It’s been an eventful month for the SEO community, culminating in one of the largest algorithm updates of the last 12 months. As ever, nothing stands still. I feel you need to keep one eye on the future of SEO and where Google is heading and to help me do that, I like to run tests and collect data and form my own opinions.
I also like to read articles from around the SEO community that keep me up-to-date as well as reminding me of some of the basics, so I don’t pick up bad habits. These are the articles that have offered me something these last 4 weeks or so. Enjoy.
Using behavioral design to reduce bounce rate
Humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish. So says a study released by Microsoft, which puts it at 8 seconds.
In SEO terms, that is going to have to be addressed and optimized because Time On Page and bounce rate are important metrics in terms of measuring how users interact with a website.
Looking at this from an SEO perspective, for example when looking to reduce bounce rate, the behavior that matters could be to get the visitor to click another link, that’s the target behavior that will improve bounce rate.
When delving into manipulating user behavior, what’s interesting is the process of reducing cognitive load. It’s something that’s used a lot by UX designers, but we can steal it and use it in our web design for SEO.
Cognitive load is the amount of mental effort it requires to complete a task or process information. In our case, to stay on a page or click a link.
The goal is to reduce cognitive load. Reduce the options.
Navigating pop-ups, having too many menu options or too many buttons and colors all add to the cognitive load. It makes it more difficult for the user to orientate themselves to find the information they are looking for.
3 simple takeaways that can help are:
Avoid clutter: give the user fewer options. Funnel them towards the behaviors you are looking for. This includes limiting links, menu options etc.
Build on existing mental models: we have experience of using sites. If you replicate what users already know (menu layout is a good example) they don’t have to learn it, which frees up more cognitive load for other activities.
Offload tasks: be very careful with the text you have on the site. Look for other options unless it’s critical to the main behaviors we are looking to facilitate.
Experts Sharing their link building secrets
Authority Builders recently reached out to 30 SEO experts, asking them to share their “secrets” on link building. Plenty of nuggets to help take your link building to the next level.
Creating data-rich studies (when possible) is an often under-utilized strategy for link building, especially when looking to build a brand and acquire links at the same time. It’s the kind of content that can go viral and pick up links organically, without any real outreach needed.
Tim Soulo from Ahrefs talks about identifying brand mentions that are not linked. He calls these low hanging fruit.
Steven Kang from SEO Signals Lab speaks about utilizing internal links, how redirecting internal links to a specific page can positively impact rankings.
There are also some more left-field strategies covered, like how you can buy sites, take on their content and redirect their pages to acquire their link juice.
Initially, it would sound an expensive solution but when properly calculated, if it has enough valuable content you can use, it might be a cost-effective strategy.
Creating 100 pages of content is going to cost you several thousand dollars in content writers. Buying a site will save you that cost, plus the value of the links an existing site has is extremely valuable because it saves you a lot of time and money, and most importantly, those links have already matured. Buying sites can be a cost-effective solution, with the right calculation and the right site.
There were some interesting ideas on using job sites and how they can be great resources for do-follow links. And for those SEOs starting out, who perhaps came from other areas of digital marketing, you could offer your services in return for a guest post.
We always talk about your time being your most valuable resource but if you literally have no budget for outreach and link acquisition, you do what you can. Selling a service for a link is a win-win.
Use GTM to Implement Structured Data
You can use Google Tag Manager to dynamically add structured data and semantic markup to your website. There’s plenty of value to that.
It’s a helpful tag management tool, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best solution, or that it should be used all the time. Google’s John Mueller agrees:
“I wouldn’t rely on a tool like GTM to add structured data, it can work but it shouldn’t be your primary way of integrating structured data”.
It’s more of a “needs must” solution.
Ideally, in a perfect world, you would have the technical expertise or have access to technical skills to implement your structured data and semantic markup by adding it to the CMS templates.
Additionally, build new fields into your backend that let you control your structured data while allowing other semantic data points to be driven by your database.
That’s ideal, but if that’s not feasible, and in many cases it’s not, then you can turn to Google Tag Manager and it will get the job done.
Heuristics and SEO
Heuristics is the psychology behind making decisions as “Judgemental Short-cuts”. It’s actually very interesting, a real game changer and very relevant to what we do in SEO.
We all have biases or tendencies, in terms of SEO. We all make mental shortcuts, which sometimes pays dividends and other times don’t work out. For example, there’s something called decision fatigue. In SEO, you are always making decisions, becoming tired is part of the process. But being tired will also deteriorate the quality of the decisions you make, making you more prone to heuristics.
Familiarity Heuristics is when you tend to make historically similar decisions, which in some situations it might be a good rule of thumb. On the flip side, SEO is constantly moving, it’s near impossible to keep up-to-date. You have to be adjusting what you’re doing now and keep looking in the future, you can’t rely on what worked in the past.
You will find you start losing rankings to competitors because you are not reacting to Google’s change in attitude to content and its set up, for example. If it’s from decision fatigue, you might not be aware of how badly it’s affecting your decisions by sticking to what you know.
Availability Heuristics is what we should bear in mind when designing our websites with SEO in the forefront of our minds. People will have a tendency to make a decision or click on the first semi-serious option they see on a page, regardless of its true value. Knowing this, we can design our sites to maximize time on the page and bounce rate by reducing options to click.
There are other types of Heuristics that you can easily incorporate, Heuristics such as effort or contagion. Effort especially is something a lot of digital marketing struggle with in general, not just SEOs. Read Dan’s blog to find out more about Heuristics.
Queries are value scored?
SEO by the sea love looking at Google’s patent updates to decipher what Google is looking at and where they might be heading.
Five/six months ago, Google was granted a patent that was primarily focused on giving quality scores to queries. Here’s a snippet from the patent itself:
In general, the subject matter of this specification relates to identifying or generating augmentation queries, storing the augmentation queries, and identifying stored augmentation queries for use in augmenting user searches. An augmentation query can be a query that performs well in locating desirable documents identified in the search results. The performance of an augmentation query can be determined by user interactions.
The patent labels “high scoring queries” as augmentation queries. They also identify searcher selection as one determinant for quality score. Google might be analysing SERPs of the original query to augmented query results using search and behaviour history.
Let’s decipher that. One example of that could be: Let’s say you have a great page or some really valuable content. When someone searches using keywords related to your page, you might be lower in the search results but you get more than your fair share of traffic and users stay on your page/site a lot longer than competitor pages.
Being a well known and trust brand is a good example of why this might happen.
In theory, Google can now score your page as a high scoring query and adjust the search results to favour your page. Because it offers the user a better experience. Not a new concept but the patent reinforces that idea and there is a good chance it’s a ranking factor that is in play or about to be.
Plenty of food for thought, it puts even more emphasis on branding and quality of title and descriptions, plus social, content quality etc. For example, if you have a well-known brand, chances are searchers will be keen to read your page on a subject.
Maximizing Google alerts for SEO
There are a variety of different benefits you can get from setting up Google alerts. It’s a great resource that sends information your way, rather than having to hunt it down and keep on top of it.
In terms of actively looking for outreach, you can track your own mentions. When you are alerted to a new mention, that’s unlinked, it’s an opportunity to upgrade that mention to a backlink. It’s worth a quick email.
On the flipside, you can track your competitors’ mentions with similar intent.
If a site mentions a competitor, whether that’s a paid opportunity or an organic opportunity, it’s a target worth exploring. You know they’re open to the idea which is half the battle.
Tracking “guest post by” is another use of Google Alerts. Just as you might search for “write for us + keyword” when looking to run mass outreach campaigns, but it’s a little more targeted.
You can track guest posts by your competitors. Quick research will often tell you who tends to write the guest posts from within a competitor. By tracking them and “guest post by writer” you can identify new outreach opportunities.
The article covers more. I liked the idea of using Alerts to answer niche relevant questions asked.
Word count and keyword density in 2018
Google has a bee in their bonnet about content. At least one article makes the news roundup each month on the subject.
A recent article by Neil Patel based on some data he analysed from millions of pages ranking well in Google suggested there was an optimum number of words on a page. Somewhere between 1800-2000 words.
That’s recently been debunked by a lot of SEOs who have data that suggests it’s a little more complicated than word count.
Keyword density matters, but according to Search Engine Land, there’s no definitive data as to an exact ratio. User intent is more important than ever, but across niches and keywords, there is no definitive answer.
A better target is to match the keywords with the purpose of the content.
If you are more data-driven, and you prefer a more metric approach, then TF-IDF is where it’s at right now.
When planning content, a good strategy is to plan your content (including length) using these 3 factors:
Purpose. What information do you need to convey? What kind of content is it and what will be most beneficial to the user?
Competition. Touching on TF-IDF, what is your competition doing? It’s a fair assumption that a good starting point is to analyse what Google has ranked.
SEO: How many keywords do you want the piece of content to rank for? You’ll need to use these words and their natural variations, enough for Google to grasp their importance.
The more keywords you’re looking to rank for, the larger the text needs to be for it to look organic.
Custom-Tailoring Your SEO Approach
There is always a steady stream of SEO articles to read on technical and onsite SEO. Same goes for outreach strategies and backlinking, white or blackhat.
Moz posted something that doesn’t get so much coverage and that’s strategizing and managing client SEO.
It looks at creating a proposal that’s based on the strategy you would deliver. You could even turn it into a checklist:
Listen first – Ask questions and listen to what the client says, then use that information to help refine your proposal.
Understand business priorities – You might have the optimum SEO strategy but it has to fit with where the client sees their priorities to get client buy-in.
Find the momentum – identify opportunities to take advantage of prior momentum or identify some lower hanging fruit to get some quick successes. Put your client at ease.
Understand the competitive landscape – You want realistic expectations, you want to give your clients reachable goals.
Ask what has worked and hasn’t worked before – you can expect client pushback if you are proposing something they’ve tried but wasn’t effective, ask the right questions and you won’t fall into the trap.
Make sure you have data – Ask the client what data they have, what they understand and incorporate as much data as possible into the document to add relevance and authenticity to the proposal.
There’s also some pretty sensible dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
Try not to promise something you can’t deliver, you’re only setting yourself up for a fall. Client SEO is more profitable the longer you work with the client. You tend to have better margins the longer the contract lasts.
Also, make sure your contract covers you against any unnecessary liabilities. That’s always a sage piece of advice.
Google Core Algorithm Update Roll Out Slowing Down
This latest algorithm update is being reported as one of the biggest over the last year or so.
It’s been a difficult time for some SEOs, seeing large shifts. There are plenty that are hiding under the bed waiting for the earthquake to stop to see the carnage it’s left behind.
The good news on that front is, there are signs it’s beginning to slow down.
Most of the news coming from Twitter and Facebook is of horror stories that have happened more than shouting about changes happening now.
Google has confirmed it’s a global rollout, and that they won’t be giving us an idea as to the scale of the impact on search queries either.
They’ve also said that there is no corrective action SEOs can do to return their search results. In their words:
“As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded.
There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well than other to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.
In the aftermath of the update, a good resource that could be valuable is my recent post on lifting algorithm penalties, you can access by clicking here.
Optimizing for page load speed (mobile especially)
There is no shortage of case studies that demonstrate that site speed has a significant impact on user behaviour. One of the biggest issues SEOs face is how to avoid long loading times so visitors don’t leave the site before the page loads.
And that was before Google confirmed that speed is a ranking factor for mobile search. And as mobile first indexing is rolling out and more and more searchers are made on mobile devices, its importance is likely to increase.
The problem is, how do we measure speed? Or more importantly, what is quick?
A good exercise to do is to take your main competitors and assess how quickly their sites are rendering. Use the Google Speed Insights tool.
At this point, we know that if your site speed matches or is quicker than your competitor sites, you are probably not being negatively impacted by page load speed.
That’s a good start point. Also, look at different data. For example, you’ll want to know the speed you start rendering, the full download speed etc., if there are any timeouts that will negatively impact Google’s evaluation of your page load speed.