first steps to SEO Success - Meta Tags

First Steps to SEO Success – Meta Tags [And What to Avoid]

It’s been a while since I added to this series.  My plan was to finish the series and turn it into an eBook by the end of the year.  I guess I better get moving a little.

What We Will Discuss:

  • What Are Meta Tags
  • What Meta Tags are Deprecated
  • What Meta Tags are Important
  • Other Meta Tags

So far we have covered:

Now we’re going to talk about one of the more misunderstood and often abused areas of SEO.

What Are Meta Tags?

first steps to SEO success meta tagsMeta Tags are not visible when visiting a web page or blog post.  They are inserted into the header code of a web page.  They provide more information about what the web page or blog post is about.  They also provide other information to search engines.

There are meta tags that are useful to search engines, and others that are no longer useful.

If you are using a WordPress site it is easy to add Meta Info.  Most SEO plugins assist with providing meta information.

Yoast SEO plugin is my SEO plugin of choice on WordPress.  It is the most widely used SEO plugin.  Be sure to do your own research to determine what works best for you.

Most CMS or Website builders provide tools to add the appropriate meta information to your site.

If you are building a website with your own code, then you will have to manually add the appropriate code to your web page header section.

Meta Tags are short snippets of code that provide information about what your web page or blog post is about to search engines.

Why Are Some Meta Tags Useful and Others Not?

Let’s start with Meta Keywords.

Meta Keywords used to indicate to a search engine that a web page should be shown when a searcher queries for that keyword.

The problem was website owners and SEOs would stuff this meta tag with irrelevant keywords.  This created a negative user experience for people looking for specific information.

Meta Keywords can still be added but it’s pointless as major search engines do not use this information anymore.

Meta Description is used to describe what a web page or blog post is about.

A meta description is a one or two sentence synopses of the web pages content.

Google and other search engines won’t display much more than this.

Meta Descriptions are still very useful.  One thing to note is that Google does not always display the meta description in the search results.  Many times, Google will opt to display content from the web page or blog post itself.

There is no clear explanation as to why Google might choose to display content from the web page versus using the meta description.  It most likely depends on the search query being entered.

This is a typical Meta Description

<meta name=”description” content=”Meta Tags Are an Important Aspect of Search Engine Optimization.  Learn what they are and which ones can help you rank on Google”>

meta description tags for SEO

Google has stated that using keywords in a meta description will not help your SEO.

Where meta descriptions will help is enticing searchers to click on the web page.  Writing a compelling meta description, possibly with a call to action, is more likely to drive traffic than ignoring the meta description or using something generic, or keyword stuffing (which won’t help AT ALL).

If you read my blogs on a regular basis then you will know I talk about engagement all the time.  Google uses engagement statistics (bounce rate, time spent on a page, shares, etc..) to determine a page’s relevancy.

If a page has a low bounce rate and good engagement statistics, then there’s a better chance it will rank higher.

If searchers are clicking through a search result because of a well-written meta description, and stay on the page, visit another page on the site, leave a comment or share the page then Google considers the page to be more relevant.

If a page is considered more relevant there’s a good chance the web page moves higher in the search rankings.

Meta descriptions should be 160 characters or less.  Short meta descriptions will usually not have great results when shown.

Google has tested longer meta descriptions in the past.  As of this writing, the meta descriptions are not parsed beyond 160 characters.

Title Tags

We talked about web page and blog titles and their importance in an earlier blog post.

Title Tags are the meta tag used to tell search engines what the title of the web page should be.  This is an important meta tag as well.  This might be the most important of the meta tags.

Google will not serve up other information for the title tag.  The title of your page might make or break your clicks and visits.

<title>First Steps to SEO Success – Meta Tags [and What Not to Do]</title>

meta title tags for SEO

I wrote a lot about Titles and Title Tags in my post about Page and Blog Titles for SEO Success.

Title tags are probably the most important meta tag for your SEO.  This is why I dedicated a separate section to title tags.

Let’s talk a little about what might make the above title successful.

The title describes what the blog post will be about.  It also gives the searcher a reason to click through.

The searcher might ask if they are doing something wrong that could be hurting their SEO.

There was a study done by Brian Dean of Backlinko that showed using parenthesis or brackets significantly improved CTR (Click Through Rates).

These meta tags are probably the most recognized but there are a lot more.  Let’s explore.

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Other Meta Tags

Meta Robots Attribute

This tells Google what it should do with your web page or blog post.  There are two attributes that you can assign to this tag.

Index/NoIndex tells Google whether the webpage should be indexed on the search engine.

Follow/NoFollow tells Google whether the links on your web page should be trusted (Follow) or not trusted (NoFollow)

There are other meta tags that are specific to social media.

Open Graph was originally specific to Facebook.  Open Graph meta tags pass information from your web page to Facebook.  This is how Facebook can identify:

  • The page title
  • The description
  • What image to use
  • Author
  • Date
  • And more

Today Open Graph is used by Pinterest and Google Plus as well.

You can set up Rich Pins for Pinterest.  This is an extra step that is done through the Pinterest platform.

open graph meta tags for Facebook and Pinterest

Some of the more common open graph meta tags are:

<meta property=”og:title” content=”What Happens When You Stop Doing SEO? [It’s Not Pretty]”/>
<meta property=”og:description” content=”What happens when a business decides to stop doing SEO on their website? The results are pretty dramatic and can impact a business immensely.”/>
<meta property=”og:type” content=”article”/>
<meta property=”og:image” content=”https://www.scottgombar.com/what-happens-when-you-stop-doing-seo-its-not-pretty/”/>

what happens when you stop doing SEO post on Facebook

 

Twitter also has meta tags to do the same.  Twitter meta tags are often left out of blogs and web pages.  This is a lost opportunity for many site owners.

twitter meta tags

What About Rich Snippets?

When I created my SEO Checklist several years ago rich snippets were not widely used yet.  They still have not been implemented by most of the websites on the internet.

Rich Snippets or Microdata is like Meta Tags in that it provides microdata about a web page to search engines.

I wrote about Rich Snippets and Microdata briefly in this blog post. 

Since more is being said about Rich Snippets and their usage on Google’s Search Results Page I will add that to my next blog post in the First Steps to SEO Success Series.

While it has not been declared outright it is possible that one day Rich Snippets (Schema.org) will replace meta tags.  Google is relying on the information from rich snippets more and more.

If I were implementing an SEO strategy today I would include both meta tags and rich snippets as part of my strategy.

Next up in this series is Rich Snippets and Schema.org

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SEO Case Study on the importance of having a secured website

Case Study: The Impact of SSL on Your [Google Search Results]

Case Study: The Impact of SSL on Search Results Your Business Should Pay Attention

Summary:  SSL Certificates on a website have become increasingly important.  83.33% of first page Google Search Results have an SSL certificate installed.  This study determines if there is a direct impact on your SEO plan and search results by having an unsecured site.

What this SEO Case Study Found:

  • 83.33% of Google’s First Page Search Results have a secured website
  • 95% of generic, one-word search queries that appear on the first page of Google have SSL installed.
  • When performing hyperlocal searches using town and state in the query the number drops to 74%
  • Overall searches using town and state are minimal to non-existent
  • Local businesses can rank for one-word keywords, locally.
  • Having an SSL certificate on your website does improve your search ranking on Google for high volume keywords.

There’s been so much said about the impact of having an SSL certificate for your website.  It used to be that only sites that handled financial or sensitive information required this extra layer of security.  For the last few years, Google has been indicating SSL will become increasingly important for ALL websites.

Some SEOs and business owners believe there is no need for an SSL certificate.  Others believe it weighs heavy on their search rankings.  Still, other SEOs believe there is more of a correlation rather than a causation as it relates to search rankings on the SERP.

I decided to test search results to determine who was right and how having an SSL certificate on your website can impact your search results.

What is SSL?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer.  The short answer is it encrypts data.  When you visit a website, you may notice that some websites have HTTP or HTTPS in front of the web address.  The “s” in HTTPS stands for secure.  You may also notice a lock icon or other icon indicating a site is secure.  In Google Chrome you will see small “I” in a circle.  This indicates the site is not secure.  Clicking on the lock/secure or i will provide more information.

secured site for SEO and Google

We technically don’t use SSL anymore.  We now use TLS (Transport Layer Security).  However most still refer to the extra layer of encryption as an SSL Certificate.

Results May Vary

To understand the results of my case study you will also need to understand how Google Search works now.  When you search for something using Google it will pull results based on multiple factors.  This is determined by the Google Search Algorithm.  Those factors can be:

  • Your Geolocation
  • Relevancy to your query
  • Quality of the website
  • The device you are using
  • Previous search query results (if you are logged in to Google)
  • Age of the site

There are more factors, but we will just use those for this case study for now. Your search results will not look exactly like mine because of some of these factors.  This helps insure the relevancy of your search results.  A dentist in Meriden CT may not be relevant to you.

The Results of SSL Certification’s Impact on SEO

I performed numerous searches.  Most of the searchers were service related businesses but a few were product based.  I did not include restaurants in my research.  The first page of Google almost always has 10 organic results.  Since most people do not go past the first page my results are based on Google’s first page results.  I did not include Ads or Google 3 Pack results.  The results are the percentage of first page results that had an SSL Certificate installed on their website.  You will see where this gets interesting in a little bit. Here are the overall results:

  • Generic (1-word search query)-95%
  • Overall-83.33%
  • Searches with the state included (CT)-80%
  • Searchers with town included (Hyperlocal)-74%

As you can see from my results the majority of first page results have an SSL certificate installed on their website.  As you drill down based on the location the number gets a little lower.  That kind of makes sense since you’re more likely to uncover local businesses who have not adopted an SSL Certificate.

Or Does It?

But Scott, you said geolocation was a factor in your search results.  Why should I add (mytown mystate) to my search if Google is doing that for me?

And Scott, so far all you have proved is a correlation, not causation.  Isn’t it possible that the reason such a high number of first page results have SSL certificate is that those site owners understand the importance of it?

Good questions, I am glad you asked them.  For this, I am going to use some specific results to show you why SSL is important.  My case study proves there is an impact.

The first result that blew my mind was:

Dentist in Meriden CT

Only 40% of the first page results had an SSL certificate installed on their website.  That seemed like a really low number to me based on the other results.  Most queries were somewhere between 80-100%.

It got me to thinking.  Is this because Meriden is a smaller city compared to say New Haven CT?

Dentist in New Haven CT

80% of the results of this search query had SSL installed.  Now it seems to make sense. Bigger city, more options for Google to return.

Wait for it!!

Let’s do some more hyperlocal searches and see what percentage of first page results have SSL installed on their websites.

Roofers in Meriden CT – 100%

                Doctors in Meriden CT – 100%

Taxi in Meriden CT – 80%

                Food Delivery Meriden CT – 80%

                Lawyer in Meriden CT – 50%             

Whoa! I guess roofers and doctors have good SEOs and site owners.  That last one blew my mind though.  Before you ask, yes Attorney in Meriden CT returned the same result as far as percentage of sites utilizing SSL.  I don’t count Food Delivery as a restaurant.  There are services that offer to pick up and deliver food for you.  Some of them were restaurants.  Kudos to their SEO.  Interesting that Uber Eats was not on the first page.

Here’s Where it Gets Interesting

Based on the information I have provided so far you would think that searching Lawyer in Meriden CT and just searching Lawyer would return the same results.  Right?

You would be hugely mistaken.

 

Same search, same computer, same connection to the internet.

If I just search using the following queries I get much different results:

Lawyer – 90%

                Attorney – 90%

                Dentist – 100%

Those are huge discrepancies.

Why is this so important? 

Google recognizes where you are searching from and returns results based on your location.  In theory Lawyer and Lawyer in Meriden CT should return the same results.  If we analyze search volume according to Moz’s Keyword Explorer Tool, we find that the number of searches per month for each keyword (phrase) is:

Lawyer in Meriden – no data (meaning no search queries)

Attorney in Meriden — no data (meaning no search queries)

Dentist in Meriden — no data (meaning no search queries)

Lawyer – 70.8k-118k per month

Attorney — 30.3k-70.8k per month

Dentist – 118k-300k per month

I am certainly happy to see more people search for Dentist than Lawyers.  These numbers are for nationwide searches (US).  I don’t need to analyze in Meriden results any further because there are none.  Let’s go to the Google Keyword Planner and drill down some more.

If you recall from my Keyword Research blog post I talked about using Google Keyword Planner to research keywords.  I also talked about Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool.

In Meriden CT

Lawyer – 20 per month

                Attorney – 20 per month

                Dentist – 70 per month

If you’re a lawyer, you have 40 chances to show up on the first page of Google in Meriden per month.  If you’re a dentist, you have 70.

We know that Google’s Search Results are returned based on your location.  It used to be trying to rank for a single keyword like Lawyer or Dentist was mission impossible because there was so much competition.  Now you’re only competing locally for these coveted keywords.  Your SEO should absolutely be optimizing for these one-word keywords as well as long tail/LSI keywords.

I noticed while doing the research that Dentist Near Me (90) gets more searchers locally than Dentist (70).  I checked the first page results for Dentist Near Me results and 60% of the results had SSL on their websites.

What We Learned

The results returned for the more powerful single word keywords had a very high percentage of SSL certificates installed on their sites (90-100%).  While seldom or never used keyword phrases returned different results including a lot of results without SSL certificates.

The seldom or never used keyword phrases should not be part of any SEO strategy as it will not yield any results.  If your content is written for your audience and not for Google (as Google recommends) then those keywords will naturally be a part of the search results.  That means the more competitive keywords that do yield results should be your focus.  If the return on these keywords shows that a higher percentage of the websites returned have SSL installed, then that would indicate Google is using security as a ranking factor. Google may be using ranking as more of a ranking factor then most believe.

The results of this case study prove that SSL Certificates need to be a part of your SEO strategy.

Final thought.  In July Google Chrome will start warning users of ANY site that does not have SSL installed. The message will warn users that the site is not secure.  This further indicates Google’s desire for a secure internet and the importance they place on having an SSL Certificate.

future nessage for unsecured websites in Chrome starting July 2018

This warning will likely scare users off your website increasing your bounce rate.  A high bounce rate is an indication to Google that your content is not relevant to the search query used.  This will mean your search rankings may take a hit because you did not install an SSL certificate. This is an indirect correlation to not having an SSL certificate installed on your site.  While there has been no official word you may also see a negative impact on your search rankings as a direct result of you not having SSL installed on your website.

OK, time for me to go talk to some lawyers and dentists!

 

 

SEO Graphic

First Steps to SEO Success – URL Structures | Scott Gombar CT SEO

SEO GraphicFirst Steps to SEO Success – URL Structures

So far, we have talked about the following as it relates to a Successfully SEO Plan:

This step is a little bit easier and quicker once you get going.  It’s also much easier if you take this into consideration prior to putting your website together.  Having to change the URL structure after the website has been created is a much larger task.  You may also have to consider 301 redirects when changing the URL structure of an existing website.

One of the often-overlooked items for on-page SEO is the structure of your URLs.  Keywords can be identified in the URL of a page.  Whether you are developing a website in WordPress, another CMS or you are creating pages with your own code, the URL structure is easy to set up.

In WordPress, under Settings>Permalinks you should set up the URLs of your pages and posts as Post Name.  This will make it easier for you to set up the URL structure.

Now that you have this set up it’s time to create a page.  By default, WordPress will create a URL based on your page title.  If you read the previous step (page titles) then you are already creating SEO friendly page titles.  There may be an occasion where you want to modify the URL further.  In WordPress this is easy.  Right below the title of your page or post the URL is displayed.  Click the edit button to the right of the URL and edit it as necessary.

One item to consider is stop words.  Some SEO Experts believe that certain words, called stop words, can have an impact on how Google ranks your site.  This may have been the case at one time, but it is no longer true.  Stop words are common words such as:

  • The
  • A
  • On
  • Go
  • An

First Steps to SEO Success URL StructureThere is no longer a reason to be concerned about stop words.  You should try to keep URLs to 5 words or less but there isn’t a hard limit set by Google.  Research shows that shorter URLs do get more clicks, but I don’t believe searchers pay too much attention to URLs when clicking on search results.

Creating URLs Manually

If you are creating web pages manually using HTML, PHP, ASP or another language then you probably already have the knowledge needed to create URLs.  The same best practices should still be followed when creating the URL structure of your pages and overall site.

URL Best Practices for SEO

  1. URLs should be ‘almost’ legible to humans-For example, if my URL is 5-things-your-seo-forgot-to-do-how-its-hurting-your-business this will make sense to a human. If I just add random numbers and letters after my TLD (top level domain) it is not readable.  In fact, I do use random numbers and letters when I am testing something and don’t want anyone to find it.
  2. Include keywords in your URLs. Yes, it counts. Include one keyword or long-tail keyword in your URL structure.  Using the example above you can easily determine that the keyword I wanted to focus on is SEO but there are other items that could return in search results.  For the example URL above, I basically used the title of the page.  Think of it as another opportunity to use your focus keyword in your content.
  3. Shorter URLs Where Possible-This is not for Google. This is for your audience.  Your audience is who you really want to create content for, isn’t it?
  4. Don’t Use Dynamic URLs Where Possible-Using URLs that end in something like php?language=en&inhalt=id=99 should be avoided. They’re ugly and can sometimes discourage people from clicking on them.
  5. Use Hyphens-in the example I used in point one I included dashes to separate words. This makes it easier to read.  Underscores are also acceptable but it’s best to use hyphens.  Spaces will work but this then adds a %20 to the structure of the URL.  This makes the URL a little harder to read.
  6. Avoid repetitive keywords in the URL structure. This includes folders.  For example, if my URL is com/local-seo/local-seo-steps this looks spammy.  It almost looks like keyword stuffing.  If you know anything about SEO then you know that keyword stuffing can negatively impact your SEO now.

SEO Hero

301 Redirects

If you are editing the URL structure of an existing website that has already built up authority and backlinks, then you have some things to consider.  Your best bet would be to create 301 redirects from the old URL to the new URL.  As an example:

Examplewebsite.com/page.php is changed to Examplewebsite.com/more-informative-url.php then you will want to add a 301 redirect.  A 301 redirect tells Google and other search engines that you have permanently moved the content of the page to a new location (URL).  I wrote a quick post about how to create a 301-redirect a while back but it’s pretty easy to do if you have access to your htaccess file.  Just insert the following:

RedirectPermanent /oldpage.html http://www.yourdomain.com/newpage.html

WordPress also comes with plugins to manage redirects.  This might be easier for less technical website owners and/or multiple redirects to set up.

Next, we will talk about Meta Descriptions

Get a Free Audit of Your Website SEO!!

 

 

6 Hacks to Beat Your Competition on Voice Search and Google

6 SEO Hacks to Beat Your Competition on Voice Search in 2018 and Beyond

Google Assistant (Duplex) Announcement at Google IO and What It Means to Your Business

6 Hacks to Beat Your Competition on Voice Search and GoogleSummary

  • Google announced the next generation of the Google Assistance in May 2018
  • Google Assistant’s name is Google Duplex
  • Google Duplex will be able to schedule appointments and carry on conversations
  • Businesses will need to adjust their SEO strategy for voice search
    • Create conversation and relevant content
    • Ask & Answer questions your audience/clients will ask
    • Add rich snippets to utilize microdata/schema
    • Ensure your website is mobile friendly and fast
    • Create long-form content that includes short, concise answers
    • Answer your phone

During Google IO (May 8th -10th, 2018) Google announced the next phase of its Google Assistant development. It is well ahead of where most people anticipated it would be.  Its name is now Google Duplex and let’s just say Skynet is real.

Google Duplex takes the digital assistant to a new level.  Soon Google will be able to place calls, set appointments and carry a conversation with the person on the other end.  Google Duplex will also be able to call businesses to confirm hours of operation on days where hours might be adjusted, such as holidays.

This is exciting and scary at the same time.  This combined with a rapidly increasing focus on voice search (Gary Vaynerchuk’s VoiceCon is on May 22nd in New York City) should emphasize how voice search is becoming more of an integral part of our daily lives.  Comscore estimates that by 2020 50% of all searches queries will be done through voice.  Gartner estimates that by 2020 30% of voice search queries will be done using a device with no screen.  https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2018/04/10/voice-search-statistics-2018

 What does this mean for SEO and your business growth? 

It means if you are not taking voice search seriously you better start.  This is going to sneak up on everyone faster than mobile did.  Not including this in your SEO and marketing plan could prove detrimental in the coming months and years.

Google, Amazon, and Apple are the primary players in voice search at the time of this writing.  Google and Amazon are clearly the leaders in voice search.  If you have used either of these services, then the potential is evident.  If you pay attention while you or someone else uses Google or Alexa then it should also be clear there are subtle nuances between voice queries and text queries.

It’s also a safe bet that Facebook and other social platforms will add voice search features in the future. Whether your focus is social or search, the result is you will have to optimize for voice queries. Voice queries are not the same as type or text queries. The only real question is how soon you need to start considering voice search as part of your content marketing strategy.  The answer is NOW.

Truth be told no-one can say for sure how voice search will impact SEO.  Most SEO solutions providers have a good idea of what will happen.  What is clear is how quickly voice search is evolving and the impact it is having on local search and SEO.  Something else that’s clear is you will not be presented with 10 results on a page when you ask your virtual assistant a question.  You will only get one result.  You’re not competing for page one anymore.  Now you will compete for number one.

6 SEO Hacks to Beat Your Competition on Voice Search

Voice Search Graphic SEO 2018

  1. Adjust Content to Be More Conversational & Relevant

There is a difference between the way someone types in a search query and the way someone verbally asks a question.  If you don’t know what I mean, then try it out yourself.  Ask Google or Siri a question and then think about whether the way you asked is the same as you would type it in.

Case studies so far have shown that there are several factors that return results for a voice search query.  One of those factors is the tone of the query response.  Conversational pieces of content fared better on voice search.

It’s still early for the results to be concrete. Voice search is still evolving.  Early case studies may not be relevant in a few months.  That said the early case studies make sense.  People would rather receive search query results in a conversational tone.  Take a little time to think about the conversations you have with your peers, yourself and even your virtual assistant if you are already using one.

  1. Ask & Answer Questions Your Audience Will Ask

When people use voice search they typically ask a question or issue a simple command.  Questions require short and too the point answers.  You’re already seeing this on the Google Search Results Page (SERP).  Many times, if you ask a question it returns a result at the top with bulleted answers or a one-sentence answer.  This is called the knowledge graph.

The knowledge graph results are often the result you get when using voice search.  The knowledge graph began showing up on Google Search in 2016. It’s almost like Google has been planning this all along.

How do you get results in the knowledge graph?  Answer questions.  There are many ways to come up with questions and answers.

  • What are some of the ways you can come up with questions to answer on your site?
    • answerthepublic.com lets you ask a question and returns different variations of the question. This is sort of what Google does with RankBrain (Machine Learning).  Google’s goal is to identify the searchers intent.
    • Ask existing clients and/or audience for questions they may have and answer them.
    • Use Quora to find questions related to your industry. Add them to your site and add answers.
    • Use Google’s Question and Answer section on Google Business listings to create relevant questions and answers.
    • You will also notice in my more recent blog posts I also include a bullet point summary near the top of my blog post. I am working my way backward on the rest of my blog posts to do the same.  Either a 1-2 sentence summary or a few bullet points will be added.
  1. Rich Snippets/Microdata

You’ve probably heard about rich snippets.  You may have even talked to a marketer about them.  Are you using them?  Statistics say you are not.

36.6% of Google Search results include at least one rich snippet, but only .3% of all websites use them.  Search Engine Land April 22nd, 2014.  While this has likely increased, I heard on a more recent podcast (within the last few months) that adoption of rich snippets is still very low.

Rich Snippets are derived from Structured Data added to website code.  This structured data makes it easier for Search Engines like Google and Bing to understand what a web page is about.  Structured Data also helps search engines extract important information from a web page.  That information might include things such as:

  • Hours of Operation
  • Location
  • Blog Author
  • Type of Content
  • Events
  • Local Business Info
  • Reviews
  • And a lot more.

Structured Data uses specific language.  The structured data the major search engines use comes from Schema.org.  It is important to note that Rich Snippets or Structured Data is not exclusive to Google. In fact, Google, Bing, Yahoo all use it as well as Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms.

Structured Data is going to play a big part in voice search results as this information is easier for search engines to decipher.  It’s also easier for mobile search results to be returned based on structured data.  Many voice searches are performed on mobile.

Let me get on my soapbox for a sentence or two.  If your site is not optimized for mobile, rich snippets, and voice search, you are going to miss out on a huge chunk of search results.  This will cost your business a lot of money.

  1. Mobile Friendly and Fast

Alright, I mentioned it already.  I have mentioned it in other blog posts and podcasts.  I will continue to mention it until most businesses are taking it seriously.  Mobile search represents more than half of all search queries.  Many of those searches are done using a virtual assistant.

What do you do when you try to load a website on your phone and it takes more than a few seconds?  Most of us will close it or go back to the search results to load another page.  We will do the same thing if we load a web page on mobile and cannot view it or navigate it properly.

This impacts your search results because your bounce rate increases.  Bounce rate is a user engagement factor.  A high bounce rate and low time spent on a web page tell Google your web page is not relevant for the search query it is being returned for.  It will not be found via voice search if it is not mobile and fast.  Google wants FAST.

Google has already started rolling out mobile first indexing.  Google says that this only impacts sites that are mobile friendly but sites who are not have also received notification from the Google Search Console.  Page speed has also continued to gain importance, especially on mobile.

  1. Long Form Content

Google almost anything and you will see that most of the responses are long form.  Of course, it depends on the industry and your competition but the longer and more diversified your content the more likely it is to rank high in the search results.

The average word count of a voice search result page is 2,312 words. Therefore, Google tends to source voice search answers with long-form content. ~Backlinko Voice Search Analysis 2018

While word count helps the content rank higher on Google, short concise answers help your content be the query result on voice search.  When creating your content, you will have to provide short answers (the above study suggests that results were 29 words or less on voice search) while creating long-form content, at least 2000 words, that is engaging.

I mentioned industry and competition.  It is important to keep an eye on what your industry is doing as a whole and what your local competition is doing.  It’s even more important to stay one step ahead.  Don’t create content just a little better than what your competition is creating.  Create content that crushes their Google rankings.  This might seem harsh but at some point, a current, or new competitor will figure out that they need to put more focus into search results.  When they do you don’t want to make it easy for them to take what you worked so hard for.

Creating long-form content is one way to ensure it will not be easy for your competition to take your search rankings.  Creating long-form content that invites engagement is also a way to make you the authority in the eyes of your ideal audience and in turn Google.  Becoming the authority means you have a better chance of getting in the knowledge graph and being found for voice search queries.

  1. Answer Your Phone

This should seem like a no-brainer but unfortunately, it’s not.  Answer your phone.  Google is calling.  One thing that is clear from the samples of Google Duplex (and they were real samples) is that Google will place calls to set appointments.  If you are in a business that takes reservations or appointments it will be even more important to answer your phone.

Imagine if 50% of search queries were now voice.  Now imagine if that search is for an Italian restaurant or a hair salon.  Who will Google find?  When they do will the phone number be correct, and will someone be available to answer the phone?

As mentioned earlier Google will call businesses on holidays to check what their hours are.  I know of an Italian Pastry shop that lost a lot of business because Google showed them as closed on Christmas Eve.  They were indeed open, but this is another example of why your Google Business listing is critical, and why it will be important to answer your phone.

You’re probably scratching your head trying to figure out why businesses must be told this.  I was once hired to handle SEO for a local locksmith.  I set expectations and clearly explained what would happen during our time working together.  For 5 weeks the locksmith complained because he could not be found for New Haven Locksmith.  He was two towns above New Haven and was number 11 in the search results.  He was abusive and liked to insult people.  After 5 weeks I had enough and fired my client.  It was the first time I had ever fired a client but in retrospect, I should have never taken this client on.

During this 5-week engagement, the locksmith was ignoring phone calls and email requests for service calls.  He was only focused on getting to page one with New Haven Locksmith (which happened 5 days after I fired him).  He was turning away business in a highly competitive industry.  Traffic and results were being driven to his web properties but this locksmith was not focused on delivering a positive customer experience, or any customer experience.  He wasn’t focused at all.

There are a lot of businesses, especially smaller businesses, that do not answer the phone on a regular basis.  Don’t be that business.

 

Final Thoughts:  Voice search continues to evolve and become more and more a part of our daily work and personal lives.  It’s clear that voice search and virtual assistance will be a big part of how Google and other search engines return results.  While these 6 Ways to Improve Your Search Results in Voice Search may further evolve it’s safe to say that these are areas that will need your SEOs attention in the coming months and years.

If voice search will account for 50% of all search queries in 2020 and 30% of those will be on a device without a screen what will you be leaving on the table by not adding voice search to your strategy?

 

 

 

 

Engagement for SEO

Want to Win the SEO Game? Improve Your Website Engagement

Engagement for SEOSummary of Want to Win the SEO Game?  

  1. What are top considerations for SEO focus according to SEOs and Marketers?
  2. Which of the top considerations for SEOs and Marketers are relevant to SEO in 2018?
  3. One tactic that will help you beat your competition with SEO.
  4. How is engagement measured by Google?
  5. How do you improve engagement for SEO?
  6. Other ways to improve engagement for Google.

I get asked by business owners all the time what they should be focusing on for SEO.  There are a lot of considerations to this answer and there’s no doubt you will get a lot of different answers.  Some of those answers will be completely wrong.  Others will be a part of what you should be focusing on for your SEO strategy but not the most important piece.  Here’s a list of the responses other business owners have been given:

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Some of these answers are great.  Some are important but not as important.  Some are completely wrong.  Here’s a quick explanation of each:

  • Link Building-this SEO strategy is still a very important component to SEO. It has also evolved from its earlier days.  It takes a lot more strategy, planning, execution and time to do it right. Link farms are gone, and black hat link building will likely cost you Google Rankings in a big way.
  • Web Page Title-Yes, this is important but probably not as important as engagement
  • Circle Link Building-this is a link building tactic that I would consider grey hat. I don’t think it impacts sites negative or positively.  Essentially a network of sites places a non-reciprocal link to another site.  The next site then links to another the same way.  This continues and forms a circle of links.  These links look spammy and while I cannot find proof that they will hurt I also see no evidence that they help.
  • PBN (Private Blog Networks)-Some SEO Solutions Providers swear by this type of link building. PBNs are groups of blogs and websites that have built some Google credibility (allegedly).  The sites then place links to other sites usually for a price.  Google has said PBNs are not allowed but as of this blog post there does not appear to be any penalties related to it.  This is not a practice my SEO agency uses as I do believe somewhere down the road Google will do what they did with Link Farms.  Site owners beware.
  • Blogging/Content-if you know me then you know blogging and content creation is a critical component of my SEO strategy for clients, and my business. Yes, make sure you are creating content.  End of story.
  • Videos-While Google cannot yet determine the content of a video there is related meta information that will help with Google crawling it. Video also greatly improves engagement.  If you read the title this blog post, then you know engagement is the focus here.  Think about it.  Google bought and owns YouTube, a video platform.  Don’t you think video will be an important part of SEO?
  • AdWords-AdWords is a very powerful digital advertising platform owned by Google. Some believe that using it contributes to your organic results.  This has yet to be proven and Google says it does not.
  • Google My Business-Yes, absolutely set this up. It is part of any successful Local SEO plan.  Not setting this up and maintaining is a huge mistake.  This adds your listing to Google Maps and the Google Local Pack.  Read my blog post 6 Ways to Optimize Your Google My Business Page for more information.
  • Yelp-Yelp is important to SEO in a roundabout way. It does add a link back to your site.  The link is a no-follow link so officially it won’t help your link building efforts, but Google does like to see some no-follow links.  Having a profile on Yelp should also increase traffic.  Who doesn’t want more traffic?
  • Social Media-Google’s official stance as of this blog post is that Social Media does not help with SEO rankings. Let’s think about it though.  This blog is about engagement.  Engagement happens on Social Media.  Social Media also drives traffic to websites.  Social sharing is a form of engagement.  Links to your website from social media help with link building, even if they are no-follow.  Plus, have you ever Googled a business and seen their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram pages in the results?
  • SSL-In July of 2018 Google Chrome will display a Not Secured message for ANY website that does not have an SSL certificate. Google Chrome is the most used browser today.  Seeing this message may send potential clients running.  SSL is a ranking factor but not as big as mobile or relevant content right now.

Improve Search Results by Improving Engagement

Want to Win SEO?  Engage!

After reviewing the above list, you should now know (if you didn’t already) that content is a game changer.  Whenever I onboard a new client I tell them they need an active blog.  Adding content to your site for the purpose of winning SEO is not enough.

Take some time and look at Google Analytics.  Look at some of the data Google analyzes.

  • Bounce Rate-How many users leave the website after visiting a single page versus visiting another page on the site measured in a percentage.
  • Duration Per Session-How long is the site visitor staying on the page
  • Pages per Session-How many pages are the visitors viewing during a session (visit to the site)

These three pieces of data are indicators of engagement. This means Google cares about engagement and uses it for analysis.

RankBrain is Google’s Machine Learning portion of their algorithm.  RankBrain attempts to determine a searchers intent when displaying search results in the Google Search Results Page.  RankBrain uses engagement to help it determine if a result is relevant to the searchers intent.  Google continues to utilize RankBrain more over time.

How is Engagement Measured by Google? How do I Improve My Engagement

Google measures engagement by factoring in the following:

  • Bounce Rate-Bounce Rates vary by industry but generally speaking a bounce rate of 60% or lower is considered good. There are a few things you can do to improve bounce rate.
    • Create relevant, timely and interesting content. I know it’s not easy for some industries, but it can be done.  Most people find SEO to be boring or confusing, but I do my best to simplify it for non-professionals.  The more information you can provide the better.  Relevant means make sure the title of your blog matches the content of it.  Use tools like Google Trends and Buzz Sumo to find ideas that are timely.
    • Keep pop-ups and distractions to a minimum. I never put more than one pop up on any page.  The more distractions there are the more likely they will leave the page.  Google is also strongly discouraging pop-ups that take over the page.
    • Add a video related to your content. You don’t need a full production.  A video recorded from your phone works fine in most cases.
    • Link to internal resources. This serves multiple purposes for SEO but for this article, it helps keep people on your site longer and increases pages per session.
  • Duration per Session-Google measures how long a visitor is on your page and site. The longer they’re on your site the better it looks for you.  This indicates to Google that the visitor finds your content to be relevant and of value.  The bullet points above will also contribute to a better duration per session.
  • Pages per Session-a lower bounce rate naturally correlates to a higher page(s) per session rate. You can increase this further by ensuring all of your content is well thought out and there are relevant internal links to other pages and/or blogs on your site.
  • Social Shares-Share your content and encourage others to share it. It’s OK.  Send it in an email, share it to all platforms that will help.  The more shares the better.   This will increase the visits to your site and indirectly tells Google that people are engaging with your content.
  • Comments-Comments can be the bane of any website owner’s existence but can also be of great value. Comments encourage spam but there are ways to counter the spam.  Legitimate comments are another indication that people find your content to be of value to them.  One important tip here.  Make sure you respond to ALL comments.  Just like reviews, it’s important to acknowledge the comments. This is often overlooked by site owners. Responding to all comments encourages even more engagement.
  • Natural Internal Links-linking to other relevant content on your site is a great way for your audience to get more information related to what they came to your site for in the first place. Google also sees internal links as a part of link building.  Internal links also make it easier for Google to crawl your site.

        More Ways to Increase Engagement on Your Website

  • Consistency-Adding a blog post once every 6 months is not consistent. You need to have a plan.  Have a content calendar prepared for each quarter.  Make sure that the calendar is fluid as topics may come up during the quarter.  For example, one of my clients is a roofing contractor.  If a hurricane is forecasted for Connecticut then a blog post about preparing your home for a hurricane becomes relevant and can address people’s concerns.
  • Avoid Tech Talk/Jargon-don’t tech talk people to death. Talk to your audience as if they know nothing about what you do.  Some of them may know and that’s great but chances are if they are on your site they are looking for some information.
  • Answer Questions-Answering Questions is a great way to drive engagement. If you know of direct questions that need answers, then provide the answers in a blog or FAQ.  Use bullet points to highlight answers.  This may even get your blog post into the knowledge graph on Google.

Google wants to serve up the best responses possible to a searchers inquiry.  Using the steps above will help your site visitors to engage more.  More engagement means that Google will recognize your content as being the most relevant answer to searchers inquiries.  Your search rankings will improve.  Higher search rankings mean more people see your site.  I think you can see where this is going.

I hope you find this helpful.  If you know of a way that improves engagement on your site please share.  We love comments (See what I did there?)

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Title Tags Concept on Laptop Screen.

First Steps to SEO Success – Webpage and Blog Titles for SEO

First Steps to SEO Success – Webpage Titles

Title Tags Concept on Laptop Screen.

The Keyword Research is done, and you’ve purchased an awesome domain name after some intense domain research.  What’s next?

It’s time to start putting everything together.  Not so many years ago building a website was all about how it looked.  SEO was in its infancy and was very easily manipulated to benefit those less than scrupulous website owners.  Today the SEO needs to be a major part of the consideration of your overall site plan before you begin building your website.  It’s likely that you already have a basic idea of what the content of your site will look like and we’re going to get into the content of your shiny new website in a not so distant future post.

At this point, if you’re going to do everything yourself (I don’t recommend this) you’re going to want to work with a CMS.  For SEO purposes I would not recommend using the website builders like Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, Website Builder or similar products.  Your SEO will suffer significantly using one of these drag and drop type website builders.  Short of building your own site by hand, meaning using HTML, CSS, and PHP to code and design your own site, the best option is WordPress.

There are other Content Management Systems (CMS) available (Joomla, Drupal, etc..) but WordPress is by far the easiest and most popular to work with.  Approximately 25% of all websites on the internet today are built with WordPress.

I start this post/section of First Steps to SEO Success by mentioning WordPress because if you’re reading this then you probably are planning to build and manage your own website and SEO.  Again, this is not something I would recommend to most business owners but if I can’t change your mind then continue reading.

As I mentioned earlier it was not that long ago when building a website was all about design.  SEO was a secondary thought in part because the practice of SEO was still easily manipulated.  Keyword stuffing, Link Farms, Irrelevant Content and many other less than ethical practices were being used successfully.  Those days are long gone.  Today SEO must be a big part of the initial website plan and strategy.

As part of your keyword research, there was some competitive analysis.  You should continue with that competitive analysis to determine what content you should have on your website.  This does not mean you should copy your competitor’s site.  This is not ethical or legal. Use competitive analysis to get an idea of what content should be added.

Pro Tip: If your goal is to become the best at what it is you do then you will want to be better than your competition.  You will want to stand out from your competition.  There are several ways to do this beyond being the best at what you do.  Brand Development is one way.  Another way is to stand out using your web presence.  It’s hard to say what that will look like for every business type but suffice it to say you should avoid being another cookie cutter business in your industry.  Be Bold.

 There are some pages that should be included on your website for your audience.  Your audience includes potential clients, and Google/Bing.  Google wants you to think of your audience with every aspect of your site. This includes the navigation, how fast it loads, readability and overall content.  If your audience shows no interest in your site, then Google won’t either.

You should plan on including an About page, a Contact page, a Blog, Product/Service pages, Reviews and any other pages that will help your audience understand what it is you do and what makes you the best at it.

HTML Title Tag for SEOYou’re probably wondering when I am going to get to the title tags, right?  When I design a site I typically figure out what the primary or first level pages will be and create the title tags keeping the keyword research that I already completed top of mind.  For example, your home page, the main landing page of your site, should not have a title of Home or Home Page.  It should be the name of your site and top-level keyword phrases.   I have landed on digital marketing agency home pages with the title being “Home Page”.  This is a clear indication that you should avoid working with this agency.

As an example, a roofing contractor client of ours homepage title reads “Roof Repair & Roof Replacement | Hartford & New Haven County | Yargueta Construction”.   The title includes their primary services, primary locations served and the company name.  The audience can determine exactly what this page and website’s purpose is based on the title.

The About page title should not be “About Us”.  In the case of Yargueta Construction, the About page title is “About Yargueta Construction Roofers in CT-Roof Repairs & Replacements”.  Again, this clearly defines what this page content will be about.

I mentioned earlier that for a DIYer the best way to go about creating a website for design, maintenance and SEO purposes is to use WordPress.  Most hosting companies have one-click WordPress installs and help is widely available on the internet.  Just Google your questions.  WordPress allows you to install plugins to improve the usability and functionality of your website.  For SEO purposes we recommend Yoast SEO.

Yoast SEO will allow you to set the Title Tag for your website as well as individual pages very easily, as well as other SEO components that we will get to as we progress through this series.  Yoast (or any plugin) is not necessary for Title Tags but it will help to ensure that you are optimizing your web pages as much as possible.  One of those opportunities for optimization is title tags.

SEO Title Tag

Each page should have a unique, relevant and keyword focused title tag that clearly explains to the audience what that page is about.  For blog posts on your site, the title should be descriptive but concise.  Your blog title should include timeliness, urgency and/or emotion.  Being a little dramatic also helps.  Including numbers attracts readers (and if done right might even get you into the knowledge graph).

An example of a good blog post title is 8 Ways to Recognize Cold Calling SEO Scams”.  I included a number and might even piss a few people off (I seem to be good at that) with this blog post title.  Emotions, maybe controversy and of course the number 8!

This post and the next couple don’t need to be performed in the order of the posts.  Title Tags, URLs, and the actual content can be done in order of preference and can be edited as needed.  In fact, I edited some of my examples as I was writing this.

Pro Tip: Do not use duplicate titles on your website.  Google does not like duplicate titles, URLs or web page/blog post content.  While a duplicate title probably won’t cause a penalty it also serves no purpose.  Neither page will rank if they are seen as the same content.  This will lead to wasted opportunities and SEO efforts.  Why waste time and effort when you could be crushing your SEO strategy.

Next up, URL structures

8 Ways to Recognize Cold Calling SEO Scams

8 Ways to Recognize Cold Calling SEO Scams by Scott Gombar CT SEO

Cold Calling SEO is Scummy

8 Ways to Recognize Cold Calling SEO Scams Is scummy even a word?  Well as I am putting this blog post together Microsoft Word has not marked it as a grammatical error.

I hear it all the time from business owners.  They get unsolicited cold calls from Google asking them if they need help with their Search Engine Rankings or SEO or Search Engine Optimization.  I too have gotten this call.  It usually starts off with something like “Are you the owner of the business?”.  This is an immediate indication that this is not a call I want, but I usually play along because I like to torture these spammers.  Let’s call it what it is. It’s spam over the phone.

It’s usually one of 3 spam/scam calls.  The Google call, the IRS call or the business loan call.  They always ask for the business owner and have never done their homework because if you knew what I did you wouldn’t even waste your time claiming to be from Google.

Just like the IRS or Commercial Lenders, Google does not cold call people.  There it is in plain English, please share it, copy it, get a tattoo of it, whatever helps other business owners not lose thousands of dollars on unqualified or black hat SEOs.  Google does not cold call people.  Yes, Google does call people if you are an advertiser.  They do this to make sure you are using the platform effectively, but Google does not have a platform for organic search results per se.  They do have tools, but they do not cold call you to ask if you are using Google Analytics correctly.

As I was researching for this blog post I came across several blog posts about how SEOs can be successful at cold calling business owners.  These were on marketing and SEO agency blogs and I was shocked to see that businesses were agreeing to terms with the cold calling SEO agency, over the phone.  They don’t sit down with the agency to learn about their best practices.  They don’t have a clear understanding of the terms of the contract.  They don’t even know what the person who will handle their SEO looks like.

The cold caller’s strategy for generating leads is simple.  They search Google and any business that is on page 2-5 of the search results gets a phone call. One blog post even had a link to their script.  Out of curiosity, I looked the blogger up on Twitter and his account is suspended.  I wonder why.

I don’t have a problem with the way someone chooses to earn a living or gain clients if it’s not hurting anyone.  If you’re cold calling and representing your business as one that can practice ethical SEO while helping to grow a business, and you run your business in such a manner, then I would be OK with it.  The problem is most, if not all, of these cold calling SEOs do not practice ethical SEO and generally take the money and run.  This leaves business owners with a bad taste for legitimate SEO agencies.  I have heard this from business owners on several occasions as well.

8 Ways to Recognize Cold Calling SEO Scams

  1. They claim to be calling from Google (Google does not cold call businesses about SEO)
  2. They claim they can get you the top position on Google Search Results (Run Fast)
  3. They ask if you are “the owner of the business”. They don’t mention the business by name, just say “the business”.
  4. They claim that your website is not indexed by Google. How did they find you then?  I love to ask that question.
  5. They claim Google has penalized your site. See response to the previous bullet point.  The only way they would know if you have been penalized is if they have access to your Google Search Console account.  (You do have one of those right?)
  6. There’s a delay in response after you say hello. These are computer generated calls.  We like to use the term robocalls.
  7. They sound disinterested when they speak with you. This is a good indication they’ve been rejected numerous times already.  This will take a toll on anyone and is another reason I don’t cold call.
  8. The call almost always comes from a hyper-local number. Meaning the number will have the same area code and prefix as your number.

Cold Calling SEO ScamsStill not sure that the SEO Cold Caller is a Scam?  I can tell you that any legitimate SEO service provider that I have ever spoken with or know of has not used cold calling as a method for gaining new clients. If you still want to go down that rabbit hole here are 8 questions you can ask yourself or the cold caller.

8 Questions to ask Cold Calling SEOs

  1. What is their website address? While you’re speaking with them view their website and check for inaccuracies with the information they provide on the phone.
  2. What is their phone number? Don’t assume it’s the one on your caller ID.  They probably spoofed their number.  Check that number to see if there are any complaints against it online.  A simple (you guessed it) Google search will reveal this information.
  3. Ask for references from current and previous clients.
  4. Listen for poor grammar. Do you want someone who cannot speak effectively to develop content for your site?
  5. This applies to cold email. If the email comes from a free account like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail just delete it.  A respectable business will email from their domain (yourbusiness.com).
  6. Check for social media profiles for the business or “experts” from the business. If it is an incomplete social media account they reference (or in the case above it’s suspended) you can end the conversation.
  7. Check for online reviews. If there are none that does not necessarily exclude them, but it is a good indication they are either scamming you or very new to the industry.  More than likely if it’s an SEO Scammer.
  8. Get a second opinion. In SEO we suggest always getting a second opinion.  I can’t tell you how many times I have spoken to business owners who have been misinformed by another SEO “Expert” or are their SEO “Expert” is using questionable SEO practices.  Don’t agree to anything, especially a long-term contract, without a second opinion.

I hope this helps business owners understand what to look out for when it comes to cold calling SEOs.  If you want a second opinion on a proposal from an SEO, feel free to email us at bold@scottgombar.com or call us at 203.806.0736.

One last tip.  I see this all the time, so I am just going to throw this out there.  If the SEO Service Provider’s home page of their site has the title of “Home”, they are not by any stretch of the imagination an SEO Expert.

 

 

First Steps to SEO Success Keyword Research

First Steps to a SEO Success – Keyword Research [SEO Like a Pro]

First Steps to a SEO Success – Keyword Research

First, let me start by saying if anyone tells you that keywords are not an important part of SEO anymore you should automatically assume that person does not know the first thing about SEO.  Keyword research is literally one of the very first steps to a successful SEO strategy.

Some SEOs will tell you that you will never reach the top spot on Google with generic one-word keywords like “Lawyer”.  What if I told you there were wrong?  What if I proved it?

Lawyer is one of the highest valued keywords in the Google world.  Try running ads using the keyword Lawyer and you will see what I mean.  Now try to search Lawyer from Google and see what your results are.  While you and I will have different results, you might notice that a local attorney or two shows up near the top of the organic results.

lawyer search results in Google

 

To understand why keywords are still relevant and very important you need to understand how Google Search is intended to work.  When someone wants to gather information, they open a browser and type in what it is they’re looking for.  A quick check on Google Trends reveals that the term “Lawyer” is a popular search term.

What Google has learned over the years is that often when people are searching for lawyers they’re probably searching for a specific type of lawyer.  For example, they may be searching for a personal injury attorney.  Where it becomes even more challenging is while I might search for personal injury attorney you might search for car accident lawyer. Google over time has attempted with some degree of success to learn searchers intent, what the searcher REALLY looking for.

Google averages approximately 650 changes to their search algorithm in a given year.  This works out to almost 2 changes per day.  Most changes are minor but throughout the year there can be multiple major updates.  Google usually does this without telling anyone or maybe sharing some of the details.  The Google Search Algorithm is clouded in mystery and always has been.  Google uses machine learning (RankBrain), artificial intelligence, and real people to help evolve the Google Search Engine. The Google SERP has become very intelligent. Its goal is to deliver what the users (searchers) want on the first query.

With the explosion of mobile search as well as the increase in voice search (which will eventually catch on with the masses), Google is constantly trying to improve their search results page to accommodate its users.

What does all this mean?  It means that keyword phrases (also known as long-tail keywords) are still very relevant but you need to be smart about their usage.  That’s where the research comes in.  You will need to determine how your ideal client will search and find your business.  As someone who has performed this research for numerous clients I can tell you that very often the business is surprised to learn how their ideal client is searching for their product or service.  They may not be using the type of device or search phrase the business owner thought they would use.  They may not even be using Google to get the information they want.  Therefore it is very important to start with a client profile to understand who your client is and their purchase process.

Using our lawyer example, most law firms that deal with car accident claims start out thinking that people are looking for Personal Injury Attorney, and they might be right.  Without doing the research I would tend to believe that someone who is looking for a personal injury attorney after a car accident might search “What Should I Do After a Car Accident” or “Car Accident Lawyer”.  Don’t worry, I am going to do the research to show you how Keyword Research works.

Keyword Research

It’s time to roll up our sleeves, throw on some music and get dirty.  Let’s do some keyword research.  I am going to go through some of the tools I use to perform keyword research.  The tools I use are very popular choices for SEOs.  This is not by any means an all-inclusive list of SEO tools nor an endorsement of any specific tool.

Google Keyword Planner

For this, you will need to have a Google AdWords account.  Don’t worry though, you don’t need to run ads.  Go to http://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner to get started.  Either log in or create an account to begin your keyword research.

As of this writing, Google’s Keyword Research tool is in the process of a makeover.  Some features do not work in the new version, so screenshots are from both the new and legacy version.

keyword planner landing page

Let’s jump in.  Start by searching some of the keyword phrases you think your ideal client is using to search for your business.  Take note of how many searches are conducted.  In the example I am using Car Accident Lawyer does get more searches than Personal Injury Attorney.

keyword planner research

Narrowing it down to one state (Connecticut) shows how many searches there are locally and further confirms that more people search for Car Accident Lawyer.

keyword planner results local

Let’s dig in a little more.  For this, we’re going to switch to the legacy version of Google’s Keyword Planner.  We’re going to perform two more queries but feel free to play around with it even more.

First, we are going to do a competitive search.  Find a competitor that ranks high on the Google Search Results Page (SERP).  Enter their website in the landing page section.  Make sure you adjust the location to your area (state or a large city near you).  Run the query.  What you will get back are the keywords from the competitor’s website and the search frequency for them.  Some won’t be relevant, but some will.  This will help shape your SEO strategy.  If you want to overtake their position, then you must know how people are finding them.

keyword planner category search

 

Now let’s try category search.  For this you will select the category that closest matches your business category.  I would also suggest narrowing it down to your location as we did in previous queries.  We are talking about Local SEO, right?  As you can see from the screenshot we get quite a bit of information.  Some of it does not seem relevant.  We’ll just skip those for now.  Notice that Whiplash gets 1600 searches per month in Connecticut.  That’s a lot more searches than Car Accident Lawyer (170) or Personal Injury Attorney (110).  This is something we will want to pay attention to.  Look at some of the other query results we get.

Keyword Avg. Monthly Searches (exact match only)
whiplash 1600
attorney 1600
mesothelioma 1300
johnnie cochran 1000
lawyer 1000
robert shapiro 1000
accident 880
slander 880
compensation 880
car accident ct 880
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 880
defamation 720
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 720
negligence 720
class action lawsuit 720
car accident 590

There were over 700 results.  This is just the top few.  The two that have been redacted are because they are actual law firms but look at the search volume.  That could be used in a different kind of campaign, but we’ll discuss that in another blog post.

legacy keyword planner competive search

 

This information can be used for the content of your web pages but also for blog posts.  Even if your law firm doesn’t handle class action lawsuits who’s to say you can’t write a blog post on a recent class-action lawsuit verdict?  There are lots of opportunities for just these keywords.  Your Local SEO Strategy should evolve from this research.  A lot of these keywords can be used for multiple blog posts, a series of blog posts, page content, white papers, video blogs, and eBooks.  You should combine these strategies for the biggest impact.

Using the legacy version of the keyword planner I would also try other keyword phrases to see what Google suggests as alternatives.

Just using the Keyword Planner, we have a perfect example of what I mean by the business does not always know how people are looking for their business.  We also need to consider the mobile results displayed in the screenshots.  Some businesses have a much higher rate of mobile search, while others are much lower.  The continued growth of voice search will also impact how people search. Many people have a different voice when typing a search query than they do when using voice search.  There are numerous other factors that play into the results when people use Google to search.  Google’s Machine Learning (RankBrain) also tries to determine the searchers intent.  Therefore, it’s important to not put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to keyword research.

We now have enough information to continue to the next step in our keyword research.  Before I continue to that next step let me first tell you that there are lots of tools out there to accomplish what we’re going to accomplish.  I am not going to go through all the tools, just the ones I prefer to use.  The tools that I use are either free or free to a point.

Google Trends

Google Trends is a great tool for keyword research.  It’s a free tool that displays how a search phrase has trended over a period.   Go to google.com/trends in your browser to get started.

google trends landing page

 

As you can see from the screenshot Google will tell you what is trending on its search engine in real time.  It’s the middle of March as I am writing this blog post which means it’s March Madness.  For those that don’t know, March Madness is the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, and the name is very appropriate.  Of course, President Trump and other political news are hot topics right now. You can see the other subjects that are also trending.

I mention this because depending on what category your business is in, one of these trending topics might be a good blog topic.  Keep in mind however that what is trending today may not be trending tomorrow.  March Madness will be over in 2 weeks.  If your blog calendar can’t accommodate the rapidly changing list of trending topics, then it’s probably not in your best interest to utilize this SEO tactic.  Personally, if I know enough about a topic and I am in the right (write) frame of mind to write I can put together a decent blog post quickly.

What does the data in Google Trends mean? Google Trends measures interest in a topic for a given period.  Google can measure real-time and non-real-time data to display how hot a topic is or was. It does not measure the number of times something is searched but rather how hot a topic is. If something that was getting 100 searches a day suddenly gets 100,000 searches, then that topic is trending.  If something was getting 100 searches a day and continues to get 100 searches per day, then it will not be trending.  The numbers I use in this example are not representative of what makes a trending topic.  I just use them to make an example.

We’re going to continue using the Personal Injury Lawyer as an example, or should I say Whiplash Attorney?

First, we compared Car Accident, Personal Injury, and Whiplash without using any other filters.  This shows that Car Accident always seems to trend much higher than Personal Injury or Whiplash.  Scrolling down this page shows that a lot of people talked about a car accident involving Venus Williams within the last year, and most topics weren’t exactly relevant to a personal injury attorney.  Does that mean this information is useless? Not necessarily.  What if you were to write a blog post about the car accident Venus Williams was in.  It’s still listed as a trending topic but a new post about it could send traffic your way since it might be the most up to date (relevant) blog on the topic.

google trends map

You will also see that there are maps of where the search terms are trending around the world and related trends next to the maps.  There are some trends for specific personal injury attorneys (this may be a cause for concern and should be investigated if your business name is trending. Is it negative or positive items causing your brand to trend? This is where Online Reputation Management ORM comes in).  Notice that Child Personal Injury Claims is one of the trending topics related to personal injury.  Is this a possible blog post?  Can your content team come up with something regarding Personal Injury Law for Children?

Let’s make this query a little more relevant to what our business is about.   We’re going to filter results to show results in Connecticut for the last month related to Law & Government.  As you can see Car Accidents and Personal Injury have peaks and valleys throughout the 30-day period.  This might correlate with major accidents or extreme weather during this time. You will also note the Whiplash has remained flat during the last 30 days.  Given the information we have from the Google Keyword Planner, this would seem to indicate that while Whiplash receives many searches monthly it does not become a trending topic at any time.

google trends local 30 days

Take some time and play around on Google Trends using search terms related to your business to see what you can come up with.  Make sure you use the filters to get the most accurate information for your business.

Now that you have two pieces of information regarding keyword research we’re going to look at a few other tools that will help in your keyword research and overall SEO strategy development.  Remember, SEO is not a set it and forget it process.  It’s an ongoing process that requires constant analysis and research.  What is relevant today might be old news tomorrow.  The process that works right now could be considered black hat next month although the methods I am listing have always been considered ethical for SEO.

As an example, at one time it was perfectly acceptable to stuff keywords that were irrelevant and did not contribute to the overall quality of the content on a webpage.  We have all seen the service website that lists the service and every town in the area at the bottom of the webpage.

If you’re looking at RandomComputerRepair.com at the bottom of the home page you might see something like –Anytown Computer Repair | Anycity Computer Repair | Yourtown Computer Repair | Histown Computer Repair | Hertown Computer Repair and on and on and on.  This does not contribute to the quality of content on the website, but it was acceptable at one time.  Web Designers and SEOs used to stuff related and unrelated keywords into the Meta Keywords tag in the website code. This helped websites reach the first page of Google for keywords that might have nothing to do with the website.

Google eventually started cracking down on these techniques.  Today Google frowns upon keyword stuffing into the text of a webpage. If the content of the webpage is not relevant and legible to the humans who read it then Google will not rank it as well as a competitor who does create relevant content that people find value in.  Google determines the quality of content by how often it is shared, how long readers spend reading it, the length of the content (how many words) and relevancy to the website it is part of.  There are probably other items Google looks at to determine quality, but these are the items that are known.

Meta Keyword tags are now deprecated. It’s pointless to use it if you still are.  Google does not look at this, so it will not help your website ranking in any way.

SpyFu and SEMRush for Keyword Research

SpyFu and SEMRush are very powerful tools and at least one of them should be a part of any SEOs repertoire.  Both tools are similar in nature and have a lot of features that SEOs and anyone running PPC campaigns will appreciate having.

For this blog post, we’re going to focus on the keyword research component of SpyFu and SEMRush. The keyword research for both platforms is similar.  The primary difference is the aesthetics of the platforms.  I am going to focus on SpyFu for this post.

Both applications have a landing page on their home page.  Once you arrive you are prompted to enter a domain name for research purposes.  After you enter a domain name you will receive a bunch of information as it relates to the domain name you entered.

spyfu landing

There is a lot of information available to help you with your SEO strategy.  You can tell what the focus of the business and website are.  You can determine how much the business is focused on by reviewing the organic results versus paid results.  You can see who their closest competitors (for SEO & AdWords purposes) are.

If you scroll further down, you can view the top 5 keywords for organic and paid results.  You can determine what’s important to the business based on the paid results.  The organic results help you understand how you can move your website up in the organic search results.  SpyFu places ranking and number of clicks per month for organic and a dollar value on paid keywords.  These statistics are very helpful in determining what keywords are best to focus on.

spyfu keywords

You can also use the related keywords tab to find related keywords based on a keyword you have already researched.  For example, if you research car accident lawyer further using the related keywords tab you are returned with 5 (because we’re using a free account) keyword phrases including these 3:

  • Car Accident Lawyers
  • Car Accident Attorneys
  • Car Collision Lawyer

The other two are related to specific geographies.  The results include a lot of valuable information regarding the keyword phrases including keyword value, SEO difficulty and number of searches. This can help you work in various adaptations of the keyword phrase in your content.  Doing so makes it more likely you will be found when Google uses searcher’s intent, and when the searcher uses variations of the keyword phrase(s). Just because a keyword phrase is one of the higher searched keyword phrases does not mean that searchers won’t use a different variation of it, such as the keyword phrases above.

spyfu related keywords

You should use this tool with all keyword phrases to find relevant alternatives that have some value to them.  This will help you develop content that is keyword rich and does not appear to be spammy.  This means your website now has quality content with valuable, relevant keywords and a high word count.  Your site visitors will spend more time reading the content and find greater value in it which means they are more likely to share it and/or comment on it.  All these signals tell Google that your content is authoritative and should be ranked higher.  More visitors spending more time reading, commenting and sharing your content means it moves up the Google SERP.

One final note on SpyFu and SEMRush.  I talk about using the free version because most businesses will not be ready to commit to a subscription.  There are obviously more features and options with a paid account.  Tools like SpyFu and SEMRush are typically focused on SEO professionals as clients.  A paid subscription to either might be overkill for a business not in the marketing world but don’t let me discourage you.

Google Analytics

If you’re in business, you are probably at least aware of Google Analytics.  Google Analytics is Google’s website analysis suite.  Google Analytics is free and is a very powerful tool for businesses to measure, analyze and track results of efforts.  Google Analytics provides a ton of information regarding website visitors such as geolocation, time of day, traffic source, real-time analytics, the technology used to arrive at your website and conversion tracking.  You can compare different time frames to see what efforts are paying dividends and which efforts have opportunities or should be scrapped.

Using UTM codes you can further analyze your business’ efforts regarding sharing content.  This allows you to further analyze traffic sources to determine best efforts.

If your website is a new website, then Google Analytics is not going to help you with keyword research initially.  If your website has some tracking history with Google Analytics, then you can use Google Analytics to further shape your keyword research efforts.  Remember, I said earlier that SEO is an ongoing effort, not a one and done effort.  Constant analysis and modifying of your SEO strategy is a necessary part of a successful SEO plan.

In 2011 Google stopped displaying keywords (for the most part) in Google Analytics.  This was done to protect user’s privacy. However, you can at least get a good idea of your searchers intent when arriving at your website.  There are several ways to get an idea of how people are searching for your website.  It’s important to point out that you should be looking at Google / Organic.  When looking at the keyword data you will see most of the traffic says, “Not Set”.  There will be a few keyword results but not enough to do an in-depth analysis.

How Do You Determine Keywords Used for Your Site?

Really the best way to do this is with the Google Search Console.  The Google Search Console (formerly named Google Webmaster Tools) can now be connected to Google Analytics.  If you do this, you can see the keyword queries in your Google Analytics account.  If not, you will have to go to the Google Search Console to see the keyword queries.  This does have to be set up ahead of time to work inside of Google Analytics and your website. The nice thing about the Google Search Console is you are also able to see your click-through rate for keywords. With this information, you can deduce not only what keywords are bringing people to your website but also what keywords are performing well.

Wordtracker

Wordtracker is a little bit more streamlined and serves primarily one purpose, to display relevant keyword phrases based on a long tail keyword you enter.  This information helps solidify the research you have already performed using the tools listed above.  Wordtracker is free for 5 queries.  If you want to expand beyond 5 queries or save keyword lists you will need to purchase a plan.

wordtracker

Moz Keyword Explorer

Believe it or not, there are rock stars in the SEO world too!  One of those rock stars is Rand Fishkin.  Rand Fishkin created Moz to help other SEOs and business owners with their SEO efforts.  Moz is a very powerful tool for SEO.  Rand Fishkin is considered one of the top SEO experts in the world.  He has recently stepped down from Moz to launch another startup.  Moz continues and still provides an amazing suite of tools.

Moz offers a keyword research tool for free (up to 10 queries per month).  You do have to create an account to be able to use Keyword Explorer.  The results returned include search volume, keyword suggestions, and pages that rank high with the keyword.  It also displays SEO difficulty and Click-Through Rate.

moz

Again, this information helps supplement the research you have already completed with the tools mentioned earlier.  The results returned will assist you in developing content for your blog post or web page that will get people engaged.  Getting people engaged means Google will view your post or page as the authority on the subject.  Over time your page will move up in ranking, increasing traffic and driving results.

Go Research

I have said it before and I will say it again.  SEO is an ongoing process.  Wash, Rinse, Repeat.  Whether you’re just starting out or your site has been online for 10 years you will need to analyze, assess and plan your SEO continually.  In fact, if your site is 10 years old you probably have an even bigger challenge than that of a new website. As technology evolves so should your website. As an example, if your site is 10 years old, then it’s probably not mobile friendly.  If it’s not mobile friendly, then Google may not display your site at all for mobile searches.  You may be missing out on 50% or more of the search traffic for your website.

Next, we will talk about choosing the right domain based on the research in this blog post.

 

 

First Steps to SEO Success Domain Purchase

First Steps to SEO Success – Purchasing a Domain Name

First Steps to SEO Success – Purchasing a Domain Name

As with any well-executed plan you have to…well….plan.  The early strategies of SEO include trying to determine what keywords are relevant to your website and business.

Finding the best keywords are important early on because you will use this to determine what domain to purchase for your website.  I always recommend a business chooses one of two methods for deciding on a domain to use.

You can choose to go the branding route (the name of the business or your name) or you can choose to use a domain that reflects relevant keywords.  I chose to go with branding over relevant keywords however I purchased some relevant keyword domain names along the way.

Don’t be fooled by so-called SEO Experts that tell you not to focus on keywords.  While the method of focusing on keywords has changed over the last few years you still need to know how potential clients will find your business.  We’ll get into all the details you have to use to find your relevant keywords in a later blog post but for now, let’s discuss how to determine the best keywords for your business website.

How Do You Determine Relevant Keywords?

There are numerous tools available on the internet to do keyword research. We’re going to start with the Google Keyword Planner.  To use the Google Keyword Planner you will need to create an AdWords account but don’t worry, you don’t actually have to run any ads.

For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to use a baker that specializes in cupcakes and has a food truck.  There are a few ways to research relevant keywords.

  1. Start with a keyword in mind. If you have an idea of how people are searching for your type of business use this to see what Google comes up with.  In the case of a bakery, I would also set the location to your local geography, unless you also deliver to other places.   You can also conduct a survey using Google Surveys or Survey Monkey.  Market Research is always a good idea when determining things like how will people find your product or service.

keyword planner for keyword research

As you can see from my results for keyword “cupcakes” in Connecticut there are 2400 searches for “cupcakes” per month in Connecticut.  This is based on a 12-month average.  You will also note that Google gives you other related keyword terms and their search volume.

Now using “cupcakes” for your keyword is going to be very challenging so you will have to research competitors to see what you will be up against.  It’s best to try to find something a little more specific like “Gourmet Cupcakes in CT”.

Using the keyword planner you will see that this only yields 10 searches per month in Connecticut.  Let’s remove the “in CT”.  Google says there are 40 searches per month for “Gourmet Cupcakes” within Connecticut.

At this point, you still have a lot more research to do but I want to point out that a quick domain search on GoDaddy reveals that gourmetcupcakes.com is not available but gourmetcupcakes.net is.  You’re might think that you would rather have the .com or that you can’t compete with the .com but a little more research reveals that gourmetcupcakes.com is not being used.  That means there is no competition when it comes to using “Gourmet Cupcakes” as a Top Level Domain (TLD).

Back to our research

Alright, so we have determined that the keyword “Cupcakes” is a good option as far as search volume but likely has a lot of competition.  We have also determined that “Gourmet Cupcakes” has far less search volume and less competition.

  1. What’s the Trend? Now go to Google.com/Trends and plug in the keywords we already researched in the Google Keyword Planner.

We’ll start with “cupcakes”.  Change the geography to the United States and try different time frames.  Using 5 years reveals the number of searches for cupcakes has steadily declined over the last 5 years.

Scrolling down further will show you how the searches break down by the state.  You will notice that Connecticut is number 9.

Scroll down even more and you will see related searches.  This is where you may find a keyword that works better than just cupcakes.  “Cupcakes Near Me” is listed as a breakout.  Clicking on this query reveals that this keyword phrase has rapidly grown over the last few months.

“Cupcakes Near Me” doesn’t really make a great business name but it is an option.  The .com was already purchased but is not in use.  Cupcakesnearme.net is a premium domain and GoDaddy is listing it at $19,500 so this is probably not an option for most.  Cupcakesnear.me is available and at normal domain prices (as of this writing).

“Gourmet Cupcakes” has no search volume shown on Google Trends so this will likely not be an option.  Let’s continue to focus on “cupcakes”.

Google Trends

  1. There is Competition. Using the Google Keyword Planner we can also check to see what your competition is using for keywords on their site.  Additionally, you can use Ahrefs, Spyfu or SEMRush to check on your competition.  You can learn where they rank for specific keywords, backlinks and more.   Each of these tools allows you to use them on a limited basis or try it out before you commit to figuring out which is the best for your needs.

One of the features of all these tools is the ability to “spy” on competition or similar sites to see what they are using for keywords, the value of those keywords and search frequency.

Using Spyfu (free option) I put in the Sugar Bakery’s website.  I can now see that they are not doing any advertising on Google 5 of their top keywords.  Of the 5 keywords, only one relates to cupcakes and that’s flower cupcake.  I can now see what the suggested bid price for this keyword, their ranking for it and the search volume for it.  This information helps me to determine if this is a good domain name option.

There are two other things to check regarding whether or not Flower Cupcake is a good option beyond the information above.  First is it available, and second is it relevant to what your cupcake shop is about.

A quick search reveals the .net is available.  Even though the .com is not available it is not being used therefore your SEO will be a little easier.

spyfu keyword research

  1. Purchase Your Domain.   Enough hemming and hawing.  You’ve done the research.  It’s time to make a purchase.  I referenced GoDaddy a few times but there are other reputable domain sellers.  Google, Network Solutions, and Register to name a few.  You don’t have to necessarily buy from GoDaddy.

It’s really a combination of determining the best keyword for your business site and what works best with your branding plans.  This post should not be used in any part to make a branding decision.  It should be used to ensure you are purchasing a domain that is going to work best for your business.

When you purchase your domain you should also purchase for multiple years.  It’s a small factor but Google does look at the length of registration and tends to favor registrations of one year a lot less than multiple years.  You can usually get a discount for purchasing for multiple years as well.

One thing I should mention here that has nothing to do with SEO.  Do not allow a web designer, SEO or anyone else to purchase a domain or hosting under an account that is not yours.  I have seen all too often a business lose their website and domain because they let the person building the site purchase everything under their own account.  If you let someone else buy the domain and hosting on an account that is not yours, you risk losing all of it.

Based solely on this research I would have gone with cupcakesnear.me.  You may decide to use more of a branded name and that is fine.  I will say this much if you purchase a branded name like I did you should rank number one on Google for that name.  If you search Scott Gombar on any of the major search engines you see that my site is number one and that other properties that I control are on the first page of Google.  This is good SEO.

I should also mention using Google Alerts will allow you to continue to monitor your selected keyword(s) for ideas and opportunities.  This is also part of brand monitoring for some companies.

Make sure you come back for the next step in my 10 part series First Steps to a Successful SEO Plan.  Sign up for the newsletter to stay in touch.