The difference between on-site blog content and off-site content

Google recently updated its search quality rating guidelines, which has had a profound impact on the way that content is created. Publishing a revised 164-page document, the leading search engine is now paying greater attention on what users are searching for and what information they end up reading.

The tech giant has not been afraid to say that it has a focus on enhancing the user experience across the platform, and the changes that have been introduced for content creators reinforce this statement for marketers around the world.

While well-crafted onsite content can help strengthen your brand’s message and highlight your industry expertise, you’ll also need to produce creative offsite content that will help your business secure the best online coverage across a range of publications to increase rankings while amplifying your brand.

On-site content

There are multiple elements that cover on-site content, and when done correctly, effective on-site content can help increase your website’s search rankings. If you’re looking to become the go-to brand/service for your prospective customers, it’s crucial that you appear at the top of the results page.

Ultimately, blog content on your business website is there to support the user’s journey while providing them with the most insightful information that they need during their visit. This could also support them when making a purchase, as they see you as a more trustworthy figure. There are a few techniques you can use to make sure that your on-site blog content performs exceptionally well.

The first step to creating blog content is to understand who is reading it — usually this will be your main demographic who already have an interest in your products or services. Although you’ve positioned yourself as an authoritative figure, you need to speak to your website visitors as if they’re on your level for both acquisition and retention purposes.

You also want to avoid any industry jargon, as this can be an instant turn off for a reader. It’s important to be transparent with your audience and tell them the information that they need in a concise way that still delivers the same level of information.

You also need to use your blog content as a way to tell your audience that you’re better than your competitors. This can be achieved through showing off your USPs — whether these include next-day delivery or a lengthy warranty on products. If you’re creating an article on your site that drives information to the reader, they won’t mind you being slightly advertorial, as this can also be beneficial to them.

Internal links are a must in your blog post, but only if they are relevant. If you’re discussing a certain product or service that you offer, you should be linking to the relevant page to help improve the overall page authority.

It’s essential that you end your blog post with a call to action, because if a reader has made it all the way through your article, they’re already invested in your business and are more likely to perform an action.

Off-site content

Creating off-site content is completely different from making blog posts for your business website. This time, you’re not trying to appeal to your customers but to journalists and major publications that will drive authority to your website while having the ability to increase brand visibility.

It requires a full team of innovative and creative people to come up with outreach ideas that can support an SEO campaign. You should have an aim to create pieces of content that can be outreached to different publications that cover various niches. For example, an article that discusses how technology has improved health and safety in the workplace would appeal to technology, business and HR websites, all of which can improve your link building strategy for your online marketing campaigns.

This also means that you must carry out extensive research into what is relevant in the news. From an outreach perspective, this can allow you to see what type of content journalists are looking for and what is currently working well in terms of online coverage.

As well as this, you should also be looking at creating content around national or international events or celebrations — as editors are more likely to pick up this type of content because it will appeal to a wide audience and generate an overall buzz. Recently, we saw this with the World Cup and will soon see the same with the upcoming Christmas period.

Publications and journalists will not take content pieces that are too advertorial, as they want to provide readers with content that is informative and unbiased — but that is not to say they won’t credit you with either a brand mention or a link to one of your target pages.

Although content creation for both on-site and off-site may look similar, they can be very different in tone, format and objective.

How to optimize your Google My Business listing

We all know the immense importance of local search. It’s about dominating the SERPs for search queries which are closely tied to the user’s location, therefore driving customers to your business with a user intent that is very tangible and very immediate.

In terms of local searches, Google will rank your business based on relevance, distance and prominence. Your Google My Business listing plays a vital part in boosting your rankings for local search, as well as cementing your online presence outside of your website.

From our experience, Google My Business listings are definitely not leveraged enough. There is a tendency to set up a listing, verify it and then forget about it. Yet there are so many reasons to ensure you have a fully optimized listing and one that you update regularly. First and foremost, Google My Business profiles are still the most influential factor in local search results.

As if that wasn’t enough, it has never been more important to bolster your presence in the SERPs. SEOs are increasingly facing the woes of the ‘walled garden‘, where users are no longer needing to click-through to websites. More often than not, all the information they could possibly need is available in the various features of the SERPs. Although this may be having a detrimental effect on website traffic, it doesn’t mean you can’t leverage the situation. It’s only increased the importance of having a fully optimized GMB profile that will rank highly and generate business.

With a top-notch GMB listing, you can rank highly in local packs, significantly boosting visibility and therefore engagement. It will also help bolster your appearance in Google Maps results, plus you can take advantage of Google reviews. And just in case you need another reason, the service is free. There are not many marketing tools quite as powerful as your Google My Business listing that are also completely free of charge. You’d be mad not to take advantage of this.

Set up and basics

Before we get onto the really juicy stuff, it’s worth covering the basics. Some of these may seem obvious but you would not believe how many times we see the same simple mistakes over and over.

Claim and verify

The first step is to figure out whether or not you already have a GMB listing. This is important because duplicated listings can occur and are just confusing for everyone involved. Even if you don’t recall having created one, a loving customer may have done it for you, or a rogue colleague being far too efficient. Simply do a quick Google search of your business (also try this in Google Maps) and see whether a profile pops up for your business. If so, you’ll need to claim it as your business. If not, you’ll need to create a new one. Once done, you’ll need to verify your ownership – Google will send a friendly postcard to your business address with a code. You’ll then need to enter the code to verify it. It’s all very MI5.

Fill out information

Once verified, don’t just stop there. Fill out all relevant information and ensure it is accurate and kept up to date. There is nothing more frustrating than a GMB listing with the wrong opening times: cue angry customers who could have had an extra hour in bed. Also, remember to add any special hours or holiday times.

Be sure to keep the business name as the business name – don’t go shoehorning any sneaky keywords in or you’ll be at risk of violating Google’s guidelines. Write an accurate and enticing description in line with Google’s guidelines and choose a relevant category. This can be a sticking point for many businesses who feel that none of the categories accurately describe the business. It can be very frustrating. Luckily, there’s a relatively new feature called ‘Services’ where you can add products and services to your business, which will help with the categorization process both from a search engine and user perspective.

Make sure you pay attention to NAP consistency – in other words, that your name, address and phone number, as well as any other information, are all consistent throughout the web. Check other directories and also your own website. It’s a simple concept but mistakes are surprisingly common and it can make a big difference to your local rankings.

Photos

Again, an often overlooked aspect of your GMB listing and one that can make a very noticeable difference to click-through rates. People are visual beings and some snazzy photos will help build an overall positive image of your business. Include a logo, a shot of your premises if applicable and any other photos which you think will help to effectively promote your business. Ensure they are professional, appealing and kept up to date. Think about what might help push a customer to a buying decision.

Be sure to follow Google’s best practices in terms of formatting; the recommended specifications are as follows:

Format: JPG or PNG
Size: Between 10 KB and 5 MB
Minimum resolution: 720 px tall, 720 px wide
Quality: The photo should be in focus and well lit, and have no significant alterations or excessive use of filters. In other words, the image should represent reality.

You’ll see throughout your Dashboard that Google makes a point of reminding you about photos: “Businesses with recent photos typically receive more clicks to their websites.” They couldn’t make it much clearer than that – if Google says it, then do it.

As of January 2018, you can now add videos to a listing. It’s not something we’ve seen many businesses take advantage of, yet we all know how popular video content is. Any videos you add will appear within the photos section. Just be sure to follow Google’s video guidelines.

Reviews

Google reviews have been around for a long time and it’s no secret how influential they are. In fact, positive reviews make 68% of consumers trust a local business more. Don’t just sit back and wait for the reviews to pour in. Even if you’ve got the most earth-shatteringly awesome business, people still need a gentle nudge towards the review section. Actively encourage reviews because if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Raking in those positive reviews isn’t enough. It’s also good practice to respond to reviews, especially negative ones. Even if a review seems unfounded or overly rude, be sure to keep your cool and respond in a calm and collected manner.

Google Posts

A heavily underused feature of Google My Business profiles is the Google Posts section and it works in a similar way to posting on social media. Posts are displayed as mini updates in a carousel as part of your knowledge panel, although they expire after seven days. As with a standard social media post, you can add media, some copy and a link to a website. It’s always a good idea to include an image but be careful of them being cropped within Google Maps. It’s therefore worth checking how the image formats on both desktop and mobile.

You can use Google Posts for a range of different functions, but it may be helpful to use the four official post types as a guide: What’s New, Events, Offers, Products. The ‘What’s New’ post type could be populated with exciting announcements, general updates and your latest articles. Don’t forget to add a CTA to your posts to encourage engagement and conversions.

Google posts are very prominent in Google Search so if you’ve got something important to say, then say it!

Monitor

Did you know that anyone can suggest an edit to your profile? That includes your worst enemy trying to sabotage your business. It’s therefore essential that you keep an eye on your profile and monitor any suggested changes, even if you don’t have any enemies. It could be a well-meaning customer who just doesn’t have a clue. Or it could be an internet troll. Either way, business owners are not always notified.

Users can also answer questions about your business, which may be a scary prospect for some. Google likes user-generated content as it’s all part of building a user-centric community. Just make sure that you’re keeping a wary eye out.

Insights

This is one of the most important sections of your GMB listing. It’s all very well having an all singing and all dancing listing, but the fun starts when you see how many conversions it’s generating. It’s pretty standard practice to track all key events and conversions on a website itself, but the conversions generated by the GMB listing are so frequently overlooked. Yet your GMB listing is often the first port of call for customers looking for a phone number to get in touch.

And you know the best bit about Insights? You can even find out whether customers found you via a direct brand search or via a ‘discovery’ search. This information is vital in terms of reporting, as it allows you to see how successful your SEO work has been in terms of propelling your GMB profile to the top of that local pack for key search terms.

Find out handy information like whether your GMB profile was viewed on Search or Maps, as well as customer actions, such as website visits, direction requests and phone calls. You can also see how successful your photos have been in comparison to other businesses like yours. These comparison graphs are great for pitting yourself against competitors to see where you may be falling behind on the optimization front. It also enables you to do a bit of testing with which photos work best for views and click-throughs. The Insights section is a treasure trove of information, so pay lots of attention to it.

Optimizing your Google My Business listing is not rocket science. It’s very straightforward and simple changes can have a profoundly positive effect on your SEO. Given it’s an area so often overlooked by other businesses, there really is a whole wealth of ranking opportunity up for grabs.

Search trends 2018: what can marketers learn?

Google’s continued dominance as a search giant was evident in its third quarter earnings call, as it grew advertising revenue 18% year over year to $19.8 billion (Alphabet, as a total company, wasn’t too bad either, up 20% in total). Total paid clicks grew 33% year over year, while the cost per click dropped 11%.

So, what does this all mean? Simply put, Google is still a dominating force for both consumers, and therefore advertisers. This is an undeniable fact, but what is up for debate is how consumers and brands interact with the results Google returns to consumers.

Paid and organic increase

There have been significant updates over time in an effort to keep up with changing consumer and advertiser demands. This year so far, voice search, local listings, and mobile indexing have been big topics.

In an effort to monitor these changes, I have been tracking the search results activity for a number of brands over the past 9 years. I took 50 terms across five verticals to see how many times the same brand appears in paid and organic listings. The findings this year are very interesting.

Overall, it is clear that between Google’s changes (both algorithmically and an increasing number of paid listings), as well as each brand’s growing focus on search engine marketing, the amount of companies that appeared in both paid and organic listings reached its highest point in 9 years at 27%.

This was driven by the offset in categories going in two separate directions. Retail has gone down the last two consecutive years; I believe this is owing to an increase in Google shopping results, non-branded paid search, ROI challenges, retailers’ experiences, and of course, Amazon.

While retail is at a low, travel has increased consistently over time. I believe this category is growing as a result of direct booking on travel sites that comes with price guarantees.

The tech category also saw a spike. A big contributor to this trend is the branding that is occurring in the industry. Consumers aren’t just searching for smart speakers, they are specifically searching for Alexa and Google Home, for example.

These companies have done a good job circumventing shopping at the category level, and have jumped directly to branded terms. We’ve never seen a category have greater than 50% overlap of paid and organic brands listed. Given this trend, this year technology spiked to 68%.

Appearance in search results

In addition to brands balancing their paid and organic results, I also wanted to start watching how often four paid search ads, shopping listings and local listings appear in search results. Google has been offering these different ‘sections’ of the search results page in an effort to answer a consumer’s query with the information they might be looking for.

I’ve identified two major takeaways from this. First is the decrease of listings with four paid search ads. Year-over-year, every category is down, with the exception of the financial services industry, which makes sense given the competitive nature of this category and the high value of the products. These keywords have the highest CPCs of any category. So naturally, brands are willing to pay and Google is willing to take their money.

Shopping ads are fairly flat across these categories. They are prevalent for verticals where products can be purchased, and are not displayed in the other categories. Shopping is incredibly important for the retail vertical and I expect this trend to stay the same as the retail war with Amazon and consumers wages on.

The second trend is one that is not a surprise for BrandMuscle given our focus on local, but might be for many who are catching on to the importance of local in the mobile world. Local listings are now shown across all verticals and growing in key sectors like retail. This is extremely important to pay attention to for two reasons:

  • As consumers shift to mobile, they expect their devices to know where they are and show relevant local listings
  • These listings offer the opportunity for brands to see free traffic.
  • What can brands take from this?

    So what are the key items brands need to think about with these trends?

    Local listings are growing and demand attention. Do some searches for your category terms. Are local listings being shown? If so, are you included in those listings? These are ranked in two ways:

  • The distance of the location to the searcher
  • The validity of data across platforms – this is the one you can control.
  • Are your locations name, address, and phone number accurate across Google, Facebook, Yelp, and others? You’d be surprised how often these are incorrect. Spend some time focusing on cleaning up this data and monitor your results – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    It’s important to consider your integrated strategy for both paid and organic search. Brands are owning more and more of the search real estate. It is vital that you have a strategy that does not give up ground to these brands, but focuses on your core strengths and differentiators. For example, perhaps you can’t afford to buy the keyword ‘car insurance’, but you can own ‘SR-22 insurance’ as a term, given your company’s key strengths.

    Keep a close eye on Google’s changes. Google has been very active in staying ahead of consumer expectations and technology. This includes switching to mobile indexing and launching new tools for Google My Business, among other items. This requires focus and planning for businesses to adopt these changes and stay best-in-class.

    Search is one of the most important tools in a marketer’s toolbox. These trends and feature changes make it an exciting place to work and spend time. I look forward to watching how brands react to these trends and monitoring more changes in the future.

    Three ways to maximize the SEO impact of user-generated content

    SEO and user-generated content have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, user-generated content can give search engines more information to work with, improve your rankings for long tail search traffic, and encourage community activity that generates links and other positive off-site signals. On the other hand, user-generated content can be low quality, redundant, spammy, it can dilute authority, and sometimes it can even earn you a manual action from Google.

    Here are three ways how to best to leverage your user-generated content for positive results.

    1. Consolidate your user-generated content

    It’s well known in the SEO industry that pages with more words tend to rank better, while it’s also typically acknowledged that this isn’t always the case, since a page with a higher word count isn’t always the most useful page for a user based on their query.

    The correlations are quite clear, however. Backlinko found that the average word count of a Google first page result was 1,890 words:

    There are many potential reasons for this correlation. The one I find most convincing is by way of a related correlation. According to a study by Ahrefs, top ranking pages in Google typically tend to also rank for thousands of other related keywords:

    Pages that users seem to enjoy for multiple related queries give Google more data to work with than pages that only do well for a handful of queries. Search engines have a more convincing reason to rank pages these. Since pages with long-form content generally go more in depth and approach a topic from more angles, they also tend to reference a wider number of queries. This creates a snowball effect whereby Google ranks the page for more and more keywords until it becomes a central hub for a topic.

    One potential issue with user-generated content is that its comprehensiveness can be hit or miss. Some users may write 10,000 word essays, while others might write a dozen words or less. A good solution to this is to pool together user-generated content, consolidating related content onto a single page.

    Consider what Patrick Curtis of Wall Street Oasis had to say about how they achieved a 32% boost in search traffic. A full 99% of the content on their site was user-generated, with the obvious issue of creating inconsistent quality and depth. A primary goal of reworking the site was “merge and purge,” consolidating the content from multiple discussions about the same topic into only the two or three URLs that were performing the best.

    To accomplish this, they migrated the user-generated content from the lower-performing pages into the higher-performing pages, unpublished the low-performing pages, and set up 301 redirects from the low-performing pages to the high-performing ones.

    Using statistical analysis, they found that consolidating pages resulted in an average boost of 14%, while updating the title and H1 tags boosted them by 9%. This got them out of a five-year “plateau of pain”:

    To consolidate content, we recommend the following:

    • Identify URLs that are ranking for related queries, or that use similar words in the title tag.
    • Migrate all of the related user content into a consolidated page. The consolidated page should be an existing URL, the URL of the highest performing one of these pages.
    • If, for UX reasons, it still makes sense to keep up the lower performing pages, breadcrumb link them to the consolidated page as a “parent” or “category” page. Either canonicalize them to the consolidated page or noindex them (but never both).
    • If it doesn’t make sense to keep the “child” pages for UX purposes, take them down, 301 redirect them to the consolidated page, and update any internal links to the old pages so that they point to the new page.
    • Moderate user discussions and remove content that doesn’t meet community standards to keep your quality score high.

    2. Enable user reviews

    If you are running a marketplace or selling products, you should strongly consider incorporating user reviews into your product pages or otherwise on your site. Like consolidation, user-reviews boost the word count on your pages and give the search engines more information to work with.

    User-reviews also align very well with Google’s quality rater guidelines. Aside from directly mentioning reviews as a way of judging the reputation of a site, Google’s quality rater guidelines are driven in large part by how well the purpose of the page aligns with the purpose the searcher is seeking with their query, and how well the content meets that purpose.

    On-page user reviews, so long as they aren’t suspect, help users evaluate the quality of the product in a more trustworthy fashion than anything you can provide alone. In fact, 84% of users trust online reviews as much as they trust their friends.

    If you’re concerned that anything less than a perfect five-star rating is going to hurt sales, this fear is unfounded. Surprisingly, product purchases are most positively influenced by reviews with an average star rating between 4.2 and 4.5, presumably because excessively high ratings are seen as suspicious.

    Various studies tell us that user reviews on average boost sales by 18%, that 63% of users are more likely to buy from a site with user reviews, that visitors who interact with reviews are 105% more likely to make a purchase, and that 50 or more reviews can lift conversions by an additional 4.6%.

    When it comes to a boost in search engine traffic, the data shows the correlation as well. A study by Yotpo found that search traffic for 30,000 businesses improved quite dramatically over a nine-month period:

    To incorporate user reviews, we recommend the following:

    • Use a platform like Trustpilot (whose own reviews are incidentally within that2 to 4.5 range) to implement user reviews on your site.
    • Whatever platform you use, it should be easy to verify that the reviews are created by users and not hand selected by your company. This is why third-party platforms are preferred to in-house solutions that users may be suspicious of.
    • It should be easy for users to leave a review on your site (provided they are verified purchasers).
    • Features such as being able to sort reviews are recommended.
    • Allow users to rate the usefulness of reviews.

    3. Content curation

    Related to the idea of consolidating your user-generated content is the idea of curating your user-generated content.

    Curated content is content that you create by collecting, organizing, reworking, and republishing content created by others. This is often thought of in terms of curating content created by other publishers, such as when a blog posts a monthly list of editorially selected top blog posts in the industry.

    But content curation is by no means limited to repackaging content created by other professionals. You can also curate content created by your own audience and obtain positive SEO results in response.

    CognitiveSEO lists National Geographic’s “YourShot” as a great example of this. They ask their audience to send them photographs as part of a contest, and publish the best photos to their YourShot subdomain. CognitiveSEO notes that this strategy has worked very well for National Geographic, earning them 649 referring domains, nearly 190k backlinks, and high page and domain influence.

    Strategies like this require an audience, but not necessarily one as large as National Geographic’s. The University of Missouri Alumni Association, for example, was able to achieve a 15% lift in site traffic by leveraging image galleries. To do so, they:

    • They reworked an existing image gallery to make it easier for users to upload their photos to the site, and used a system that would allow them to host the images on their own site instead of a third party platform.
    • A system was set up to pull images from social media with University hashtags and host them in the image gallery.
    • They leveraged contests, including a Halloween costume contest, to encourage image sharing.
    • Ideas for new contests were regularly brainstormed.

    The reason content curation like this works so well for attracting links is because it puts the users in the spotlight. Since a large number of users could potentially see their photographs published in YourShot, they get excited about the project and share the site on their platforms.

    This creates buzz that earns natural links from users as well as from the press.

    Meanwhile, curating the content editorially ensures that it is of high quality, resulting in a positive impact on how search engines interpret your site content.

    Here are some pointers regarding curating user-generated content:

    • The link-earning potential is highest if the curation is something users are expecting, which is why contests or something similar are usually the best way to go. They build buzz and attract attention from the largest user base.
    • The goal is to make the user the star. Do not place too much emphasis on branding, at least not in the traditional sense of making sure your logo is facing the camera. Focus on lifestyle marketing instead.
    • The contest should be entertaining or interesting enough to override any cynicism people may have about working with a brand. Contributors should feel like they are taking part in something fun and interesting rather than contributing to soulless corporate exploitation.

    Conclusion

    Properly deployed, user-generated content can be a massive benefit for your site.

    User reviews can bump up your uniqueness score and help you rank for a wider variety of queries. Consolidating and moderating user discussions produces in-depth, comprehensive pages that pull in long tail. User contests and curation lead to link earning and other positive off-site signals.

    Take advantage of these opportunities and make the most of your audience.

    Manish Dudharejia is the president and founder of E2M Solutions Inc, a San Diego based digital agency that specializes in website design & development and ecommerce SEO. Follow him on Twitter.

    The rise of the modern B2B marketer

    The rise of the modern B2B marketer is changing the way marketing and sales teams work together to generate new business and deliver ROI.

    New research from Contentive, a global B2B marketing and events company, found that the role of the modern B2B marketing professional is rapidly shifting owing to the explosion of data, analytics and automation tools.

    Contentive surveyed its trusted community of B2B marketing professionals to learn more about their key challenges and for a glimpse for what the future holds for B2B marketing.

    The top three trends that are influencing emerging strategies are personalization, artificial intelligence and influencer marketing. The survey found that 57% of B2B marketers consider personalization as the key trend that will influence their marketing strategy for the next 12 months. With an increasing focus on using data and technology to craft personalized, tailored messages, the modern B2B marketer is constantly testing, iterating and optimizing different marketing channels to analyse the success of their marketing campaigns.

    As a result, marketing budgets are no longer fixed, with 48% of marketers allocating budgets on an ongoing basis to effective channels. In many cases, this means marketing budgets are increasing, with 66% of respondents expecting their marketing budget to increase for the year.

    Collaboration between sales and marketing is also increasingly important, with ever stronger focus on new business conversion as well as ROI from existing customers and website traffic. Top of the funnel leads are no longer the preferred campaign outcome. Marketers are increasingly challenged to deliver nurtured, or even sales qualified leads.

    Key findings from the survey were:

    57% of B2B marketers think personalization is the key trend influence over the next 12 months
    50% of B2B marketers are now demanding leads that are fed into the middle and bottom – not just the top – of the funnel
    ROI priorities are clear, with conversation rates, yield growth and site traffic top of mind
    Collaboration with colleagues is more critical than ever. As marketing becomes more visibly integral to business success, five colleagues now typically have input on investment decisions
    Content marketing is here to stay. Like social media and email marketing, these channels remain critical to delivering on ROI goals.

    To download the key findings from the 2018 B2B Marketing Survey, click here.

    How to blend SEO and creativity for content marketing success

    The SEO kills creativity mantra isn’t uncommon among content writers. Likewise, SEO experts often voice complaints that creative writing should take a back seat to SEO perfection.

    The reality is that the best types of content marketing combine creativity with SEO value. Here’s a guide on the best ways to merge creativity and SEO for content marketing success.

    How SEO got a bad rap – and why it’s stuck

    Content marketing is still a new and shifting industry, and content creators who have been around for more than five years will remember its ugly early days. Many writers were first introduced to the world of SEO during the dreaded “content farm” years, when nothing mattered except how many keywords you could cram into a 300-word article.

    Fortunately, this practice has pretty much died (because Google’s algorithm makes it a very risky practice). But for writers who worked on these content farms, the scars are deep and ugly. Sadly, a lot of strong writers turned their back on the digital marketing world during these days and never looked back.

    If you’re in charge of recruiting or training writers to assist with your SEO goals, then make it a point to let them know you aren’t looking for keyword stuffing, and that you value creativity and writing talent.

    The SEO tricks all writers need to know

    Writers don’t need to be trained in every single aspect of SEO. If you’re hiring someone for their creative talent, odds are their interest in phrases like “robot.txt” and “sitemaps” is going to be pretty low.

    Rather than trying to teach a writer how to be an SEO expert, instead, teach them the quick tricks they can use to optimize their content on their own. There are three key skills that all writers who want to work in digital need to know:

    How to find relevant keywords
    How to format articles for SEO (using the appropriate headers, bullet points and charts for position 0 opportunities, etc.)
    How to create well-optimized metadata.

    If you can teach writers these skills and why they matter, then you won’t overwhelm them with SEO techniques that don’t apply directly to their writing. Writers may grit their teeth, but equipping them with simple tools (like Ubersuggest or Keywords Everywhere), you’ll be able to get them to focus on SEO without having to hold their hand through every piece of content they create.

    It’s easy to teach a creative basic SEO tactics, but next to impossible to teach someone who doesn’t have a creative streak how to make something unique.

    Show content creators results in their language

    It’s useful to include your content team in your regular reporting, but once again, try to tailor the information to what is most important for them. Show them how their use of certain keywords or content structure is improving and succeeding.

    Every passionate writer wants people to read their words; show them results in this context. It’s not a big leap to say that increased organic traffic means a bigger audience reading their work, or that longer time on page means people are truly enjoying what they read. When a writer sees evidence that his or her content piece is getting attention, they’ll be more willing to include SEO-strong tactics in future work.

    The boardroom: where creativity goes to die

    There’s a vicious cycle played out in marketing teams every day. A content creator comes up with a creative idea. Maybe it’s a bit cheeky, or weird, or off-beat, but it’s very clever and has great potential to connect and surprise the audience.

    Several other people on the team see the idea and love it. They think it’s hilarious. But then, the chisels come out.

    “Could we change this word?”

    “And maybe use a different image?”

    “I’m not sure we want to say that, some customers might find that offensive.”

    “I don’t get the joke.”

    “This is totally off brand.”

    And then the SEO team comes in:

    “There’s no keyword in that headline. Can we add one in?”

    The next thing you know, what was once a winning creative idea has been watered down by everyone else in the business. While it’s important that writers stay on brand and communicate a company’s message, it’s also important that people in the upper echelons of a business let the creatives be creative.

    This applies to the SEO team. It’s vital that the content creators and the hardline SEO team work together to understand the intention of any given piece of content. Is it more important to drive people to the page via organic traffic, or is it more important to engage them once they get there? For most content pieces, you’ll have a blend of these two goals. But if you are focused on making sure you keep your bounce rate low and your time on page high, then sometimes you have to sacrifice clunky or awkward SEO-based phrasing for creativity instead.

    There’s no reason SEO and creativity can’t go hand in hand, provided content creators and SEO leaders are willing to work together and compromise. Writers who want to work in digital marketing must be willing to learn the basics of content optimization. SEO experts need to learn when it’s appropriate to sacrifice SEO elements for creative engagement. Meeting in the middle on creativity and optimization is a recipe for success.

    SEO 101: 11 tips you need to know when you optimize your site

    SEO can boost the traffic to your site by paying closer attention to what your visitors want from you. It can help you create the content that your readers will enjoy while optimizing your pages to be as useful as possible.

    The first steps towards search engine optimization can be scary, but you can start implementing small changes to improve your rankings in search results.

    After all, SEO success doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s better to start with the small changes that will gradually lead to greater success.

    Defining SEO success can be subjective, but in general, we want to:

    • Be more relevant for our target audience
    • Increase the search traffic coming to our site
    • Build awareness from search results
    • Use the opportunity to improve the site’s user experience
    • Find new business prospects by beating competitors in search results.

    11 tips to keep in mind when you start optimizing your site

    Focus on your content

    A good start to search engine optimization is to pay attention to your content. Keywords can help you become more specific to your search objectives, but you still need to create quality content.

    Your content should make sense to your readers first, rather than the search engines. It used to be a common suggestion to add all your keywords throughout your copy but this risked the chance of alienating your audience. The modern approach to SEO requires you pay attention to the quality of your content to stand out with your copy.

    Understand your keywords (but search like a human being)

    You need to perform a keyword research to find the best keywords that will bring you success. The next step is to include them in your copy in the most natural way. It’s important to understand that your keywords are your search terms that people will search for your site. They need to make sense and they shouldn’t be too general.

    Think the way you’d perform a search. Would you search for ‘search engine optimization tips’ or ‘best tips for SEO beginners’? The more specific you get, the higher the chances to find your niche audience.

    Think like a user

    Once you start searching like a user, the next step is to also think like a user when you’re improving your site. You don’t have to be an SEO expert to make small tweaks to your site’s performance.

    For example, how fast is your load page? If your site is too slow then this will also affect your search rankings. Moreover, if your site is not optimized for all devices, then Google probably won’t place you high in the search results.

    User experience becomes more important than ever and you need to consider all the changes that will make your site easier for your visitors. Seek suggestions from people who visit your site for the first time. The feedback can be valuable.

    The art of the headline

    Your headlines should be short but descriptive. It’s suggested you create headlines of 50-60 characters. This is the limit of what search engines access so even if you create longer headlines, the rest won’t be tracked.

    Use the headline to describe your content and the page that the visitor will access. Make it appealing, but not misleading. Feel free to be creative, provided that you still stay loyal to the context.

    Add internal links

    Internal links help you highlight the value of your content. It’s a good way to increase your traffic while boosting your SEO, one page at a time. Every link should have a different focus keyword to avoid cannibalizing your own content.

    Add external links

    External links can also bring value to your site provided that you use them in moderation. You don’t want to lose your readers by leading them to a page that serves as your competitor. Make sure you’re only linking to pages of high authority to increase the process of building trust while adding further value to your content. Treat link building as a strategy and avoid the temptation of over-stuffing your content with external links.

    Involve social media for authority building

    It’s common to ask whether social media affects your SEO strategy. Although there is no direct correlation between the two, it is still useful to build your social presence while improving your search rankings.

    The more visible you are, the higher the chances of building your credibility by reaching a wider audience. After all, tweets can show up in search rankings and social success can still lead to multiple benefits.

    Create fresh content but don’t forget your older content

    Fresh content can serve as a ‘signal’ that you’re regularly updating your site. Whether it’s a blog post or any tweaks to keep your messaging new, it’s good to add new content from time to time.

    Except for new content, it’s also useful to revise your existing copy. Your older blog posts can end up having bigger value than your latest ones. SEO takes time to work, which means that the older your post, the higher it can land in rankings.

    Make sure you create good content and you use the right keywords and keep an eye on the performance of your older posts to keep them up-to-date. This can be a good tactic to boost your site’s traffic without necessarily creating new posts.

    Add meta tags

    Title tags describe the content of your page. It’s the language that helps search engines understand what your site is about. This is where you need to add the right keywords that are more relevant to your page.

    Moreover, a meta description provides the right context for your title tags helping both search engines and people to get a quick glimpse of your content. A meta description should be no more than 160 characters and you need to pick your words wisely. This is the copy that may convince users to click on your page.

    Optimize your images

    How to optimise images for SEO

    SEO is not limited to written text, but it can also extend to images. As visual content becomes more popular, it’s critical to optimize your images to make them easier for people to find them.

    Luckily, it doesn’t take time to optimize your images, here’s a guide to help you improve image optimization.

    Think of image search as a new chance of building traffic to your site.

    Local SEO

    Local marketing is gaining ground as more marketers try to reach more targeted audiences. As Google invests in local advertising, there is also a growing space for local SEO. Keyword strategies focus more on local audiences and the copy can be optimized to fit different targeting.

    A good way to keep up with local SEO is to learn as many details as possible about your target audience. Think what their local needs are and what keywords could bring you more traffic to your site.

    Overview

    SEO nowadays is all about providing an excellent user experience by paying attention to everything that includes the copy, the design, the keywords and the insights from your target audience.

    Always think like the user and try to be relevant and useful with your content. Don’t ignore keywords but make sure you use them only when appropriate.

    Last but not least, SEO takes time so don’t lose hope if you don’t see any difference in rankings after your first tweaks.

    How to invest in your SEO for the highest ROI

    Every business owner’s dream is to have consistent business growth. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. In fact, 20% of small businesses fail in their first year and only 30% of businesses, make it past the 10-year mark.

    Therefore, SEO is a key component of inbound sales strategy, where new customers can come to you. The aim is to have a steady and consistent flow of new business each month. If you can maximize return on investment (ROI) from your SEO, then you can continue to invest to generate more earnings and growth.

    Monthly recurring traffic

    Monthly recurring traffic is stable and consistent. Every day, week, month, and year, you have reliable traffic and new sales that you can count on. These can comprise both qualified and targeted prospects. This type of traffic is predictable and easier to scale, which is one of the benefits of SEO.

    An example of monthly recurring traffic from a website (LifeCoachSpotter.com) that has had SEO input. Monthly recurring traffic is the primary driver of your most important business metrics:

    • MRR (monthly recurring revenue)
    • MRR growth (monthly recurring revenue growth).

    If enough new visitors are coming to your website daily, then you will have consistent new one-time sales. If you have a subscriber/SaaS business model, you will consistently grow your MRR. Monthly recurring traffic creates consistent business growth.

    Where we fail

    There is a significant potential for a high ROI from SEO. This does not deter from the fact that SEO can be difficult. A beginner may thinks: “If I want to grow my business, I will grow my traffic, and to grow my traffic I will ‘optimize’ my website for SEO.” Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I call this “The Fatal Assumption”:

    Anyone who has been practicing SEO for a long period of time knows the work that goes into it.

    Why SEO is difficult

  • Google’s algorithm

  • We will never “see under the hood” of Google’s algorithm. The closest we can get is correlations and more complicated ways of unraveling it.

    Black hat SEO is used to try and increase a website rankings illegitimately, and as a result, search engines’ algorithms are constantly evolving to combat manipulative tactics.

  • There are 200+ ranking factors

  • If there are more than 200 ranking factors, which do you focus on?

    With so many factors being considered to determine your website’s ranking, it’s impossible to focus on them all. Thankfully though, Cyrus Shepard recently published Zyppy and I’ve tried to simplify it even further here. There are also many published findings to help SEOs focus on the most heavily-weighted ranking factors in Google’s algorithm.

  • What works today may not work tomorrow

  • Google’s algorithm is constantly evolving, which means that website optimization needs to be continuous.

  • Measuring ROI is hard

  • Since the customer journey is non-linear, it’s not possible attribute leads or purchases to one channel alone. By using multi-channel attribution, you can see SEO is part of a more holistic marketing endeavor.

  • Experiments have long life cycles

  • If you are split-testing a landing page and have 1000 visitors per week, you can quickly see what is working. With SEO, initiatives take time to plan, execute, and measure. The cycle of testing, measuring, and repeating is slow owingto the inherent long-term nature of SEO.

  • Isolating variables is near-impossible

  • SEOs are typically implementing multiple initiatives simultaneously. This makes it difficult to isolate which variable or factor may have led to an increase in ranking or traffic. In a scientific lab, you can isolate one variable at a time and compare it to a ‘control’ group. With SEO, we don’t have controlled environments to work in.

  • SEO is a zero-sum game

  • For any ‘money keywords’ that your business can capitalize on, there can only be one search result in position 1 and one search result in position 2. If your competitor wins the first position, then you will lose it.

    The right thinking

    The best approach to planning an SEO strategy depends on having the right mindset.

  • Begin with the end in mind

  • By setting clear goals and KPIs, you can reverse engineer. Holding yourself or your provider accountable in reaching those goals is also key.

  • Think long-term

  • SEO is an investment-based marketing channel. It is important to think of long-term as a period of years as opposed to months.

  • The fund manager’s budget allocation

  • SEO investment needs to be thought of as a fund manager, which includes considering budget allocation. Should link building be 20% of the overall investment or 60%? Should content be 30% or 70%? Without a proper allocation of investment into SEO initiatives, you can focus too little or too many resources in the wrong areas.

    Among the 200+ ranking factors that Google may be using, you want to focus on the top 2–6 factors that will drive results for your business. It’s not about how good your idea is, but the degree to which it drives impact for your KPIs.

    So where should you focus your efforts?

    Every website and situation is unique. General principles from search engines and thought leaders may not always apply to you. I recommend trusting practitioner experiments and data over best practices alone. From my experience, the factors that are the most heavily weighted by Google’s ranking algorithm are:

  • Authoritative Backlinks
  • Content (Helpful, Long-Form, High-Quality, etc)
  • Optimization (Keyword Clustering)
  • User Experience and Satisfying User Intent
  • Technical Factors (Page Load Speed, Architecture, etc).
  • Align with Google

  • It is important to remember that it is not Google’s goal to send traffic to a website. The more you align with Google’s mission, the more you will naturally succeed.

    Every SEO must remember Google’s goal and the value proposition to their users:

    Help Google’s users find what they are looking for and have a great user experience.

    By adopting this user-focused mindset, you will be more likely to rank higher and get more organic traffic, while future-proofing yourself to algorithm updates. If you aim to help Google’s users, you’ll naturally see a rise in your results and ROI over time.

    Measuring your ROI on SEO

    How do you determine whether your efforts are having an impact on your revenue, and whether the tactics you chose to invest in were the right ones for your business?

    First, track your conversions diligently. If you’re not tracking sales or important metrics, you won’t be able to attribute the sales that came from SEO. Looking at multi-channel attribution is key to get a sense of the real customer journey. This also fuels your understanding for how SEO works in parallel with other avenues like retargeting, brand awareness, and direct visits.

    Second, understand the customer journey. Find out how consumers learned about your business, how long it took until they purchased from you, and what channel they used to purchase. All of these are important factors for measuring long-term ROI.

    Finally, look through the sales funnel. If you are getting leads that don’t convert, they are not providing a good ROI. If there are specific keywords or pages that result in higher conversions or bigger sales deals, you will want to focus on those areas.

    Closing thoughts

    To summarize, to invest in your SEO for the highest ROI:

  • Focus on the long-term
  • Focus on budget allocation
  • Trust battle-tested practitioner experience over conventional advice.
  • Investing in SEO takes time, patience, and a healthy bit of trust in the person managing your initiatives. Above all, remember to ensure that your SEO budget is properly allocated.

    With the right allocation and long-term thinking, your SEO strategy should be future-proof to algorithm updates. While there’s always some uncertainty in the outcome of any investment, you want to mitigate your risk by strategically allocating your budget based on real-world testing, experiments, and working with experienced professionals.

    Adapting to Google’s latest speed update

    Page speed has always been a priority to maintain search visibility, but before Google’s latest Speed update, this was something predominantly associated with desktop sites.

    Now that mobile sites are also being ranked on their page loading times, it is no surprise that websites need to be up to speed to avoid decreasing search ranking.

    In today’s competitive, ever-changing marketplaces, establishing a great online presence is clearly of utmost importance. However, our report recently found that 87% of the UK’s top online retail brands alone are risking a significant drop in their visibility by neglecting mobile site performance; rating as ‘poor’ in terms of mobile site speed. Google’s own research supports this by revealing the average site takes five times longer than the ideal 3-second timeframe to load.

    These slower sites notoriously see increases in bounce rates, as well as lower online visibility and search engine ranking.

    So what can you do to rectify this issue and bolster a websites SEO?

    Research suggests the key to addressing the above issues and adhering to the latest speed update, is by focusing specifically on the mobile site user journey and eliminating any potential pitfalls. By eradicating unnecessary desktop elements on mobile sites and specifically focusing on adapting material for smart phones, you can expect to boost page speed, online visibility and meet Google’s revised website requirements.

    With this in mind, let’s explore how you can adapt to Google’s most recent speed update.

    Lazy loading

    A quick and effective way to improve page speed is by adopting ‘lazy loading’. By only showing images ‘below the page fold’ when a user scrolls to view them, as opposed to fetching and loading everything when a user lands on a page (regardless of whether they’re going to scroll down or not), a website’s efficiency is instantly increased.

    Online brands that have adopted this format are already experiencing the benefits by enabling pages to be displayed on mobiles and tablets in a shorter timeframe. Eating up less mobile data is another advantage of this technique.

    Unsplash is a prime example of a brand doing really well in this space. As an image dominated site, lazy loading has played a key role in maintaining its quick page speed.

    However, this tactic alone is not enough to sufficiently decrease loading times and maintain search engine visibility.

    Optimizing images

    With images making up 65% of web content, it is widely recognized that high-resolution pictures are one of the main culprits for slow loading times.

    To address this issue, you need to reduce file sizes and ensure that only the right images are shown to users based on the device they’re using. Adding image compression functionality to a site’s admin system achieves this by ensuring that uploaded files aren’t larger than necessary (without compromising quality).

    In addition, you should work to ensure that size-appropriate image files will be served to mobile visitors and retina displays (where retina images are available).

    Websites without optimized images run the risk of being penalized by Google for poor practice. This could clearly cause a drop in page visits due to reduced search engine ranking.

    Removing hidden content

    As space is limited on mobile devices, it has always been common practice to create a scaled down version of the desktop site when building a mobile version. However, the key to improving speed is to implement server-side mobile detection. By preventing the site in question from attempting to fetch and then hide desktop-only images and/or features, its perceptual speed to users will be improved.

    By stripping away these unnecessary elements, space is freed up to incorporate mobile-enhancing features without detracting from page speed. One example of this is location awareness. Enabling brands to send relevant content, specific to a user’s surroundings using Geo-location API technology, helps sites stand out from competitors.

    Font compression

    Typography is typically an important element of design, however bloated font files can really slow a site down, so it’s important to strike a balance between aesthetic and performance.

    You should switch to using WOFF2 web compression format for fonts (within applicable browsers), as it notably offers a significant reduction in file size.

    Leading online marketplace Etsy has proven this does not detract from a website’s aesthetics. Despite opting for compressed font formatting, this site has achieved faster page loading while maintaining high-quality text.

    Analyzing success

    As with all site modifications, after carrying out the above changes you need to check that they are having the desired effect. For this reason, tools such as PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse are invaluable for tracking webpage performance.

    These platforms allow you to easily detect both well-performing and ill-performing aspects of webpages. By closely analyzing these figures, you will be in much better stead to rectify any inefficient website elements. This will also enable you to rectify issues before issues begin to negatively impact SEO.

    What happens next?

    By adhering to the above tactics, research shows that websites can expect a 68% reduction on perceptual load times, a 64% reduction in homepage weight (which reduces bandwidth costs), a 43% overall load time improvement on 3G speeds and a 39% improvement in ‘first interactive’ (when a page is minimally interactive for users).

    However, it is important to remember that site improvements should be actioned on an ongoing basis. By doing so, you are set to truly maximize search engine ranking, boost sales and future-proof excellent user experience.

    Gavin Lowther, head of digital at ecommerce digital marketing agency, Visualsoft.

    How to safely change themes on your WordPress site

    WordPress is one of the most used content management systems out there. The one thing that makes WordPress so accessible is its ecosystem, including the themes and plugins available. As a user, you’ll find hundreds of free and paid themes. Ease of use also makes WordPress an excellent choice for building a blog or business website.

    In this article, we will focus on the steps that are required to change the WordPress theme of your website safely. If you have used WordPress before, you might know how easy and intuitive it is to change a theme, but new users may not find it so straightforward – and one wrong change can lead to site malfunction. This article will also provide some useful information for more seasoned users.

    Step 1: Selecting a fresh WordPress theme

    Even though this step is obvious, it is important to tick off. Getting a new theme can be a challenging task for those who don’t know how and where to get it. If you are looking for a free alternative, a good starting point is to check the free WordPress themes collection via the WordPress official repository. For paid options, Themeforest is one of the best places to look, with a vast collection of themes.

    Before you choose a theme, always ensure that the new themes have all the functionality you need and that it is compatible with your current setup. Changing to a theme that breaks the site’s functionality can lead to unwanted problems.

    Step 2: Backing up your website

    The next step is to backup your website. This step should never be ignored – especially if you have a website with a lot of visitors. Smaller sites can skip the step, but it is highly recommend not to.

    You can backup your website manually or by using plugins. You can read this detailed tutorial on how to manually backup your site.

    If you want to use plugins, we recommend BackupBuddy, which is a paid plugin. However, if you want a free alternative, use Updraftplus. You can also ask your hosting support to backup your website, if you’re confused. Most hosting platforms carry out daily automated backups.

    Step 3: Clone your website

    The next step is to clone your website for testing purposes. It is also known as a staging site where you test out changes before pushing them to the live server.

    If you are using WPEngine or GoDaddy, you get a one-click staging option. Each hosting platform has its own way to activate staging. For example, if you are using WPEngine, you can login in the dashboard and find the “WP Engine” option on the sidebar. There you will see the Staging option. Click on the option, “Copy site from LIVE to STAGING”, and you’re good to go.

    If you are using other hosting platforms, do check the hosting documentation on how to create a staging website. In case of confusion, always take the offer of support before making any changes.

    Last, but not the least, you can make a clone of your website on localhost. Read this guide to find out how to do that.

    Step 4: Installing and testing the new theme on the clone website

    Now, it’s time to install the theme on your clone website. However, before you do so, ensure that logging is turned on. Here are some of the things you need to do to ensure that the new theme works as intended.

    WP_DEBUG

    WP_DEBUG can help you list the issues with your theme. To enable it, you need to add the following line of code in the wp-config.php file:

    define(‘WP_DEBUG’, true);

    Plugins

    Check whether all your previously installed plugins are working as intended. You may also want to install new plugins that you intend to use in future. This will ensure that the new theme is a perfect fit for your website.

    Check on different browsers

    Websites act differently on different browsers, so it’s always a good idea to test your staging website on popular browsers such as Chrome, FireFox, Safari and Internet Explorer.

    Responsive/Mobile Check

    Check whether the new theme is rendering correctly in mobile devices.

    The checklist is not exhaustive, but you get the idea. In short, you need to make sure that the new theme works without breaking anything. Also, be sure to take your time while testing – there’s no need to be in a hurry and ruin everything. Take your time, and only move the staging website to the live site if you are 100% satisfied with the change.

    Step 5: Installing the new theme on your live website

    There are two ways you can install the new theme.You can move the staging website to the live site, but the simplest way is to install the new theme on your live website directly. When you do so, don’t forget to enable maintenance mode – this will let you make the changes without affecting user experience. Visitors, on the other hand, will also know ahead of time about the change.

    Wrapping up

    Changing a WordPress theme can be a trivial task, but it requires careful steps if you have a big website and don’t want to take risks. For a smaller site, the steps outlined in this article are also recommend as they will protect you from any malfunction later on. These five steps cover everything that you need to do to ensure that your new theme installation is as smooth as possible.

    So, are you going to follow the guide to change the WordPress theme on your website? Comment below and let us know.

    Lucy Barret is an experienced Web Developer and passionate blogger, currently working at WPCodingDev.