SEO Articles

SEO 101: 11 tips you need to know when you optimize your site

SEO 101: 11 tips you need to know when you optimize your site

SEO can boost the traffic to your site by paying closer attention to what your visitors want from you. It can help you create the content that your readers will enjoy while optimizing your pages to be as useful as possible.

The first steps towards search engine optimization can be scary, but you can start implementing small changes to improve your rankings in search results.

After all, SEO success doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s better to start with the small changes that will gradually lead to greater success.

Defining SEO success can be subjective, but in general, we want to:

Be more relevant for our target audience
Increase the search traffic coming to our site
Build awareness from search results
Use the opportunity to improve the site’s user experience
Find new business prospects by beating competitors in search results.

11 tips to keep in mind when you start optimizing your site
Focus on your content

A good start to search engine optimization is to pay attention to your content. Keywords can help you become more specific to your search objectives, but you still need to create quality content.

Your content should make sense to your readers first, rather than the search engines. It used to be a common suggestion to add all your keywords throughout your copy but this risked the chance of alienating your audience. The modern approach to SEO requires you pay attention to the quality of your content to stand out with your copy.

Understand your keywords (but search like a human being)

You need to perform a keyword research to find the best keywords that will bring you success. The next step is to include them in your copy in the most natural way. It’s important to understand that your keywords are your search terms that people will search for your site. They need to make sense and they shouldn’t be too general.

Think the way you’d perform a search. Would you search for ‘search engine optimization tips’ or ‘best tips for SEO beginners’? The more specific you get, the higher the chances to find your niche audience.

Think like a user

Once you start searching like a user, the next step is to also think like a user when you’re improving your site. You don’t have to be an SEO expert to make small tweaks to your site’s performance.

For example, how fast is your load page? If your site is too slow then this will also affect your search rankings. Moreover, if your site is not optimized for all devices, then Google probably won’t place you high in the search results.

User experience becomes more important than ever and you need to consider all the changes that will make your site easier for your visitors. Seek suggestions from people who visit your site for the first time. The feedback can be valuable.

The art of the headline

Your headlines should be short but descriptive. It’s suggested you create headlines of 50-60 characters. This is the limit of what search engines access so even if you create longer headlines, the rest won’t be tracked.

Use the headline to describe your content and the page that the visitor will access. Make it appealing, but not misleading. Feel free to be creative, provided that you still stay loyal to the context.

Add internal links

Internal links help you highlight the value of your content. It’s a good way to increase your traffic while boosting your SEO, one page at a time. Every link should have a different focus keyword to avoid cannibalizing your own content.

Add external links

External links can also bring value to your site provided that you use them in moderation. You don’t want to lose your readers by leading them to a page that serves as your competitor. Make sure you’re only linking to pages of high authority to increase the process of building trust while adding further value to your content. Treat link building as a strategy and avoid the temptation of over-stuffing your content with external links.

Involve social media for authority building

It’s common to ask whether social media affects your SEO strategy. Although there is no direct correlation between the two, it is still useful to build your social presence while improving your search rankings.

The more visible you are, the higher the chances of building your credibility by reaching a wider audience. After all, tweets can show up in search rankings and social success can still lead to multiple benefits.

Create fresh content but don’t forget your older content

Fresh content can serve as a ‘signal’ that you’re regularly updating your site. Whether it’s a blog post or any tweaks to keep your messaging new, it’s good to add new content from time to time.

Except for new content, it’s also useful to revise your existing copy. Your older blog posts can end up having bigger value than your latest ones. SEO takes time to work, which means that the older your post, the higher it can land in rankings.

Make sure you create good content and you use the right keywords and keep an eye on the performance of your older posts to keep them up-to-date. This can be a good tactic to boost your site’s traffic without necessarily creating new posts.

Add meta tags

Title tags describe the content of your page. It’s the language that helps search engines understand what your site is about. This is where you need to add the right keywords that are more relevant to your page.

Moreover, a meta description provides the right context for your title tags helping both search engines and people to get a quick glimpse of your content. A meta description should be no more than 160 characters and you need to pick your words wisely. This is the copy that may convince users to click on your page.

Optimize your images

SEO is not limited to written text, but it can also extend to images. As visual content becomes more popular, it’s critical to optimize your images to make them easier for people to find them.

Luckily, it doesn’t take time to optimize your images, here’s a guide to help you improve image optimization.

Think of image search as a new chance of building traffic to your site.

Local SEO

Local marketing is gaining ground as more marketers try to reach more targeted audiences. As Google invests in local advertising, there is also a growing space for local SEO. Keyword strategies focus more on local audiences and the copy can be optimized to fit different targeting.

A good way to keep up with local SEO is to learn as many details as possible about your target audience. Think what their local needs are and what keywords could bring you more traffic to your site.

Overview

SEO nowadays is all about providing an excellent user experience by paying attention to everything that includes the copy, the design, the keywords and the insights from your target audience.

Always think like the user and try to be relevant and useful with your content. Don’t ignore keywords but make sure you use them only when appropriate.

Last but not least, SEO takes time so don’t lose hope if you don’t see any difference in rankings after your first tweaks.

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What is duplicate content?

What is duplicate content?

You’ve probably come across the term duplicate content quite a lot, but what is it? Duplicate content is content that lives in several locations — i.e., URLs. Duplicate content can harm your rankings and many people say that copious amounts of it can even lead to a penalty by Google. That’s not true, though. There is no duplicate content penalty, but having loads of duplicate or copied content can get Google to influence your rankings negatively.

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What does duplicate content mean?

Duplicate content is all content that is available on multiple locations on or off your site. It often lives on a different URL and sometimes even on a different domain. Most duplicate content happens accidentally or is the result of a sub-par technical implementation. For instance, your site could be available on both www and non-www or HTTP and HTTPS — or both at the same time, the horror! Or maybe your CMS uses excessive dynamic URL parameters that confuse search engines. Even your AMP pages could count as duplicate content if not linked properly. Duplicate content is everywhere.

Google’s definition of duplicate content is as follows:

“Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. Mostly, this is not deceptive in origin.”

That last part is important. If you scrape, copy and spin existing content — Google calls this copied content — with the intention of deceiving the search engine to get a higher ranking you will be on dangerous ground.

Google says this type of malicious intent might trigger an action:

“Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results”

Michiel has some great tips for discovering duplicate content on your site: DIY Duplicate content check. Google’s documentation is also a goldmine for working with duplicate content.

Duplicate content vs. copied content vs. thin content

The topic of duplicate content confuses a lot of people. For Google, most duplicate content has a technical origin, but it will also look at the content itself. “I have two URLs for the same article, which one should I choose?” While most regular people will probably think of pieces of similar content that appear elsewhere on a site. “I have used this piece of text in several other places, is that bad?” This is all duplicate content, but for determining rankings, search engines make a distinction between duplicate content, copied content and thin content.

Your duplicate content might classify as copied content if you use an existing text and rehash it quickly to reuse it on your site. It doesn’t matter if you give it a little spin or put in a few keywords, this behavior is not acceptable.  Throw in a couple of thin content pages — pages that have little to no quality content — and you’re in dangerous territory. Site quality is an issue and these tactics can bring serious harm to your site. Remember Panda?

Don’t block duplicate content on your site

Google is pretty apt at discovering and handling duplicate content. The search engine is smart enough to figure out what to do with most of the duplicate content it finds. If it finds multiple versions of a page it will fold these into the version it finds best — in most cases, this will be the original article/page. What it does need, though, is complete access to these URLs. If you block Googlebot in your robots.txt from crawling these URLs, it cannot figure these things out by itself and you will run the risk of Google treating these pages as separate instances. Here are a couple of things you should do:

Allow robots to crawl these URLs
Mark the content as duplicate by using rel=canonical (read more about this below)
Use Google’s URL Parameter Handling tool to determine how parameters should be handled
Use 301 redirects to send users and crawlers to the canonical URL

There’s more you can do to fight duplicate content on your site as Joost describes in his article on duplicate content: causes and solutions.

Use rel=canonical!

One of the essential tools in your duplicate content fighting toolkit is rel=”canonical” . You can use this piece of code to determine what the original URL is of a piece of content, something we call the canonical URL. We have an excellent ultimate guide to rel=”canonical” that shows you everything there is to know about it.

Focus on original, fresh and authoritative content

Another tool in your arsenal to fight duplicate, copied and unoriginal content are your writing skills. Google is focused on quality. It is always on the lookout for the best possible piece of content that fits the users intent best. Your goal should not be to make a quick buck but to leave a lasting impression. Watch out for thin content and make sure to make it original and of high quality.

The same goes for similar content on your site. We’ve talked about keyword cannibalization before and this is an extension of that. Folding several comparable posts into one can achieve much better results, both in terms of rankings as well as fighting duplicate content.

Here’s Google’s take on similar content:

“Minimize similar content: If you have many pages that are similar, consider expanding each page or consolidating the pages into one. For instance, if you have a travel site with separate pages for two cities, but the same information on both pages, you could either merge the pages into one page about both cities or you could expand each page to contain unique content about each city.”

Duplicate content is everywhere — know what to do about it

Ex-Googler Matt Cutts once famously said that 20% to 30% of the web consists of duplicate content. While I’m not sure these numbers are still accurate; duplicate content continues to pop up on every site. This doesn’t have to be bad news. Fix what you can and don’t try and turn duplicate content and its siblings copied content and thin content into a viable SEO strategy.

Read on: Content maintenance for SEO »

The post What is duplicate content? appeared first on Yoast.

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How to Get Around Google’s Latest Algorithm Change

How to Get Around Google’s Latest Algorithm Change

Have you noticed that Google is constantly making algorithm changes? And when they do, they rarely tell you the change they’ve made.

They tend to keep it a bit vague, like this…

So, do you want to know how got around this algorithm update?

Well, before I tell you how, there are a few things you need to know.

How Google works

Can you guess how many factors there are in Google’s algorithm?

It’s over 200!

SEO is complicated. If Google made SEO easy you would see product and service pages rank at the top of every Google search instead of content-rich pages.

That means it would be easier for you to rank and make money, which would cause fewer companies to spend money on Google Ads.

Just look at the image above, Google generated over 95 billion dollars in ad revenue. That’s a ridiculous amount of money!

Now, Google isn’t just focusing on placing content-rich sites high up in the search results because they care about ad revenue, they do this because that’s what you want.

See, Google’s goal is to provide the best experience for you.

If you as a user wanted to see product and service related pages in the top of organic results, then that’s what they would start doing.

By providing you with the best user experience, this causes you to keep coming back to Google, which allows them to monetize through ads.

If they didn’t focus on user experience and making you happy, Google wouldn’t be the most popular search engine. It would be Bing or some other search engine.

So, when Google makes an algorithm change they are doing this because they’ve learned how to provide a better experience for you.

They aren’t making these changes because they want to screw up your rankings or ruin your business.

Google isn’t perfect

Similar to any other business, Google isn’t perfect. They make mistakes (we all do), and sometimes the changes they make may not provide the best experience for you.

When they may roll out changes, they may learn some adjustments didn’t work out the way they wanted, which causes them to constantly go back and make tweaks.

This is why you see search traffic fluctuations. Just look at my search traffic for all of 2017:

When looking at the graph above, you may notice that I generated 6,162,300 visits from search of which 4,284,056 were unique.

And if you look even closer, you’ll see that 2017 started off really well. February was a great month even though it has fewer days.

In February, I generated 390,919 visits from search but then in March, my traffic went down. And then in April, I saw another drop.

The drop may not seem that big when you look at the graph, but April’s search traffic came in at 292,480. That’s a 25.18% drop in search traffic when you compare it to February.

Ouch!

I didn’t make any major changes to my website that would have caused the drop and there isn’t seasonality around that time…

As you can see from the screenshot above, my 2018 search traffic shows a trend of going up and to the right (that throws the seasonality theory out the door).

And honestly, I don’t know if Google made any algorithm changes during that time in 2017 because I don’t pay attention to them (I’ll get into this a bit later).

In other words, your traffic is going to fluctuate, and that is ok. But when you look at your search traffic, as long as it is going up and to the right year after year, you are fine.

2017 was a rough year for me as my search traffic didn’t start going up again until August. I wasn’t doing anything different, it’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

So why don’t I pay attention to Google algorithm updates?

I mentioned this above, and I know it may seem shocking. Yes, I do read up on them every once in a while, but I don’t need Google to tell me about where they are heading with their algorithm.

You, the user, tell me this.

So instead, I focus on you. If I do what’s best for you, eventually my site will rank higher.

Sure, in the short run my rankings may drop, but I know if I focus on you (the user) it will give me the highest probability of ranking in the long run.

Just look at my search traffic for the first 7 months of 2018:

I’ve already beat my 2017 numbers!

5,017,790 is the number of unique search visitors that have come to NeilPatel.com in the first 7 months of 2018. The count for all of 2017 was 4,284,056.

That’s a huge difference.

As long as I do what’s best for you I know that my total traffic should go up and to the right.

If you look at my traffic from when I started to blog on NeilPatel.com (August 2014) to now, you’ll see that my traffic goes up and down each month, but the overall graph is up and to the right.

So, are you saying that you don’t care about SEO?

No, I still care about SEO and I practice it daily.

I just don’t stress out about every Google algorithm update because it isn’t in my control.

This doesn’t mean I ignore the advice Google gives. For example, when they announced that they were going to create a mobile-first index, I made sure I optimized my site for mobile.

But trying to read into every Google update and making assumptions on what I should do next is like playing a game of cat and mouse.

It’s time consuming, exhausting and inefficient. You are better off spending your time making your website better for your users.

Like I always say: Succeeding with digital marketing is a long-term game. Focus on the long term.

So how do you ensure long-term success?

I already showed you that my traffic goes up and to the right over time.

Here’s my secret to ensure that Google loves you in the long run.

Please, please, please note that some of the tactics I’m about to share with you may reduce your traffic in the short run, but you will be better off in the long run.

Strategy #1: Prune and crop

A lot of marketers discuss how pruning and cropping your content can triple your traffic.

If you aren’t familiar with the process, it’s as simple as updating your mediocre content and make it amazing. And as for your irrelevant content that is no longer valid, you would delete them and 301 redirect those URLs.

I’ve done this multiple times on dozens of sites. I have friends who have done it as well. We all see one major trend from doing this… traffic usually drops.

Even if those pages that you are pruning and cropping barely get any Google traffic, you’ll still typically see a drop in traffic.

The only time you’ll see an increase is if your content was so bad, such as deleting short blog posts that are filled with duplicate content.

Even if your blog is new, you should consider pruning and cropping once a year. It will ensure that you are updating your content, thus providing the best experience for your users.

Here’s the process I use to prune and crop (use Excel or Google Sheets to do this):

Create a list of all of the URLs on your website – using Screaming Frog, I crawl my website so I can get a full list of every URL, title tag, meta description, number of inlinks (number of internal links pointing to that URL), and the word count.
Add in traffic per page – I then log into my Google Analytics account and list out how much traffic each URL is generating.
And then I add in backlinks per page – I put each URL into Ahrefs to see how many backlinks each URL has.
Lastly, add in social shares per URL – using a tool like SharedCount you can get the total social shares per URL.

You should have a spreadsheet that looks something like this:

I know the image may be hard to see, so here is a sample.

Some of the data is junk and inaccurate in the sample. Also keep in mind that I am missing some data, such as meta description and social shares (I still haven’t completed this spreadsheet).

The reason I shared the sheet with you is that you’ll notice I added a few additional columns such as “what to do” and “redirect to.”

The 4 options I have under “what to do” are: optimize, delete, redirect, and nothing.

Once your spreadsheet is complete, you need to manually review each URL and select one of the 4 options above. Here’s when to select each one:

Optimize – if the page is popular, it has backlinks, traffic, and social shares, consider optimizing it. This could involve adding more internal links to the page, updating the content, or even optimizing the on-page code.
Delete – if the page has little to no search traffic, backlinks, social shares, and doesn’t provide any value to the user, consider deleting it. When doing so you will want to update any internal links that were pointing to this URL and then, of course, take this URL and 301 redirect it to the most relevant page.
Redirect – if the page is very similar to another page on your site, consider merging the content and 301 redirecting the URL to the similar one. You’ll want to take the least popular version and redirect it to the popular one. A good example of this is if you have two blog posts about social media marketing tools, you’ll want to combine the content, create a 301 redirect, and adjust the internal links to point to the final URL.
Nothing – if the page is fine and there is nothing wrong with it, do nothing.

Strategy #2: Expand internationally

There are over 7 billion people in this world, and most of them don’t speak English.

Yes, Google is a difficult beast to conquer, but it isn’t in non-English speaking countries. Whether it is France, Germany, Brazil, or any other country where English isn’t the main language… it’s much easier to get to the top of Google.

Sure, the search volume may not be as high in countries like Brazil, but because the competition is low, you can dominate fast.

Here are the most widely spoken languages in the world:

And here is the GDP per country:

And here is the population per country:

The best countries to go after when it comes to SEO are the ones that have a high GDP and a large population.

Going international has done wonders for my traffic.

In the last 31 days, the United States only made up 24.23% of my traffic. If you want to grow your global search rankings, just follow the steps in this blog post.

It goes in-depth on international expansion and the lessons I learned from a Google employee.

The cool part about international SEO is that it also creates a better user experience for your users as they will be able to read your content in their native language.

Strategy #3: Fix broken links, images, and media files

Let me ask you a question…

What if you were reading this post and half of the links you clicked on where broken? Especially the links that were supposed to teach you the steps you needed to take to grow your traffic?

You would be upset, right?

I know I would.

And to make matters worse, what if half of the images in this post were also broken?

Do you see how that would provide a terrible experience?

Well of course you do. That’s why you need to fix broken links, broken images, and broken media files on your website.

You don’t have to do this every month, but you should do this once a quarter. You can even use tools like Broken Link Check to make things a bit easier for you.

Strategy #4: Fix errors within Google Search Console

Even if you don’t log into Google Search Console, they will email you when there is a spike in errors.

When you get these emails, make sure you fix them. If you don’t know how to fix them, find a developer on Upwork to help you fix them.

And once you fix them, Google will email you when they acknowledge the fix.

It’s really important to fix your Search Console errors. I know this is an obvious tip, but most people don’t do it.

This one little thing will reduce your search traffic fluctuations. You will never be able to stop the fluctuations, but this will help reduce them.

Strategy #5: Build a brand

Do you know what the future of SEO is?

It’s brands!

The websites that dominate Google may not have the most backlinks, but they tend to have big brands.

People trust brands, which means Google trusts brands.

When you want to buy running shoes, what brand comes to mind?

I bet it’s Nike.

When you want a credit card, what brand are you going to choose?

Probably Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.

You don’t always Google for a product or service, in many cases you just go to the brands you are familiar with.

Not only does building a brand help with Google traffic, but it helps diversify your traffic sources so you aren’t just relying on Google search.

If you don’t believe that branding is valuable, check out this blog post. It breaks down how I grew my traffic from 240,839 to 454,382 visitors in one month (before exploding into seven digits) all because of branding.

It even breaks down the steps you can follow to build up a brand for your company.

It works so well, that I was even able to grow the brand value of my free marketing tool, Ubersuggest.

Strategy #6: Keeping a close eye on my competition

You don’t have to be 10 times better than your competition to beat them. Just being a little bit better can do wonders.

Now, if it was up to me, I would tell you to be 10 times better, but I know that can be expensive and is unrealistic in most cases.

If you haven’t, subscribe to your competition’s website.

From joining their email list to following them on their social profiles to even testing out their products/services.

Do whatever you can to stay up to date on your competition. If you can beat them, even by a little bit, people will prefer your site over their site in the long run. This will help you rank higher and get more traffic (and sales!).

And as I mentioned above, being 10 times better is a bit crazy, but usually when you do that your competition won’t copy you.

When you beat them by a little bit, that’s where you will find yourself battling back and forth when it comes to winning over people (and Google).

Conclusion

If you want to get around Google’s algorithm changes, you have to stay ahead by focusing on your users. Do what’s best for them and you won’t have to deal with Google’s ever-changing algorithm.

If you don’t follow the tips above, you’ll save time in the short run, but you’ll find yourself playing a game of cat and mouse in the long run. That just seems exhausting to me.

I don’t pay too much attention to algorithm updates and you shouldn’t either. Instead, focus on providing an amazing user experience. That’s what will cause you to win in the long run.

Now, there will be times where your traffic will drop, but don’t freak out. You can eventually come out on top by focusing on your users.

And if you got to the top of Google by optimizing your site for search engines instead of people, you will eventually get caught up in an update. When that happens, check out this algorithm tracker as it will help you determine what’s changed, what you did wrong, and what you need to fix.

It’s just tedious, which is why I get ahead, focus on the user, so that way I don’t have to focus on Google as much.

So, do you pay attention to every algorithm update Google does?

The post How to Get Around Google’s Latest Algorithm Change appeared first on Neil Patel.

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Yoast SEO 7.9.1: Dutch checks complete & improved keyword recognition

Yoast SEO 7.9.1: Dutch checks complete & improved keyword recognition

At Yoast we’re convinced readability is essential if you want to rank high and give users a pleasant experience on your website. That’s why we’re so happy we’re now capable of fully analyzing content in yet another language: Dutch! Plus, if you write in a language with diacritics, i.e. marks on a letter that indicate the pronunciation, like in mot-clé in French, we have some good news for you:  Yoast SEO is now able to identify those keywords too.

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Leesbare teksten in het Nederlands

In Yoast SEO 7.9.1 we’ve completed all Yoast SEO content checks for Dutch. By adding the final assessment: the passive voice check, we’re now able to fully check all assessments that belong to the readability and SEO analysis. We’ve added Dutch to the list of completed languages, as we’ve already did for English, Spanish, French, Russian, German an Italian. Dutch might not be the most-used language on the planet, but it’s dear to our heart being the native language of most Yoasters. We’re so glad we can now ban passiveness from our mother tongue too!

Improved keyword recognition

In addition to the above language enhancement, we’ve smashed some linguistic bugs. Our content analysis sometimes had trouble recognizing the keyword while it was there, leading to some frustration among users. For instance, if it was present in possessive form (e.g. `Natalia` in `Natalia’s fix`) or if it had special diacritics in the URL (e.g. mañana in Spanish) Yoast SEO would fail to recognize it. Also, it would have difficulties to find the keyword if it was flanked by a Spanish inverted exclamation and question mark. All these issues are solved now: ¡Con mucho gusto!

Contributions

Together with some skilled developers of our beloved WordPress community we’ve also took on some performance issues and other bugs to make our plugin run smoother. We humbly thank Piero Bellomo and Jaska120 for contributing to the quality of Yoast SEO.

What’s ahead?

As we’ve already mentioned, exciting times are coming. Soon you’ll see how Yoast SEO will evolve thanks to Gutenberg. On top of that, we’re working hard to make Yoast SEO analyze your text the way Google does. Not something you’d want to miss. Stay tuned!

But for now, go update! Want to check the details first? Go read our changelog.

P.s. Did you know claiming your website on Pinterest is super easy with Yoast SEO?

Pinterest is one of the bigger – visual – search engines in the world. So as a blogger or online shop owner, promoting your imagery on Pinterest can bear fruit. If you prove to Pinterest that your website is yours by claiming it, this will give you added benefits. Pinterest will show your profile picture on your Pins and, most importantly, you’ll get access to Pinterest Analytics. This will give you lots of insights and ways to use this tool more effectively.

It can be a hassle to verify your website on Pinterest if you’re not a developer though, because you’d need to add the verification code to the <head> section of your site. But with Yoast SEO everyone can do it! We’ve updated the link to Pinterest’s guidelines on the Pinterest tab in the social section of Yoast SEO. Just follow those and you’re all set!

Read more: Why you should buy Yoast SEO Premium »

The post Yoast SEO 7.9.1: Dutch checks complete & improved keyword recognition appeared first on Yoast.

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Take the 2018 Moz Local Search Marketing Industry Survey

Take the 2018 Moz Local Search Marketing Industry Survey

Posted by MiriamEllis

Local search marketing is a dynamic and exciting discipline, but like many digital professions, it can be a bit isolating. You may find yourself running into questions that don’t have a ready answer, things like…

What sort of benchmarks should I be measuring my daily work by?
Do my clients’ needs align with what my colleagues are seeing?
Am I over/undervaluing the role of Google in my future work?

Here’s a chance to find out what your peers are observing and doing on a day-to-day basis.

The Moz Local Search Marketing Industry Survey will dive into job descriptions, industries served, most effective tactics, tool usage, and the non-stop growth of Google’s local features. We’ll even touch on how folks may have been impacted by the recent August 1 algorithm update, if at all. In-house local SEOs, agency local SEOs, and other digital marketers are all welcome! All participants will be entered into a drawing for a $100 Amazon gift card. The winner will be notified on 8/27/18.

Give just 5 minutes of your time and you’ll get insights and quotable statistics back when we publish the survey results. Be sure to participate by 8/24/2018. We sincerely appreciate your contributions!

Take the Local SEO Survey Now

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 is SEO split testing?

What is SEO split testing?

Last week I tweeted an explanation of how we know that an increase or decrease in SEO performance was caused by a change that we made or by an external factor like seasonality, competitors, Google updates etc. People found it helpful and it generated a lot of questions so I thought it would be useful to post a more detailed explanation on what exactly SEO split-testing is as there seems to be a lot of confusion/misunderstanding.

One quick thing: This is deliberately a simple example with a basic explanation of the maths that we use. In reality, the maths is a lot more complicated and based on this research by Google: Inferring causal impact using Bayesian structural time series.

The purpose of this presentation isn’t to teach or explain the maths behind the ODN, it’s to, hopefully, explain the core concepts in a simple way, that allows you to imagine applying this methodology to websites with a lot more than 4 sub-category pages 🙂

If you want to dig into the testing methodology in detail, then you can visit: https://odn.distilled.net/learn-more/faqs/

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Imagine a basic website

The site below has two simple categories, animals and countries. It has 8 sub-category pages (cats, dogs, Scotland etc.)

All of the animals sub-category pages use the same template
All of the countries sub-category pages use another template

This is critical to understand because SEO split testing is predicated on the concept of testing changes to page templates. A group of pages that share the same template can be used for SEO split-testing.

In the animals sub-category example above you can see that although the content of each page is different, they all follow the same template.

They have:

An H1 at the top of the page
A block of intro copy
A featured image

We could create an animal template test:

Or a countries template test:

But you can’t mix templates:

An example experiment

Imagine that we wanted to test a new Animal page template by replacing the image with a video and removing the intro copy from the animals sub-category template.

For the test to be a valid experiment, we need a set of pages to remain un-changed (the control group) and a set of pages to have the new proposed design (the variant).

Distilled’s ODN platform uses advanced maths to decide which URLs should remain on the control template and which should get the variant template.

For simplicity in this example, you can think of this as selecting URLs at random to be on each template.

In this example, the test is on 50% of pages, but you could do this on a smaller or more significant percentage of pages. During the experiment, the site would look like this:

Notice that the /cats and /badgers pages now have the new template and the /dogs and /unicorns pages remain unchanged and have the same design they have always had.

The results

The graph below shows the organic performance of the cats and badgers pages versus the dogs and unicorns pages.

Notice that just after the test started, there was no change in the difference in organic performance. That’s because Google needs to crawl the pages. Depending on the number of pages that are being tested, the amount of time that this takes can vary.

Over time we notice that the variant pages start to outperform the control pages. Once the test reaches statistical significance, we can declare the test a success and recommend that the changes be rolled out to 100% of pages instead of just 50%.

How do you know it wasn’t just seasonality?

This is a common question and you can replace seasonality with pretty much anything you like:

Seasonality
Google rolled out an update
Competitors’ performance decreases
Backlinks to your site
TV campaigns
Branding/direct traffic
Other macro factors

By having a control group of pages that have the same intent/theme/template we can exclude external factors like seasonality because the control group of pages would also be impacted.

The analysis isn’t looking at the trend of the traffic; it’s looking at the difference in performance between the control group and the variant.

In other words, if it was seasonality, for example, Christmas, there’s no reason why /cats and /badgers would be impacted but not /dogs and /unicorns. The same would apply for something like a Google update.

Seasonality would look like this:

Although there is an upward trend, the difference in performance between the control pages and the variant pages is the same as before the test began. This example experiment would be declared as a neutral test despite that after the change was made, organic traffic went up significantly.

I hope this makes SEO split-testing easier to understand.

If you want to know more or are interested in doing SEO split-testing, the ODN is a piece of software that lets you do that. Find out more at https://odn.distilled.net/ or click the button below to contact us so I can set up a call to show you a demo of the software.

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