‘Tis the season of giving, and I’m getting started early. No need to listen for reindeer on the rooftop, because I’ve got a bag of gifts rights here.

Inside is everything you need to catch up on the last month in SEO.

Some informative guides from the last month are up first. Discover and dive into ten free keyword research tools (that aren’t Google Planner), my video review of my friend’s site Survival Front, and a breakdown of why you don’t need to worry about voice optimization—yet.

Then, mix up some egg nog and brandy and settle in with the month’s comprehensive case studies. You’ll learn what the data says about whether you’re making SEO too complicated, and whether you should be using GA or GSA for the most accurate image search traffic readings.

Finally, throw out the nog and boil some fresh water, because this month’s news is going to be all about sippin’ the tea . Learn about Google’s human “help” and how they feel about absolute vs. relative internal links. Then, enjoy an insider’s perspective on what went down at Chiang Mai SEO Conference 2019.

Now, let’s pull the wrapping paper off these guides. First is a guide by the Ahrefs team about the best free keyword planners.

10 Free Keyword Research Tools (That Aren’t Google Keyword Planner)

https://ahrefs.com/blog/free-keyword-research-tools/

This guide by Joshua Hardwick introduces you to 10 free keyword research tools that are worth your consideration. For each one, he gives you essential information about the benefits, drawbacks, and capabilities.

keyword research magnifying

You’ve probably played around with at least a few of the tools that are listed below. Others might surprise you. Joshua demonstrates how to use tools like a simple Google search in unconventional ways to get data on trends.

  • Google Trends
  • Keyword Sheeter
  • Answer the Public
  • Keyword Surfer
  • Keyworddit
  • Google Search Console
  • Questiondb
  • Bulk Keyword Generator
  • Google

The sections that cover each of these tools are detailed and supported by images of the user interface.

This article could make a useful resource for any SEO beginners in your life who are asking you questions about keyword research. All of these tools are free, so there are no stakes in trying out any or all of them to get the right cocktail of features.

Be warned: This guide has already been updated once because a tool went from free to paid.

Many free tools are taking a loss to build a user base.

If you wait too long to test these tools out, the chance to access all the features discussed here may no longer be available.

In the next guide, you’re going to get a certain insider’s perspective on how to spot problems on an affiliate website.

Matt Diggity Reviews Survival Front [Affiliate Website Audit]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl4AY4jLEIY

Matt Digg—Oh wait, that’s me. I have a guide for you this month in the form of an in-depth video review of Survival Front. SF (from now on) is an affiliate site focused on outdoor gear that I analyzed for affiliate marketer Gareth Daine.

I gave the site and the elements that make it up more than 20 minutes of tough love, noting all the ways the current elements were accidentally driving away clicks.

Throughout the review, I discuss color selection (are your banners and CTAs the same color?), what makes an effective CTA to Amazon, and how to navigate the thorny search issue of “authorship.” Then, I analyze the backend SEO and to sniff out how the links are placed and where the juice is flowing.

I couldn’t cover everything in that time, but I went into as much depth as I could on the issues that stood out to me. As you may have noticed (if you read my articles), I’ve spent a lot of thought and energy on the affiliate marketing side of my business lately.

I tested and optimized, and altogether had a great year. This review helped me put some of the new instincts I’ve developed into words.

Just one guide left before we move on to the case studies. Learn one expert’s opinion on why optimizing for voice search isn’t likely to be worth the expense.

If You Haven’t Optimized Your Website for Voice Search Yet, You’re OK

https://www.sistrix.com/blog/if-you-havent-optimized-your-website-for-voice-search-yet-youre-ok/

The SEO field is naturally one where people love to say they were ‘first’ to see a trend coming. Things move quickly here, and it’s easy to fall behind the curve. Sometimes, that can lead to over-confident theories about how to get ready for the future.

In this guide from Sistrix, Juan Gonzalez argues that this is what’s happening with recent warnings that people need to ‘optimize their sites for voice search’.

voice search so hot meme

Yes, the author agrees, voice searching is becoming a large part of many services, including Alexa and Siri. However, he uses a series of data points to make the argument that this change is not yet relevant to SEO, and is unlikely to need to be a part of next year’s budget or even the year after that.

Overall, he argues that the adoption of voice services is moving more slowly than most stakeholders in voice technology are admitting. He also makes the case that sites that are accessible and easy to read don’t have a deficit they need to correct for voice optimization.

Time will tell who is right. Want to develop your power to assess trends? The case studies that we’re about to share with you should help quite a bit. Let’s start with a Moz study into what are the real central pillars of SEO.

It’s Content and It’s Links – Are We Making SEO Too Complicated?

https://moz.com/blog/are-we-making-seo-too-complicated

Speaking of being wary of trends, this article by Andrew Dennis of Moz utilizes tables of keyword and search data to reinforce the argument that SEO comes down mostly to steady and sensible optimization of the content and links.

Using two competing toothbrush companies as examples, Dennis lists the ways that differences in the content and the links make the two sites order in SERPs predictable. He suggests that the underdog in the fight just needs to make some standard best-practices tweaks.

complicated SEO meme

It closes with four conclusions that you can measure against how your sites have grown. In his words, success in search comes down to whether you:

  • Research your keywords and niche
  • Analyze and expand keyword opportunities
  • Craft strategic content that serves your search goals
  • Promote your pages for relevant links

Does he have a point? Hard to say, because if black hats know a shortcut that will save you all that work, they’re likely to keep it real close to the vest.

As long as we’re thinking deeply about our content and links, let’s turn to another on-page topic that we don’t consider as often: the optimization of image search traffic.

GSA/GA: Where should you track image search traffic?

http://www.blindfiveyearold.com/the-problem-with-image-search-traffic

This piece by AJ Kohn is likely to be cathartic to SEOs who have understood for a long time how essential image searches are to their niches and are frustrated by the lack of useful data.

I say that because a decent portion of the introduction is devoted to (colorfully) giving you the history of Google’s decisions about image search data—including the time they promised to pass image referrer data to Google Analytics and then changed their mind.

Google images source URL update

However, Kohn argues, there is some data out there if you know how to look for it. Using examples, he demonstrates ways that you can pull search performance data out of existing tools. He provides an equation you can use to isolate conversions from image search data.

As he argues further down the page, the persistence of bad image data is a more serious problem than most realize. He uses examples of clients who made decisions using that data to allocate resources in the wrong direction.

Our guides and case studies have probably given you a lot to think about. This month, the news is just as satisfying. Let’s start with the revelation that Google searches have more human help than we assumed.

Google search results have more human help than you think, report finds

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/11/google-search-results-have-more-human-help-than-you-think-report-finds

Have you ever come out on the wrong side of the algorithm? Maybe so, but then again, perhaps it wasn’t a bot that you annoyed at all.

As several outlets reported this week, Google may be taking a more active hand than they’ve suggested when it comes to search results.

Though details are scant at this time, the Attorney Generals of multiple US states have launched a review of Google’s practice.

Their statements suggest they believe the staff at Google are taking a straightforward role in whether one result wins out over another.

As an example, Google has directly intervened to prevent sites with questionable content from appearing for medical queries. While that example is easy to defend, Google is now accused of doing the same thing broadly across their search results without informing publishers that there is a finger on the scale.

Are the allegations credible? For now, claims are all they are.

google search engine snapshot on a computer or laptop

If an antitrust suit is filed after the investigation, we’re probably going to spend the next few years learning a lot more about the inside of Google than it’s chief staff would prefer.

And that’s all we get to know for now. Up next, one of those chiefs has some news about whether Google prefers absolute or relative URLs for links.

Google: Doesn’t Matter if You Use Absolute or Relative URLs for Internal Links

https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-doesnt-matter-if-you-use-absolute-or-relative-urls-for-internal-links/338103/

Should you use absolute or relative URLs for internal links? According to Google, it has little impact, but there are cases where the difference matters.

It’s hard to summarize it more effectively than John Mueller’s own words (slightly edited for clarity).

“(If) your site has correctly implemented canonicals and has a single uniform domain being used, no duplicate domain issues. So, in that theoretical case where you have a theoretically perfect website then it doesn’t matter at all if you use absolute or relative URLs.

In the case where your website is not a theoretically perfect structure – which probably most websites are not – then working with absolute URLs, if you can, make sure they really point at the canonical versions of all the URLs you have.”

Everyone in the back hear that?

If you have an excellent site structure, it probably doesn’t matter what you use.

If your structure could use some cleaning up, stick to the absolute URLs.

That seems pretty clean-cut, and let’s be honest, this isn’t a situation where Google benefits from withholding info.

If you like facts, you’ll love the next item. It’s the most significant public compendium of facts about the year’s search trends available anywhere.

Released: the 2019 Web Almanac

https://almanac.httparchive.org/en/2019/

What’s the average number of javascript bytes per page across the internet? What percentage of pages across the web use at least one image? What percentage of mobile sites are using video as content?

If you wanted any of these answers, you’d have them before you were even finished with Part One of this Almanac.

web almanac 2019

The four parts (covering 20 chapters and an appendix) cover almost every part of SEO and give you insights into how new trends have been adopted and how others have passed into obsolescence.

It’s designed to be used like any almanac, meaning you can jump around and find the details that matter most to you. Each chapter functions as a list of facts about the following:

Chapter 1: JavaScript
Chapter 2: CSS
Chapter 3: Markup
Chapter 4: Media
Chapter 5: Third Parties
Chapter 6: Fonts
Chapter 7: Performance
Chapter 8: Security
Chapter 9: Accessibility
Chapter 10: SEO
Chapter 11: PWA
Chapter 12: Mobile Web
Chapter 13: Ecommerce
Chapter 14: CMS
Chapter 15: Compression
Chapter 16: Caching
Chapter 17: CDN
Chapter 18: Page Weight
Chapter 19: Resource Hints
Chapter 20: HTTP/2

You can jump to the table of contents, right here.

Finally, we come to our last item, a recap of all the cool people and ideas that came together at Chiang Mai 2019.

You had to be there: a Chiang Mai 2019 recap

https://www.authorityhacker.com/chiang-mai-recap/

The Chiang Mai SEO Conference was a blast, but don’t take my word for it. Gael and Mark of the AuthorityHacker podcast are here with the inside scoop.

They share their favorite moments from the conference including what they learned, who they saw and the impact it had on them. Both enjoyed the community atmosphere, and how parties and gatherings were plentiful on both sides of the conference days.

CMSEO2019 image on the stage with the speakers Q&A

Criticisms? They had a couple. It’s easy to fall in love with Chiang Mai, but it’s the mosquitos that really love you back.

The two hosts close the broadcast with some shoutouts for other participants (if you went, you might be mentioned here). If you didn’t go, this podcast is an excellent introduction to what you’ll experience if you choose to visit for 2020.