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Marcus Miller – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Fri, 16 Nov 2018 21:30:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 Recovering SEO traffic and rankings after a website redesign /recovering-seo-traffic-and-rankings-after-a-website-redesign-308081 Thu, 15 Nov 2018 12:30:49 +0000 /?p=308081 After a review to confirm a drop in traffic, there are some typical problems (like redirects, missing pages and domain issues) that can be fixed to get your SEO back on track.

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When building a new website, retaining and improving your SEO and organic traffic should be a key design goal. This requires a clear understanding of how SEO and website design work together and careful planning for the site migration. If everything is done correctly, you should retain (and improve) rankings and traffic.

Unfortunately, in the real world, this is often not what happens. The site launches. Organic traffic tanks. And then panic sets in. Unfortunately, I get a call like this every week. Most often from small business owners where the loss of organic traffic means that leads or sales slow down and put the business at risk.

It is important to realize that all is not lost and in the majority of cases, there are a few usual suspects to blame for the loss of traffic. In this article, I cover how to diagnose and recover traffic and rankings when a website design goes wrong.

Step 1 – Gathering Information

We don’t need a lot here but in an ideal world we would want the following:

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Search Console
  • Date of launch
  • Website URL
  • Historic or alternative URLs
  • Historic keyword rankings (if available)

Step 2 – Confirmation

Now it’s time to dive into Google Analytics and Search Console and review the traffic drop. What we are looking for here is a drop starting the day or week of the redesign. This drop may be slow and steady or often a sudden, stark decrease.

As an example, the below image shows a 90 percent traffic drop. This was a failed redesign for a charity. They contacted us after this happened and we did some pro-bono work to help them get back on track. This was probably the worst case I have seen but it demonstrates how badly things can go wrong with organic traffic.

traffic drop chart

Your first port of call here should be Google Analytics:

Google Analytics > Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels

To further confirm a big drop in traffic we can look at just organic traffic or a variety of channels. If we see an organic drop and other channels are relatively unaffected, then this further indicates that the redesign is the culprit here.

If you have Google Search Console and keyword rankings then these can all be reviewed to help you confirm the date of the drop.

Step 3 – Understanding the Losses

Before we can hope to improve things we have to understand the losses to aid us in our analysis and remediation. To do this we want to get a better understanding of keyword rankings and pages that were most affected.

Rankings
If you have historic ranking data then run these reports to get an overview of some key areas where positions may have been lost. Where historic keyword rankings are not available, some popular SEO tools can provide historic ranking data for analysis. Alternatively, the site owner will typically have an idea of what keywords they used to rank for – this is not terribly scientific but it can give us an idea (which we can look to verify in Search Console if available).

Landing page traffic
We will want to compare before and after traffic in:

Google Analytics: Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages

If we have a few weeks (or longer) since the migration we can compare to the period prior and see which pages were generating the most traffic.

This can be tricky as often page names change in a redesign. So, you have to identify the pages that ranked and received the most traffic and compare them to the counterpart on the new site.

In the worst case scenario, we may find content or pages that were present on the previous site but that has not been created on the new site. No content. No traffic. If the content exists on the new site but is just not receiving traffic then we may be looking at more of a technical issue.

If this is a large site, it can help to put this information in a spreadsheet so you can match up the old and new pages for easy reference.

I am a big fan of using the Wayback Machine here to view the previous version of the site: https://web.archive.org/. With this tool, we can take a look at these pages that were ranking and compare them to the relevant pages on the new site. Again, this can better help us understand physical changes to the pages.

Step 4 – Usual Suspects

With an understanding of the losses we can look at the common problems and what we can do to put things right in each scenario.

Redirects
Redirects. Whether missing or misconfigured is the most common issue we see. When launching a new site, we want to do one of the following for all important pages:

  • keep the URLs the same (ideal)
  • 301 redirect from the old page to the new page

A simple way to test this is to get together 10 or so of the highest traffic URLs from the previous site (from analytics or the Wayback Machine) and attempt to visit these pages in a browser. If there is no redirect then this is part of your problem.

If the pages do redirect you need to check them in a tool like ScreamingFrog or any online HTTP header tool (there are many free ones available) to ensure that you see a 301 redirect to the correct page.

A site owner I was talking to recently had a basic grasp of SEO and had tested the redirects so was sure they were okay. When I checked the headers they were all 302 temporary redirects. That issue got fixed and traffic started to climb back to original levels.

In another recent job, the in-house marketing team had tested all old URLs and could see that they all had a 301 redirect in place. Unfortunately, they had not checked the pages they were redirected to as these were all 404s.

You really have to test this end-to-end. In a browser. In a crawling tool. Test all old URLs. Test redirected pages. Make sure it works and verify all important redirects.

Missing pages
Another common issue is that content that performed previously is no longer on the site. If the content does not exist, then you can’t rank. Ensure that all high traffic content is present and the correct redirects are in place.

This can take a bit more manual effort but work through the high traffic pages that you identified in Step 3 and you can get an idea of what is happening. If those pages now just 404 or redirect to a generic page (homepage is a dead giveaway) then you likely have a content issue.

Content changes
Changes to content can also have an impact. If a page is present but the content has been changed then you will need to perform a qualitative review. Is the new page as good as the old page? What has changed? The web archive is your friend here.

Protocol and domain issues
If your site was previously on http://example.com and with the new site you also make changes to the protocol (https), subdomain (www), or domain then your redirects need to take this into consideration. https://www.example-2.com is not the same as http://example.com. Here you just need careful consideration of how your redirects are put together and an attention to detail regarding the domain, subdomain, and protocol.

Historic changes
In 2018, many sites have several previous iterations, often with many changes to the protocol, domain name, and subdomains. We have seen cases where the migration was seemingly handled well but traffic was still falling. The cause ended up being related to a historic change of domain which was not taken into consideration.

As an example:

2008 – 2016 the site ran on www.example.com
2016 – 2017 – the site used www.example-2.com with www.example.com 301 redirected

When a new site was launched in 2018, the migration was handled correctly from the old to the new but the developers had no knowledge of the previous domain and that historic redirect was never put in place. Unfortunately, in one key example the original domain that had over 10 years history was lost.

The takeaway here is to look back and understand any historic domain changes and redirects prior to this initial design.

Technical issues
Sometimes the new site is just not well put together and the problems relate to the technical optimization of the new site. Crawl issues, canonical URLs, indexation – there is a lot that can go wrong. In this case, you will want to conduct an SEO and website audit to ensure that the technical SEO is 100 percent dialed in.

Optimization issues
As with technical, sometimes the optimization does not make it from the old to the new site. Sadly, we still see sites with the same page title on all pages and other real basics just not done properly. Crawl your site and make sure the basics are done correctly.

Turbulence
Something else here to consider is the impact that a website migration can have. This is something at my agency that we call turbulence. The bigger and more complicated the site, the more turbulence we can see. The main point here is to be patient. Check everything. Double check everything. But if traffic is jumping around a bit for a few weeks as long as you are sure everything is in good order just hold steady whilst the new pages get indexed and the older pages fall out of the index.

Step 5 – What if Everything Seems Okay?

So you launched your new site. You had a solid migration plan. You have checked everything over and there are no issues. But, you are still losing traffic. What gives?

Analytics
Is your analytics set up working correctly? Make sure all pages are correctly tagged and are reporting page views. Consider recent changes like AMP pages.

Algorithm Change
Did your website launch in the timeframe of a Google Algorithm change? The Panguin Tool allows you to map your analytics reports to a timeline of all Google updates. Using this tool you can identify if your traffic drop lines up with a specific algorithm update.

Seasonality
Does your traffic always take a downward turn at this time of year? Review analytics for previous years and Google Trends to ensure this is not just a natural downturn.

SERP changes
Changes to search engine page layouts can impact organic traffic. Featured snippets or even the move from three to four ads can have an impact on clicks. Ensure there are no mitigating factors here.

Manual penalty
If your SEO has not always been squeaky clean then it is worth checking you don’t have a manual penalty. Log in to Search Console and take a look under manual actions.

Security issues / Hacking
Hacking and security issues can also impact traffic. If your site has been hacked you should get a notification in Search Console and your SERP listings will likely show a “This site may be hacked” or a “This site may harm your computer” below your URL. Google does not always get this though, so run a site: command for your URL to review indexed pages and identify anything suspicious.

Getting Back on Track

In an ideal world, we would never find ourselves in this situation. We would ensure we know everything there is to know about SEO and web design and carefully plan for a site migration to preserve our SEO.

But, if you do find yourself in this undesirable situation, then following the steps here should help you get your SEO back on track and your small business SEO on point once more.

The post Recovering SEO traffic and rankings after a website redesign appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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A basic SEO audit for small businesses /a-basic-seo-audit-for-small-businesses-305896 Fri, 28 Sep 2018 17:34:00 +0000 /?p=305896 Most small businesses can perform a simple audit and improve their SEO considerably without involving an agency. Ten steps you can take to get started.

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I am a big fan of getting the basics precisely dialed in for small business search engine optimization (SEO). Ensuring you lay a solid SEO foundation will typically deliver around 80 percent of the results, for only 20 percent of the effort, for small local businesses.

A crucial aspect of getting SEO on point for your small business is a basic SEO audit. This analysis provides you with a tool, much like an SEO SWOT analysis that highlights the areas that you need to focus on. And, while there are many tools out there that provide an overview of your SEO, learning how to perform a basic SEO audit using free tools like Screaming Frog is a skill that will serve you well and ensure the precious time you devote to SEO is well-spent.

Having the skills to perform a basic SEO audit really empowers you as a business owner with regard to your SEO. It’s tempting to think that web designers and developers all understand SEO, but in most cases, they are simply not experts, and nobody knows your business better than you do.

By following the steps outlined in this post, you will be able to assess your SEO, identify opportunities and troubleshoot issues as they arise.

Tools of the trade

There are a number of tools out there that will help you audit your site. But the majority of these come with a monthly fee. For this audit, though, all you will need is the following freely available tools:

  • Google Analytics.
  • Google Search Console.
  • Screaming Frog SEO Spider.

Note: Screaming Frog is free for up to 500 pages or is licensed yearly. Even the paid version is an affordable tool that will help you achieve your goals, so register it if you feel it adds value (Hint: It will).

Crawl your site

The first step here is to crawl your site, so start the Screaming Frog and software and crawl your site. This will provide you with the information we will check as we step through the audit.

SEO Audit

A basic SEO audit for a small local business should consider the following areas. I won’t go into painful detail for each, as hopefully, each step is relatively self-explanatory (and we could fill a book). But everything here is easily Googled if you are unsure.

1. Google Analytics

I like to check four factors with Google Analytics:

  • Google Analytics is installed correctly and on every page.
  • Important actions on the site are set up as conversions.
  • Analytics is correctly configured for HTTP / HTTPS.

These are all basic checks but ensure that the analytics data is sound so that we are confident in using it to identify areas for improvement.

2. Google Search Console

As with Analytics, we want to ensure the site is set up as it should be in the Google Search Console so that we are seeing the correct diagnostic data within Search Console.

  • Search Console is set up with the correct protocol and URL.
  • Coverage tab shows about the number of indexed pages you would expect.
  • Sitemaps tab has your current sitemap listed (if not, submit it).
  • Mobile Usability tab does not show mobile errors.
  • There is nothing unexpected or odd on the Links tab.

The Search Console data provides diagnostic feedback from Google, so any issues highlighted here should be investigated and remedied.

3. Response codes

Open up your Screaming Frog crawl for your site and jump to the “Response Codes” tab. This will list all the files and response codes, but more useful is the “Overview” tab to the right-hand side of the screen.

In most cases, we are looking for a lot of success codes (2xx) and not much else. If you do see a lot of redirects, 404s or other issues, you can click on these in the right column and investigate (and resolve!).

4. URI

Next job is to look at our URI tab and review the URIs (aka URLs) of the pages on the site. In the “overview” tab here, we can see the elements we want to look out for, including non-ASCII characters and uppercase characters.

Ideally, what we want here is a set of lower-case URLs that accurately describe the content on the site.

5. Structure

While we are in the URI tab, we can look at our URLs and ensure the URLs are all well-organized. What we are looking to achieve here is a filing cabinet structure where relevant pages are grouped together. (Click on the bar at the top of the “Address” column to sort by alphabetical order, as that will allow you to see better see the organization.)

Consider a site that sells SEO and PPC and has several services for each. We may see URLs something like the following:

  • http://www.example.com.
  • http://www.example.com/seo.
  • http://www.example.com/seo/audit.
  • http://www.example.com/seo/retainer.
  • http://www.example.com/ppc.
  • http://www.example.com/ppc/audit.
  • http://www.example.com/ppc/management.

The structure of the site here provides a clear signal relating to the content of each page.

Primary areas to consider here for most local businesses are:

  • Locations.
  • Services.
  • Blog posts.

Ensure the structure of your works like a filing cabinet with everything filed exactly where it should be to help indicate the relationship of the pages to one another.

6. Page titles

To review page titles, we will want to jump into Screaming Frog and look at the (surprise, surprise) “Page Titles” tab. Here we can review all of our page titles to ensure that they are well-optimized.

As a rule, I would want to see the main keyword and maybe section of the site + potentially, the location, if you were a local business. Also the branding, where possible. Using the SEO audit example from above for my own company, we would have something like:

SEO Audit for Small Businesses, Birmingham UK | Bowler Hat

Remember that we want our page titles somewhere in the region of 35 to 65 characters to best fit the space available.

A tip here is to export your page titles from Screaming Frog and then just work through the spreadsheet. Then manually make any changes necessary in your CMS.

7. Meta descriptions

Search engines use the text from your meta description when listing your site, so you should consider this as an opportunity to add some sales copy to entice users to click. Reviewing the meta description tab, you can export all meta descriptions and improve them as needed to increase click-through rates.

8. Headers

You can also review your H1 and H2 tags in Screaming Frog and ensure these are sensibly optimized. Ideally, these should be aligned with your page names, page titles and meta descriptions to send a clear message regarding the topic and focus of each page.

9. Site speed

I like to check the site with three different tools:

These tools are all free to use and together provide a solid overview of where improvements can be made. I covered testing the speed of your site in a previous column.

10. Technical SEO

I also like to do the following 10 quick technical tests to ensure there are no small technical issues affecting the site:

  • Error pages should return 404 status codes.
  • Error pages should show a useful 404 error page.
  • All URLs should work with either HTTP or HTTPS, but not both.
  • All URLs should work with either www or without www, but not both.
  • Internal links should not return 4xx errors.
  • Page copy should be shown when fetched and rendered (in Google Search Console).
  • The site should not be duplicated due to any other domains or subdomains.
  • The site should be making use of HTTPS.
  • The Robots.txt should not be blocking content we want to be crawled and indexed.
  • There should be XML sitemaps, and they accurately reflect all valid URLs on the site.

You can conduct all of these tests in a browser or Screaming Frog, so no special tools are needed!

Summary

SEO has many moving parts. Yet, I strongly believe that most small businesses can do a lot to help improve their results by ensuring these basic requirements are covered. Whether a small business is performing an audit, engaging in more detailed SEO strategies or exploring ways to build links, there is much you can do to improve your rankings without an agency.

By following the 10 steps laid down here, you will find areas that you can improve. And by revisiting this audit as your site grows, you will continue to find potential improvements that help you stay competitive in the local results.

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How small businesses can see big results with foundational SEO /how-small-businesses-can-see-big-results-with-foundational-seo-304746 Fri, 31 Aug 2018 20:21:00 +0000 /?p=304746 Where can you put 20% effort for 80% SEO return? Contributor Marcus Miller outlines SEO tactics SMB owners can use for easy but effective wins.

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Whether you are just starting on your search engine optimization (SEO) journey or have been at it for years, there’s a good chance some part of your site can be improved. In fact, from the hundreds of small business websites we look at every year at Bowler Hat (my agency), it is rare we see a site implementing SEO perfectly and completely.

Search engine optimization is not rocket science for any site, small and local businesses included. Yet, it is easy to get lost in trivial details before the essential, basic steps are put in place. This means for most businesses, there are easy wins on the table.

In SEO, as with many business endeavors, the Pareto Principle rings true:

…” for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.”

This is definitely accurate when we look at SEO for smaller businesses. Getting 20 percent of the work done to get 80 percent of the benefits is key to getting an early return from your SEO efforts.  Let’s look at the basics and how to use that 20 percent to score easy wins you can put in place today.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO can get, well, technical. Yet, don’t let the term scare you. If you make smart decisions at the outset, then much of the technical work is taken care of by your website hosting and website software.

Selecting a search-engine-friendly content management system (CMS) like WordPress will ensure you have a technically sound base for your SEO efforts. With the right kind of CMS in place, you will then want to ensure you host the site in an optimized environment.

In some recent testing we conducted, we compared a basic WordPress site on a standard web hosting to an optimized environment. The optimized environment did much of the technical optimization required to speed up WordPress. The physical file size was reduced by two thirds and loading time was reduced to one second from three.

All of this was done by making smart decisions rather than doing lots of work and performing manual optimization.

Or, 20 percent effort, 80 percent results.

The primary takeaway here is to make informed choices regarding your website content management system and hosting environment. Get this right, and the complexity melts away.

Keyword research

Understanding the language of your customers is the foundation that good search engine optimization is built on. This is key not only to improve your rank in the organic search results but also to help convince users to click on your site and then get in touch when they arrive.

The following is a straightforward way to get a keyword list together. I would generally use a spreadsheet for this so we can consider search volume, difficulty and existing rank, which helps us optimize pages.

1. Seed List.  Start by listing all the important elements of your business. Typically, for small businesses, this is products and services along with any locations if you are optimizing for multiple locations.  Organize your seed keywords in a spreadsheet.

2. Keyword research tools. There is no shortage of keyword research tools out there. They can help you understand the search volume and the potential value of keywords. A good starting place would be the following free tools:

  • Google Ads keywords tool. Get volume by location and an idea of difficulty plus cost per click (CPC ) for ads. Keywords that perform will typically have a higher CPC and competition.
  • Keywords Everywhere. This is a browser extension for Chrome that shows the search volume by country and a range of keyword suggestions. It’s a cool tool to keep keyword research on your mind as you browse the web.
  • Google. I am a big fan of browsing the web for your keywords. Google will make keyword suggestions at the bottom of the page and we can also get a handle on what our competitors are optimizing around. Understanding searcher intent is key to ensuring you optimize around the needs of your prospective customers so don’t skip this step.

There are a number of paid tools including Moz, Ahrefs and SEMrush; they are all powerful tools but are not free. If you are a cash-strapped small business, take advantage of their free trials before signing up.

Your goal is to find logical groups of keywords that relate to one page or service. You will also want additional values like search volume, competition and rank by keyword so you can make the best possible optimization choices.

Let’s use a plumber that works in one location in the town of Birmingham as an example:

  • Services.
    • Plumber.
    • Emergency plumber.
    • Boiler repair.
  • Locations.
    • Birmingham.

We may expand on these keywords and group them logically as follows:

  • Plumber. Plumbing. Plumbing services.
  • Emergency plumber. Emergency plumbing. Emergency plumber 24/7. 24-hour plumber.
  • Boiler repair. Boiler service.

What we end up with here is an expanded list of keywords that covers the variety of ways in which someone may search. Ensuring you use all of these variations in your sales copy and on-page optimization ensures Google has confidence that you can help this user. And this helps you rank more highly and generate business inquiries.

Site structure

Another way in which we can help Google and users understand your site and business is to ensure the content is well structured. In my background as a web developer, we used the example of a filing cabinet to illustrate site structure.

The site is the cabinet. The drawers of the cabinet are the major sections. The files in the drawers are subsections (pages) and, if needed, the individual documents in a file are content related to a page.

For a typical business we assign services and locations as our primary pages so our structure may look something like:

  • Home.
    • Locations.
      • Location A.
      • Location B.
      • Location C.
    • Services.
      • Service A.
      • Service B.
      • Service C.

This structure is something a search engine can understand and provides us with individual pages for each service and location we can optimize around. Here are the keywords we researched earlier:

  • Home.
    • Services.
      • Services > emergency plumber.
      • Services > plumbing services.
      • Services > boiler repair.

We will also want to ensure we have a descriptive URL structure for these pages — we’ll use keywords in the directory of each:

  • www. examplesite.com/services/
  • www.examplesite.com/services/emergency-plumber/
  • www.examplesite.com/services/plumbing/
  • www.examplesite.com/services/boiler-repair/

We now have descriptive URLs that describe the page content. This helps tick another optimization box and can help with clickthrough rates. Google can now show the most relevant page and we get the potential customer to the most relevant information.

On-page optimization

This is where we tie all the work we’ve done together. Your keyword list can now be used on your well-structured site pages. This is why this procedural approach is just so important here.

Rather than looking at the screen wondering how to improve optimization of your page, you can simply work through the following steps.

Optimize page titles
Ranking factor studies tend to show the page title as the single most powerful on-page ranking factor and I would agree from a pure SEO perspective. But, page titles are also be thought of as a headline since they are frequently shown in the search results.  Optimizing for clicks is as important as it is for ranking which is why I also like to weave in branding elements where possible.

If we revisit our plumber example, we can illustrate this point and show how to optimize our pages for all of the keyword variations, which will include our location and branding. Here is our example title:

Plumber in Sutton Coldfield – Marcus’s Plumbing Service

Our service pages can build on this:

Boiler Repair Service – Free Quote | Marcus’s Plumbing, Sutton Coldfield

Emergency Plumber – available 24/7 | Marcus’s Plumbing, Sutton Coldfield

Here we have page titles that tick all the boxes:

  • Optimized with keyword variations.
  • A call to action where relevant “Free Quote.”
  • Location in the page titles “Sutton Coldfield.”
  • Branding “Marcus’s Plumbing.”

These page titles are relevant, optimized and have marketing smarts. Get this right and your on-page optimization is off to a good start.

Optimize meta descriptions
Meta descriptions don’t directly influence rankings, which is why they are often neglected.

I like to think of meta descriptions as search engine advertising copy. The description helps build and reinforces the message in your page title which can help you generate more clicks.

I like to use the same approach here as I do for page titles:

  • Use your keywords sensibly and detail your unique selling proposition (USP) and special offers.
  • Include a call to action. Don’t overdo things here but use the opportunity sensibly and you can improve overall results.

Optimize page content
Next up is page content. We have more room to work with our keyword variations where needed.  Be sure your content is easy to read and will resonate with your target audience. The last thing we want to do here is write something that sounds like it was written by a machine or is over-optimized and stuffed with keywords. Readability should always come first.

The main page components we have to work with here are:

  • Header Tags. H1, H2, H3 etc.
  • Body Content.  The text on the page.
  • Images.  The images you use to support your copy.

Just use your keywords where it sounds natural; again, don’t overdo it. Make sure it reads well and you will be fine.

When working with images, remember the image name, alt text and description can all be optimized.

With page optimization done well, you will rank for a wider array of terms and you will be using language that appeals to potential customers. These are real-world benefits that also help improve your SEO.

Optimize internal links
The last element here to consider is to optimize your internal links. Start with your primary navigation but also use links in your content. This can help improve your SEO but also helps guide users where we want them to go.

Small business owners can benefit from interlinking service and location pages.  For example, the service page links to all locations where the business operates and the location pages link to all the services provided in that location. This is a simple, common-sense way to use internal links that benefits the user and can help your SEO.

Local SEO

For local businesses, local SEO is a subset of traditional SEO that focuses on helping local businesses rank. Here are two factors to focus on: Google My Business (GMB) and citations.

Google My Business
This is Google’s business directory.  You can provide information about your business to help drive visibility on Google Maps and in the search results. You will want to provide all of the relevant information about your business including the type of business (category), opening hours, contact details, website address, photos and more.

Other features include posts, reviews and the ability to receive messages from customers. You can even create a simple, one-page website if you are just getting started. Suffice to say this is a powerful platform and you should ensure all of your information is complete and you are using all of the options it offers to your advantage.

Citations
Citations are simply the mention of the name, address, and phone number of a local business.  Sometimes citations are linked, most of the time they are not. Citations are seen on local business directories, websites, social networks and in apps. Citations help potential customers discover local businesses and can have an affect on local search rankings.

A good way to identify the important citation sites is to simply search on your keywords in Google and Bing. Where you see listings from directories, then there is a good chance this is a valid citation source.  Adding your site to the local directories helps with SEO, but more importantly, helps customers find your business because they’re using the engines to search too!

When adding your small business to an online directory, be sure you submit to the correct category and provide a sensible business description that includes your main keywords, plus services and location.

Authority building

Link and authority building are the most difficult and maligned aspects of SEO. The search engines still use links to help understand the relative authority of webpage and sites, but in local business, this is just one factor.  Others are address, business category, and proximity to the searcher.  You still need links, but it’s just smart to look at easy wins first.

The specifics will always depend upon your local business but, the following link and authority building tactics are all worthy of investigation:

  • Links from suppliers & business partners.
  • Sponsor local charities or clubs.
  • Join relevant professional organizations that have profile pages.
  • Relevant industry sites via submitted content (guest posts or a column for example).
  • Partner with other local businesses.
  • Offer testimonials or reviews (with a bio) to other local businesses.

There are many authority and link-building tactics available; try to focus on building links where they will add value. This could be resource pages on a popular site or simply a listing on a relevant directory.

You want the link you are placing on someone else’s web page to add value to your web pages.  You may need to create content and offer it to a webmaster as a way to do this. Think about the type of content you can provide that will attract users and be seen as valuable to the webmaster you offer it to.

Wrapping up

Search engine optimization is not easy for any anyone, including small businesses. It can be hard to know which activities to put your efforts behind and which will deliver results.

It also takes time.  By focusing your initial efforts on the SEO basics covered here,  you will get the maximum results from minimum effort.

The post How small businesses can see big results with foundational SEO appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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3 free tools to comprehensively test page speed /3-free-tools-to-comprehensively-test-page-speed-303178 Fri, 03 Aug 2018 16:18:00 +0000 /?p=303178 Contributor Marcus Miller outlines how to use 3 free tools that test page speed and work to turn your site into a lean, mean, speedy fighting machine.

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Having a fast site is important, since faster sites are rewarded with improved search engine optimization (SEO) and the ability to drive more visits and conversions. More people visiting your site can lead to more sales, signups or traffic in general. That’s a true win-win.

Of course, where there’s a positive, there is always a negative. The flip side to fast sites is slow sites, and slow sites tend to suffer from lack of sales, sign-ups and traffic in general. That is definitely not a win-win.

Once you get above 3 seconds, many visitors leave before the page loads, many more will bounce, and your conversion rate will plummet. Not good.

Fortunately, auditing page speed is relatively painless and, in most cases, can be accomplished with free, easy-to-use tools. However, no single tool really gives us a complete end-to-end analysis.

To remedy this, I have put together a guide of my favorite free page-speed tools and how to use them. When you use the three tools together, they will give you a better understanding of real-world performance and optimization opportunities.

Understanding load speed, end to end

Before we dive into the three tools, it is important to understand all of the primary factors influencing page load time.

Hosting issues. If you have slow or unreliable hosting, then it does not matter what else you do, your site will often be slow and unreliable.

Technical issues. There are ways to build fast sites and ways to build slow sites. Building lightweight sites with speed in mind and then technically optimizing for performance is critical to keep things moving quickly.

Size. No matter how your site is built, it has to be transferred over the network to the end user. So, the larger the site, the more data there is to transfer. You should be aiming to create pages no larger than 3 megabytes (MB), and smaller when possible.

End user network. This is a little more out of your control and where you really have to consider your end user. If people will mainly be accessing your site on mobile phones and using mobile data, then you must assume 3G connections, which means things have to be super-lightweight to ensure fast loading times.

Combine all of these issues, and you have a real problem on your hands. Bloated sites on slow hosting that are riddled with technical issues and then viewed over 3G  are not a great look for your business.

Page speed testing tools

The following three tools all have a place in testing your page speed and identifying areas for potential improvement. This is not to say these are the only tools available, but when put together, they provide a comprehensive yet easy-to-understand way to audit site speed.

Our overarching objectives here are as follows:

  • Physical file size. This should be as small as possible and ideally less than 3 MB.
  • Loading time. This should be as fast as possible and ideally below 3 seconds.
  • Mobile loading. This should be as fast as possible and ideally below 5 seconds on a 3G data connection.

The results from the three tools below will help you assess this issues and help improve the real-world speed of your site.

1. Google PageSpeed Insights

This is a technical optimization tool. It provides diagnostic information directly from Google by analyzing the content of a web page.

The tool outlines all current optimization opportunities and points out optimization factors already in place. From Google:

PageSpeed Insights evaluates how well a page follows common performance best practices and computes a score from zero to 100 that estimates its performance headroom. It evaluates if a page can improve its performance in two areas:

  • Time to above-the-fold load: Elapsed time from the moment a user requests a new page to the moment the above-the-fold content is rendered by the browser.
  • Time to full page load: Elapsed time from the moment a user requests a new page to the moment the page is fully rendered by the browser.

Following the advice the tool provides ensures your website is technically optimized to serve pages as fast as possible.

With this tool, you can identify technical optimizations you can make to speed up page delivery.

2. Pingdom

Pingdom is a tool that tests the speed at which your website is delivered. You will need to enter your URL and the location you want to test from. Choose the location that is closest to your business (and where your site is hosted).

The Pingdom tool will then give you another performance grade, along with loading time, how you stack up against other sites and physical file size.

I really like Pingdom’s results, which are more detailed breakdowns that show the components of your site and how the total load time breaks down.

Here we can see that nearly half (44 percent) of my company’s home page is images, so we could get this page much smaller by removing and optimizing images.

In the image below, we can see the color-coded impact of various factors on load time for each file request: DNS, SSL, Send, Wait, Receive and Connect.

Wait time, in particular, is interesting and a sign of low-quality hosting. If you see big yellow bars, then you should consider upgrading your hosting plan.

We can also see we have no wait time due to our dedicated server in the WP Engine data center, but our DNS is a big delay. To remedy this, we are moving to a premium DNS provider to speed up this weak point.

With the information here, you can identify what types of files make up the bulk of your website, along with any slowdown related to your hosting or DNS. All easy improvements to make to get your site speeding along!

3. Google Mobile Test

It is possible to get good results in the tools above and still have a speed problem on mobile. According to information from Think With Google, this is because 70 percent of mobile visits are still on a 3G data connection and expected to stay there until 2020.

If your site loads quickly on a broadband connection, that is great. But if mobile users make up the majority of your audience, then you need to be optimized for these users.

The Google Mobile Tool shares a summary of your performance on 3G and also provides a report. As we can see, our current site is not as fast as I would like on 3G, so optimizing for these users is a key design goal when designing our new website.

Scrolling down the page, you can get a comparison with other sites in your industry and some suggestions for a fix. You can also request a report that provides detailed advice on what you can fix to speed things up.

Bonus tips

Tip 1. It is not enough to just optimize your home page; you need to look at all of your important pages to ensure they are performing.

Tip 2. To get an idea of which pages on your site are on the bigger side and would benefit from being downsized, use the SEO Spider tool from ScreamingFrog.co.uk. Here’s a quick outline on how to do this:

  1. Download and install Screaming Frog.
  2. Crawl your site.
  3. View the “Internal” tab (default).
  4. View the “Size” column.

This will let you see all the “large” pages on your site.

Tip 3. You can also look at average loading times in your Google Analytics account in the Behaviour > Site Speed section.

Getting your site up to speed

To speed up your site for all users, you have to look at the site from different angles.

  • Is the site technically well optimized?
  • Do you have “large” pages with a lot of images and content?
  • Is the hosting letting you down?
  • How well does the site perform for users on mobile or slower internet connections?

By looking at the output of these three tools, you can get a more well-rounded understanding of how your site performs and what you can do to speed things up. This could require technical optimization, reduction of file sizes, better hosting, or most often a combination of all the above. Then you can test and test again.

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Working around Google Analytics to improve your content marketing /working-around-google-analytics-to-improve-your-content-marketing-301554 Fri, 06 Jul 2018 14:55:00 +0000 /?p=301554 The way Google Analytics reports bounce rate and time on page leave a lot to be desired. Contributor Marcus Miller outlines two easy ways to get better data on single-page visits so marketers understand how users engage with their content.

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Organic search is still one of the best ways to drive traffic to your website. Having your site positioned in front of users at the very moment they search is hugely powerful. From helping drive brand awareness to building engagement and driving conversions — there is nothing as satisfying as ranking your content in organic search.

And best of all, organic search results come without a cost per click!

Having relevant answers found in organic results is a powerful way to feed the top of your marketing funnel. And while we can advertise with social and native platforms, nothing quite has the “in that moment” relevance of strong organic search results.

This is why it’s important to understand how users engage with our content. But that understanding is made difficult given how Google Analytics reports on typical engagement metrics, particularly in relation to bounce rate and time on page.

In this article, I take a look at how engagement metrics in Google Analytics are flawed and outline what you can do to get better data. Ultimately, as modern data-driven marketers, we need good data to make smart decisions.

Smart decisions need smart data

The examples below relate to a single-page visit to a piece of content on your site. I am primarily concerned with organic search, but the approach outlined here works just as well with social or native traffic referrals. Here is what generally happens:

  • A user searches for a topic.
  • The user clicks on an article on your site.
  • The user spends a couple of minutes on your site and reads the whole article.

The problem here is how Google would report that visit. It would be shown as a bounce with a zero-second time on page. This engaged user who read your entire article and then left the site is reported as someone who arrived and left in a heartbeat. Not good!

So why does Google Analytics report a visit as a bounce?

Understanding bounce rate

Here is Google’s definition of bounce rate:

bounce is a single-page session on your site. In Analytics, a bounce is calculated specifically as a session that triggers only a single request to the Analytics server, such as when a user opens a single page on your site and then exits without triggering any other requests to the Analytics server during that session.

Bounce rate is single-page sessions divided by all sessions, or the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only a single page and triggered only a single request to the Analytics server.

These single-page sessions have a session duration of zero seconds since there are no subsequent hits after the first one that would let Analytics calculate the length of the session. Learn more about how session duration is calculated here.

This means all of the following situations will be classified as a bounced visit:

  • When a user clicks the back button.
  • When a user closes the browser window or tab.
  • When a user manually types a URL or search query into the browser bar.
  • When a user clicks on an external link.
  • Or when the session times out after 30 minutes.

Ultimately, with a standard Google Analytics set up, this means every single type of visit is a bounce if the user does not move on to a second page.

Image from Stone Temple Consulting

Understanding time on page

The problem with time on page is that it does not apply to an exit page. So, where we have a single page visit which is common in content marketing, we have a single entrance and exit page.

Google defines “Time on Page” as follows:

Time (in seconds) users spent on a particular page, calculated by subtracting the initial view time for a particular page from the initial view time for a subsequent page. This metric does not apply to exit pages of the property. Time on page is calculated as the difference between the initiation of successive pageviews: pageview 3 – pageview 2 (14:31 – 14:02 = 00:29).

Image via Google Analytics support

What this is saying is that Google logs an initial view time for each page visited. Then, the time spent on page is calculated as the gap between the first-page view and the new page view. This approach does not apply to exit pages on your site.

The content analytics conundrum

When a user finds your content from a search query, reads every word in a five-minute session and then leaves, this is counted as a bounced visit with a zero-second duration. If you are trying to understand what content is engaging your readers, this is a big problem. Big.

Conversions are generally what we all want here, but conversions follow engagement, which follows awareness. Without having good engagement metrics, we can make poor decisions. Without understanding the limitations of standard Google Analytic reporting for single visit sessions, we could make some terrible decisions.

Fortunately, all is not lost. And, knowing that we have a problem we can look at ways to improve our reporting to better understand how our users engage with our content marketing efforts.

Improving bounce rate reporting

There are a few solutions to improve your bounce rate reporting. If you are using the standard Universal Google Analytics code, you can add the following line to your tracking code:

setTimeout(“ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘nobounce’, ’30_sec’)”, 30000);

This will create an event after 30 seconds that will set this as a non-bounced visit.

The exact time you use here will depend on what you want to classify as a bounce for your content. I tend to like the loose categorization of:

  • Bounce —   Less than 15 seconds.
  • Curious —  15 to 30 seconds.
  • Browser — 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Engaged — Over 60 seconds.

For our own reporting, we classify anything over a minute as not being a bounce. You will need to adjust this to suit your own content and simply change the ‘30_sec’ and ‘30000’ values in the example above to suit your own definition of an engaged user. Let’s say you feel 60 seconds and 40000 are better metrics for you; the code would look like this:

setTimeout(“ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘nobounce’, ’60_sec’)”,40000);

If you use Google Tag Manager (and you should), you will want to add your Analytics using a Custom HTML Tag rather than the standard Analytics Tag, so you edit the code as detailed above.

Improving time-on-page reporting

We can improve time on page reporting with a relatively simple trigger set up in Google Tag Manager. I am going to assume you have Google Analytics and Tag Manager installed. If not, you should, and you can find details on the Google Support site.

1. Create a trigger

The first step is to create a trigger. This will be used to send the event at your preferred time interval.

  • Add Trigger.  Set your trigger as the timer type (at the bottom of the list Other > Timer).
  • Configure Trigger

We now have to set the parameters for our trigger as follows:

The details for each field are as follows:

  • Event Name: You can leave this as default.
  • Interval: This is the interval value in milliseconds. I tend to go with either 15000 or 30000 for 15 or 30 seconds respectively, but fine-tune to your needs.
  • Limit: It is sensible to add a limit, or we can see artificially inflated values. I tend to cap this at around five minutes, so for the image example above, we have 20 instances of a 15-second timer.

The final option determines when this trigger fires. You can be smart here and use different triggers for different page types. However, to get this working across all pages, simply enter:

Page URL
Matches REgEx
.*

This uses the regular expression of .* to match all page URLs and ensures our trigger fires on every page.

When you are all done, hit the save button.

2. Create a timing event tag

The next step is to create a custom event to illustrate that the user is still on the page. We need to correctly label this event so we can identify this within our analytics reports. This will be fired by our custom trigger.

  • Create a Tag.
  • Set the Tag type to Universal Analytics (assuming you are using UA).
  • Fill out the Tag as follows:

There are a few fields here that you need to configure. The specifics here relate to your own tracking model, but if this is your first run-in with these values, then the following will help you decide what to enter.

The values to look at are:

Category.
Action.
Label (optional, recommended).
Value (optional).

In the example above, we may use the following values:

Category: “Engagement.”
Action: “Time on page.”
Label: “x Seconds.”

The specific values are your call, but the idea here is to add value to your reports, so experiment and adjust as you go.

3. Select a trigger

Here you need to select the trigger you created earlier.

4. Non-interaction hit

This setting lets you determine whether the event affects bounce rate. If you set the value to “False” (the default), then this classes as a non-bounce visit. (If you use this setup, you can ignore the instructions above for bounce rate.)

5. Publish

Now remember to publish the changes, and you are well on your way to improved analytics for your organic content marketing efforts.

Takeaways

There are a couple of things to remember here:

  • Standard bounce rate is not a good key performance indicator for content marketing.
  • Time on site can’t be trusted for single-page or exit page visits.

If you implement these tweaks, you will have a better picture of how single-page visits from organic search (or other marketing channels) are interacting with your content.

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How to understand searcher intent and use it to boost SEO rankings /how-to-understand-searcher-intent-and-use-it-to-boost-seo-rankings-299501 Fri, 08 Jun 2018 13:15:00 +0000 /?p=299501 Understanding the intent behind the keywords you target simplifies the entire SEO process, says contributor Marcus Miller. Here is a look at how to understand and categorize keywords based on intent.

The post How to understand searcher intent and use it to boost SEO rankings appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Search engines exist to provide users with results that are relevant to the search query. Smart SEO campaigns are built on an understanding of how your audience searches around your industry, products and services.

A key point here is understanding the intent behind a given keyword search. A user wants to find specific information, and search engines have advanced algorithms and large amounts of traffic they analyze to determine which results are the best match for a keyword.

Understanding the broad categories of intent is crucial to developing a search engine optimization and content strategy to target not only the keywords but the intent behind the keywords.

In this article, we take a look at how to understand and categorize keywords based on intent to provide a solid foundation for your search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing.

Understanding searcher intent

In many ways, search engine marketing via SEO or paid methods is strategically simple. If you are a plumber in a small town, and someone searches for “plumber” plus the name of the town, then there is a pretty good chance you provide what they need. Getting in front of people at the exact time they have a requirement is good marketing.

Unfortunately, commercial terms are highly competitive across paid and organic search. For most businesses, there are other opportunities for branding and targeting customers higher in the marketing funnel. We just have to develop a greater understanding of the intent behind search keywords.

The first step here is to understand the three categories of search queries:

Navigational search queries

Do you ever type “Google.com” or “Facebook.com” into your browser? Or do you just type “Google” or “Facebook” directly into the address bar? This is a navigational query, a search performed with the intent of going directly to a specific website, or even a page on a site.

Not so long ago, folks would actually type in “www.Google.com” or “www.Facebook.com,” as you could not search from the address bar. Google changed all of that with Chrome by enabling search from the address bar, and other browsers soon followed suit.

There was no need for typing in the “www” or “.com.” All we had to do was search the company or brand and pull the trigger.

There are two main things to consider with navigational search:

  1. This is high-value traffic for the brand or business being searched, so make sure you look the part in the search engine results.
  2. There is an opportunity to get listed along with other businesses and potentially build brand awareness or even steal a click.  You can also inflict fear, uncertainty and doubt about competitor brands; paid search and organic listings can all be useful here.

Informational search queries

In terms of volume, this is the top of the funnel. There is a huge range of potential queries across the entire spectrum of topics out there. Business, marketing, health, fitness — the list goes on. With an informational search, the information is the end goal. Nearly all businesses will have opportunities in informational search.

From a business perspective, we are looking to identify queries that relate to the product or service you provide. You will then look to develop content that answers these questions or provides information on certain topics. This will position you in front of your potential audience. For example:

  • What is SEO?
  • SEO tips for [keywords].
  • Marketing ideas for small businesses in the [industry type].

The key opportunity here is to get in front of your audience and build brand awareness, credibility and website traffic.

You may also look to use this traffic to generate leads through forms of content upgrades using phrases like “Download a free guide.”

A popular strategy is to use visits to the site to qualify areas of interest and build a remarketing list which will attempt to generate leads or advertise your product or service.

Remember that searchers here may not be ready to buy what you are selling, and that’s OK. Look to build your brand so that when they are ready, you are in the running.

Commercial or transactional search queries

Commercial or transactional queries relate to the desired action that you would like a prospect to take.

These can range from the obvious — like searching on  “plumber” — to the more research-oriented, like “best restaurant in Birmingham” or “Samsung Galaxy contract.”

The action you want someone to take will depend on the business and could include things like signing up for a trial run, a newsletter or a new social network. The transaction relates to a desirable action for your business, such as increasing newsletter signup and making sales.

These keywords are all highly commercial in nature and therefore high-value. It is important not only to target these keywords but to ensure you focus on helping the visitor complete their goal once they arrive at your site.

Ambiguous keywords and personalized results

Not all keywords are crystal-clear in their categorization or intent. Take “SEO” for example. If a user searches for “SEO,” what exactly are they looking for?

A definition?

Some tutorials?

An agency?

The searcher may not be entirely sure and may simply be starting to investigate a topic.

Where intent is not always clear, Google will typically show a page of results that covers a wide variety of potential answers. Search results for “SEO” include a beginner’s guide, a definition of SEO, some beginner-level tutorials and some news articles.

We also see some light customization of search results based on your previous queries or browsing habits. Where Google feels it has an idea of your intent beyond what is implicitly stated in your keyword, it may adapt search results to show better results.

Mapping searcher intent to keywords

Understanding searcher intent allows you to build more strategic lists of keywords. This then helps us understand how to best target a given keyword and where that keyword fits into our overall SEO and content marketing strategy.

To do this, we will want to add a few new columns to our keyword research spreadsheet to cover intent and the potential financial value of the keyword.

  • Intent will break down to: navigational, informational and transactional.
  • The financial value will be: low, medium and high.

Here we have three keywords across a range of navigational, informational and commercial intent. Let’s break each type down for value:

  1. Google Search Console. This phrase shows huge volume but with navigational search intent. This is of little value, since it’s hard to target and not really able to offer a useful alternative.
  2. SEO tips. This term shows lower volume and information search intent. These searches likely point to a website owner wanting to optimize their own website. There are some opportunities for branding, credibility building and adding the user to a list of potential prospects. There is potential to drive remarketing and lead generation for further permission-based marketing here.
  3. SEO company. This term is associated with transactional search intent. The user is looking for an SEO company. This offers high financial value and is a desirable keyword.

AdWords CPC and competition

At my agency, we also include AdWords cost per click (CPC), AdWords competition and keyword difficulty in our keyword spreadsheets to help us get a full picture with regard to the potential value of the keyword. The Keywords Everywhere plug-in for Chrome makes this a quick and easy job.

Using the tool, I see the average CPC for “SEO company” is $28.77, where the CPC for “Google Search Console” is $0.00. This helps further confirm our thinking that “SEO company” is a great keyword. However, “Google Search Console” is unlikely to lead to any business, despite the lure of the huge search volume!

How to clarify searcher intent

Searcher intent is not always 100 percent clear, and it is easy to classify keywords as commercial when in fact they may be more informational in nature.

An example here is “small business SEO.” My initial take is that this would be a commercial keyword, and the intent would be small business owners looking for an SEO provider.

However, if we use Google to search on the term “small business SEO,” I don’t see much in the way of commercial results once you get past the ads. In fact, the content returned is almost exclusively informational.

My initial thought here was incorrect. However, by searching for the keyword and reviewing the results, I can better understand what Google sees as the intent and use this to help inform our strategy.

This relates to a problem we often see, more in the small business space, which is an attempt to rank the wrong kind of content. If you are attempting to rank your home or service page for an informational keyword, then you will struggle to get any traction.

The takeaway here is that you shouldn’t just trust your gut with regard to intent. Search the keyword and carefully review the results, and you can clarify what Google sees as the intent.

A fundamental component of successful SEO campaigns is to understand the intent and get best-of-class content assets in place. Your SEO campaign then becomes about promoting those content pieces to help build organic visibility.

Content strategy and clarity of intent

Understanding the intent behind the keywords you target simplifies the entire SEO process. Trying to rank content where the intent of your message is different to the intent of the search term is doomed to failure.

Creating content that ranks well and converts users requires a crystal-clear understanding of what the searcher is looking for. By simply searching for the terms we want to target and reviewing what content ranks well, we can identify what type of content we should be creating.

Once we understand the intent, we can review the content that ranks and look for opportunities where we know we can improve the content that is already ranking.

If we know our answer to a given question is the best and most useful answer out there, then the remainder of the SEO process becomes far easier.

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Hreflang tags: How to serve correctly regionalized content /hreflang-tags-how-to-serve-correctly-regionalized-content-296461 Fri, 20 Apr 2018 15:15:00 +0000 /?p=296461 Contributor Marcus Miller gives us an overview of international and multilingual SEO and lists ways hreflang tags can be used to help search engines understand language and regional content variations.

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There is little that’s more technical than international and multilanguage search engine optimization (SEO). It’s hard to implement and easy to get things wrong, which can lead you into a world of technical SEO problems.

There are a lot of moving parts when considering how to target readers around the globe. This article is the last of three I’ve written covering the options for international SEO and multilingual SEO. Today, I’ll cover how to tie everything together using the hreflang tag and how it can be used to help search engines understand language and regional content variations.

Let’s start with a quick recap of international and multilingual SEO.

1. International SEO

In the first part of this series, we looked at international SEO and the many ways to rank content internationally. We covered the traditional approach using ccTLDs, geotargeting using subdirectories and subdomains, and we looked at ways that content can rank internationally without these more technical approaches.

The right approach is always the one that is right for your current situation and objectives. And often, where content is being promoted with SEO and used for lead generation, you can avoid these more technically challenging approaches to ranking internationally.

2. Multilingual SEO

Where you have users speaking various languages, things can get a little more complicated. And there is a range of typical scenarios that we see with multilingual SEO. The most common situations are:

  • Multiple languages serving the same country.
  • Multiple languages serving no specific country.
  • Multiple languages serving multiple countries.

The correct multilingual SEO strategy here typically builds on your international SEO strategy and requires a detailed understanding of your target audience. Only once this clarity is achieved can you look at what the best options are.

3. Hreflang tags

Once you have your SEO ducks in a row with regard to your international and multilingual SEO strategy, you can then look at using hreflang tags to help the search engine understand which version of the content should be shown for a given user.

As a simple example, let’s consider a site that has content for the UK, Australia and the US.

This content is almost identical, yet there are subtle differences that relate to each regionalized set of content. Without hreflang, we end up with three versions of the same content and the potential for duplicate SEO issues.

Hreflang in a nutshell

When there are language variations of a page, each page has a list of alternative uniform resource locators (URLs). So each page will list all alternatives for different languages and/or regions.

From a ranking perspective, if the UK version of an English page ranks, the search engine checks the hreflang tags for this page, and if a more suitable version exists, then that page is returned. So, where the user was in the US, they will see the en-us version of the page. This is determined by the language setting and priority in the user’s browser.

Approach

There are multiple ways in which hreflang can be implemented:

  • HTTP headers — hreflang code can be implemented in HTTP headers.
  • HTML — hreflang code in the section of your HTML.
  • XML Sitemap — language and region details are detailed in the XML sitemap.

There are pros and cons to each approach, and, as ever, the correct approach depends upon your unique situation.

The hypertext markup language (HTML) head approach is often an easy place to start, yet it won’t work for non-HTML files like portable document formats (PDFs).

With the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) headers and HTML approach, the tags have to be generated for each page request. If you have multiple pages, this can introduce some overhead (which we don’t really want in this mobile-driven, speed-sensitive SEO environment).

The eXtensible markup language (XML) approach is often suitable for larger sites or where there are multiple languages and regional variations, as there is no need to make changes to each and every page and no additional server overhead to generate the tags for each page. This means that there is no hosting or file size overhead and a separation between the XML hreflang optimization and the website.

There is no right or wrong here; the right approach is the one that tailored to your unique situation.

Do it once and do it right

One key piece of advice here is to just use one of these approaches. If you use multiple approaches, you can end up with conflicting results which, if they conflict, will cause problems.

Multiple languages, no region

The first implementation details simply with language variations and the following example shows English, French and German.

Multiple languages and regions

The more complex implementation considers language and region. In this example, we have English language variations for the UK, the US Australia, and then a best-practice generic English version for English-speaking users that fall outside of these categories.

Summary

International and multilingual SEO is complicated, and adding hreflang implementation is an additional layer of complexity. Understanding the different approaches so you can determine the best approach is critical to implementing your international SEO strategy successfully.

The post Hreflang tags: How to serve correctly regionalized content appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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SEO for multi-language websites: How to speak your customers’ language /seo-for-multi-language-websites-how-to-speak-your-customers-language-295092 Mon, 26 Mar 2018 17:21:00 +0000 /?p=295092 Combining international and multilingual SEO can get complicated. Contributor Marcus Miller walks us through the details of using International SEO tactics and multi-language content on global websites.

The post SEO for multi-language websites: How to speak your customers’ language appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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In my previous column, I took a look at the options, intricacies and best practices for international SEO. In this article, I want to build on those lessons and detail how to tackle multilingual websites.

As with international search engine optimization (SEO), there are many scenarios, and the right solution depends very much on the specific situation. Do you target one country where users speak multiple languages? Do you target specific languages around the world? Do you want a specific language for a specific country? In many cases, the solution will be a combination of all of these.

Combining international and multilingual SEO can get complicated. Mistakes can cost time and money while slowing your progress towards your SEO objectives. But knowledge is power, and ensuring you understand the options is key to success.

Creating content in multiple languages

There are a few common scenarios when creating content in multiple languages. Determining which of these matches your situation is key to making the right decision when building your site and tackling your website SEO.

The three main scenarios we see when building multi-language websites are:

  • Multiple languages serving the same country.
  • Multiple languages serving no specific country.
  • Multiple languages serving multiple countries.

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail so you can understand what is the right choice for you.

Multiple languages serving the same country

Canada is a good example, since it is one country with two official languages, English and French.

Source: WorldAtlas

Here we could have a single website serving a single country with multiple languages. In this case, we would want to use a .ca country code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) for Canada to automatically geo-locate the site and then have content in English and French to target French- and English-language queries.

Sometimes it is easier to consider what can go wrong here:

  • Is the English language version for the United Kingdom (UK)?
  • Is the English language version for the United States (US)?
  • For Australia? Or all the above?
  • Is the French version for France?

To ensure the search engine understands your site, geo-targeting and language targeting multilingual SEO tactics should include:

  • ccTLD for the country being served to benefit from default geo-targeting.
  • Single website with language-specific content in subfolders English and French: /en/ & /fr/.
  • Site hosted in the country that is being targeted.
  • Hreflang tags specifying language and country.
  • Links from relevant specific language websites.

With all of these steps followed, a search engine has all the pointers needed to know that this content is for English and French language speakers in Canada.

Multiple languages serving no specific country

Here we have a situation where we are targeting users based predominantly on their language.

We are not concerned if an English speaker is in the UK, the US or Australia or any other English language speaking location (small differences in spelling aside).

We don’t care if this is an Englishman in a country that speaks another language. As additional languages are added, they target speakers of that language around the world with no geographical bias.

Imagine a company that provides a software solution around the world. This business will want to have content in each language and have search engine users find the correct language version of the content.

So, an English speaking visitor in the UK, the US, Canada or Australia would all get the same content. A French speaker in France or Canada would also get the same French content.

Options here are a little more diverse. This is where considerations from the real-world and business operations become crucial in making the right decision (as discussed in more detail in my international SEO guide).

The tactic we recommend in this scenario is a single site with the following multi-language SEO tactics in place to support the desired ranking goals:

  • A generic TLD such as a .com that can target multiple countries.
  • Single website with language-specific content in subfolders (e.g., /en/, /fr/, /de/).
  • Site hosted in primary market with an international content delivery network.
  • Hreflang tags with language-only specified (not location).
  • Links from relevant specific language websites.

As the world gets smaller and subscription-based software solutions become ever more popular, this kind of setup is a simple way to target multiple languages across the globe.

Multiple languages serving multiple countries

This is where things can get a little more complicated because we may have multiple versions of the same language with nearly duplicate content, so technical configuration needs to be 100 percent accurate.

We may have a site in English and French, and we may have an English language section for each of the UK, the US, Australia and Canada, along with a French page for France and Canada.

  • www.example.com/ — US, English (default).
  • www.example.com/gb/en/ — UK, English.
  • www.example.com/au/en/ — Australia, English.
  • www.example.com/ca/en/ — Canada, English.
  • www.example.com/ca/fr/ — Canada, French.
  • www.example.com/fr/fr/ — France, French.

This is fairly basic: two languages and five locations. We have seen this get a lot more complicated, and if it confuses you, then the odds of tripping up a search engine are amplified!

Get this wrong and your rankings go down the international SEO tube.

Tactics here for a single site include:

  • A generic TLD such as a .com that can target multiple countries.
  • Default location and language (US English in this example).
  • Country-specific subfolders (gb/, au/, ca/, fr/).
  • Language-specific subfolders below the country-specific subfolders (gb/en/, ca/fr/).
  • Site hosted in primary market with an international content delivery network.
  • Hreflang tags with language and location specified.
  • Relevant links from location- and language-specific websites.

This is a straightforward way to achieve the targeting of multiple languages in multiple locations.

Summary

It’s important to note this is not the only way to go about building multi-language websites.

You could use a ccTLD for each country with subdirectories or subdomains or a combination of any of these approaches.

There are lots of ways to tackle this, so covering every potential situation is just not possible in a single blog post.

What is key here is understanding how all these international SEO and multi-language SEO tactics fit together so you can choose the right approach for your business objectives.

In my next article, I will take a look at the hreflang tags and how this fits together with international SEO and multi-language SEO to build upon the foundation laid here and ensure we send a clear signal regarding who should see what page.  Stay tuned!

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International SEO and search trends: How does it all work? /international-seo-and-search-trends-how-does-it-all-work-292140 Mon, 19 Feb 2018 15:44:50 +0000 /?p=292140 Contributor Marcus Miller provides an overview of how to implement an international SEO strategy and suggests what is right for your company will depend on your objectives, budgets and marketplace.

The post International SEO and search trends: How does it all work? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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If your business sells internationally, then your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts need to operate around the world, and international SEO can be complicated.

Multiple countries, multiple languages, and often, multiple languages within a given country. It’s easy to get tied up in knots. And even easier to confuse a search engine and create a number of typical SEO issues like duplicate content.

Fortunately, good international SEO is achievable; it just needs a little planning and the right approach for your unique situation.

Let’s look at the various ways you can target international customers and make good decisions when tackling the complex task of ranking in multiple countries.

Ready? Listo? Prêt? Bereit? Let’s dive in.

What is international SEO?

International SEO is the process of organizing and optimizing your webpages to allow search engines to identify the countries you are targeting, the specific content and language for each user in a given location. 

In many ways, this is a similar to how we provide SEO for small businesses that target multiple locations, since they often organize by towns, cities, counties or states.

Domain names for international SEO

You may want to consider a few things when choosing a domain name for your international SEO campaigns.

Some domains, known as country code top-level domains (ccTLD), will default to a specific location. Other top-level domains (TLDs) can be geotargeted to point at specific countries.  The sub-folders and subdomains on these TLD domains can be geo-targeted to different countries as well.

The main takeaway here is that you must ensure you have the correct domain for your international SEO requirements.

Just to confuse matters, these rules can sometimes be broken, and one such example is when promoting content with SEO. Even ccTLD domains or geotargeted TLD domains can rank informational content internationally.

This is a little contradictory to international SEO thinking, so let me give you an example.

My company operates out of the United Kingdon (UK), but we have customers all around the world. The majority of our customers find us through articles on our blog, which runs on a UK ccTLD. This proves that in the right situation, informational content can still rank internationally from a ccTLD. Go figure!

This is not to say you should disregard geotargeting; for the majority of industries, this is not the right approach. Ranking internationally is about providing the right content for the right audience, often for specific business reasons.

You want to make sure Google does not get utterly confused with the several versions of your site and bury you in the deepest, darkest depths of the search index.

european continent with flags

How to target a specific country

The following is a basic checklist for targeting a specific country with international SEO:

  • Use a country-specific domain.
  • Specify the location you are targeting in Google Search Console.
  • Register your business address with Google My Business.
  • Include the street address of the business on the website.
  • Host the website locally (as much for usability as for SEO).
  • Get links from country-specific websites.
  • Use local language(s).

What we are trying to do is send a clear signal to Google about where you operate and who this content is for. Multiple signs send a clearer signal, so try to include all items on the checklist.

International SEO strategy

Typically, most international SEO efforts include targeting multiple countries, which means you must scale your approach across all desired locations.

There are a few ways to approach this which may or may not be suitable for your situation. Here are two approaches applicable to the majority of serious international SEO efforts.

 1. Content marketing

As I mentioned earlier, targeted content marketing can help pages rank internationally, even from a ccTLD site. If you can generate leads through content, then promoting your content with SEO can be the simplest option. As an example, Search Engine Land ranks internationally as a content provider, but so does the informational content of my company, which is based in the UK. This is technically easy, but you must also make sure this is a viable business model for your company. For companies that exist online, this is often a good fit, but for more traditional businesses, this is often not the right way to go about things.

2.  Single TLD site

In some industries, you will often see automatic international search results. There is a company in Australia that sells safety harnesses. It is a niche business, and without any specific international SEO, they rank pretty well across English-speaking countries such as Australia, the UK and the United States. If they wanted to focus on international SEO, they’d have little trouble doing so; a more traditional SEO process would likely be all they’d need.

The takeaway here is to do your research before you dive into a complex international setup.

3. Subfolders and geotargeting

If you require country-specific content, one of the easiest options is to create localized sub-directories on your own site. These sub-directories can be geotargeted in Google Search Console and can contain country-specific content and language. Here is an example and the pros and cons of each:

  • example.com — root site targeting the USA.
  • example.com/uk/ — UK.
  • example.com/de/ — Germany.

There are three key benefits to this approach. First, you are only expanding your existing site, so there may be less technical management and overhead, e.g., hosting.

Secondly, the sub-directories will inherit authority from the parent domain.

Lastly, you only have one site to promote, so while you will want country- and language-specific links, this is still simpler and more cost-effective than promoting multiple sites.

As for the cons, users may not recognize geotargeting from the universal resource locator (URL), and you will have a single server location. This can be a relatively easy way to get started with true international SEO, but it is important to understand the limitations of this approach.

4. Country-specific domains

This approach can use country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) or subdomains on a TLD. In a way, they are two slightly different techniques to achieve the same end goal.

  • Geo-targeted subdomains. These TLD subdomains will need to be geotargeted in Google Search Console:
    • www.example.com — US.
    • uk.example.com — UK.
    • de.example.com — Germany.
  • Country-specific ccTLD domains. These will automatically target the country associated with the ccTLD:
    • Amazon.com — US.
    • Amazon.co.uk — UK.
    • Amazon.de — Germany.

For businesses with a physical presence, operation or local offline marketing in the target country, this is typically the best approach– although not the most cost-effective approach, as each site must be configured and marketed independently, typically by the local marketing team.

Both of these approaches allow the business to use local web hosting and build clear location signals with country-specific links to the URL. These are strong signals and should be considered when making a decision to enter a competitive international market where you may be competing with companies resident in that country.

If you can use ccTLDs here, I tend to favor that approach over subdomains; but it requires you to own all the international ccTLD versions of your domain. Doing this can confer strong branding benefits where users prefer to click on their own ccTLD.

Folks in the UK are used to .co.uk sites, people in France prefer .fr sites and so on. SEO is just part of a larger conversation, so the right approach should be determined by the wants and needs of the target customer.

Conversely, using subdomains is not as popular, as users may not recognize or understand the domain, which could impact trust and click-through rates.

This is the approach favored by the likes of Amazon and eBay. So, if money is no object and you are playing the long game, this is typically the approach we would recommend for international SEO companies.

An important consideration here is that any problems can be multiplied across your entire portfolio of sites. So, you will want to make sure your initial site is technically perfect before you create international sites.

URL variables

There is actually a third option here, which is to use URL variables like country=uk. However, Google’s own page on multiregional and multilingual sites states this is “not recommended.” This option cannot be geotargeted, and if Google advises not to use this approach, it’s sensible to take that advice.

Summary

Hopefully, this provides an overview of the options for international SEO. What is right for you will depend on your objectives, budgets and marketplace and in many cases, combinations of these options.

We also have to consider more advanced multilanguage SEO where we may have a single country we need to target with multiple languages. This adds yet another layer of complexity to international SEO.

The post International SEO and search trends: How does it all work? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Website redesigns: How to retain and improve your SEO /website-redesigns-retain-improve-seo-289879 Fri, 19 Jan 2018 16:24:12 +0000 /?p=289879 Columnist Marcus Miller explains how to make the most of your website redesign so that you not only preserve your SEO efforts but embrace the new opportunities that come with relaunching a site.

The post Website redesigns: How to retain and improve your SEO appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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A new website should be an opportunity to improve SEO, conversion rates and digital marketing as a whole. Unfortunately, it can also be an invitation for disaster — if the right steps aren’t taken to ensure a smooth transition from old website to new, you can damage the SEO equity your site has worked hard to build over the years.

In this article, I take a look at everything you need to consider during a website redesign to ensure you retain and improve your existing search engine rankings and traffic. (As a primer to this column, a good understanding of SEO as it relates to web design is essential.)

A cautionary tale

For many businesses, organic search can be the biggest driver of website traffic. And, in these cases, damage to SEO during a redesign can be catastrophic. During the 19 or so years I have been playing around at this, I have seen some real horror stories, but one in particular has always stuck with me.

The website was for a small multiple sclerosis (MS) charity in which I had some involvement. The charity promoted a diet-based approach to dealing with MS and, as such, was not terribly well-funded. The site had gradually built organic traffic to build awareness over several years but was desperately in need of a visual overhaul.

After a long and protracted website redesign process that involved two companies over 12 months, the new site finally launched. Everyone was super-excited about taking things to the next level. And then this happened:

website-redesign-seo

Organic traffic dropped by over 90 percent… and pretty much stayed there. Excitement turned into panic. After a month of waiting for things to improve and receiving no support from either of the web design agencies involved, we got the call and took it on as a pro bono project.

To try and resolve these issues a month down the line is far from ideal. It’s difficult, and while there are ways and means, we really never want to get into this situation in the first place. This is especially true for a cash-strapped charity or a small business that relies on SEO and organic search for leads.

Fortunately, we were able to mostly resolve these issues over time, but it was painful for all involved. A historic domain was not re-registered, and that could not be recovered. The whole situation could have been easily avoided with some simple planning and consideration for existing organic traffic.

SEO & website redesigns

Maintaining (and ideally improving) your rankings and organic traffic during a redesign has three key components:

  1. An understanding of what works currently with your SEO.
  2. Knowledge of common issues that crop up with a redesign.
  3. A detailed plan of what will change on the new site.

You would ideally seek to understand your SEO weaknesses as well, as this will help you identify areas to make improvements on the new site. Aim not to just maintain but to improve your SEO with your new site.

1. What works currently

If you are running SEO campaigns, you should (hopefully) have a good idea of what is working currently: keywords and topics that rank, pages that bring in organic traffic and so on. Doing this analysis so you know that what works is intelligence that should be fed into the thought process for the new site.

2. Common issues

There are many reasons for a site redesign, and this can be as much to do with branding and technology as it can be with traffic and lead generation. Things that typically can change or be problematic during a redesign include:

  • Content can be removed. (It won’t rank if it is not there!)
  • Content can be changed.
  • Content may move within the site’s hierarchy.
  • URLs may change.
  • Page-level optimization may change.
  • New content can be added.
  • New sections can be added to the site.
  • New technology or features may be used.
  • New technical issues can be introduced.
  • Internal link structure could change.
  • Domain name may chance.
  • Subdomain may change.
  • Protocol may change.

Any of the above can cause issues with your rankings and organic traffic. And if there are multiple issues, such as content changing and being moved to a new URL, then it gets harder to diagnose the root cause of issues.

If the domain name changes at the same time as the redesign, then this can be more problematic. I would usually caution against doing both of these steps simultaneously. The more variables we introduce here, the more difficult it can be to diagnose issues if they do crop up. A completely new site with content changes on a brand-new domain that introduces HTTPS, all implemented at once? Not such a good idea.

3. What will change with the redesign?

Armed with a knowledge of what works and what can go wrong, you can sit down and review the goals for the new site. Two key goals should be:

  • to preserve the existing rankings and traffic.
  • to improve the rankings and traffic.

Ideally, you will have a complete sitemap for the new site that you can use to compare against the existing site and create mappings for URL moves.

Best practices for a trouble-free redesign

Fortunately, with a little preplanning, avoiding SEO disasters and maintaining visibility during a website redesign is fairly straightforward. The following website redesign checklist will help ensure you preserve your precious rankings as you launch your new site.

  • ▢ Keep the old site live. If you can, keep the old site live on a temporary web address. Make sure the site can’t be accessed by a crawler. Some HTTP authentication is best, but having the old site to refer to when you hit a snag can be a godsend. Often, some or part of the site will be on the web archive, but having the real thing is way better.
  • ▢ Save crawl data. Save a crawl of the old site, even if you have the site on a temp URL. Screaming Frog is great for this, and again, you can load up the old site crawl if you need to do any analysis.
  • ▢ Don’t fix what is not broken. Where you can, keep things the same — URLs in particular. If you can keep the URL structure and page names the same, then there is way less that can go wrong. If you have to make changes, so be it — but make sure they are warranted for the greater good and not just done for the heck of it.
  • ▢ 301 redirects. Redirecting old URLs to new ones should be the first job on your list. If possible, when redesigning a site, keep content on the same URLs. For instance, a WordPress redesign may be able to keep the same permalink structure. This is desirable. If not, then you will want a spreadsheet of all URLs on the old and new sites so you can implement and test your 301 redirects. When the new site is live, you will want to crawl the old list of URLs (another time that saved crawl comes in handy) to ensure everything 301 redirects correctly.
  • ▢ Content. Where you have content that currently performs well, you’ll want to minimize changes (or keep it exactly the same). There will be plenty of opportunities to tweak your content in its new home after it is indexed and ranking, but for now, aim to minimize the variables of change.
  • ▢ On-page optimization. Crawling your old site will allow you to easily export all the key on-page elements: page titles, meta descriptions, headers and so forth. Keep this largely the same (unless there are some absolutely obvious improvements that can be made).
  • ▢ Update your backlinks. Review sites that send traffic in analytics along with your best backlinks in the typical link index tools. Once you have a list, reach out to the webmasters to update these where possible. You should have a 301 in place, so don’t lose any sleep over this, but updated backlinks can help get the new site indexed and ranking quickly.
  • ▢ Internal links. Be mindful of any changes to internal link structure. Again, your crawl data can be useful here. If you have pages that had thousands of internal links previously but are now barely linked, then this can have an impact on the rankings for that page.
  • ▢ XML sitemap. Update your XML sitemap and submit it to Google and Bing. We want our 301s, page structure, navigation and XML sitemap to all align and indicate the new site structure to help search engines understand the changes as quickly as possible.
  • ▢ Monitor rankings. You can expect some fluctuations, but you would want to be back at a baseline within a month or so of launch (and ideally sooner). If you have issues, investigate them now so you can identify and resolve them. Sometimes, with larger sites, it can take a while longer for deeper pages to be recrawled, so be mindful of this.
  • ▢ Monitor organic traffic. You can never rank-track every possible keyword that drives traffic, so also monitor traffic to key pages to ensure you see improvements.
  • ▢ Technical site audit. Ideally, use a technical site audit tool to give you proactive information on any technical issues. There are many tools out there (e.g., Moz, Ahrefs), but one that can really help is DeepCrawl, which will also monitor log files, so it can help you spot issues before they become problems. All of these tools can help you quickly identify and resolve any new technical SEO issues that crop up.
  • ▢ Use Google Search Console. Google Search Console keeps getting better and will give you diagnostic information directly from Google. Tracking your 301s and 404s here will help ensure these key steps are all working in your favor. The Search Traffic > Search Analytics tab is a treasure trove of information covering clicks, impressions, CTR and average position. If you have issues, then these diagnostics can provide insight.

Summary

The key components to maintaining your rankings and SEO during a site redesign are:

  • knowing what works on the existing site.
  • understanding any areas that could be improved.
  • carefully planning the new site.
  • 301 redirecting all old URLs to new.
  • carefully monitoring the results.

A redesign should be an opportunity to improve your SEO and conversion rates. However, for sites with strong organic search traffic, this should be undertaken with care to preserve your SEO. Following the instructions in this article should ensure you only see positive improvements.

The post Website redesigns: How to retain and improve your SEO appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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