyword Planner. One trend, born in the age of “Made For AdSense” (MFA) blogs and microsites, was to use the Keyword Planner to discover topics to write about based on AdWords bid prices.

This approach was never a good long-term strategy. A blog based on topics chosen to optimize revenue according to this approach often leads to a poorly branded content site that doesn’t naturally adapt to the needs of its audience. The obviously commercial intent of the topics chosen puts a hard ceiling on the size of your recurring audience.

Search engines like sites that build recurring audiences. They earn higher click through rates from the search engines, which Googlers have admitted are used to judge SERP quality.

Modern content creators need to select topics based on what will most successfully help them cultivate an audience. This means identifying keywords that address specific problems you can help users solve. 

You do not find these topics by typing generic industry keywords into the Keyword Planner. You find them by identifying your audience and the platforms they frequent, the kind of questions they ask one another, or even asking them directly what they are most frustrated with, and looking for satisfaction gaps in the answers to those questions. Only then should you turn to the Keyword Planner to start looking for the best keywords to represent your solutions.

The goal isn’t to target valuable keywords, but to target valuable audiences. This is a crucial difference that should guide your strategy at a more foundational level.

3. Your ad placement is based on MFA “best practices” instead of testing

“Best practices” rooted in old school MFA thinking prevent you from building your own monetization strategy from the ground up. They can also hurt your rankings in the search results.

Damaged Rankings

Old school, “gray hat” MFA tactics like trying to place ads where they will be confused for navigation rather than placing them depending on your layout and content were never good branding strategies, and simply don’t work anymore.

Google’s internal quality rater guidelines explicitly state that sites should never disguise advertisements as the main content or navigation of the site, and if they do they will receive the “lowest” quality rating. Likewise for ads that make the main content unreadable, as well as ads that are distracting because they are too shocking.

Bad Strategy

Even advice that seems innocuous and doesn’t violate search guidelines can be harmful.

Recommendations like “place your ad in the sidebar,” “place it within your content just above the fold,” or “use the 300×250 ad size” are often unhelpful and counterproductive. Advice this specific shouldn’t be given without context, because ads should be placed in a way that fits your site design.

Suggestions like these are always hypotheses that you should test, not rules written in stone. Run your own A/B tests to find out what works for you.

We recommend Google Analytics Experiments for your testing because their Bayesian statistical methods make it easier to interpret results, because they are free, and because the data is as fully incorporated into Google Analytics as possible.

4. You are not partnering with sponsors

This is one of the biggest opportunities you miss out on if you operate on an AdSense-focused monetization strategy. When you work with sponsors, you can work advertisements entirely into the main content of your blog post, or host articles that are sponsored content created by sponsors themselves. You can negotiate deals that will guarantee a certain level of revenue, which is not always possible using programmatic advertising.

You can collaborate with sponsors on innovative campaigns that will earn the sponsor far more attention than traditional ads, which naturally means they will be willing to spend more. Innovative approaches can also result in more exposure not just for your sponsor, but even for your own brand.

It also lets you monetize on channels where AdSense won’t, such as your social media platforms.

If you aren’t reaching out to potential sponsors to discuss possibilities like these, you are missing out on substantial revenue.

Conclusion

AdSense should not be thought of as central to your contextual advertising strategy, or worse, the foundation of how you approach brand building. Diversify your advertising platforms, migrate your market research outside of AdSense’s native tools, and rely on your own testing strategies. Let your brand drive your monetization strategy, not the other way around.

Manish Dudharejia is the president and founder of E2M Solutions Inc, a San Diego based digital agency that specializes in website design & development and ecommerce SEO. Follow him on Twitter.

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Structured Data Can = MehSEO

Structured Data Can = MehSEO

In 2011, Google, Bing & Yahoo announced Schema.org which got SEOs all excited to start marking up website content to turn it into “structured data.” The benefit would be that search engines would be more certain that a text string of numbers was in fact a phone number, or at least they would be more certain that you wanted them to think it was phone number. The search engines could then turn the structured data into eye-catching fripperies designed to seduce searchers into surrendering their clicks and revenue to your fabulously marked-up site (aka “Rich Results).

It also could help your fridge talk to your Tesla.

So pretty much every SEO marked-up their audits and conference presentations with recommendations to mark up all the things. LSG was no exception. And we have seen it work some nice SEO miracles.

There was the ecommerce site that lost all its product review stars until we reconfigured the markup. There was the yellow pages site that got a spammy structured data manual action for merging a partner’s review feed into its own. There is the software vendor and its clients that (still!) violate Google’s structured data guidelines and get away with it. There have been countless Knowledge Panels that have needed the tweaking one can only get from a perfectly implemented https://schema.org/logo.

But structured data is not a killer SEO strategy for all situations, and it’s important that SEOs and clients understand that often it’s more of a future-proofing game than an actual near-term traffic or money-generator. For example, let’s take this UGC site that generated about 22 million clicks from Google over the past three months and see how many clicks are reported as coming from “Rich Results” in Google Search Console:

So less than one-half of one-half of 1% of clicks came from a “Rich Result.” Not particularly impressive.

The good news is that Google is in fact using the structured markup. We can see evidence of it in the SERPs. But it’s likely the content of this site doesn’t lend itself to eye-popping featured snippets. For example, many of the Rich Results appear to just be bolded words that appear in the URL snippets in the SERPs, kind of like this:

It also may just take time before Google trusts your markup.

So before you drop everything and prioritize structured markup, you may want to consult Google’s Structured Data Gallery to get an idea of which types of content Google is pushing to markup. You also should check the SERPs to see what your competitors are doing in this area and how their marked-up content is being displayed. This should give you a good idea of what the potential is for your site.

And remember,”you can mark-up anything, but you can’t mark-up everything…” – Tony Robbins?

The post Structured Data Can = MehSEO appeared first on Local SEO Guide.

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