In SEO’s earlier days, technical SEO was largely about coding. For a fun throwback, check out this 2008 SEL article on search-friendly code by Jonathan Hochman, an internet marketer and computer sciences grad from Yale. Technical SEO was all about how to optimize (and often, manipulate) code, metadata and link profiles to achieve better results.
And you know what? That basic purpose of technical SEO hasn’t changed.
As black hat tactics and manipulation became less effective and more dangerous, they fell out of favor. This gave rise to the more creative, non-technical SEO tactics designed to show search engines the value and relevance of each piece of content.
Technical and non-technical should never be pitted against one another, as both are critical to the health of your site and the success of your campaigns. Technical SEO is the framework on which truly great content is built, ensuring that each piece is structured and optimized for search engine discoverability and human consumption.
Here are a few tips to help you find balance between the technical and creative:
1. Understand the role of technical SEO in your organization
Today, in most organizations, technical SEO is a function entirely separate from development. You might still have some spillover between development and SEO in small companies or with freelancers. Typically, though, SEOs are an entity unto themselves, tasked with working alongside:
- the uber-technical IT team, who manage the reception and storage of critical customer data.
- web developers.
- the non-technical SEOs (including link builders and content marketers).
As a sort of translator between these fundamentally different teams, technical SEOs understand the needs of each. They can anticipate how a new data security policy implemented by IT might affect a forward-facing marketing campaign or activity. They know the limitations of the site and can knowledgeably consult with developers to see whether what marketing wants is possible, or offer alternatives. Most importantly, they inform each of these teams on how their activities can stay compliant with (and be optimized for) search engines.
The second part of the technical SEO’s job is then implementation, adding the structure and optimizations to assist the engines in retrieving, indexing and ranking content.
This is why it’s critical that a technical SEO is a part of the planning process. Too often, they’re seen as “fixers,” brought in to identify and correct problems that were perfectly preventable. Instead, SEO and content teams should be working together to establish shared goals, work as a cohesive unit, measure and analyze, and continually adapt.
2. Balance your on-page & off-page optimization
On-page and off-page strategies each offer very different benefits, but both impact your content performance dramatically. As you strive to find balance between the technical and non-technical, factor in your on- and off-page optimizations:
- Your site’s structure, hierarchy and design
- Title tags and meta descriptions
- Coding errors
- Crawl- and index-ability
- Internal linking
- Page content
- Site speed
- Social content and sharing
- Influencer content
- Articles and guest blogs
- Inbound links
3. Define the responsibilities of each type of SEO
So, which tasks belong to technical SEOs, and which belong to non-technical SEOs? There are tasks that are very obviously one or the other. For example, deciding how to use subdomains and designing your site’s architecture are clearly technical tasks, while authoring engaging, optimized content is for your non-technical/creative team.
But there are areas of overlap that can cause confusion, or get missed altogether, unless you clearly define who is responsible for which SEO tasks. This can create site issues that have a devastating impact on consumer experience — and ultimately, your sales — as a result. On average, organic search drives fully 60 percent of website traffic. Chances are, it’s your largest channel. It’s worth getting right.
On-page and off-page, the technical and the non-technical, the scientific and the creative — each is powerful on its own, but it’s in the combined effort of both that the real magic happens. We saw a perfect example of this in the multi-faceted approach to content marketing undertaken by business products retailer Quill (disclosure: customer).
In their pursuit of increased organic traffic and e-commerce revenue, Quill’s SEO program manager, Eugene Feygin, devised and implemented a new company-wide content strategy. Within it, he restructured the brand’s content housing, factored in external partners’ research, and developed new content agency partnerships. Quill’s website got a user experience-centric overhaul to simplify navigation and make the content journey more intuitive. Feygin deployed BrightEdge’s Data Cube tool to identify Quill’s most pressing content gaps and greatest opportunities.
The results of this holistic approach marrying the science of content data and site structure with the creativity of ingenious promotion and partnerships was astounding.
Quill’s balanced approach to SEO grew their organic blog traffic by 270 percent in a single year. Their page one keywords exploded by 800 percent, and they achieved 98 percent search engine indexation.
4. Work SEO into your content workflow
Traditionally, magazines and other publishers used an in-house style guide to make clear their content rules and expectations. These are an important tool for brands not only to create consistency in style and tone, but to ensure that each piece of content gets the same SEO treatment pre-publication and during promotion.
How are images optimized? Which types of sources are approved as citations and for external linking, and are there any you avoid? When and how should you use H1, H2 and H3 headings? Who creates title tags, and what rules are there around those? Who are your readers, and what is their assumed level of knowledge about your topic or industry? (This can help guide keyword selection.)
Getting all of this documented provides a quick reference baseline for your content creators. It gives your creative team a resource created with technical SEO input that guides the content creation process. When you place this optimized content into the technically sound framework managed by your technical SEO, ready to be promoted by your content marketers, it’s a truly powerful combination indeed.
5. Balance technical & non-technical at budget time, too
Local media forecaster Borrell expects SEO spend in the US to reach almost $80 billion by 2020. C-level decisions around budget allocation need to reflect this holistic approach to SEO as an integral component of your overall marketing strategy. Technical SEOs shouldn’t have to fight for a piece of the content marketing budget; that’s the mentality that supports silos and keeps teams competitive.
Budgeting for SEO can be difficult, as organic doesn’t have direct media costs. The potential for high returns is there, but it takes organization-wide acceptance of a data-driven strategy to make it happen. Earlier this year, I shared a few tips to help SEOs learn to evangelize their practice to colleagues across departments and the C-suite. Doing so builds a strong case for the organization-wide implementation of and adherence to holistic SEO with the budget to make it possible.
Finding your SEO balance and bringing it all together
Technical and non-technical SEO tactics and strategies differ greatly; you might have entirely different teams executing each. Even so, it’s critical that they find ways to work together, as those intersections are where your greatest opportunities lie.
In the increasingly competitive SERPs, where you’re vying for the eyes and minds of intelligent, informed consumers, the marriage of technical SEO with the art of content marketing enables the creation of the intelligent content you need to stay on top.
No matter how well you think you know your site, a crawler will always turn up something new. In some cases, it’s those things that you don’t know about that can sink your SEO ship.
Search engines use highly developed bots to crawl the web looking for content to index. If a search engine’s crawlers can’t find the content on your site, it won’t rank or drive natural search traffic. Even if it’s findable, if the content on your site isn’t sending the appropriate relevance signals, it still won’t rank or drive natural search traffic.
Since they mimic the actions of more sophisticated search engine crawlers, third-party crawlers, such as DeepCrawl and Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider, can uncover a wide variety of technical and content issues to improve natural search performance.
7 Reasons to Use a Site Crawler
What’s out there? Owners and managers think of their websites as the pieces that customers will (hopefully) see. But search engines find and remember all the obsolete and orphaned areas of sites, as well. A crawler can help catalog the outdated content so that you can determine what to do next. Maybe some of it is still useful if it’s refreshed. Maybe some of it can be 301 redirected so that its link authority can strengthen other areas of the site.
How is this page performing? Some crawlers can pull analytics data in from Google Search Console and Google Analytics. They make it easy to view correlations between the performance of individual pages and the data found on the page itself.
Not enough indexation or way too much? By omission, crawlers can identify what’s potentially not accessible by bots. If your crawl report has some holes where you know sections of your site should be, can bots access that content? If not, there might be a problem with disallows, noindexcommands, or the way it’s coded that is keeping bots out.
Alternately, a crawler can show you when you have duplicate content. When your sifting through the URLs listed, look for telltale signs like redundant product ID numbers or duplicate title tags or other signs that the content might be the same between two or more pages.
Keep in mind that the ability to crawl does not equate to indexation, merely the ability to be indexed.
What’s that error, and why is that redirecting? Crawlers make finding and reviewing technical fixes much faster. A quick crawl of the site automatically returns a server header status code for every page encountered. Simply filter for the 404s and you have a list of errors to track down. Need to test those redirects that just went live? Switch to list mode and specify the old URLs to crawl. Your crawler will tell you which are redirecting and where they’re sending visitors to now.
Is the metadata complete? Without a crawler, it’s too difficult to identify existing metadata and create a plan to optimize it on a larger scale. Use it to quickly gather data about title tags, meta descriptions, and keywords, H headings, language tags, and more.
Does the site send mixed signals? When not structured correctly, data on individual pages can tie bots into knots. Canonical tags and robots directives, in combination with redirects and disallows affecting the same pages, can send a combination of confusing signals to search engines that can mess up your indexation and ability to perform in natural search.
If you have a sudden problem with performance in a key page, check for a noindex directive and, also, confirm the page that the canonical tag specifies. Does it convey contradictory signals to a redirect sending traffic to the page, or a disallow in the robots.txt file? You never know when something could accidentally change as a result of some other release that developers pushed out.
Is the text correct? Some crawlers also allow you to search for custom bits of text on a page. Maybe your company is rebranding and you want to be sure that you find every instance of the old brand on the site. Or maybe you recently updated schema on a page template and you want to be sure that it’s found on certain pages. If it’s something that involves searching for and reporting on a piece of text within the source code of a group of web pages, your crawler can help.
Plan Crawl Times
It’s important to remember, however, that third-party crawlers can put a heavy burden on your servers. They tend to be set to crawl too quickly as a default, and the rapid-fire requests can stress your servers if they’re already experiencing a high customer volume. Your development team may even have blocked your crawler previously based on suspected scraping by spammers.
Talk to your developers to explain what you need to accomplish and ask for the best time to do it. They almost certainly have a crawler that they use — they may even be able to give you access to their software license. Or they may volunteer to do the crawl for you and send you the file. At the least, they’ll want to advise you as to the best times of day to crawl and the frequency at which to set the bot’s requests. It’s a small courtesy that helps build respect.
As the app ecosystem grows, many marketers are turning their sights towards mobile app marketing. Today’s post provides a high-level view of App Store Optimization, and gives tips on how to break into the rapidly expanding world of apps.
How to Optimize for App Store Search Engines
Let’s dive into search in the app stores, and how the search engines differ based on platform.
First things first; remember I mentioned that the app ecosystem reminds me of the web in the mid-to-late 90’s? Keep that picture in your head when you think of search. App store search hasn’t been “figured out” in the same way that Google “figured out” search on the web. Simply put, we’re still in AltaVista mode in the app ecosystem: something better than Yahoo’s directory provided, but not incredibly sophisticated like Google would become in a few more years.
Just like the web has on-page and off-page SEO, apps have on-metadata and off-metadata ASO. On-metadata ASO include factors totally within your control and are often things dealing with your app store presence. Off-metadata ASO include factors that might not be entirely in your control, but which you can still influence. Here are a few of the most important knobs and levers that you as a marketer can turn to affect your search performance, and some quick tips on how to optimize them.
An app’s title is the single most important metadata factor for rank in ASO. It’s equivalent to the <title> tag in your HTML, and is a great signal to the app stores as to what your app is about. On the web, you want your title to include both a description of what you do (including keywords) as well as some branding; both elements should also exist in the app store. Be sure to include the keywords, but don’t be spammy. Make sure it parses well and makes sense. Example: “Strava Run – GPS Running, Training and Cycling Workout Tracker”
Patrick Haig, our VP of Customer Success, likes to break descriptions down into two sections: above the fold and below the fold (sound familiar?). He says, “Above the fold language should be 1-2 sentences describing the app and its primary use case, and below the fold should have a clear and engaging feature set and social proof.” We’ll dig into some of the differences about the description field across platforms below.
The Keyword Field in iOS is a 100 character field which you can use to tell iTunes search for which keywords you should show up. Since you only get 100 characters, you must use them wisely. A few tips:
- When choosing your keywords, just like on the web, focus on relevancy, search volume, and difficulty.
- Don’t use multiple word phrases; break out to individual words (Apple can combine them for you).
- Don’t repeat keywords that are already in your title (and put the most important ones in your title, leaving the keyword field for your secondary keywords).
- Separate keywords with commas, and don’t use spaces anywhere.
Consumers are finicky. They want apps which are beautiful, elegant, and simple to understand. Your icon is often their first interaction with your app, so ensure that it does a great job conveying your brand, and the elegance and usefulness of your app. Remember, in search results, an icon is one of the only ways you can convey your brand and usefulness. Think of it as part of the meta description tag you’d create in SEO. For example, SoundCloud does a great job with their icon and branding.
The most important rule to remember when creating your screenshots is that they should not be screenshots. They are, instead, promotional graphics. That means you can include text or other graphics to tell your app’s story in an interesting, visual way.
Especially in iOS, where the card layout shows your first screenshot, it is incredibly helpful when an app displays a graphic which explains the app right up front, increasing conversions from search results to viewing the app page and, ultimately, installing the app.
The best app marketers also use their
screenshotspromotional graphics together to create a flow that carries the user through the story. Each graphic can build off the previous graphic, giving the user a reason to continue scrolling and learning about your app.
Here’s a great example of using the screenshots effectively by our friends at Haiku Deck.
Outside of your direct control, you’ll also want to focus on a few things to ensure the best performance in ASO.
Every app has a rating. Your job as a marketer is to ensure that your app gets a great overall rating. Rating is directly tied to performance in app store search, which leads us to believe that rating is a factor in app store search rankings.
Similar to ratings, you want to ensure that the reviews your users write about your app are positive. These reviews will help increase your conversion rate from app page views to downloads.
For a great product to help you increase your rating and reviews, check out Apptentive.
This is discussed further below, but suffice it to say, link building to your app’s page in the app store matters for Google Play apps. Given you all are SEOs, you know all about how to rock this!
How Do iOS and Google Play Differ In App Store Search?
The differences in the platforms mean that there are different levers to pull depending on the platform. Google Play and iOS act completely independently, and often, quite differently. The differences are wide-ranging, but what are a couple of the main differences?
In general, the way to think about the differences is that Google is Google and Apple is Apple. Duh, right? Google has the built the infrastructure and technology to learn from the web and use many different data points to make a decision. Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t have indexes of the web, and comes from a background in media. When in doubt, imagine what you’d do if you were each of them and had the history each of them has.
Here are a couple concrete examples.
Description versus Keywords
In iOS, there’s a keywords field. It’s easy to see where this came from, especially when you think of iTunes’ background in music: a song has a title (app title), musician (developer name), and then needs a few keywords to describe the song (“motown,” “reggae,” etc.). When Apple launched their app store, they used the same technology that was already built for music, which meant that the app title, developer name, and keywords were the only fields used to understand search for an app. Note that description isn’t taken into account in iOS (but I expect this to change soon).
On the other hand, there is no keyword field in Google Play; there is only a description field. Thus, while iOS doesn’t take the description into account, in Google Play the description is all you have, so be sure to do exactly the same as you do on the web: cater your content towards your keywords, without being spammy.
Leveraging PageRank in Google Play
Another big difference in iOS and Google Play is that Google has access to PageRank and the link graph of the web, while Apple does not. Thus, Google will take into account the inbound links to your app’s detail page (for example, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.symantec.mobilesecurity) as a factor in Google Play search, while Apple has no such factor.
How To Measure Success In App Marketing
It’s very difficult to measure success in app marketing in the same way you can measure success in web marketing. This is especially true when you’re working with inbound channels. It’s still early, but it’s continuously getting better, with more tools and services coming out all the time to help marketers understand success. Here are some of the ways I recommend measuring success in the app store today:
Just like on the web, a great way to measure your success in app store search is to track your ranking for specific search terms you care about over time and versus your competition. Rank tracking is incredibly valuable for ASOs to understand their progress.
Top Charts, especially Top Charts within a particular category, do a great job of allowing you to understand your success in relation to the rest of the apps in your category.
Ratings and Reviews
Just as ratings and reviews will help your ASO, they are also great metrics to track over time for how you’re doing with your app marketing. Keep track of what users are saying, how they’re saying it (pro tip: listening to their language is a great way to do keyword research!), and what they’re rating your app.
Taking it one step further, correlating your search rankings to downloads will allow you to understand the effect your increased ASO is having on your app performance. One way we do this is to integrate with iTunes Connect and overlay your search rankings with your downloads so you can visually see how closely related any one keyword is with your downloads. It’s not perfect, but it helps!
Conversion and Revenue
At the end of the day, revenue is the most important metric you should be understanding. Of course, you should be tracking your revenue and doing the same correlation with search performance. In addition, you should watch your conversion rate over time; we often see apps whose conversion rate soars with an increase in ASO because the users are so much more engaged with the app.
Tools And Resources To Use To Help With App Marketing
To conclude this post, I want to quickly talk about some tools and resources to use to help your app marketing process.
Sylvain has written some great content and has some incredible insights into app marketing and ASO on his company’s (Apptamin) blog.
I mentioned Apptentive above, and they really are the best way I know to impact your ratings and reviews, and get great feedback from customers in the process.
In addition to having a great, free, in-app analytics product (Flurry Analytics), as well as an interesting paid advertising product (AppCircle), Flurry also posts some of the most interesting data about the app ecosystem on their blog.
If you’re looking to obtain some amount of attribution for your paid advertising (inbound can’t be split out, sorry!), MobileAppTracking is where it’s at. It allows you to understand which paid channels are performing best for you based on the metric of your choosing. Best of all, you only pay for what you use.
This is, of course, a shameless promotion. That said, our product is a great way to understand your performance in app store search, help you do keyword research, and give you competitive intelligence. We offer a free (forever!) tool for Indie developers and scale all the way up to the largest Enterprise customers.
Now It’s Your Turn–> Visit the link below to get the full list to help guide you along your optimization way!