Six mistakes emerging brands make that affect their SEO

The internet is a cut-throat place for marketers. It’s never been easier to float a business and yet never been harder to market it. Theoretically speaking, it’s convenient to build a website, fun to start creating content, and even easier to share it on social media.

And yet, when one does take the plunge, one seems to struggle quite a bit. The various parts of the puzzle don’t quite come together. Then there is SEO and its ever-changing rules.

SEO can make or break your digital game. It’s also something that new businesses often get wrong. Here are some mistakes that emerging brands are especially prone to make, which can negatively impact their search engine performance. Make sure you guard against these.

Poor keyword planning and ignoring local search

Locking in on the right keywords is crucial for a business. You want keywords that are competitive, and which capture the essence of the business, so that the SEO and content combined give your website a shot at ranking high on Google.

But choosing the right keywords requires thought and planning, and a reliable tool such as Google Keyword Planner.

Let’s consider a hypothetical example of a Pilates studio owner in Philadelphia, who has big ambitions for her small business. She may or may not want to go national, but she certainly wants to expand. For her, keyword ‘fitness studio’ will be of no help because the competition for it is high. She needs to be as specific as possible if she wants to rank toward the top in this space.

‘Pilates studio Philadelphia’ is better. ‘Pilates studio (her local precinct)’ is even better. The more specific your keywords, the better the chances of your website ranking high for them, and also, introduce the local element wherever possible.

Local searches are at an all-time high. As per one report, “The majority of consumer engagement with brands (85-95%) happens through local listings, local web pages or other local search results.”

You can use tools like Ahrefs, AnswerThePublic or KeywordTool.io to perform detailed keywords research, and don’t forget to make your keywords specific and focus on the local.

Not aligning SEO with the larger brand marketing strategy

For SEO to bring you the desired benefits, it’s crucial to align it with the larger marketing strategy or the vision you have for your business. The greater the clarity a business has about its overall goals, the clearer its marketing objectives, and the smarter its SEO execution.

Alignment with the larger strategy will direct keyword research and subsequent content creation. Not only that, it will determine the aesthetics of the website as well as its brand messaging.

This is another area where emerging brands falter. They are not consistent in their brand messaging across the website and the content. Websites with confusing messaging cause visitors to abandon them in no time, which results in a high bounce rate (another point docked by Google). If your website strikes discordant notes in terms of brand messaging (including logo, content, and design), you might find Tailor Brands of help. With their easy to use and adaptable tools, businesses can create beautiful logos, expand their brand identity, and deliver a memorable user experience.

Ignoring content best practices

Google is always indexing and de-indexing content. As a rule, it rewards quality blogs and punishes poor ones.

However, quality content does not just mean a well-written blog post. A website needs to have enough of high-quality content to make a mark on Google and the content machinery needs to keep churning.

Some of the best practices in this regard include:

Posting regular content on the blog
Posting fresh content each time and taking care to eliminate repetitive content
Updating past content to keep it relevant and fresh
Eliminating spammy links from comments
Linking to authority pages via the content
Posting content in line with keyword planning.

Keyword stuffing is passé and a ‘Black Hat’ SEO tactic anyway, which we do not recommend. Be clear about what the business stands for throughout the content on your website but take care not to go overboard with the usage of the chosen keywords.

Ignoring content distribution

After content creation comes content distribution. You want your content to reach far and wide. In the initial stages, it’s a good idea to send your best content to industry influencers and authority websites to garner visibility for the brand. Guest posting is a trusted way of earning quality backlinks and increase brand visibility. It can also direct greater traffic, and hence a bigger number of potential leads, to your website.

But as you reach out to the influential people in your niche, it is important to send emails to the right point of contact. Blogger outreach is a time-consuming process. Make sure you are not wasting your time on the wrong people. You can use a tool like Norbert to either help you find the emails based on the name of the prospects or you can do email verification of the existing set of emails data you may have gathered.

Not investing in social from the get-go

SEO is not confined to your company website. Social signals also affect the search engine performance of a business.

Taking further our example of the Philadelphia Pilates studio owner, her website would certainly benefit from regular SEO and top-notch content. She, however, also needs to establish a presence on social media to not just market her business but also earn trust from Google. (It has long been suspected that there exists a link between social engagement and Google ranking, which was recently tested by Hootsuite and found to be the case.)

Our Pilates studio owner needs to encourage her existing customers to like her business page on Facebook, leave reviews on this page (and on any other local listings her business is on), get more people to follow her on social, and as a result create a trustworthy persona in general. Popularity on social media leads to a wider distribution of your content, which, in turn, bolsters your Google ranking (and brings greater exposure for your brand).

Poor knowledge of SEO changes and trends

You cannot just hire someone to optimize the content on your website for search engines and forget all about it, because SEO is an ongoing practice.

SEO audits need to be carried out on a periodic basis. Internet searches are a dynamic space and purposely so. Google is constantly updating its search algorithm, while taking a plethora of factors into account, to deliver more accurate and relevant information to its users. It, however, doesn’t exactly make a pomp and show about these updates, some of which have been drastic enough to send unsuspecting businesses tumbling down the rankings.

You must keep an eye on SEO trends and implement the changes soon as you find out about them. Best practices in this regard will save your emerging brand from slipping in Google rankings.

Conclusion

As Aaron Wall said, “SEO can sometimes feel to be a zero-sum game”. What works today might not work tomorrow and you must always be on your toes. Additionally, there are an endless number of variables to track, which, by the way, can all change overnight.

But SEO is necessary. It is challenging work, which when done right pays off handsomely. A dedicated SEO team will help because this is too important to be left to web developers/designers alone. Keep the above points in mind and you should see your efforts being rewarded sooner than later.

A guide to redesigning a website without affecting SEO

One of the biggest misconceptions amongst website owners is that SEO only needs to be done once. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

Numerous fractions are altered during redesign including code and pages. If they are not properly handled, it can negatively impact the website’s SEO and affect the long-term growth of the site. If done correctly, however, redesigning a website can also increase your SEO strength.

In today’s article, we will go through a detailed guide on how to redesign your website without affecting SEO.

Step 1: list of all pages from the old website

The first step is to download the URL structure of your website. Redesigning means a lot of changes which will also affect the URL re-structure. It is important therefore to back it up otherwise you run the risk of impacting your website ranking.

You can use plugins to get the URL structure. If you are using Yoast SEO plugin, you can crawl the website and then download the updated sitemap.

Step 2: the redesign needs to be done on a temporary URL

Never do the redesign on your existing website. It can cause visitor issues and give you problems in the long run. The best approach is to copy your site and set it up into a temporary URL. Once done; you can start making changes to it. An alternative would be to switch the domain once all the required redesign changes are made.

If there is a potential for you to struggle with this, you can always get help from your developer. Another option would be for a hosting company to do it for you. It is important for you to ping your hosting provider to do the setup for you as this step will protect you from unforeseen issues in future.

Step 3: test the new website

Great, you copied your existing website into the new website.

However, before you start your redesign project, it is a good idea to do an end-to-end checkup of your website. In this checkup, you should look at multiple aspects of your website including broken links, features, CSS, etc.

You can also use the XENU, a free-to-use tool that will find all the broken links on your website.

Step 4: do proper 301 redirects

The next step is to do 301 redirects between old and new URLs. For example, if you have an “About Us” page on the old website, and its URL was “www.yourwebsite.com/aboutus.html.”

If during the redesign, your designer changed the URL to “www.yourwebsite.com/about-us.html” – it is better to implement proper 301 redirects to ensure that both URLs work and you don’t lose SEO benefits gained from your previous URL.

If you don’t do it correctly, the search engine will get 404 web pages not found. By doing 301 redirects, the old URL will be redirected to the new one. This is the technical way to tell the search engine that the URL has been changed. Google will not downgrade your previous SEO efforts.

You can add redirects using the .htaccess file. It would look like the following code.

Redirect 301 /oldwebsite http://yoursite.com/new-url

If you are confused and don’t know how to do it manually on WordPress, you can also try out redirect plugins that let you do it by filling in a form.

Note: This step is very important, and you should do it no matter what.

Step 5: make the jump to the new website

Once everything is finalized, both design and redirection, it is time for you to switch to the new website. You can also make an incremental change in stages if your website is big.

Step 6: run Google Webmaster tools

The next step is to ensure everything has been successful so far.

To do so, you can utilize tools such as Google Webmaster. This tool will enable you to check there are no broken links. If you are any broken links found, to avert penalty it is advised to get them fixed quickly.

Step 7: check verification status and re-submit

It is common for developers or designers to stop the search engine to crawl the website. If that’s the case, then you will need to resume the crawler on your website. To check the status, you need to use the “Fetch as Google” option under crawler. Once done, click on the “Fetch and Render” option. If both tests return positive – your website is entirely crawlable.

Also, it is advised to check if the redesigned website is verified. You can do so by logging into the respective webmaster’s tool provided by Bing and Google. If it lacks verification, then redo it and claim your website.

And finally, re-submit your website URL into Google index by clicking on “submit to index” button.

Step 8: Robot.txt

During the redesign, there is a chance that your robot.txt file can get corrupted. To check if it has, you can use “robot.txt” option under crawl.

Step 9: sitemap submission

As your website now has a new and modified structure, submit the website XML to Bing and Google. Once submitted, your new website will be crawled in the coming hours.

Step 10: monitor the changes

Finally, it is important to monitor the changes and look for any potential growth. Keep a close tab on the rankings of your top keywords. There are many SEO tools available that enable you to keep track of these keywords. If there is a considerable change in your SEO, then endeavor to understand why this is happening and look to find a solution if your website traffic slows down quickly.

You should monitor your website for at least two to three months.

Author: Pawan Sahu is a digital marketer and blogger at MarkupTrend.

Facebook launches video marketing tool

My latest column looked at the future of video in relation to search. The piece inevitably turned to Facebook. I pointed to the trialling of new types of video content (360 and live streaming) on the service and the increasing importance of video in its own results pages as a way it can compete with Google and YouTube for viewer numbers.

A recent announcement from Facebook goes into even more detail on how it is developing its search and video provision.

Brand Collabs

In an effort to help brands and businesses on Facebook connect, partner up, and make deals with creative content producers, the service is launching a tool called Brand Collabs.

The tool is currently only available in the US but is expected to roll out further very soon. It allows brands to search for creators on the service – even digging down to creatives who are already fans of the brand in question – and makes it really easy for them to reach out and connect.

Brands can narrow down suitability of potential creatives in terms of the audience that are already in their networks. This is handy, for instance, if a business wants to promote a piece of content to a particular demographic. They can also view other brands with which creators have already worked with.

From the perspective of the creator, Brand Collabs allows users to showcase work with insights and analytics to prove its value. Creatives can also construct their own portfolios, and make themselves known to brands by liking them and appearing on their search lists of potential creators.

New types of gamified and interactive video

Unsurprisingly, video looks like it is going to be a massive part of how Brand Collabs develops.

Content creators are seeing more and more success with video on Facebook. And Facebook is responding by giving video more real estate in its news feeds and more of a presence in its search results.

Video is also central to Facebook’s latest announcements. In an effort to make video more community-centric, the service is promoting an increasing range of interactive tools. These include polling for live and on-demand video, as well as gamification features ‘that will give creators the power to create fun, unique, and interactive content for their fans.’

More user-made content on Facebook Watch

Creator-driven content is also set to be given more of a presence in Facebook’s Watch service.

To date, Facebook Watch has only really featured TV shows and has only been available in the US.

Facebook’s latest announcement promises that video content from pages will become available on Facebook Watch, giving visibility to independent content creators alongside big established shows.

It is also safe to expect that we’ll see Facebook Watch filter out to other markets in the not too distant future.

Takeaways

Facebook’s plans for Brand Collabs and video will be exciting for businesses keen to further explore how they can use the service to engage with potential customers, as well as for creatives who want to get their work seen by more people and want to offer their services to brands.

Brand Collabs is an interesting development for the service. It is further promoting the creation of content specific to, and within, the service. It gives both brands and creatives (and ultimately users) more of a reason to go to the service to make, consume and interact with content.

Video is central to Facebook’s plans. It can leverage the community-driven backbone of the site to drive unique types of content and it can mark itself out from the Google/YouTube dominated part of the digital sphere.

But we can also see the importance of search to the future of Facebook. With more unique content on the service, and more people stepping into the walled garden, users need to be able to find this content without simply relying on the newsfeed to present it to them. Facebook Watch and an evolving site search are certainly a step in the right direction.

How to keep your ecommerce site error free

Due to the large number of pages involved, ecommerce sites can see striking SEO improvements when errors on those pages are addressed. Let’s talk about what you need to do in order to keep your ecommerce site error free, starting with some tools, then walking you through some processes.

Monitoring and crawling tools

Monitoring and crawling tools are necessary in order to identify technical SEO errors. I consider the following tools essential:

  • ScreamingFrog: This is, hands down, one of the best SEO spider available out there for most uses. You will need this, or something very similar, to handle most of the errors we will be discussing in this post.
  • Google Search Console: Make sure you set up an account here for your domain, since it will notify you of errors that crawlers won’t necessarily be able to find.
  • Google Analytics: Check your analytics regularly for unexpected drops in organic search traffic, since these can point you to errors that you won’t necessarily find otherwise.

I also recommend using these tools to check for SEO various issues:

  • W3C Validator: Use this to validate the code on your homepage and page templates. You want to ensure your HTML is valid so the search engines can read it properly. Use it to validate your XML sitemaps as well.
  • WebPageTest: Use it to test how fast your pages are loading and which elements on your pages contribute the most to slowing down the site load.
  • MxToolBox DNS Check: Check for any DNS issues and talk to your host about any errors you find here.
  • Pingdom: Monitors your site uptime so you are notified if your site isn’t loading or has reliability issues.
  • SSL Labs Test: Make sure your SSL is working properly and isn’t deprecated.

404s (missing pages)

Missing pages hurt the user experience for obvious reasons, but they also hurt your SEO. Links that point to 404 pages throw away their authority.

To identify 404 pages, start by running a site crawl in ScreamingFrog. After finishing the crawl, go to “Response Codes,” then select “Client Error (4xx)” from the “Filter” dropdown menu.

Now export the list for later.

These are your high priority 404 errors, because they are missing pages that have been linked to from other pages on your own site.

For each page, identify whether there is a suitable replacement. If so, you will need to run a search and replace operation on your site to replace all references to the 404 page with the suitable replacement.

If there are no suitable replacements, you will need to remove links to the page so that there are no more broken links.

Additionally, you will need to set up 301 redirects from the missing pages to their replacements.

Do not merely set up 301 redirects without updating the links. Links that pass through 301 redirects lose some SEO authority to Google’s damping factor, and redirects put load on your servers.

Next you will need to identify your “lower priority” 404 pages. These are missing pages that you aren’t linking to from your own pages, but that other sites are linking to. This could be the result of old pages that you have removed, or it could be that the sites linking to you used the wrong URL.

You can find these in the Google Search Console by going to “Crawl” followed by “Crawl Errors” in the left navigation:

Choose “Not Found” and export your 404s.

Weed out the duplicate 404s that you have already addressed from ScreamingFrog. Now identify if any of these have a suitable replacement. If so, set up a 301 redirect to send users to the appropriate page.

Do not simply set up an all-encompassing rule to redirect all visits to missing pages so that they go to the homepage. This is considered a soft 404. Google does not like them, and they are the subject of our next section.

Soft 404s

A soft 404 is a missing page that doesn’t show up as a 404 to Google. Google explicitly warns against soft 404s, which come in two forms:

  • “Page Not Found” pages that look like 404s to users, but that return a success code and are indexable by the search engines.
  • 301 or 302 redirects to unrelated pages, such as the homepage. A redirect is meant to send users to the new location of a page, not to an off-topic page that will disappoint them.

Too many of either will hurt your authority with the search engines.

You can find soft 404s in the Google Search Console, also within the “Crawl Errors” section.

To resolve soft 404s, you may:

  • Remove a site-wide redirect policy that redirects all visits to missing pages to the homepage
  • Ensure that your missing pages properly return 404 status codes.
  • Institute a page-specific redirect if a suitable replacement is available.
  • Re-institute the page so that it is no longer missing. If you don’t know what was previously at the URL, you can use the Wayback Machine to see what used to be on the page, assuming it was crawled.
  • Allow the page to return a 404 status code if there are no suitable replacements, but be sure you are not linking to the page anywhere on your own site.

Do not get greedy with your redirects in an effort to capture PageRank, or you will send a message to the search results to treat your 301 pages like 404s.

Redirects

Before tackling anything else, you want to ensure that your site does not have any redirect chains or loops. These are series of redirects, where one redirect leads to another, etc. This bleeds PageRank through Google’s damping factor and creates server load. Redirect loops make pages inaccessible.

Replace any redirect chains with redirects directly from the relocated page to the new location.

Once you’ve addressed this, use ScreamingFrog to identify your 301 and 302 redirects.

Start by addressing your 302 redirects, since these are supposed to be temporary. If any of them are actually permanent, they should be changed to 301 redirects so that the redirected page doesn’t remain in the index. Checking your 302s can also serve as a reminder to remove temporary redirects and reinstate forgotten pages.

After handling your 302s, the next step is to remove any links to redirected pages from your site, and replace them with links to the correct location. There are very few circumstances in which you actually want to link to a redirected page, since PageRank is lost through the redirect and server load is created. Use a search and replace operation to accomplish this.

Canonicalization

Canonicalization is a method of dealing with duplicate pages, which are very common for ecommerce sites. Canonicalization tells the search engines which version of the page to treat as the legitimate one. We talked about it in detail in our ecommerce SEO guide here, but these are some guiding principles:

  • Use canonicalization to address any URL variables that re-sort or filter the content without otherwise changing it.
  • Canonicalize any pages that are duplicated because they are listed in multiple categories.
  • Any paginated content should be canonicalized to a non-paginated full version.
  • Pages that are personalized based on the user should canonicalize to a non-personalized version.

To identify pages that may need canonicalization, use ScreamingFrog to identify duplicate title tags:

These are very often, though not always, duplicates of the same page.

Noindexing

Many ecommerce sites often have thousands or more pages, and quite a few of them may be very low in quality or content. Many may be very similar to one another without being pure duplicates. Many may feature manufacturer copy that is identical to what will be found on other ecommerce sites.

In some cases, then, it is a good idea to noindex some of your pages. Noindexing tells the search engines to remove the page from the search results. The noindex tag is thus a very dangerous toy to play with, and it’s important not to overuse it.

Here are a few pages that should definitely be noindexed:

  • Any admin or membership areas
  • Any part of the checkout system
  • “Thank you” or payment confirmation pages
  • Internal search results

A few warnings:

  • Never use “nofollow” on your own links or content. Always use . The “nofollow” tag tells the search engines to throw away your PageRank. It is never a good tag to use on your own content.
  • Do not canonicalize and noindex a page. Google has warned explicitly against this. In a worst case scenario this will noindex your canonical page, even if the noindex tag is only on the duplicates. More likely, it will treat the canonical tag as a mistake, but this means any authority shared between the duplicates will be lost.

HTML compliance

We mentioned earlier that you should run the W3C validator on your homepage and template pages to ensure you don’t have any serious html errors. While html errors are common and Google is fairly good about dealing with them, it’s best to clean up errors to send the clearest message possible to the search engines.

Use batch validation to check a larger number of pages.

Schema.org

Schema is a must for ecommerce sites because it allows you to feed the search engines useful meta data about your products like user ratings and prices that can lead to rich results in the search engines featuring star ratings and other stand out features.

Review Google’s literature on rich results for products and include the proper schema to make it work. This schema code generator is useful for easily putting together the code for your templates, and you can test if your pages properly support rich results using Google’s own tool here.

Conclusion

Technical SEO is important in any industry, but due to the massive size of ecommerce sites, it is even more relevant for retailers. Keep your errors under control and your organic search traffic numbers will thank you.

The end of DoubleClick and Adwords? Google simplifies its branding with Google Ads, Marketing Platform and Ad Manager

It’s been 18 years since the launch of Adwords and it was about time for a change for Google. So many things have changed in almost two decades. Mobile has taken over our lives, social media has turned us into publishers and video content is in high demand. All the changes make businesses evaluate their digital strategies, that’s why Google has decided to rebrand its advertising, marketing, publishing platforms.

The idea is to simplify advertising and marketing while making integration and collaboration as simple as possible.

From now on, Google Adwords is renamed into Google Ads, DoubleClick advertiser products will be part of Google Marketing Platform, while DoubleClick for Publishers and DoubleClick Ad Exchange will be part of Google Ad Manager.

Google Ads

Google Ads is Google’s rebranding of all its advertising features on one platform. Adwords will retire soon in an attempt to help businesses go beyond words, as Adwords would imply, to prove that advertising has already moved away from its traditional methods.

Thus, Google Ads aims to simplify the advertising features with an increased focus on the UI interface and the best ways to bring out new ad opportunities for businesses.

In fact, there will also be a new campaign in Google Ads to help a business get started with online advertising. This should help smaller businesses discover the potential of online advertising without being lost among endless guidelines.

We are expecting to learn more details about these changes, but from what we’ve already read, it seems to be a great opportunity for businesses of all size to embrace the power of online ads to find new clients.

Even if you’re already a pro in Adwords, this change should simplify your daily tasks with a new environment that makes the process smoother.

Google Marketing Platform

Google’s Marketing Platform will bring together DoubleClick advertiser products with the Google Analytics 360 Suite. The new unified brand is bringing together ads and analytics to help marketers keep their advertising results in one place.

There’s no need to use multiple platforms to measure the performance of your ads and Google seems to be determined to promote simplicity across all its products.

The easier the process, the better the results and this should become appealing for smaller businesses to embrace the benefits of online advertising.

Marketing Platform will bring together all the existing integrations both from DoubleClick Digital Marketing and Analytics 360 suite. Moreover, it makes it easier to manage your campaigns with the introduction of Display & Video 360, which involves features from DoubleClick Bid Manager, Campaign Manager, Studio and Audience Centre. This should improve collaboration among creative and marketing teams to keep everything in one place.

Moreover, DoubleClick Search is now renamed into Search Ads 360 to involve everything around the analysis and planning of your search campaigns.

What’s also useful is the fact that there will be more than 100 integrations with third-party ad solutions and measurement options to prove that Google is not only favouring its own products.

The rollout should start later on this month, but we don’t need to worry about the transition, as it will be gradual to allow us some time to get used to the changes.

Ad Manager

Google was looking for a new solution to bring together its publishing and monetisation options in one platform. Google Ad Manager is a combination of DoubleClick for Publishers and DoubleClick Ad Exchange.

The rising demand for programmatic access along with the growing need for content consumption brought a new platform that will help publishers, media companies and ad partners to explore the future of content and its business opportunities.

The new unified platform will make it easier for publishers to monetise their content while exploring its success across different devices. It’s the evolution of publishing and monetisation and it should make the process easier both for publishers and advertisers.

Another interesting point in this change is the realisation that monetisation is officially splitting into many different directions and it’s up to us to keep up with it. Google wants to make it easier to promote your content on different channels, devices, Accelerated Mobile Places, games, apps, or connected TVs. This brings us closer to the future of programmatic and it’s time to make it as easy and efficient as possible.

What’s next?

All these changes shouldn’t be scary for your digital plans, as Google wants them to be as gradual as possible. The new branding should roll out during the month, while the older platforms won’t cease to exist yet.

Google is also planning to provide us with more details within the month about the new platforms, their features and how we can use them as efficiently as possible from now on.

Even though the changes seem to focus on branding, it’s the simplicity and the look of the future that makes them more interesting. A good UI experience can actually present new opportunities for brands of all sizes.

Google acknowledges the need to look ahead and to take into consideration all the shifts in digital publishing and advertising that occurred the last decade.

More businesses will benefit from the simple interfaces with the monetisation of content and the measurement of ad campaigns.

Smaller businesses will enjoy the reduced friction in managing their ads and measuring their campaign performance, while we can’t ignore the focus on integration to bring out the best of each partner.

We’re still waiting to learn more details on all the changes, but from what we know up to now, this may be the beginning of an era of simplicity yet improved effectiveness.

Writing SEO meta descriptions in 2018: best practice across mobile and desktop

Back in 2016, my colleague Christopher Ratcliff wrote an excellent how-to guide about meta descriptions here at Search Engine Watch.

Much of what is included in that article is still useful. The good and bad examples Chris analyses are still on point and you would do a lot worse than to write your own descriptions according to his takeaway checklist even two years down the line.

But as is case in the world of search, things are always changing. SEO copywriters and marketers need to be adapting to an ever-evolving SERP landscape across multiple screens and taking into consideration Google’s oft-tweaked algorithm.

Google is increasingly unpredictable with how it displays meta descriptions. Today, the length at which it truncates descriptions can vary significantly from result to result. Sometimes the service will auto-generate descriptions or amend them. We are even seeing SERPs with far less descriptions in use at all with the rise of other rich features such as answer boxes and carousels.

Let’s take a look at some examples and consider meta description best practice for 2018.

First things first – what are meta descriptions?

Meta descriptions are a short piece of written content marked up in the HTML of a webpage.

Good examples typically elaborate on the information given in the title tag and aim to entice the searcher to click through. They might give a flavour of the content on that particular page by describing it…

…or providing an excerpt…

They sometimes give a broader description of the site.

And if the result is a branded one, the meta description might describe the brand more generally.

We often associate meta descriptions with the grey text displayed under the URL in the search results. They also appear when pages are shared on social channels like Twitter and Facebook.

Descriptions can also be tweaked specifically for Facebook optimization using Open Graph markup and for Twitter using Twitter Cards.

Meta description lengths – they’re changing

Until very recently, it was standard practice for Google to set a fairly predictable limit for how long meta descriptions could be. As Chris highlights in his last piece, we could expect descriptions typically being truncated at around 135-160 characters. But this is no longer the case.

The above example SERPs (for the phrase ‘best baby led weaning foods’) include a meta description for Netmums being truncated at around 330 characters, as well as shorter descriptions more in keeping with the classic 135-160 character length.

We can also infer from this that Google’s algorithm is judging the usefulness of the meta description – choosing to include more if it’s likely to answer the query of the searcher quickly.

We can also see the Mother & Baby result clearly looking like it has been written with traditional character limits in mind. It is still, I’d argue, the most persuasive description of the bunch in terms of making me want to click. But, we can clearly see from this results page that experimenting with longer meta descriptions is now an option for marketers.

Variations between mobile and desktop?

When it comes to thinking about our search results in the mobile context, is Google more harsh with how long meta descriptions can be on smaller screens? Surely the search engine wants to devote more space to links and titles, than descriptions?

Let’s compare the above results with how they fair on mobile SERPs.

The short answer: there is – for this query at least – very little difference between how Google is presenting the descriptions across screens.

We need to accept a number of caveats. This is just one query, in one niche, across just a couple of devices, but it is quite illuminating. Both of the longest meta descriptions from the desktop SERPs are kept at the same length on mobile.

But that’s not to say Google isn’t making some amendments for SERPs on handheld devices.

The well-crafted Mother & Baby result is being tightened up by a few characters, cutting out “finger friendly. Say no more, we’ve got all the answers, including”. If we dive into the source text, we can get a better picture of what’s going on.

In this case, Google is being pretty smart about truncating the marked-up meta description in order to favor text from the page that includes some keywords. It is doing this across desktop and – to a slightly more severe extent – on mobile.

But the rule is not as simple as assuming mobile descriptions need to be shorter. As the earlier examples prove, if the description includes relevant key phrases or is doing a good job at answering the query, Google is happy to include longer snippets – even on mobile.

Meta descriptions in the era of rich features

Google is clearly always improving at understanding our intent as searchers.

Its algorithm makes a jugdgement on this before deciding how much or how little a description snippet to include. But it may well decide to include many rich features in the SERPs. These include answer boxes, information graphs – as well as elements in and around the description itself, such as star ratings and ‘jump to…’ links.

As I covered in a recent piece about visibility in modern day SERPs, it depends on how well marked up your content is in order for the search engine to include these features.

Interestingly, for all the rich functionality of today’s SERPs, the humble meta description is still incredibly important. In fact, with Google’s willingness to present longer descriptions – we could even argue that well-crafted 300 character descriptions could improve visibility as well as CTRs.

Google is increasingly smart, but it does its best job if it is obvious from the way our content is written and marked up. The trick is getting the balance right with ensuring your markup is alerting the search spiders to the relevant information on your page and ensuring that your meta description is useful to your reader.

Google will have the final say with whether it deems other content on your site as more useful depending on the intent of your searcher – and may well display a tweaked snippet accordingly. If it has that option, thanks to the effort we put into our onsite SEO, we can expect the best experience for our searchers.

How to monitor your competitors’ content marketing efforts

Can I tell you a secret? Around one quarter of my content marketing strategy is directly informed by what my competitors are doing. It’s immensely helpful to watch their tactics and see how they work in a real time or historic context. All the information I need is at my fingertips, and I didn’t have to gather, curate or analyze it myself.

Using competitive marketing monitoring is the perfect way to help you to see what your audience (many of whom overlap with those competitors, big or small) are responding to. That then gives insight into their needs.

Create your competitive analysis summary

What is it that your customers are looking for right now? Do they have any questions that they are burning to have answered? Maybe you have some information that gives a different perspective on an element of the industry they hadn’t considered.

These are ways in which you can frame your content marketing strategy, part of which is going to come from your own research and labor. The rest will be readily available by watching your competitors and the people they are managing to target.

It is also possible to do your own monitoring through a manual process of curating data.

First, you will need to curate data about your competitor’s content by auditing all of their content, from blogs and podcasts, to videos and social media. Make sure you search for forms of content like webinars, white papers, ebooks and case studies, too.

Once you have a good selection of competitor content, categorize it by Competitor and state what kind of content they make, how often they post it, how much is currently available and the quality. Be sure to notice the finer details, such as length of the most popular posts and the keyword density.

I’ve adapted one of SmartSheet’s templates for this purposes:

[Action items: Download your template here. Then adapt the first column based on what it is you’re going to analyze and monitor. If you plan to collaborate on it with your team, upload it to Google Docs and then use plugins to add it to your WordPress dashboard.]

From there, begin to look at individual pieces and find patterns. What do they do in their most popular pieces? What questions are they answering? What keywords are they targeting within those works?

I will usually make a spreadsheet with this info and update it every few months. It is good to go back and get a full picture of their strategy.

Automating the hunt with competitor monitoring tools

Tools to monitor mentions and writers: Buzzsumo, Google Alerts and Cyfe

Buzzsumo (+Buzzsumo Alerts)

Buzzsumo is one of my personal favorites. It gives you so much information, from web statistics to SEO and social media. It can get a little costly to use the pro version, but it is worth it for most people who want an extensive look at what is going on with other brands, or their own. To try them out you can go to their homepage and carry out a search.

They have all kinds of awesome filters and search operators that allow you to easily dig deeper into your competitors’ content tactics. Author search allows you to search content by a certain writer (e.g. your competitor’s lead blogger) to find all the articles they put outside of their own blog within a certain period of time:

In Buzzsumo Alerts I manage all my competitor monitoring. It works well because their search engine focuses on content, so I get alerts on the mentions that really matter (i.e. those from high traffic blogs and media outlets).

Google Alerts

Google Alerts is a simpler tool that can be used in conjunction with the others, and is an easy way to set alerts for any topic or brand. Create various alerts for different topics, some brand-related and others industry-specific. You can ask it to tell you once per week, day or with every mention.

Sadly, it will give you a fair amount of unrelated content so if you find you are getting too many unhelpful alerts, try specifying your keywords a little more directly.

There are more monitoring tools you can find here and more marketing tools listed here.

Cyfe

Cyfe (Disclaimer: this is my personal content client) is an affordable business dashboard that can be used to monitor almost anything you can think of, including your competitors and their content marketing tactics.

You can create your own custom widgets to form your dashboard and use pre-built ones that include:

  • Google Alerts (you can view and archive alerts using the widget)
  • Twitter search (you can monitor and archive your competitors’ Tweets – Tweets mentioning them as well as their branded hashtags)
  • Google Trends to spot when there’s a spike of interest in one of your competitors
  • RSS feeds (to easily combine your competitors’ RSS feeds in one).

Tools to monitor on-page tactics: SE Ranking

SE Ranking is the multi-feature SEO platform that can be used for many purposes, including competitive analysis. One of my favorite features is the Page Changes Monitoring, which sends email alerts any time a page is changed.

Add your competitors’ most important pages there. These may include:

  • Core product pages
  • Pages that rank for important and expensive search queries
  • Pages that attract most backlinks.

Any time your competitor is there to optimize or re-optimize one or many of their key landing pages, you’ll get an email alert and will be able to guess what is going on:

  • Have they discovered better keywords (i.e. those that are easier to rank for, those that convert better, etc.) to target?
  • Have they found a better way to get their pages featured in search?
  • Are they expanding/narrowing their product offering?

It’s also a good idea to monitor your competitors’:

  • Home page
  • YouTube channel (to get alerted once they add new videos)
  • Directory and local category pages (to look out for more competitors being added).

Tools to monitor email marketing tactics: Competitor and Owletter

Competitor.email

I have not personally used Competitor, but I have heard good things from a number of people who have. It views, tracks and analyzes competitor email marketing campaigns in a handy dashboard. The insights look amazing and the reports could be doubtlessly invaluable.

They have a white paper available that talks more about their tool and how you can apply it to your own monitoring and marketing campaign. You can also try a demo version to get an idea of how it works.

Owletter

For a long time, I have been signing up for competitor newsletters. It is a no-brainer way to see how they are managing their email marketing campaigns, but it can get a bit full in my inbox as a result. Owletter solves the issue by making a dashboard with competitor emails, storing, analyzing and reporting on them in one place.

Do you have a tool you think deserves to be on the list? Know a hot tip for monitoring competitor content? Let us know in the comments.

Most common, yet troubling WordPress errors and their solutions

Running a WordPress website or a blog is exciting. The thrill of being able to share your content with your audience at ease is the driving factor in why WordPress powers over 30% of all the websites. A people’s platform, WordPress is a popular Content Management System (CMS) for new and experienced users alike.

WordPress however, does offer its fair share of issues that trouble its users. Some of these issues are generic and can be addressed with small amendments. Other complications with the system demand a technical learning curve to solve. This article highlights the common issues and how to solve them.

Issues with themes and plugins

Themes and plugins are essentially the structures that support WordPress’ framework. Users often have to deal with issues related to them.

Theme issues:

Theme installation failed
Missing stylesheet
Sample data import errors
HomePage not similar to the demo etc.

The root cause of such theme related issues could be that something is missing in the zip folder or you could have simply missed uploading the root theme folder.

For sample data import errors, you can try any of these solutions:

Once you have activated the theme, make a check and ensure that your theme includes custom post types and taxonomies
If you fail to import media, you can open the sample data in a text editor and try and locate one of those files and test the link in your browser
Alternatively, you can get in touch with the theme developer and share your issues if you are unable to address them successfully.

Plugin issues:

Regularly updating and ensuring that you download plugins from reliable sources can reduce risk. However, some errors still creep in which can be dealt with in the following manner.

Some plugin updates go along with the latest update of your WordPress version. Make sure you don’t miss them.
Plugins can be complex to set up and require careful configuration. Make sure that you are meticulous with the plugin documentation and follow instructions.
Always upload your plugins to the right folder: wp-content/plugins
If everything else fails, get in touch with the Plugin developer to seek your answers.
Lost WordPress admin password

Losing your WordPress site’s login password can cause real issues.

If you can successfully retrieve it through the emailed link request – you are one of the lucky ones. A lot of WordPress admins never receive these emails in their inbox.

You can try resetting the email and password through the phpMyAdmin option. To do so, you will have to login to your cpanel, locate the phpMyAdmin and select the database option of your WordPress website.

Click on the wp_users table to enter a new username and password
Move to ‘Functions’ and click the MD5 option as it highly recommended
Save the changes and you will be able to access your site’s admin dashboard.

Another way around this is to edit your theme’s functions.php file. Make the following additions and save the file to upload it. You can login to the dashboard and remove the code from the file after yet another upload.

wp_set_password(‘DesiredNewPassword’,1);

A hacked WordPress site

A hacked WordPress website is unfortunately a common issue. It can only be dealt with by the implementation of a robust website monitoring security system and with a WordPress security plugin in place. You can also try hiding your site’s login page or integrate 2-factor authentication to make sure that you have ample time to act before your website is attacked.

The white screen of death

The most common WordPress error is the ‘white screen of death’. To make sure that things get back to the normal, you can try checking if your existing theme or the installed plugins are facing some compatibility issues. This method however could result in a lengthy process and requires you to deactivate all the plugins and reactivate them one by one to figure out the one that has been causing the trouble.

If you have been locked out of your dashboard, you can go the FTP way.

The other way of fixing your site’s white screen of death error is by increasing the PHP memory limit via FTP where you will be prompted to edit your wp-config.php. All you need to do is add the following code snippet at the bottom of the wp-config.php file

define( ‘WP_MEMORY_LIMIT’, ‘256M’ );

Dealing with spam

Spam is a recurrent issue faced by many new WordPress site owners.

The only way to deal with spam is by downloading and installing anti-spam plugins such as the Akismet plugin. You should also make sure that you cut out user-generated spam on your site’s group or forums to keep the situation under control. Eliminating spam is generally a great way to speed up your WordPress site.

Error 404

One of the most irritating WordPress errors is where the site posts return a 404 Error when your website is unable to locate a page that you are trying to access. To fix WordPress posts returning 404 error, you can generate a new .htaccess file by navigating to Settings > Permalinks. Just remember to click on save changes.

Error establishing a database connection

If your website has been hacked or if there is an issue with your site’s web host provider, your website might run a message mentioning an error establishing a database connection.

To fix the issue, you can check your wp-config.php file to see if any of the information such as the username, database name, password, and host are all correct and not missing.

If the error continues, you can try repairing the error by adding the following line to initiate the repair of the database. Just be sure that this code is removed from the wp-config file to avoid public access.

define (‘WP_ALLOW_REPAIR’, true);.”

However, if everything is intact and the error prevails, you can seek assistance from your host provider regarding the error as it might be taking place due to issues at their end.

Conclusion

There are unfortunately another hundred WordPress errors that demand a space in this article, but we have captured the most common ones that can be dealt with easy tweaks. These errors occur to make sure that all your website elements are in their right places before it’s too late to make a change and your website might go missing, entirely.

Pawan Sahu is a digital marketer and passionate blogger at MarkupTrend.

Seven basic tips for blog SEO

By now the advantages of blogging are undoubtedly well-established. Statistics show that:

  • Businesses that blog get 67 % more leads than businesses that do not
  • Marketers that prioritize blogging are 13x more likely to get a positive ROI compared to marketers that don’t
  • Companies that blog get 97 % more links compared to companies that do not blog
  • Websites with a blog are likely to have 434 % more indexed pages.

However, if you don’t have an SEO strategy for your blog, you are most certainly missing out. Research shows that SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, compared to a 1.7% close rate through outbound means.

In other words, it is not enough to blog. You need to make sure your blog ranks in the search engines. The following basic tips will help you optimize your blog for search engines:

  • Employ the use of breadcrumbs

  • Take a look at the screenshot below — from an article

    You’ll notice the section underlined in red? That’s breadcrumbs.

    You can also see this implemented on all Search Engine Watch articles, including this one you are reading.

    Using breadcrumbs has two main advantages:

    • It helps Google and other search engines understand the structure of your blog. Using clickable paths, it makes it easy for search engines to see how your blog is structured. It also helps your blog’s internal linking — making it almost impossible for content on your blog to be undiscoverable by search engines.
    • It improves the user experience of your blog. It makes it easy to navigate sections of your blog without necessarily having to go back or close the browser tab. This increases time spent on site and reduces bounce rate, and good user experience will help your SEO.
  • Write longer and topically relevant content

  • Any article discussing basic blog SEO tips that doesn’t talk about content is incomplete. While Google has maintained a level of secrecy about factors it uses to rank websites, it has never shied away from emphasizing the importance of content. In fact, according to Google Search Quality Senior Strategist Andrey Lipattsev, content, links, and rankbrain are the three most important search ranking factors.

    The main question, however, is this: what gives a blog post an advantage over others in the search engines. While Google has been very vague, SEO experts have some data based on analysis:

    • Longer, in-depth content rank better. Studies have shown that content in the 1800 – 2,000+ words range tend to rank better than shorter content.
    • Topically-relevant content has been found to rank better. Making a blog post focus on one topic and discussing it in-depth will yield better results than having it discuss two or more unrelated topics.
  • Make your blog posts visually appealing

  • Taking the extra time required to add relevant, properly-tagged images to your blog post can seem frustrating, but it will be well worth it. It’s one of the easiest, most basic things you can do to help your content rank better.

    According to Backlinko’s analysis of over one million articles, blog posts that contain at least one image significantly outperformed content without any images. That said, it doesn’t seem to matter much whether a piece of content has one or ten images: at the very least, make sure to include an image in all of your blog posts.

  • Internal linking

  • Links are undoubtedly one of the most important search engine ranking factors. In fact, the impact links play on search engine rankings is so significant that Backlinko’s research found that links influence the rankings of any content piece more than anything else.

    However, a lot of attention is often paid to external links to the detriment of internal links. In a case study, Ninja Outreach explained that they were able to boost their search traffic by 40% simply by working on their internal linking.

    Here are some tips:

    • Use descriptive anchor texts when linking internally
    • Moderate the number of links on your page — while internal linking is good, there’s no point having too much on one page.
    • Occasionally review old content pieces to ensure they link to other content pieces.
  • Improve your blog’s permalink structure

  • Depending on the CMS you are using for your blog, you’re likely to be stuck with an SEO-unfriendly permalink structure. Permalinks are the web address used to link to your content.

    For example, if you own the blog: howtoteachadog.com and publish an article titled “How To Teach a Dog to Catch,” the resulting URL structure could be this:

    howtoteachadog.com/?p=100

    Or this:

    howtoteachadog.com/how-to-teach-a-dog-to-catch

    In most cases many blogs are stuck with the first version — which gives no indication of what the article is about. The second structure, on the other hand, is more descriptive and will be more effective from an SEO perspective.

    If you use WordPress, this article will show you how to change your blog permalink structure. If you use other CMSs, they most likely have an official tutorial on how to do this.

  • Install basic SEO plugins

  • Plugins can give you a kind of superpower when it comes to your blog SEO. While you want to be careful with what plugins you install (in order to avoid clunking your site and making to slower), installing and using the following basic SEO plugins will give you an edge:

    • All in One SEO/Yoast SEO plugin: this allows you to review each of your posts based on a number of factors until it is “perfect” from an SEO perspective.
    • The WP Smush.it plugin: site speed is one of the ranking factors Google and other search engines use, and images are often a major culprit when it comes to site loading times. This plugin will compress your images and as a result boost your site speed and helping your SEO.
  • Get quality external links

  • This is as basic as it gets. Google admits that links are one of the top three ranking factors it uses when ranking websites. Effective blog SEO is not possible without external links.

    Here are some ideas to help you get backlinks to your blog:

    • Identify relevant and authoritative publications and become guest authors for them. These publications will let you have a bio link and sometimes an in-content link to your blog posts. If relevant, these links can positively impact your blog SEO.
    • Get relevant industry blogs and publications to feature you — it could be in the form of an interview, a quote, or as part of an expert roundup.
    • Develop an outreach strategy aimed at getting relevant blogs to link to content on your blog.

    How UX fits into SEO

    There is a common misconception that SEO simply involves link building and including relevant keywords in content. While these are two important strategies, search engines consider a lot more than this when ranking websites.

    Elements of user experience (UX) have been rolled into SEO practices. Is your site fast, secure and mobile-friendly? Do you have quality content that engages users and encourages them to stay on your website? Is your site quick to load and easy to navigate?

    These are all elements that are considered by Google and other search engines when determining how to rank your website. With that in mind, read on to discover more about how UX fits into search engine optimization.

    Why UX is important for SEO

    Google has changed considerably over the years. The search engine giant constantly updates its algorithms to ensure users are provided with the best possible results. Each and every update that Google has made has been geared towards providing more user-focused and user-friendly results. We have seen changes to SERPs, like knowledge panel and rich snippets, and algorithm updates that have shown just how critical UX has become to Google. You only need to look at RankBrain to see that this is the case.

    The introduction of RankBrain

    RankBrain was introduced in 2015, and it was considered the third most significant factor in determining the SEO value of your website, only falling below links and content. RankBrain is driven by behavior metrics, including pages per session, bounce rate, dwell time, and organic CTR. Essentially, these metrics inform the search engine as to whether users enjoy their experience on your website.

    After all, if a user visits your website again and again, spends a good chunk of time on it, and moves through the website with ease, it tells Google that you provide a good UX, and as a consequence, your ranking will improve. On the flip side, if someone leaves your website as soon as they enter it, returning back to the search results, it indicates that they did not find relevant information, and this can cause a drop in your ranking.

    UX and SEO share common goals

    UX also fits into SEO because they both share common goals. If you have been following SEO over the past few years, you will know that it has moved away from solely ranking for search terms. Now, it seeks to provide searchers with information that answers their queries. This is where UX and SEO start to interact. Both share the goal of helping users to complete their tasks by providing them with relevant information. SEO will lead a person to the content they need, and the UX answers their queries once a user ends up on the webpage.

    Important SEO practices that influence UX

    It is important to understand the common SEO and content practices that influence UX:

    Both image tags and headings are critical. Image tags provide details when the images do not load, ensuring the user receives a similar UX irrespective of whether there is a picture or not. Headers help structure page content and improve page readability.
    Creating page copy over 600 words is important to ensure it is in-depth and answers user questions.
    Mobile friendliness is critical, as mobile makes up 52.2 per cent of the market share. In fact, it surpassed desktop in terms of total global Internet usage back in 2016.
    Page speed also plays a vital role. No one wants to wait two seconds for a page to load. The Internet is supposed to be about convenience. How often have you had to wait for a page to load and you have ended up hitting the refresh button several times in frustration?
    How to get the UX right

    Hopefully, you now have a better understanding regarding the importance of UX in terms of search engine optimization. So, where should you begin in terms of improving your website’s UX so that it has a positive impact on your ranking?

    Align your UX and SEO strategies – The first thing you need to do is make sure both strategies are integrated, rather than working in separate lanes. After all, one of the main objectives of your website should be to generate more leads and conversions. Both UX and SEO play a critical part in achieving this goal, but they need to work together if you are to have success.
    Focus on designs that fit SEO principles – This includes providing focused product names and descriptions, creating a clear navigation path, optimising menu names and functionalities, maximizing H1 and H2 titles, and creating content that resonates with both visitors and search engines.
    Invest in responsive web design – There is no excuse for having a website that is not optimized for use across all platforms in 2018. It is projected that by 2020 there will be 2.87 billion smartphone users. Just think of how many potential customers you are missing out on by failing to optimise your website. Not only this, but your search engine ranking will be suffering too. If someone enters your website via mobile phone and it is difficult to read, some of the buttons don’t work, and/or it is slow to load, you will never be able to reach one of the top spots on Google.
    Simplify navigation – Website navigation is a key factor when it comes to UX and consequently your search engine ranking. Your homepage should feature clear and easy navigation. Users should be able to use your website intuitively – they shouldn’t have to think about their next step. One effective method for helping Google to understand and index your pages is including a sitemap on your website.
    Focus on quality – Navigation is not the only factor that Google considers when determining whether your website is of a high quality or not. Other factors you need to work on include page layout, content relevance, content originality, internal link structure, and page speed.

    When it comes to ranking your website on the search engine result pages, there is no denying that UX is one of the most critical factors. If you want to increase your online visibility and ultimately boost your conversion rate, you need to align your UX and SEO strategy.

    Use the advice that has been provided as a starting point, but make sure you continue to test your website and make improvements. After all, if you remain stagnant, you will only get left behind.