User-generated content on product or service pages can be key to driving conversions and a fantastic way to add unique content to a page.
If you don’t have the resources to write good content yourself, user-generated content can be especially helpful. However, if your customer review content isn’t optimized for search engines, it can work against you and delay or obstruct your marketing efforts instead of driving more business.
Below are four common issues (and a bonus) I have come across when auditing retailer product pages and the workarounds I’ve used for each.
1. Page speed
This is a much-discussed subject, and as of late, it is a mobile search ranking factor coming July 2018. It is key to sync with your web developers on the optimal page load speed, as images, related products and content will impact load times for this critical part of the purchase funnel.
Customer review content is best when optimized for both Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and page speed. Suggesting you open the floodgates to 500+ reviews on a product page is not ideal for anyone (adds content but also adds load time). Search engine optimization specialists (SEOs) and developers will agree most third-party review providers will issue a standard eight to 10 visible reviews on a page before transitioning to another mechanism for accessing the remaining reviews.
Ask your dev team the threshold of reviews on your pages (don’t feel limited to 10) before speed is impacted by your desired load time, and run tests.
There are a few different ways review content can be exposed to users and search engines:
- Create a secondary page to “read all reviews.” This page can also host the remaining reviews and can be optimized for “product + reviews” search queries. Examples of this can be seen on both Amazon.com and Bestbuy.com in this framework:
- Apply a paginated approach within the main product page, to load the next round of reviews following your determined threshold being hit. For example, after 20 reviews, click next to get the next 20 reviews and so on. If your pagination is implemented correctly (rel=next / prev), this content will still be crawled by search engines.
2. Structured data markup: Have you done it right?
Marking up your product pages with structured data, including the aggregate rating and reviews, can generate a rich result in the search engine results pages (SERPs), which can increase your click-through rate (CTR) over competitors and provides more information to the crawlers about the content on your page. You already know the benefit of markup, but has it been done correctly? You may not know you have an error!
If you use a third-party provider for your reviews, they typically supply the markup on those reviews when they are syndicated to your site. We have seen two issues here:
- The reviews have been marked up outside the itemscope product. This applies to Microdata markup, not JSON-LD. Your page has a separate div the customer review content is pulled into, that lives outside of the div you’ve marked up with your Microdata product schema property. Unfortunately, this is like trying to have a conversation with someone on the other side of a door. Search engines can’t make the connection that the marked-up reviews pertain to the same product you’ve outlined in your schema and therefore does not assign the ratings and reviews to the rich result.
When testing either of these in the Structured Data Testing Tool, it won’t actually flag as an error or warning since it’s testing to see if you have structured data and the required elements, which you do. If you’re not getting rich results, one of these could be the culprit.
3. Shared or syndicated reviews
It’s not uncommon to see retailers pull reviews from a vendor site onto their own site, or sometimes a retailer shares customer reviews across multiple country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) where they sell the same product/service. If done incorrectly, both of these scenarios can cause duplication of the user-generated content and dilute the value of the page. Worst case: a penalty for the syndication of reviews!
Sharing vendor review content across multiple sites (typically retailers): Are you aware of how many retailers are getting the same feed for the same product information and reviews? Perhaps you’re the vendor and want to protect your unique content on your site while still sharing to retailers for increased conversions. Here is an example of a pair of UGG boots for sale on Macys.com but pulling from Ugg.com:
Potential solutions for the UGG boots review could be to block crawlers from he syndicated review content, or perhaps it should be embargoed on the original source for a determined period of time.
That time should be determined based on the content being crawled and indexed before it is shared with other parties. Check log files and crawl rates to determine an approximate time for your site; and test the indexation of that new content once crawled. This allows the search engines to determine the original source.
Often, retailers want to leverage the reviews from their other domains to help sell the product. This is fine, but the duplicate reviews must be blocked from the crawlers. This will continue to benefit the sale without harming or penalizing your site for duplicating the user-generated content.
Amazon is a good example of this. Years ago, they pulled the Amazon.com reviews into the Amazon.ca pages. This practice was later halted in favor of still showing the reviews, but blocking crawler access. Now, they simply provide a link to their Amazon.com site for more reviews.
4. Coding customer reviews
At the very least, perform the audit on your reviews and ensure Googlebot is crawling and indexing them.
You may need to speak further with your review provider to ensure the content is accessible to Googlebot. Depending on the provider and template, they can help resolve any errors or concerns here.
Bonus: 5. Use your XML sitemaps
Now that you’ve created customer reviews that will drive more crawlable content, let the search engines know! Updating the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) sitemap entries will be a strong signal to incentivize the recrawl of those specific pages and access changes sooner. Pending your crawl rates and the number of pages on site, it may be a long time before a crawler gets to all your updated customer review content.
To wrap things up, customer reviews are a fantastic source for growing your organic traffic by means of unique content. Audit your reviews for the following:
- Product page load time.
- Structured data markup.
- Audit of shared reviews.
- Crawler access to the review content.
- XML sitemap updates.
Following these guidelines can deliver significant organic search growth. Run the audit and take a closer look at the reviews on your site for improvements you could be making.
In digital marketing, and specifically search engine optimization (SEO), there are tidbits of information that in their retelling lose context and become what we call in other circles “Zombie Lies” or in this case “Zombie Myths.”
Zombie SEO Myths
Zombie SEO myths are myths that, despite being debunked over and over again, never seem to die. They take on a life of their own and leave site owners confused as to what is true and what is not.
So this chapter is going to look at some of those myths that never seem to die – no matter how hard experts try to kill them.
Mostly, we’re going to focus on Google because that is where most sites get their traffic (and where most of the myths revolve around).
Myth 1: SEO is Voodoo or Snake Oil
There is a low bar to entry into the field of digital marketing, including and especially SEO. There are no real certification processes (because how would you certify something that changes every day?) and Google never publishes the algorithms, so there is no way to test an individual’s knowledge against what they contain.
Basically, when you hire an SEO provider it has to be based on trust.
This is why the myth that SEO is voodoo prevails. It prevails because bad practitioners did bad work and the client is left with no other way to explain their lack of results. In fact, it is often these bad practitioners who use the myth to explain their poor results.
That being said, SEO isn’t voodoo (or magic or “bovine feces”). Real SEO is the process of making sites adhere better to Google’s algorithms, for specific query strings, in order to increase relevant site traffic and/or company revenues.
These algorithms aren’t completely unknowable things.
While Google never publishes the details of that information, informed SEO professionals have a good understanding of what will bring a site in compliance with those algorithms (or, in the case of black hat SEO, how they can game those algorithms). They are after all based on math and processes governed by logic.
A trustworthy SEO professional lives and breathes algorithm changes, which can amount to multiple changes a day. They know why the algorithms do what they do as best as anyone not working at Google can do.
This is the opposite of voodoo and magic. It is called earned knowledge. It is also a very hard earned knowledge.
When you pay an SEO pro, you aren’t paying for their time. You are paying for their knowledge and results. Prices are set accordingly.
Myth 2: Content Is All You Need
“Content is KING!”
You will find many articles that make this statement. While they are not completely untrue, content is less king and more like a valuable business partner to links, design, and usability.
Mostly, though, content and links are the like the conjoined twins of the SEO world. You must have both. One will not work without the other (at least not well and not for the long term).
Now, Google will tell you many long-tail queries rank without links. That is likely true. It is also likely that these long-tail queries are so unique that there is no competition for them, so links don’t play an active role the way they do in a competitive query.
If you’re trying to rank for the Walking Dead, you better have links* or don’t expect anyone to find you.
*Good links. Not poor, $99 links bought from a link farm.
So while content is very important, content needs links. Just like links need content.
Bonus Tip: Content is not king. Content is special, but not king. Like peanut butter and jelly you can have one without the other, but it isn’t as good. Add technical to this duo and you have the triad that is the basis of all good core SEO.
Myth 3: Speed Isn’t That Important
Google said a while back that page speed is only a tie-breaker when all other factors are equal. This is one of those cases where I can say that this is not borne out in real-world testing.
Personally, I had a client increase their traffic by over 200,000 sessions a day when they cut their page speed by 50 percent during a likely Panda update. So while it is true that it acts as a tie-breaker when all things are equal it can also dramatically improve rankings when your site has a severe page speed issue.
Now when I say a page speed issue, I don’t mean you cut your 5-second site load time down to 2 seconds. I mean when you dramatically cut your page load, say a 22-second site load time down to 8 seconds, which is what happened in this case.
Know What is Being Measured
It is also important to know what Google is measuring when they are evaluating page speed. While they are looking at overall speed the issue they are most “critical” of is how long the DOM (Direct Object Model) takes to load. The DOM items are the visible items on the page excluding ads, if you have stacked your load right.
This means that if you can cut your DOM load from 22 seconds to 8 seconds as in the example, Google will likely reward you for the dramatic decrease in page load because you are now dramatically faster. This is an additional benefit of improving page speed unrelated to breaking a tie on a specific query result.
A faster site is much easier for Googlebot to crawl. When the site is not slowing the crawl down, more of your site is getting indexed either in number of pages or in depth of page crawl.
Note: The Google Page Speed Insight tool only measures items in the DOM, so you could have a higher page speed score than another site, but still perform more poorly in the rankings because your overall page load is too slow. Page speed is very important and will become even more so as we move into mobile first. So never discount it.
Myth 4: Links Are Dead
I once had a call from a potential client that asked me if I could remove all his links.
“Remove all your links? May I ask why you would want to do that,” I asked.
“Because I heard links were bad and I need to remove them,” he told me.
“Did you buy the links or get them from some nefarious method?”
“No they are all legit.”
“Then, sir, whatever you do, use me or don’t for other reasons, do not get rid of your links!”
Links aren’t dead.
Links aren’t close to dead.
If you have the best content in the world and no links, your site won’t get much visibility. Links and content are correlated with rankings. Great content still needs great links (or a lot of mediocre ones).
If you’re buying links for $99 and expecting to get to the top spots in Google, you’re barking up a very dead tree.
Remember, good links require topical relevancy and legitimacy. If it isn’t natural and it comes from an unrelated page or site, it probably won’t help much.
Bonus tip: Reciprocal linking died circa 2007, maybe earlier. Linking to your buddy and them linking to you won’t do you much good.
Myth 5: Keyword Density
There was a time keyword density have some validity.
Really, if it did not work why do you think all those people were stuffing white text on white backgrounds for ranking purposes? Then Google got smarter and it did away with keyword stuffing as a viable practice and even people who got good results from applying density testing to much smaller keyword placements no longer could count on knowing what keyword density would help.
In both cases, this no longer exists.
While you can still put any word on the page too many times, there is no set range of what makes a page rank. In fact, you can find results now where the keyword does not exist in the visible portion of the page. It might be in the links or in the image tagging or somewhere else that is not part of the content it might even be a similar not exact match. This is not typical, but it does exist.
Bottom line: placing a keyword X times per page is no longer something worth spending your time on. There are far better fish to fry.
Bonus Tip: Better to make relevant content that you can link to internally and others can link to externally than to waste time on optimizing keywords. That being said your title tag is still highly relevant. Spend some time adding your query set there. That might give you a boost.
Myth 6: You Must Submit Your Site
At least twice a week I get an email from an SEO site submission company telling me I need to pay them to submit my site to the search engines.
Seriously? No, you do not.
Now, are there times when it is good to submit your site URLs? Sure when you need the search engines to come back to the site to do things like pick up a new piece of content or re-evaluate a page, however, you never need to submit your site.
Google is advanced enough now – and especially with its status as registrar – that it can find you minutes after not only that site is live, but also when the domain is registered.
Now if you’ve been live for a few weeks and have an inbound link to the site and Google has not come by as evident by your logs it can’t hurt to submit it via Google Search Console Fetch and Render, but never ever pay someone to submit your site.
Myth 7: You Don’t Need a Sitemap
Sitemaps are not a nice to have add-on for sites today. This gets even more important as we move to the mobile-first algorithms in 2018.
Why? When Google cannot easily crawl a portion of your site, the sitemap allows the crawler to better find these pages.
Bonus Tip: Google is going to have a harder time finding pages due to the reduced size of navigational elements in mobile-first indexing. Sitemaps – both XML and HTML – will be the best way for them to find all the pages on the site you want indexed and ranked.
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Myth 8: Query Must Have Freshness
QDF, or Query Deserves Freshness, most certainly applies to queries that need fresh results. For instance, from a news site or say the most recent Powerball numbers.
That does not mean you have to change every element on your homepage every day, or even very often.
While there are sites that absolutely must have fresh content on their main site pages on a daily or weekly basis, most do not.
Evergreen pages are evergreen for a reason. If you write an article on mobile-first indexing and that information has not changed, you do not need to change that page to give it “freshness”.
You do, however, need to have some fresh content on your site. So a good content strategy is how you address having fresh content without trying to meet some unnatural goal for daily content changes.
Bonus Tip: For smaller sites that have small teams or little money and do not need to have fresh content daily, you can just invest in adding pages to the site when needed but keeping an active blog presence. Adding 2-3 blog posts a week will keep the site relevant without adding the demands and costs of continually updating pages.
Myth 9: Because Big Brands Do It, It Must Be Good!
Remember your parents saying to you when you were little, “Would you jump off a bridge just because Johnny told you to?!” Same thing goes here.
There is a long history of sites copying bad website decisions from each other simply because they thought the other site knew something they didn’t.
Don’t be a lemming.
What one site does may work for them and may not. What if they tell you it is the best thing since sliced bread? Unless you’re looking at their metrics, don’t believe them and even if it is the best thing for them, the chances of that being right for you are slim.
Why? Because you’re a different company. Your users have different queries and user intent. Just because Facebook and Twitter use infinite scroll doesn’t mean you should.
In fact, because big brands don’t suffer as much from user and Googlebot discontent when they get it wrong, they are more likely to – get it wrong.
Don’t copy big brands. Find what works for your users and stick to that.
Bonus Tip: If you want to try something that you see on another site, find a section of yours that isn’t bringing in a lot of traffic and then A/B test the idea on your own pages. Your data will show you what works best for you. Never assume because a big brand does it, you will benefit from following their path.
Myth 10: Algorithm Devaluations = Penalties
Google has two types of site devaluations.
Penguin, Panda, Pirate, Pigeon, Layout etc. are all algorithms. Algorithms can giveth and they can taketh away. This means that not every site sees devaluations from the update of these processes. Many sites see positive results. This is called an “algorithmic change” not a penalty.
What are penalties then?
Penalties are manual actions you can find in Google Search Console. This is when Google took a look at your site and decided it was in violation of the Webmaster Guidelines and devalued the site. You know this happened by checking your messages in Google Search Console. When it happens they will tell you.
Penalties also require you “submit a reconsideration request” to regain your site status and remove the penalty.
Algorithmic devaluations have no such consideration. You fix what you think went wrong. Then you wait to see if Google gives you back your rankings when that algorithm or set of algorithms comes back through and re-evaluates the site.
Myth 11: Duplicate Content Is a Penalty
There is NO duplicate content penalty!
There has never been a duplicate content penalty.
Google does have a duplicate content filter, which simply means that if there is more than one item of content that is the same Google will not rank both for the same query. It will only rank one.
This makes perfect sense. Why would you want the results for a query to bring back the same content multiple times? It is simply easier to rewrite the piece than try to guess what those might be.
All that said, too much duplicate content can affect you with the Panda algorithm, but that is more about site quality rather than manual actions.
Bonus tip: The duplicate content filter applies to titles and meta descriptions as well. Make sure to make all your titles and descriptions unique.
Myth 12: Social Media Helps You Rank
Social media, done well, will get you exposure. That exposure can get you links and citations. Those links and citations can get you better rankings.
That doesn’t mean that social media postings are inherently helpful to getting you rank.
Social media doesn’t give you links, but it encourages others to link to you. It also means that the social media post may escape its ecosystem and provide you a true site link. But don’t hold your breath.
Social media is about visibility.
Getting those people to share your content and link to or mention your site in a way that Google counts it as a “link”? That is SEO.
Myth 13: Buying Google Ads Helps with Organic Ranking
These two divisions are in two separate buildings and not allowed to engage with each other about these things.
Personally, I have worked with sites that have had massive budgets in Google AdWords. Their site still lived and died in organic by the organic algorithms. They received no bonus placements from buying Ads.
Bonus Tip: What buying ads can do is promote brand validation. In user experiments, it has been shown that when a user sees an ad and the site in the organic rankings together, they believe it to have more authority. This can increase click-through rates.
Myth 14: Google Uses AI in All its Algorithms
No. Google doesn’t use AI in the live algorithms except for RankBrain.
Now, Google does use AI to train the algorithms and in ways internally we are not privy to. However, Google doesn’t use AI in terms of the live algorithms.
Very simply put, because if it breaks they would not know how to fix it. AI operates on a self-learning model.
If it were to break something on search and that broken piece hurt Google’s ability to make money there would be no easy way to fix it. More than 95 percent of Google’s revenue still comes from ads, so it would be extremely dangerous to allow AI to take over without oversight.
Myth 15: RankBrain
So much has been written about RankBrain that is simply incorrect it would be difficult to state it as one myth. So, in general, let’s just talk about what RankBrain is and isn’t.
RankBrain is a top ranking factor that you don’t optimize to meet.
What does that mean? Basically, when Google went from strings to things (i.e., entity search), it needed better ways to determine what a query meant to the user and how the words in the query set related to each other. By doing this analysis, Google could better match the user’s intent.
To this end, they developed a system of processes to determine relationships between entities. For those queries they understand, they bring back a standard SERP. Hopefully, one that best matches your intent as a user.
However, 15 percent of the queries Google sees every day are new. So Google needed a way to deal with entities whose relationship was unclear or unknown when trying to match user intent.
RankBrain is a machine-learning algorithm that tries to understand what you mean when Google is unsure. It uses entity match and known relationships to infer meaning/intent from those queries it doesn’t understand.
For instance, back when the drought in California was severe if you looked up “water rights Las Vegas NV” (we share water) you would get back all sorts of information about water rights and the history of water rights in the Las Vegas area. However, if you put in a much lesser known area of Nevada, like Mesquite, Google wasn’t sure what you wanted to know.
Why? Because while Google understands Las Vegas as a city (entity) in a geological area (Clark County) and can associate that with water rights, a known topic of interest due to search data. It cannot, however, do the same for Mesquite.
Why? Because no one likely searched for water rights in Mesquite before or very often. The query intent was unknown.
To Google, Mesquite is a city in Nevada, but also a tree/charcoal/flavor/BBQ sauce and it brought back all of these results ignoring the delimiter “water rights” for all but one result. This is RankBrain.
Google is giving you a “kitchen sink.” Over time, if enough people search for that information or the training Google feeds it tells it differently, it will know that you specifically wanted x, not y.
RankBrain is about using AI to determine intent between entities with unknown or loosely formed relationships. So it is a ranking factor, but not really a ranking factor.
Bonus Tip: While there are a few niche cases where it might make sense to optimize for RankBrain, it really doesn’t for most. The query is a living dynamic result that is Google’s best guess at user intent. You would do far better to simply optimize the site properly than trying to gain from optimizing specifically for RankBrain.
The web’s changing, and so is the ways people use it. Update your SEO strategy so you’re not behind the times.
Search engine optimisation is always changing. To stay ahead of your competitors you need to be able to shift your SEO strategy. You can expect to see mobile devices, artificial intelligence (AI) and voice search dominate the news.
But what practical steps should you take this year? In this article, I’ll take you through the key trends to be aware of in 2018, and what you can do to act on them.
1. Leverage Google RankBrain and user experience signals
AI was a big topic last year. This year is no different. Google’s pushing to use AI whenever it can and it’s no different in search. Its machine learning system RankBrain, is its third most important ranking factor after links and content.
RankBrain helps Google better understand search queries. It runs tests on Google’s algorithm to try improve the user experience for people using the search engine, measuring the success based on user experience signals like click through rate, bounce rate and time on site.
How to optimise for RankBrain:
- Reduce your bounce rate
- improve your click-through-rate, and
- keep people on your website longer.
2. Make sure your website load speed is lightning fast
Nothing is more frustrating than a slow website, and search engines know this. Page load speed has been a known ranking factor for some time.
Until now, this has only applied to the desktop version of you website. Google has announced that starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches, too.
How fast is your website load? According to Pingdon, the average page speed is 3.2 seconds, while Google’s benchmark is 2 seconds.
How to improve your page speed:
- Reduce media file sizes
- compile and minify your code
- upgrade your hosting package
- work with developers to improve server response, and
- leverage browser caching.
3. Go mobile-First
In case you’ve been under a rock, mobile devices are taking over the world. It’s time to take your digital strategy mobile-first.
Jump into your analytics and check your device spilt to see what part of your website traffic is mobile. And even if it’s not a large part here’s why you need to go mobile-first:
- Google has said that more than half of all its searches occur on mobile, and
- this year it will begin switching to a mobile-first index. This means it will rank your website based on how it renders and appears on mobile devices.
How to prepare for mobile-first index:
- Make sure your website is mobile responsive
- make sure the mobile version of the site also has the important, high-quality content, and
- structured data is important for indexing and search features.
4. Prepare for voice search
A clear next step from mobile is voice search. Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google Assistant and more are living in our pockets and homes. Voice search is becoming more prominent in daily life.
Comscore predicts that 50% of searches by 2020 will be through voice-technology. Are you prepared?
How to get ready for voice search:
- Focus on answering questions
- target long-tail keyword phrases
- structure your pages with the question in the heading and answer directly beneath it, and again:
- optimise your website for mobile.
5. Take your visitors security seriously with HTTPS
Two big names in the web industry – Google and Mozilla – have each taken measures to make the web more secure. Chrome and Safari now show ‘not secure’ on pages with forms when websites are not secured with an SSL certificate.
Not to mention that Google has been using HTTPS as a ranking factor for a few years now. And with this recent security push we can expect it will become more important in the future.
How to make your website secure:
- Get a SSL certificate installed on your server, and
- migrate by redirecting HTTP urls to HTTPS.
6. Create long form content, it wins every time
There’s been a big shift in the length of content required in the past year. A short blog post is no longer going to rank well for a competitive keyword.
To rank in search engines you need to be writing long-form content that covers several topics. Research from Backlinko and Search Engine Land has shown that the top five spots on average in Google are usual north of 1,500 words.
How to write long form content:
- Pick a short-medium tail keyword
- cover it comprehensively in 2,000 words or more, and
- break it up by sub-topics: aim for six to eight.
7. Focus on content and links: they’re not going away
They are here to stay. With all the new trends that come and go in the SEO world, the foundation will always be content and links.
Google has confirmed that content and links are its top ranking factors. Without great content you will never get high-quality links. And without high-quality links you won’t rank for competitive keywords.
Wondering where to focus your efforts this year in order to gain an edge over your competitors? Columnist Jeremy Knauff has some ideas.
We’re just about three weeks into the new year, and the momentum you establish now can easily set the pace for the rest of your year.
I’d like to help you start 2018 off with a bang by earning three simple wins that will set the stage for further success and growth, not just for this year, but long into the future.
These wins are simple, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy — because while the concepts are not complex, a lot of work will be required to accomplish them.
That may seem like a bad thing, but it’s actually a blessing in disguise because it means that most of your competitors won’t even put in the effort, which will give you a significant advantage over them.
Improve page speed to improve ranking
Google just recently announced that beginning in July 2018, mobile page speed will be a ranking factor for its mobile search results. Page speed also has a significant impact on user experience, and several aspects of user experience are direct ranking factors, too.
Studies show that the faster a web page loads, the longer visitors will remain, and in most cases, more of them will convert to paying customers compared to visitors on slower websites.
Most people have a tremendous opportunity for improvement in this area because they don’t realize how poorly their website is performing. I was recently talking with a potential client about SEO for his website, and when the topic of page speed came up, he proudly insisted that his website “loads super fast — usually in under one or two seconds!”
If that were true, it would have been phenomenal; however, it was actually closer to thirty seconds, according to the tests I performed using several different tools.
It’s important to point out that when I talk about page speed, I’m not specifically talking about Google’s PageSpeed Insights. I’m talking about how long it takes a web page to load in general.
Some ways you can improve page speed include:
- investing in high-performance web hosting.
- properly scaling and compressing images.
- implementing server caching, browser caching and Gzip compression.
Leverage a personal brand for link building
If you’ve managed a website for any length of time, you’ve most likely been on the receiving end of a lot of link requests, and I think it’s a safe bet that most of them were probably terrible. Now I’m going to say something that might hurt your feelings: If you’ve sent a link request, it was probably terrible, too.
Cold link outreach is challenging, and you generally don’t earn very many links in relation to the number of emails you send out. This is because you’re asking for something from a stranger before you’ve built any rapport, which is an almost certain recipe for disaster. Effective link building depends on relationships, not brute force and volume.
Rather than cold link outreach, a more effective strategy is to develop a personal brand that others want to connect with. This is easier said than done because it will require a tremendous amount of work, performed consistently over a relatively long period of time.
However, once you’ve developed a personal brand, it will be much easier to leverage the kind of relationships you’ll then develop, to efficiently build links. In fact, if your personal brand becomes powerful enough, often, people will link to your content without you even asking.
A few ways you can develop a personal brand include:
- creating consistently branded profiles on key social networks.
- regularly sharing valuable content from others in your industry, along with your insight on it.
- engaging with your audience, both those below and above your stature within your industry.
- regularly publishing amazing content, both on your own website and in industry publications and top-tier business publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur and Fast Company.
Incorporate video into your SEO efforts
Video is a driving force in digital marketing today, and we’re quickly approaching a point where it’s just as essential as having a website and social media presence. It can play a significant role in your SEO efforts in two distinct ways.
The first is that video often helps to keep interested visitors on your website longer. Google sees this as a sign of a positive user experience, which has a beneficial impact on your organic ranking. A side benefit here is that you’re also giving visitors more of a chance to truly connect with your brand.
The second is that by publishing your videos on YouTube, you have the potential to put your brand in front of a larger audience through YouTube’s search results. (YouTube is often referred to as the “second-largest search engine in the world” due to its position as the second-most-visited website globally after Google, according to Alexa rankings.)
On top of that, you’re leveraging the authority of YouTube’s domain, so you also have the opportunity to get your videos ranked in Google’s search results.
I know a lot of you right now are saying, “Whoa, Jeremy! There’s no way in hell I’m getting on video!”
Look, I understand that being on video can feel uncomfortable, awkward, and even terrifying, but it doesn’t have to be any of those things. Once you start doing video regularly, you’ll get used to it, and besides — it’s become a necessity, so unless you want to lose ground to competitors, you have to step outside of your comfort zone.
Video expert Holly Gillen of Holly G Studios says, “Video is one of the most powerful tools you have in business today! The race has begun, and if you’re not running you are now getting left behind. At the end of the day, you can have video or you can have excuses, but you can’t have both.”
Some ways you can incorporate video into your SEO include:
- creating videos that answer questions your prospects have about your products, services and industry, as well as videos that demonstrate who you are and why you do what you do.
- optimizing your videos on YouTube so they’ll show up in YouTube’s search, in conjunction with that, building relevant, high-quality links to them so that they show up in Google’s search results.
- embedding your videos from YouTube on your own website to keep visitors engaged and on your website longer.
Search-engine optimization is the offensive-line marketing play: unheralded, but full of subtle maneuvering and crucial to success. Here are six SEO pointers for content marketers for the new year, courtesy of Forbes’ experts.
1. Tattoo “MOBILE FIRST” on your body.
“Given that over 50 percent of searches are now happening on mobile,” Richards said, “content marketers should structure their stories for mobile first and foremost.”
Think about page design, Richards said. “How does the page look on a phone? Is the font easily readable? Can users control the zoom if buttons are hard to access?”
Also, make sharing on mobile easy. “Use social icons instead of text, since images are more effective at capturing the eye. That will come in handy when their content is so good that the reader has no choice but to share,” Richards said.
2. Make sure all of your content is available on mobile.
Google is about to move to a mobile-first index that takes into account, and makes visible in search results, only mobile versions of websites.
“If marketers want to maintain their reach, they should make sure all their content exists on the mobile versions of their sites,” Pinsky said. “Websites with separate URLs for desktop and mobile experiences will need to make sure that all their desktop content maps one-to-one to their mobile URLs.”
3. Page speed will become more important than ever.
“No one wants to wait for a phone to load,” Pinsky said, “and that will play a role in SEO.” Page speed, of course, is a key SEO ranking factor.
“Marketers can reduce photo size by up to 40—and sometimes even 90—percent,” Richards said. “That’s a quick win in the battle against slow loads.”
Getting AMP’d takes work on the development side, Richards says, but it’s worth it.
4. Get ready for voice search dominance.
While traditional searches consist of two- to five-word phrases, Richards said, voice searches tend to be in full sentences. That implies a different method of structuring content.
Richards advises that marketers “include in their title or subhead the verbally-expressed question that they want to answer, to increase the chances that Google will feature that answer.” For example, if you have a page that answers the question, “Will the bitcoin bubble burst”? make sure that question is right in your page title—verbatim.
“Marketers should use voice search themselves as much as possible,” Richards added. “That will give them a feel for how queries are structured in it, and let them better create content that can satisfy those queries.”
5. Remember how your demo actually talks.
“What words do they use? Optimize for that language, that sound, and those words. People looking for information about Sean Combs will more often than not search for ‘P. Diddy.’”
And imitate success. “Study the sites that Google points you to and you’ll learn how to structure your content the way Google likes it.”
6. Get close to your social team.
“Google is all about making sure users get the most relevant content possible,” Pinsky said. “To gauge relevance, Google may start looking at how content is discussed in social. Marketers should reach out to influencers and share their content on social media.” So make friends with your social team. You’ll need them as the new year develops.
Follow these pointers and you’re on your way to SEO excellence in the coming year.
To many startups, search engine optimization (SEO) is a task that sits on their company’s back burner. Yes, there’s an element of uncertainty with SEO (after all, Google doesn’t publicly reveal the factors they use to rank websites). But according to a new ranking-factor study, SEO doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. In fact, you can prioritize your SEO tasks based on what’s likely to give you the most bang for your buck.
With features to launch and customers to support, the idea of spending time fiddling with your title tags can seem like a fool’s errand. That’s especially true when there’s no guarantee that your hard work will result in a single additional visitor from Google. That’s one of the reasons that a recent study ranked SEO as the third most important marketing priority for startups (behind social media and content marketing).
Why do startups tend to shy away from SEO? From working with dozens of startups, I’ve found that founders hate the uncertainty that comes from SEO. Indeed, success with SEO can seem like throwing two dice and hoping you roll double sevens.
Backlinks, content and page speed are key
Backlinko recently teamed up with a handful of SEO software companies to evaluate the factors that are most important for success with SEO today. To do this, they analyzed one million Google search results.
Of the 20 potential ranking factors they looked at, five were revealed to be especially important. I’m going to deep-dive into these five important ranking factors, and show you how you can apply them to squeeze more juice out of your SEO efforts.
Content is king?
The study found that the most important ranking factor was number of different websites linking to your page.
This ranking factor is as old as Google itself.
Despite the fact that so-called “black hat SEOs” manipulate Google with phony links, it appears that this ranking factor remains an integral part of what makes Google tick.
This shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Google’s reliance on backlinks has taken it from two guys in a garage near Stanford to one of the most valuable companies on the planet. And today, Google’s worldwide search market share remains relatively stable. This makes it unlikely Google will completely remove backlinks from their algorithm. This data suggests that, at least for today, backlinks are still heavily relied upon by Big G.
You can prioritize your SEO tasks based on what’s likely to give you the most bang for your buck.
Another interesting wrinkle is that this finding flies in the face of what many SEO consultants recommend: Many SEO agencies preach a “quality over quantity” approach to link building.
While there’s no question certain backlinks provide more benefit than others (for example, a link from TechCrunch is significantly more powerful than a link from your average mommy blog), this study suggests that backlink quantity is also important.
This is an important lesson for founders and startup marketers to learn. As someone who does PR consulting for startups, I notice that many founders shoot for the moon with their link and PR aspirations. In other words, to many founders, it’s “CNN.com or bust.” This new data suggests that this approach may be a mistake. In fact, one of the chief reasons I took Polar to 40+ million pageviews is that I wasn’t overly picky about which sites we got mentions and links from.
If a site looked legit and wanted to cover us, I said, “Let’s do it.” That’s part of the reason I’ve landed 1,300 mentions over the last few years.
As you can see, a lot of these mentions were on major news sites. But the funny thing is that a good chunk of these major mentions came as a result of a smaller blog or niche news site writing about us. In fact, this is the exact strategy that Ryan Holiday recommends in his PR classic “Trust Me, I’m Lying.”
Not only are mentions from smaller sites beneficial for startups’ PR, but they can significantly boost your Google rankings, as well.
Slow loading site = SEO death
Backlinko’s new study also found a strong tie between site speed and Google rankings. Using site-loading-speed data from Alexa, they discovered that fast-loading websites significantly outperformed slow sites.
This finding shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who follows SEO. Google has come out and said they use site speed as a “signal in our search ranking algorithms.” Because users hate slow-loading websites, Google doesn’t want to show them to their users.
Fortunately, taking your site from “tortoise” to “hare” is relatively simple. If you happen to use WordPress, there are no shortage of plug-ins that can boost your site’s loading time. Even if you don’t use WordPress, a few quick steps can typically move the needle for most websites:
- Upgrade your hosting: Cheap $5/month hosting plans like Bluehost aren’t bad, but their servers aren’t typically optimized for speed.
- Cut image file sizes: For most websites, images are the No. 1 factor that slow down a page. You can usually compress them or reduce their size without sacrificing much in the way of quality.
- Hire a coder: If you’re not a coder, hiring a pro to analyze your code with an eye on site speed can be a game changer. Most sites have at least some code bloat that can be easily cleaned up.
Long-form content wins the day
Backlinko also found that, when it comes to SEO, content may not be king, but it’s certainly queen. Specifically, their data revealed that long-form content tended to rank above shorter content.
According to their analysis, the average article on Google’s first page boasts 1,890 words.
Does this mean that Google has an inherent preference for long content? Maybe. The study authors pointed out that this finding was simply a correlation, and they couldn’t say for sure. But they hypothesized that Google would want to show their users through content that fully answers their query. In other words, long-form content.
However, it may be that longer content generates more shares (in the form of tweets, Facebook likes and backlinks). In fact, BuzzSumo found that longer content tended to generate more social shares.
Considering that shares can lead to higher rankings, long-form content may simply outperform short content in the share department, leading to higher Google rankings.
If you haven’t attempted to publish long-form content because you feel your audience doesn’t have the attention span for it, this finding may give you the impetus to at least give it a shot.
Adding focus to your content may improve rankings
Additionally, the study found that focused content outperformed content that attempted to cover several different topics. Using software called MarketMuse, each article in their database was scored for “topical authority.” A high score represents an article that covered a topic in-depth. A low score indicates that the article skimmed the surface of a given topic.
The authors guessed that Google would prefer comprehensive content. This is because of a fundamental shift in the way Google indexes content. In the last few years, Google has moved away from simply looking at the words on your page to actually understanding what your page is about. This is known as semantic search.
For example, before semantic search, if you Googled “who is the CEO of Starbucks”, Google would look for pages that contained the exact term “who is the CEO of Starbucks” on the page. And they would present 10 links to those pages.
Today, they know the actual answer, and present it to you.
It turns out that Google may prefer in-depth content, as it gives them a deeper understanding of your content. This study found that content rated as having high topical authority ranked above content with a poor rating.
The old writing adage “go an inch wide and a mile deep” may also now apply to SEO, as well.
Bounces aren’t just hurting conversions
This research also found a correlation between a low bounce rate and poor rankings in Google.
According to the study, Google may use bounce rate as a proxy measure of content quality. If someone searches for a keyword, clicks on your page and quickly leaves, it sends a message to Google that your page isn’t a good fit for that keyword.
On the other hand, if you stay on the site and browse through several different pages, it implies that that person had a great experience and enjoyed reading your content. That may push Google to show your page to more people.
While this finding is interesting, there are a few important caveats I should point out.
Also, being a correlation study, it’s impossible to say whether Google directly measures or uses bounce rate as a ranking signal. A high bounce rate may simply reflect content that isn’t very good.
Regardless, reducing your bounce rate certainly won’t result in lower rankings — and it can boost conversions, as well.