The SEO industry never stands still. This is especially true in this last, extremely turbulent month of SEO.
I like to read what my peers have to say about the world of search engine optimization because it helps to keep me up-to-date and ensures I don’t fall into any bad habits.
This month we’re looking at the rise and fall of .edu links, the importance of text analysis and orphaned pages, and a lot more.
As always, leave your comments below if you have questions.
Google Talks about Ignoring “Some” EDU Links
Quick link building recap. Google interprets links as a signal of trust or authority. Therefore, the more trustworthy the site linking to you, the better SEO value the link has, the more link juice you’re getting.
Therefore, links from trusted sites are the most valuable. That’s why there has been a lot of song and dance about acquiring links from .edu sites.
There’s plenty of logic. To acquire an .edu domain you need to be an authorized school or university, so it makes sense that they are immediately trusted. Plus, they tend to get plenty of traffic and have a ton of pages.
But the SEO community made it far too obvious and Google picked up on it. And, by the sounds of it, they’ve been devaluing edu links for a while.
Here’s what John Meuller said on Twitter when asked about edu links:
“Because of the misconception that .edu links are more valuable, these sites get link-spammed quite a bit, and because of that, we ignore a ton of the links on those sites. Ideally, they should just nofollow all of those links instead of us having to ignore them.”
The first sign we saw of this was last Christmas when popular sites like 10beasts were hit.
Nothing ambiguous there. According to the voice of Google, there’s very little merit in chasing edu links.
Some SEOs use scholarship or sponsorship offers to acquire edu links. This commentary from Google has to call into question that kind of investment.
Foundational SEO: Back to basics
This article got my attention because it is based on a fundamental truth that’s as true in SEO as it is in most facets of life.
The 80 / 20 rule.
In SEO, 20% of the fundamentals of SEO will get you 80% of the search result rankings. If you happen to be a local business, 80% is probably taking your business to the next level.
Data drives keyword research selection. Anyone, not SEO-savvy thinks in terms of root keywords. They don’t take the time to drill down and research all the different variations people may use to search for the same thing.
Let’s say, a plumber.
A client or laymen will think: plumber, plumbing, plumbing service.
They should be including more specific keywords targeted with different pages…
One page might be: Emergency plumber, 24/7 plumber, 24-hour plumber.
Another page might be: Boiler repair, boiler service, boiler maintenance.
There are a lot more keywords to target and we can group them together on the same page to target multiple topically relevant keywords with the same content.
…Simple Onsite SEO.
Having the keyword in the H2 tag is a good one. In fact, remembering to have regular H2 tags to signal to Google (and the user) how to break up your content piece into its subtopics.
Having meta descriptions, having keywords in page titles, using a logical and easy-to-follow page structure are all vital and go a long way to getting ranked locally.
For example, www.website.com/services/boiler-repair
There is plenty for you to play around with in terms of onsite SEO and page structuring but this will get you 80% of the way.
The 80/20 rule is definitely a factor in SEO. If you’re new to SEO or you fancy giving yourself a refresher, it’s definitely worth a read.
How to Avoid Duplicate Content and Indexing Issues on your E-commerce Site
For SEOs, structuring an E-com store can turn into a nightmare. Especially if you’re taking on a client that’s already implemented a structure that’s far from ideal.
It’s typical to be landed with sites that have crawling and indexing issues and often duplicate content issues.
Like with many things in SEO, there’s a strong argument for going right back to basics. In this article, they’re talking about making sure you are optimizing robot.txt, sitemaps and navigation links.
Google has reconfirmed the importance of a killer sitemap when they spoke about indexing pages that are only located on the sitemap. No internal links, navigation links etc.
In terms of structuring, it’s important to have a well-structured navigation for user experience. Bounce rate, dwell time, time-on-page are all ranking signals and providing a better user experience will have a positive impact on these ranking signals.
This is the opposite thought to those “mega menus”.
Then there are the URL parameters. Having these set up effectively will go a long way to avoiding duplicate content. Google has some decent recommendation to follow too:
- Use standard URL encoding, in the “?key=value&” format. Do not use non-standard encoding such as brackets or commas.
- You should use parameters, never file paths, to list values that have no significant impact on the page content.
- User-generated values that don’t significantly impact the content should be placed in a filtering directory that can be hidden with robots.txt, or otherwise dealt with using some form of noindexing or canonicalization.
- Do not generate parameters for user filters that produce no results, so empty pages do not get indexed or tax web crawlers.
- Only allow pages to be crawled if they produce new content for the search engines.
- Do not allow links to be clicked for categories or filters that feature no products.
- Canonicalization of pages will also help to avoid duplicate content issues, but it’s important to be careful when using no-indexing and canonicalization at the same time as it can result in pages being lost to Google.
For more information check out this mega article on ecommerce written by Brendan Tully.
The Importance of Text Analysis
What happens with an SEO project when you’re 2 years in? The foundations are in place, you’re happy with the results but you started to see a plateau. You need to keep the client on board.
What do you do to keep pushing the project forward?
One thing you can do is text analysis. This is where you look to identify small changes that you can make in the text that positively impact search results.
Some SEOs consider it a waste of time, I suppose it really matters if some smaller gains in the search results are worth your time. For example, you are more likely to spend the extra time if your site sells high-ticket items.
Here is an easy gain. Adding the word company or companies enable you to better target more keywords. For example:
Carpet cleaner company or Carpet cleaning companies
By manipulating the text to include these kinds of variations, it is likely to have a positive impact on how you rank for these keywords.
If you’re looking to fine-tune your site or you have a high-value product, it could be worth spending some time on text analysis to see if you can optimize your text a little more.
How to Earn More Links: Adding Context to Content Analysis
The skyscraper link building technique involves finding the most shared and liked content on a subject and make it better. Then reach out for links. Or better still, pick up links naturally.
That’s the basic theory of skyscraper styled link acquisition and you can see why it’s popular.
The most popular content on a subject is most likely to have the best content. That should be the content you hold up as content to improve on for your skyscraper article.
Is that the right context to hang your hat on?
But is it really logical?
Often the best content is not the most viral content. There could be a whole bunch of other reasons why an article has had a lot of social traction.
Here are four:
- Larger audience – The site can have a good following just by default. Doesn’t positively or negatively impact on the quality of a particular article. It’s going to have a lot of eyes on it either way.
- Strong domain – Content ranks quickly meaning more people get to see it, which naturally increases the chances of readers sharing it.
- Large social media presence – A particular site might have a massive social media following.
- Paid support – They could be promoting their content using paid social.
You should still try to create the best content online for a particular subject, but you might want to change how you decide which content is the best content.
Attack it from a data-driven angle.
Find articles on a particular subject and make a note of how authoritative the site is. Check out the size of their social media following. You can see if they are running ads on Facebook to give you an idea if they might have boosted the article you are researching.
Finally, make a note of the number of referring domains.
With this data, laid out in a spreadsheet, you are able to determine which articles look like they are overachieving. In other words, which articles appear to get more traction than you would expect from a site that size, with that size of audience.
Now, there is a good chance the overachieving articles have the best quality content. These should probably be the starting point for your skyscraper content.
This article from Ahrefs talks about this and how you can use Ahrefs to do the research. Which is useful if you use Ahrefs.
Does the Source of the Link Matter?
When it comes to link acquisition, there are a lot of ducks to get in a row. You need to evaluate the link prospect on a number of factors. Here’s an article that goes through the process step by step (read here).
Items to assess include: traffic, referring domains, site quality, social media activity, niche relevancy, and more.
One contentious issue is relevancy vs authority.
Clearly a site that offers both is the ideal link placement, but they can be few and far between.
SEOs have different views on the link value from a site that covers a variety of subjects. Their argument is based on the belief that the lack of relevancy counteracts any authority.
Here’s probably why…
In 2016, Google clarified that the Penguin algorithm update looked at link locations, which had SEOs starting to pay far more attention to the metrics and relevancy of sites.
However, Google recently shed some light on the subject when John Meuller was asked about multi-subject sites. Here’s what he had to say:
“Why would it be bad? (or are you placing those links there yourself?) The source alone wouldn’t make those links bad.”
So, we know link location is important but it’s only one of the factors considered when Google values a link.
Food for thought.
A subject that’s not covered often is the issue of orphaned pages.
When we talk about orphaned pages we are talking about pages that can’t be found through any internal or navigational linking. That’s because they are not linked to at all.
They float around without normally being picked up by a web crawl unless you ensure they’re on the sitemap. These pages are easy to let fall through the cracks.
The problem with orphaned pages is the great unknown. For example, you could have a page that is orphaned that is based on the same keywords (or variations of) as another page. This could end up confusing Google with keyword cannibalization (read more) and negatively impacting search results.
Or you might be ranking for the page and it could be bleeding-off traffic compared to a newer page that you have optimized.
Plus, it could just mean that you are not taking advantage of some great content your users would really enjoy.
Orphaned pages are tricky to find, especially if you have a load of pages so you can’t do manual checks.
Ahrefs site audit feature will catch them, so if you have the tool, take advantage.
Internal Linking and Mobile-first Indexing
Outreach and external links get all the attention. And understandably so, they play a major role in getting rankings.
But on the flipside, internal link structuring gets very little attention yet equally can really make the difference in terms of ranking.
To add a new twist, as SEOs we have to contend with mobile first indexing. If you optimized your internal linking architecture on your desktop version, as we all did, it’s definitely worth revisiting again.
You might find that some of your links aren’t present on your mobile version because they are part of the site that’s not responsive.
Or you might find that links are present but really ugly looking because of reduced screen sizing.
Google has stated that they are checking internal linking first before they move you over to mobile first indexing.
However, they have also said that in the short term they will look at a combination of desktop and mobile internal linking but ultimately, they will move over to full mobile first (and only) indexing.
You have to consider the UI implications of large menus or long lists of links. Having accordion styled or hidden/collapsed content is considered good responsive content management. These are concepts you need to consider.
More Information on the Core Algorith Update
Google recently gave some more insight into the latest algo update.
They’ve said 3 things that are worth knowing.
The first thing is, it’s not you… it’s them
“these are general algorithm updates that we make from time to time with regards to search. And it’s not like your site is worse or different in any way. It’s essentially our algorithms are re-evaluating what we think makes sense what we think is relevant for search results for specific queries and users.”
So, your site might not have changed but the way Google perceives your site when compared to competitors and relevancy might have changed.
And the relevancy point is the 2nd issue.
Google has spent a lot of time assessing the types of content users click on when they make specific searches. They’ve now used that data to redefine what they think people are looking for when they make a specific search.
Thirdly, the change is user relevancy.
Google is now including more historical data in their search on a user by user basis. In other words, one user might get a slightly different set of results compared to another depending on their search history.
This could have major implications on ranking for certain websites.
Using Google Correlate
It’s a free tool from Google that probably doesn’t get as much attention as it should. It goes by the name Google Correlate.
It’s not a new tool. Google launched it 2011 and if you haven’t played around with it, you should.
For example, if you are looking to create a persona to write converting copy then Google Correlate allows you to explore correlations in searches that can give you insights into what your target persona looks for, which you can use to understanding their needs/problems.
In SEO terms, it’s a great tool for seasonal or regional keyword analysis and SEO strategy.
A good way of thinking about it is:
“We can use tools like Google Trends, web analytics and sales data to know when to target customers just before they’re seasonally ready to engage with your brand.”
However, Google Correlate can generate ideas on how to talk to them at that time
So essentially, it’s a great tool for generating ideas for content and if Google is telling you there is a correlation between these set of keywords and your root keywords then you know that the algo is going to see the correlation and you’re building relevancy.
Worth looking at if you have a spare couple of hours.
Why Easy SEO Content Wins are a Good Thing
Nothing in life is easy.
In this industry (possibly more than most other industries), we know this to be true. But there is more to the subject than that.
Working hard is essential but there is equally something to be said for working smart.
Take content for example.
We want to work hard, we want to create the very best content we can and as much of it as possible.
- Huge skyscraper content that all the major blogs are going to want to link to.
- Social media
- Guest posts
It’s exhausting constantly creating content. You end up getting tired, or uninspired. Your content will start to see a hit in quality. It’s not just you, it’s the nature of something like content creation, which is both a skill and a creative process.
It can feel like you’re on a treadmill and a lot of SEOs grow to hate content writing. Especially in the early stages.
Later on, when they have built a business that allows them to employ writers, and it means they choose when and what they write about, they start to enjoy writing again.
So, until then, you probably have to continue writing yourself. Rather than beating yourself to death you should look for some quick wins whenever you can.
Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
- Repurpose old blog posts. Use them as email sequences or re-write them for guest posts.
- Re-optimize old blog posts that are not dominating the search results to be better optimized. Perhaps SEO practices have changed, or you just know more about creating content.
- Send social traffic to old posts. Why not give an existing blog post some social love with a boost?
- Revise older posts and republish them as new. Can you update some content by adding to it or just making it more current?
- Struggling to get experts on your site to add credibility and trust signals? Why not offer to interview them and then post the transcript or use that content for the article. Play up to people’s vanity.
- Reduce your content schedule. The goal of creating content is to add new content consistently. If you have to reduce your schedule to keep the quality and keep it consistent then do it.
Plenty of ideas to help you get some easy wins with your content.