An SEO’s survival guide to Single Page Applications (SPAs)

SEOs beware: if you haven’t heard of Single Page Applications (SPA for short), or if you have been resistant to learning about these JavaScript methods for creating websites, the time for hiding your head in the sand is over.

Check out this tweet from Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller:

The web has moved from plain HTML – as an SEO you can embrace that. Learn from JS devs & share SEO knowledge with them. JS’s not going away.

— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) August 8, 2017

John Mueller is correct. It’s not going away.

A quick search on Google Trends for “Single Page Application” reveals the sharp rise in popularity and awareness of SPAs over time:

Some developers are positively enamored with using JavaScript frameworks and libraries to create websites, and SPA popularity has been steadily growing.

Take Angular (also known as AngularJS and Angular.js), for example.

Here’s a Google Trends search for the Angular JavaScript framework showing the past 5 years, and Trends even recognizes the application platform – you can see popularity has increased greatly over the last couple of years:

The React JavaScript library shows a similar up and to the right trend:

In my role as a professional SEO, I can’t say that Single Page Applications are the rule and not the exception when it comes to how businesses choose to develop websites these days, but I am running across more and more SPAs, and so are my colleagues.

  • Yes, it’s true that JavaScript was never intended for web page content delivery.
  • Yes, it’s true that SPAs to date have not been great for SEO.
  • Yes, it’s true that many developers who had fun quickly creating websites using SPAs had to later spend more time fixing SEO problems than the time they would have spent if they just coded the site to deliver content via HTML5 in the first place.

But, none of that matters, my SEO friends.

Like it or not, SPAs look like they’re here to stay.

It’s time to stop thinking bad thoughts about SPAs and trying to wish them into the cornfield.

Single-Page Applications: Resistance is futile

I admit it – for a while there I was hoping I could ignore Single Page Applications, and maybe eventually SPAs would end up in the trash heap of obsolete website trends such as the tag, and web page content that’s free of annoying and intrusive advertising interruptions.

Programming and coding languages live and die by developer adoption. For example, if, by some weird turn of events, developers across the world suddenly decided they hated PHP and fell in love with some super-cool new server-side scripting language, then PHP withers, maybe even dies.

It’s just that simple.

That’s why, for example, Google has been pushing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) super hard – because they need major and widespread developer adoption for AMP to succeed and not wind up as the tags’ roommate.

Talk to developers who’ve created sites using Angular, React, or other JavaScript frameworks or libraries. See if they light up as they talk about the ease and speed of development and how debugging was not as hard as the rumors have it.

SPAs are popular with developers, and that popularity is not showing any sign of slowing down.

Dipping a toe into the SPA

Looking “under the hood” of SPAs, a distinguishing characteristic is that there’s a lot less back and forth between the server and the browser making requests to the server.

After the initial JavaScript framework download to the browser and first page view, there is no page reloading going on when navigating to a second, third, and fourth (etc.) page, hence the “single page” part of Single Page Application.

After that initial JavaScript framework download and first page view, subsequent pages viewed load very quickly, exactly because of the lack of back and forth requests between the server and browser that “traditional” web sites require.

And this means a very good user experience because no extra page load means no extra wait time. And, as we all know, everyone prefers fast-loading pages.

The main aspect to remember here is that with an SPA there is far less back and forth between the browser and the server.

But JavaScript was never intended for web page content delivery

Before JavaScript started being used commonly in website development, web pages were static and created using HTML.

Using JavaScript enabled website developers to add interactivity to their web pages such as pop-up dialog boxes when a user is filling out a form, expandable content when a user clicks on text or a button, or a drop-down menu when the user hovers their mouse over a navigation element.

These and other user interactive features JavaScript allows can be executed in the browser without requiring a call to the server.

And thus, for many years, website developers used HTML for content delivery, CSS for layout and styling, and JavaScript for adding user interactivity.

It’s a fair generalization that JavaScript has become vital to websites and to a developer’s resume; JavaScript is pretty much ubiquitous. JavaScript is not that difficult to learn compared to full-blown programming languages such as Java and C++. The “J” in AJAX and jQuery is – you guessed it – JavaScript.

I only bring this up because in retrospect, and hindsight is always 20/20, we SEOs all should have seen the rise of Single Page Applications looming on the horizon.

But viewed glass-half-full, the rise of SPAs presents an opportunity for technically-minded SEOs to gain experience and become even more valuable now and in the future.

If SPAs can cause SEO issues, then why do developers create SPA websites?

If you’ve never done any coding, then you might not realize what it’s like to be in a developer’s mindset.

Think about it this way: if you were going to have to sit down and write code to create a certain web page functionality and you could either write 10 lines of code to achieve that, or write 1,000 lines of code, which would you choose? You’d opt for the expedience of 10 lines of code, right?

Developers are not lazy; they simply prefer efficiency and elegance when it comes to writing code. I’ve seen developers frame code and hang it on their office wall. Ever heard the saying “code is poetry?”

If you’re trying to get somewhere the fastest way possible, you take the shortest route, correct?

Single Page Application frameworks and libraries, in crude summary, provide building blocks that allow developers to create a website quickly and efficiently.

Consider the fact that SPAs allow developers to efficiently create modern-looking websites that load pages quickly, which makes for a great user experience, and you can see why you might choose an SPA over coding a website from scratch in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, or hassling with the constraints of a Content Management System.

SPAs present a fast-loading user experience because they don’t need to reload most resources such as HTML, CSS, and scripts with each user interaction like a “traditional” website does. These files only require initial loading and then after that only new data is retrieved and downloaded from the server.

SPAs reduce response times primarily by moving the heavy-lifting of data processing from the server to the browser.

SEO may be a lesser consideration given the SPA developments upsides, an afterthought, or perhaps not a consideration at all during the website development process. Any SEO pro who has been in digital marketing for very long has seen the all-too-common situation where a company develops a website, only later to ask the question “how do we SEO this thing?”

Not everyone realizes that SEO should be baked-in at the beginning and not sprinkled-on at the end, or that their website development choices can have definite downstream negative impacts with respect to SEO.

JavaScript libraries vs. JavaScript frameworks

Untangling the technology behind SPAs eventually leads us to the topic of JavaScript libraries and frameworks.

Ask a developer “what’s the difference between a library and a framework” and you’ll get a lot of interesting answers.

One overriding distinction you hear repeatedly goes something like this:

The code you write calls a library, whereas a framework calls the code you write.

React and Angular are both SPAs, but React is technically a library, whereas Angular is technically a framework. However, you will hear often people refer to SPA technology generally as “JavaScript frameworks”.

Frameworks can be thought of as a structure, like a pre-fab home which comes with the framing, drywall, plumbing, and electrical wiring and all you have to do is add the appliances, windows and coverings, flooring, paint, etc.

A library can be thought of as a place that contains a set of ready to use pre-built tools and functionalities. You’d call a library in your code for a specific function.

You can see that starting a web development project using frameworks and/or libraries can streamline the process, as opposed to writing from scratch all the necessary code to create a website.

Common SEO problems of Single Page Applications

There’s a lot of talk about how well Google can handle JavaScript when it comes to crawling and indexation.

Crawling and indexing is critical to ranking.

Google discovers web pages using software called Googlebot during a very fast process often called “crawling” or “spidering”, during which it downloads an HTML file it finds, extracts the links and visits them simultaneously, and then sends the downloaded resources to the indexer.

But when it comes to a JavaScript-based single page application website, the process gets a bit more complicated.

It’s like the process noted above, but there’s a delay and extra step involved because part of the indexer must do some heavy lifting by parsing and executing the JavaScript, and the new links found then must be passed back to the crawler to look at and then sent back to the indexer; you can see that this is less efficient because of the JavaScript.

SEO is more than just having “great content” and earning high-quality links; it’s also about making your web pages easy to discover by search engines like Google and making it simple for them to know which pages are more important than other pages via internal linking.

A “traditional” HTML-based site is far easier to crawl and index, and by extension, rank. Google can get all the links easily and see what the importance of pages are via internal linking.

A JavaScript-based SPA website makes Google’s life more difficult, and some testing would seem to indicate that there may be downsides when relying on JavaScript for purposes of indexation.

Google is evidently willing to do the extra heavy lifting here, and to my mind that indicates that they’ll improve over time rather than announce to webmasters in the future that they have decided they don’t want to bother with the extra work required to crawl and index JavaScript-based sites.

Another potential SEO problem related to the extra work to discover links is that Google may have issues with evaluating the link equity of those pages.

It’s likely that in time, at least some of the SPA frameworks in popular use will evolve the rendering process to make it easier for Google to crawl and index, perhaps even making it on par with “traditional” HTML-based websites.

But in the meantime, we’re where we are and those who’ve tested how well Google can handle JavaScript-based sites have shown that Google’s ability is inconsistent, and we’re also still in a place where those who have developed SPAs frequently must use workarounds, for example using prerender.io along with Angular to serve fully-rendered pages to the crawler.

Another solution is isomorphic JavaScript, sometimes called “Universal JavaScript”, where a page can be generated on the server and sent to the browser, which can immediately render and display the page. This solves the SEO issues as Google doesn’t have to execute and render the JavaScript in the indexer.

Headless Chrome is another option recently proposed as an easy solution by a Google engineer, who also mentions another solution called Preact, which ships with server-side rendering.

It’s also a good idea to create a properly formatted XML Sitemap and submit that to Google Search Console.

Right now, there doesn’t appear to be any single solution or a paint-by-numbers approach to handing the problems you may encounter if you’re an SEO assisting a client with launching or redeveloping a website using an SPA.

It boils down to effectively communicating the correct end result that’s needed, and dealing with issues as they’re presented based on the library or framework being deployed.

Some important Single Page Application resources

Some super-sharp SEOs and developers have written helpful articles about Single Page Applications, and here are a few resources I have enjoyed that I think you will find helpful:

  • Tomasz Rudzki wrote an excellent post here; the title says it all: The Ultimate Guide to JavaScript SEO
  • Watch this video by Google ‎Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller – he provides a terrific general overview of Single Page Applications and how Google treats them
  • Justin Briggs is quite conversant with both SEO and JavaScript and wrote 2 pieces you should check out: Auditing JavaScript for SEO, and Core Principles of SEO for JavaScript
  • Richard Baxter wrote this awhile back, but it’s still very much worth your time: The Basics of JavaScript Framework SEO in AngularJS
  • Will Critchlow shared this excellent post: Early Results from Split Testing JavaScript for SEO
  • Hold on to your hat when you click on Barry Adams’ JavaScript & SEO: The Definitive Resource List
  • If you’re a bit short on time, this is an excellent quick read: SEO Considerations for Single Page Applications
  • I definitely recommend reading this from Angular University: Angular Single Page Applications (SPA): What are the Benefits?
  • This Microsoft article is not geared to SEOs, but it’s a quick and helpful read: Choose Between Traditional Web Apps and Single Page Apps (SPAs)
  • This is also a relatively quick read covering a few different SPA types by Johann Wagner
  • Lastly, I strongly suggest you make time to read this, a very good overview: Single Page Applications: When & Why You Should Use Them

Final thoughts

Single Page Applications are evolving rapidly, as is the web technology landscape in general. It’s worth the effort for professional SEOs to be as conversant as possible with not only Single Page Applications, but also Accelerated Mobile Pages, Progressive Web Apps, Content Management Systems in general, and of course the tech behind how websites are coded from scratch.

My sense of the situation is that SPAs, and Google’s ability to handle JavaScript-based websites, will advance at a quickening pace because the stakeholders involved are aware that SPAs come with a definite SEO downside as it stands right now.

It’s entirely possible that in a year or so the most popular SPAs will ship with SEO solutions built in because awareness of the need for SEO friendly JavaScript-based websites is growing. But there’s no guarantee of that happening soon or at all, so my recommendation for today’s SEOs is to get excited about and embrace this technology trend.

5 ways to make your website stand out in the SERPs

Google is always evolving.

Tweaks to the algorithm and changes to how search results are presented are often lamented by frustrated marketers, but these evolutions can also present valuable new opportunities for making content visible to searchers.

Today’s SERPs are a far cry from the humble list of ten results and handful of sponsored links that Google started out with.

In an effort to help searchers find their information faster – and with less clicking and scrolling – Google is incorporating a wider range of rich features into its results pages.

I want to use this post to take a look at some of these features.

How can we ensure our content is best suited to Google’s ever-more intuitive results pages? And how can we make it stand out there?

1. Google’s Answer Features

Answer boxes are increasingly being used by Google in an effort to provide searchers with answers to their questions, even without the need for clicking through to a site.

This can be annoying for marketers who have traditionally been working to optimize their content to garner clicks from Google. The more the SERPs provide answers to an increasing number of questions, the harder it will become to persuade searchers to click through.

This is all the more reason to start understanding how Google seeks to answer.

Searching around the term ‘doulas’ highlights how intuitive Google is at knowing what questions to answer (even if just a single word is searched for). Also, we can quickly see the diversity of answer boxes displayed from very subtle differences between search phrases.

Looking at the phrase ‘doulas,’ even though we haven’t asked Google a question, much of the above-the-fold SERPs are dedicated to an answer box. In this case, giving us related questions.

With the search phrase ‘whats a doula’ Google is even more confident, expecting us to most likely be satisfied with the dictionary definition of ‘doula’.

And with the question ‘what do doulas do’ Google gives us two answer boxes above the fold – the first is an info box, and the second is another related questions box.

These are just a few examples. Info boxes can vary in format from ranking lists, to numbered steps, and tables. Searches that relate to events are more frequently resulting in answer boxes that show the dates of the event.

Additionally, subjects such as weather and stock provide their own nicely displayed answer boxes too.

It’s good to think about this when it comes to creating content for your own site.

‘Doulas’ may be a relatively competitive search on its own, but it’s easy to see how a piece of content that answers a wider question about the niche (e.g. ‘how much does it cost to have a doula?’ or ‘why a doula is important?’) can be presented high in the SERPs even if the domain is not ranking in the top organic spots for the original search.

As Google declares, it is making the decision on what to show here programmatically. That is to say, unlike other rich features within contemporary SERPs, webmasters can not simply use mark-up to signal to Google that a certain piece of content contains an answer.

This means marketers and writers need to prioritise ensuring that the content answers their (well-researched) keyphrase promptly, naturally and succinctly on the page.

2. Videos

Video content – particularly from YouTube – remains a good way to stand out in Google’s increasingly content rich SERPs.

This search for ‘homemade baby carrier’ (you can see a theme developing here) ranks How To Make Your Own Baby Carrier… well but also quickly alerts the searcher to a number of important attributes about the content:

  • It’s a ‘how-to’
  • It’s a short-ish video
  • The name of the brand is focused on the niche
  • There’s a clear, action-led description (‘you need…’)

In short, there’s a lot of enticing content around that video result which might result in a click. It is authoritative and concise.

Even though the domain keepcalmandcarrythem.com is not visible on page 1 of Google’s rankings for this term, their brand is very visible thanks to this video.

3. Local, hyperlocal and business optimization

I covered some of this in my hyperlocal SEO piece recently on Search Engine Watch.

Google is increasingly good at presenting local, hyperlocal and business information. Businesses can upload their information to Google My Business, focus on local/hyperlocal/business key phrases, and mark up their content to make it even easier for the search engine to display relevant business information via rich features such as:

Maps

Rich snippets

Knowledge graphs and panels

Note: Conscious Birthing have a good opportunity to improve this knowledge panel from Google for ‘doulas’ by simply updating their Google My Business profile.

3-packs

Sitelinks

All these attributes go further to helping your content stand out in the SERPs when people search for local, hyperlocal or business key phrases.

4. Images

Depending on the search a user is making, Google is also very savvy when it comes to delivering image results.

We sometimes see them delivered next to rich snippets, accompanying information in answer boxes, and often in image packs.

Referring back to our earlier ‘homemade baby carrier’ search, the lead spot in the SERPs is given over to a feature pack of eight images.

The first image is a still from a YouTube video which doesn’t rank in the natural results. The second image is from a site called thediymommy.com – again, this domain doesn’t feature anywhere else in the front page results.

But they prove the point: Good images, if optimized well, can be very visible in Google – even if the content is outranked in text terms.

In this example, the info box content is taken from abckidsinc.com while the image is taken from wikihow.com. Both feature in the natural results in this instance, but both are below the fold and lower than two informational YouTube videos.

5. Don’t overlook SEO best practice and PPC

Just because Google continues to incorporate more intuitive and rich features in its SERPs, it does not mean we should overlook vintage SEO such as good title tags and meta descriptions. Well written content in regards to these can still make you stand out.

Also, we have not yet mentioned PPC, Google Shopping and sponsored listings. Of course, if your site is of the ecommerce type, it is still possible to use such tools to gain and maintain visibility in Google.

The search engine giant is still as keen to create revenue from ad clicks as it is to make its user experience quicker and more efficient.

That said, the changing landscape of Google’s SERPs is a challenge but is also ripe with opportunities.

If your content is well-planned, well-made, and well-optimized – Google will reward you with visibility.

How to expand search marketing reach in the slow season, part 1: Quora

Most businesses typically have a slow season when consumers don’t think of purchasing their services or products.

Despite effective and well-built paid search and social programs, they’re often faced with the challenge of exhausting what they have within their core channels.

So how can they avoid getting into the slump of low volumes and grab incremental traffic to make sure they’re still acquiring new customers and meeting growth goals?

In this three-part series, we are going to explore three channels that aren’t the usual heavy-hitters, but can still be effective at achieving efficiency and incremental growth.

First up: Quora.

What is Quora?

Quora is a platform where users can come, share knowledge, ask questions, and get answers. Although small when compared to larger social channels such as Facebook, it does have over 200 million users and is steadily growing.

Quora has several benefits: CPCs are relatively low, you can reach relevant audiences looking to consume information about your potential business or industry, and you can go after either conversions or app installs.

Targeting options on Quora

Targeting options for Quora advertising include:

  • Questions targeting: You can serve your ads to specific question pages
  • Topics targeting: Based on content, Quora will group specific questions and answer pages for users to target. This is where you would choose topics relevant to your business
  • Interest targeting: Interests are based on what different Quora users have engaged with (asked questions, read, upvoted, etc.)
  • Lookalike targeting: Leverage your customer list or pixeled audiences as a seed list, and Quora will target audiences similar in characteristics, traits, and behaviors
  • Retargeting: Of course, Quora offers website retargeting as well
  • You can also layer in platform (mobile vs. desktop) and location targeting.

Tips and tricks for marketing on Quora

Some helpful tips and tricks to keep in mind as you get started with marketing on Quora:

1) You should always break out mobile and desktop at the start. Users behave and often perform differently on each device. By segmenting them initially, you can have more control over performance and budgeting.

2) Question targeting is the most granular type of targeting you can get on Quora, so volume may be a bit limited. Given that you choose specific questions, this targeting needs to be updated on a recurring basis so you can keep up with new content.

To ensure you are constantly capitalizing on relevant questions, be sure to revisit your ad set – edit it and continue to choose various new relevant questions that appear so that you can continue to expand your reach and get in front of relevant audiences.

3) Compared with interest-based targeting, topics targeting tends to be a bit of a safer bet in getting in front of relevant eyes that are in the moment and interested in what you may have to offer. If you have to prioritize, we recommend testing topics first.

4) To help find additional relevant topics to go after, rather than dumping in multiple topics in the targeting tool, type one at a time and take a look at what Quora auto-populates for you. This will allow you to see additional relevant long tail topics.

5) In terms of creative, try to make your ad ‘native’ to Quora’s experience and overall feel. We recommend keeping things in the question-and-answer format so it does not seem too salesy.

Below is an example:

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll explore the possibilities for advertising on Reddit.

Technical SEO vs content marketing: Which should SEOs focus on?

In the digital marketing sector we frequently talk about content and technical SEO as two distinct sections of marketing we can do on-site.

But that’s not entirely true. The two elements work hand-in-hand on a website to support its organic successes.

I think primarily the reason is that two separate skill sets are required to deliver the work. For a brand hiring an ‘SEO’ it’s rare they’ll be able to find one person who is equally strong in both content and technical work, so instead they must prioritize which one is the most important to them.

I don’t think that content vs. technical SEO is an either/or battle. Instead, it’s more about the ratios and weighting we put towards each side for the duration of an SEO project.

It’s an annoying cop-out, but when asked, “What’s more important: content, or technical?” the answer genuinely is, “It depends.” It depends on the current performance of your site, the speed at which you want results, the size of your business and how much you’ve previously done.

Let’s look at each one of these categories, and consider whether content or technical SEO is the best solution for various issues you might encounter.

Current performance

The area of SEO to invest your money in really depends on how well the site is doing and where it is under-performing to begin with.

The balance of if technical or content is the solution will depend on which area of the site performance you’re trying to target:

  • Struggling with site-wide rankings: Typically this is the result of an underlying technical issue, so technical SEO should be the priority area to focus upon.
  • Internal cannibalization: If rankings are low because you frequently have multiple pages trying to rank for the same keyword, then one effective solution is to look at and edit the content on these pages.
  • Product pages (with multiple configurations) not ranking: If a product page has multiple options to it in color/shape/size/style, and all of these are controlled by the user, it’s likely that a technical issue is causing inefficient crawling or indexing of these products.
  • Product pages with affiliates/stockists not ranking: If you’re selling another brand’s products, or work with affiliates or stockists of your products, when these are under-performing online, it’s often the result of duplicate content issues externally. The best solution here is to revise your content and optimize what is currently on your site.

Speed of results

It’s hard to know whether content or technical will get you the fastest results online, as it really depends upon the site you’re working on.

A site which is not being frequently and efficiently crawled will struggle to get technical changes noticed on-site, but also will rarely get new content indexed quickly or highly to begin with. To speed up the result you get from content pieces, it’s important to have already implemented the technical work required for Google to efficiently crawl and index the site.

This means that in cases where technical SEO already meets a minimum standard, content will get faster results than additional technical work and vice versa. Again, this needs a big caveat that is completely site dependent.

However, content has a major advantage in gaining results quickly without relying on SEO, as it can gain traction across other channels (e.g. social media) and support the branding of the business.

Whilst content marketing may come out of your SEO budget, there’s nothing to stop you using paid social as a means of promotion, email marketing or even just directing in store clients to your online resources. This means you get extra value from a single piece of content, which may be struggling to perform organically.

Previous work

As with every type of marketing, there is to some extent a Law of Diminishing Returns when it comes to technical SEO and content marketing.

The biggest results can be obtained when you make that first investment into either technical or content, if they are areas you’ve never branched into before. This means it’s key to consider the activities that have been done on the site before.

A site with no historic technical work may take some time for Google to pick up the changes made on-site; however, the impact will be huge compared to a small tweak on a much more well-established site.

The same applies to content: if there is very little established content on-site, or suitable information for consumers, then the initial pieces will have the largest impact.

A general rule

Whilst this is by no means applicable to every website, one common way to approach SEO is to view it as a pyramid of website’s needs.

Whilst technical sits at the base with the largest investment, it’s not necessarily the most important in the long-term.

As the website evolves, the time spent on each aspect will switch to focus on content marketing and off-site efforts, on the assumption that the technical foundations for SEO and speed for content delivery are already in place on the site.

Of course, when a change then impacts how we serve content to users, or Google’s algorithm updates, we often have to start again at the bottom of the pyramid.

A quick and easy guide to meta tags in SEO

Meta tags are invisible tags that provide data about your page to search engines and website visitors.

In short, they make it easier for search engines to determine what your content is about, and thus are vital for SEO.

Meta tags are placed in the section of a HTML document, and so they need to be coded in your CMS. This can be easier or harder depending on the platform that powers your website: an “out of the box” solution like WordPress will have a dedicated section for meta tags like canonical links or meta descriptions.

However, before we get into the nitty-gritty of which meta tags to add to your site, let’s talk about why they’re so important.

Why do meta tags matter?

As previously mentioned, meta tags offer more details about your site to search engines and website visitors who encounter your site in the SERP. They can be optimized to highlight the most important elements of your content and make your website stand out in search results.

Search engines increasingly value a good user experience, and that includes making sure that your site satisfies a user’s query as best as it possibly can. Meta tags help with this by making sure that the information searchers need to know about your site is displayed upfront in a concise and useful fashion.

Some types of meta tag relate to page structure and will ensure that your site is easy to navigate, while others tell search engines which parts of your page are important and which to overlook.

There are numerous different types of meta tags which fulfill different roles, and not all of them are relevant to SEO. You can find a full list in our complete guide to meta tags.

However, for the purposes of this quick guide, we’ve picked out the six most important meta tags that you need to know about for search optimization.

Six meta tags to improve the optimization of your site

1. Title tag

The title tag is one of the first things that users notice in the SERPs. It’s the title of your page that offers a preview of what your content is about.

It’s important as it shows up in the search results, but it’s also pulled out to show up as anchor text and a title in social shares.

This means that your title tag should be clear, descriptive and usually not more than 55 characters.

If you can include a keyword in these 55 characters, you can enhance your SEO, but what’s even more important is to remember to add value. A title that has the right keyword without being clear won’t necessarily lead to improved results.

Your title tag is not just for your visitors, but also the search engines that discover your content. Thus, you need to blend clarity with context to ensure that your title makes sense to everyone.

If you’re using a plugin like Yoast SEO in WordPress, it becomes easier to add your title tag in the SEO section to see a preview of your page and how it can look at the search results.

Another way to add the title tag is through the site’s HTML, which should look something like this example:


Example Title

Takeaway: Pay attention to your title tags, be clear and descriptive.

2. Meta description

The meta description is of equal importance to the title tag. If the title tag is the title that appears at the top of a search result, the meta description is the snippet that displays underneath.

The meta description should provide an accurate description of the content of your page. It is usually the element that determines whether users will click on your page, which makes it important to spend time on its optimization.

Previously, the optimum length for meta descriptions was 150-165 characters, but a recent update to the way Google displays search results has resulted in longer snippets being shown on occasion. For more on what this means for SEO and how to adapt, have a read of David Portney’s comprehensive piece, ‘Google’s updated SERP snippet length: What should be your SEO strategy now?‘.

As with title tags, you can add a meta description via a plugin like Yoast SEO, or code it manually in your website’s HTML, as in this example:



Takeaway: Use your meta description wisely and take advantage of the opportunity to provide more details about your content. Make it appealing, concise and relevant.

3. Robots meta tag

The robots meta tag informs search engines which pages on your site should be indexed. This meta tag serves a similar purpose to robots.txt; it is generally used to prevent a search engine from indexing individual pages, while robots.txt will prevent it from indexing a whole site or section of a site.

A robots meta tag which instructs the search engine crawler not to index a page, or follow any links on it, would be written like this:

However, if you want to tell the crawler to index and also follow your page, you would replace the robots tag with this:

The robots meta tag is placed in the section of your page, and the result might look like this:




(…)

(…)

If you don’t add a robots meta tag, the default for crawlers is to index and follow your page.

Why would you need to use this meta tag? It might be that you have some pages on your site which are necessary, but quite thin content-wise. You don’t necessarily want them to be indexed in search, but they’re still important to the site, so you can use a noindex tag to prevent them from appearing in the SERPs.

Google also requires links to be nofollowed under certain circumstances. For example, in 2016, it issued a directive to bloggers to nofollow any links that they included as part of a product review, as “these links don’t come about organically”. If you want to nofollow an individual link, you can achieve this by adding rel=”nofollow” to the link HTML.

However, if you wanted to simply nofollow all links on a particular page, you can achieve this with the robots meta tag.

Takeaway: Manage the pages that search engine crawlers access on your site by guiding them through the robots meta tag. Use the robots meta tag to ensure that search crawlers process each page the way you want them to.

4. Alt text

A screenshot of how you can add an Alt-Text in your image optimisation

Image optimization has become a very important element of modern SEO, as it offers an additional opportunity to rank in the search results, this time with your visual content.

Your images should be accessible to both search engines and people. Alt text can ensure both of these things: it provides a text alternative to images which will be displayed if the image doesn’t load, or will be read out by a screenreader; it also tells search engines what that image is meant to represent.

You can include keywords in your image alt text, but only if it makes sense to do so – don’t keyword-stuff this tag, as it will only end up harming the user experience for your visitors with accessibility needs.

Takeaway: Use alt text in your images to describe your visual content. This is a great opportunity to improve your SEO while helping both search engines and people to learn more about your images.

5. Canonical tag

If you have pages on your site that are almost identical, then you may need to inform search engines which one to prioritize. Or you might have syndicated content on your site which was republished elsewhere. You can do both of these things without incurring a duplicate content penalty – as long as you use a canonical tag.

Instead of confusing Google and missing your ranking on the SERPs, you are guiding the crawlers as to which URL counts as the “main” one. This places the emphasis on the right URL and prevents the others from cannibalizing your SEO.

A canonical tag can look like this in HTML:

Takeaway: Use canonical tags to avoid having problems with duplicate content that may affect your rankings.

6. Header tag (h1, h2, h3, etc.)

Header tags are part of your content; in short, they are the headings that you use to structure your page.

As well as improving user experience and ease of reading, header tags can also help search engines in understanding what your content is about.

The order of your header tags (from h1 to h6) highlights the importance of each section. A h1 tag typically denotes the page title or article headline, while h2 and below serve as subheadings to break up your content.

As important as header tags are, you shouldn’t overuse them – think quality, not quantity. Having five different types of heading on your page won’t help your SEO. Instead, use them tactically to break up your content and introduce the main point of each section.

Here’s an example of how header tags can be arranged, taken from this article:

A quick and easy guide to meta tags in SEO

Paragraph of content

Another paragraph of content

Why do meta tags matter?

Paragraph of content

Six meta tags to improve the optimization of your site

1. Title tag

It’s usually suggested to use only one h1, while you can use more than one h2 or h3.

Takeaway: Use header tags to help search engines understand your main topic on each page. Use them wisely and find a balance between the reading experience and the SEO value.

How to optimize your meta tags: A checklist

Meta tags can help both search engines and searchers. They can help you improve the user experience and the display of your business information.

This can contribute to an improved authority, an enhanced search presence and thus, a higher ranking.

If you’re ready to check your performance with meta tags, here’s a quick checklist to start with:

  • Check whether all your pages and your content have title tags and meta descriptions
  • Start paying more attention to your headings and how you structure your content
  • Don’t forget to mark up your images with alt text
  • Use robot meta tags to guide search engines on how they should access your content
  • Search for duplicate pages, and use canonical tags to avoid cannibalizing your own content with duplicate or similar content
  • Create a checklist of the steps that you need to repeat when you create new content, and turn meta tags into a part of your routine.

Hyperlocal SEO: What is it, and how can you make sure you do it right?

It is likely that if you are reading this, you’ve heard of ‘local SEO’ and have an understanding of the importance for certain businesses to optimize their web presence to rank for locally specific searches.

In a nutshell, ‘hyperlocal SEO’ is doing the same kind of optimization, but for smaller, more focused localities such as neighborhoods, towns, streets, and spots located near well-known landmarks – rather than ‘local SEO’, which would normally stop at cities, districts, or regions.

The benefits are clear: the search journey is simpler for your customer, it’s easier to compete with other businesses for more niche hyperlocal search terms, and it should lead to more footfall to your door.

Google is also aware of these benefits. In recent years it has responded to the mobile habits of users who are increasingly searching for businesses ‘near me’ or ‘near to…’ and who are more often using hyperlocal locations in their phrases.

Today, Google rewards those sites who have serious hyperlocal SEO game by (in order of mobile search display) by:

1. Highlighting them on Google’s map

A quick restaurant search of the hyperlocal Mutley Plain area of Plymouth.

2. Including them in the ‘3-pack’ box-out listings

The ‘3-pack’ results for the same search.

3. Ranking them well

The listing results. Note Mutley Kebabs beating Yell and Papa Johns due to the titles, URL and description including the hyperlocal phrases ‘mutley‘ and mutley plain’.

Additionally, if Google understands you as a trustworthy (or, the sole) example of a business thanks to good hyperlocal SEO, it will also ensure call-to-actions (such as call, directions, share, website) are displayed promptly in the search results for your customer to click on.

So how do you do it?

Getting started with hyperlocal SEO is all about ensuring it is easy for Google to know your business is relevant to hyperlocal searches. There are three ways to get cracking with this:

1. Set up your Google My Business profile

This is important and the service is free to use. By signing up to Google My Business you can tell Google directly the name of your business, the exact location, what it does, opening times, what it looks like (upload your own images), and many more attributes.

It is of particular relevance to the map results and the 3-pack listings. For instance, Google smartly tells the searcher whether the business is open or closed right now and pulls out images to give users more of an idea of what to expect.

Not only does Google My Business make it easier for it to know what’s what about your business, it also improves the search experience for your customer – giving more ‘at a glance’ information than the traditional SERPs listings do.

Google My Business also allows you to post updates to give customers an idea of current offers and events direct from the search results. And you can also make use of the insights and analytics to give you an idea of how well your hyperlocal visibility is working.

2. On-site content should reflect hyperlocal terms

As Nikolay Stoyanov says in his Complete guide to keyword research for SEO: “Keywords are the backbone of SEO.”

I’m inclined to agree. The keyword research methods and tools explored by Nikolay in his above piece are invaluable, but hyperlocal search terms also need to draw on knowledge and potentially research of the area in which your business is located.

Neighbourhoods and boroughs of wider cities are good places to start. Where is your business located in this sense, and what does Google display when you search for it?

Is it worth zooming in smaller? Like my above example, ‘mutley plain,’ is a well-established street within Mutley in Plymouth.

Are you located near a well-known place or landmark (university, sports stadium, monuments etc.)? It might be worth reflecting this in your onsite content.

Once you’re sure of your hyperlocal term, make sure it is reflected in your titles, descriptions, body text, alt. text of images etc. so when Google crawls this content – and potential customers read it – both know your business is there.

3. Add structured data markup (schema)

Google offers further information on how best for local businesses to do this here.

By including the relevant markup, you can make Google’s job of displaying the necessary information and call-to-actions about your business even easier.

Currently Google accepts markup for (among other things):

  • Opening Times. Even down to seasonal changes
  • Location. Including latitude and longitude
  • Restaurant-specific properties. Such as food served, how it can be delivered, how to reserve a table etc.

Consider adding markup to the content pages on your site as a best practice accompaniment to the information in your Google My Business profile. It will ensure that when Google is crawling your site, it will deliver the most trustworthy, up-to-date and relevant information.

Thinking about your business in hyperlocal terms is a good opportunity to stand out

As increasing numbers of web searchers use mobile devices to look for businesses, there is more reason for Google to have an understanding of what relevant businesses are within walking distance of those making the search.

At the same time, hyperlocal terms can be expected to be used more often.

Additionally, be sure to analyze the success of your hyperlocal search terms (using Google My Business, Google Analytics etc.) and tweak them if necessary. Be prepared for such terms to increase in competitiveness and for Google to change how it presents its local and hyperlocal results.

After all, SEO – and Google – is always evolving.

AI and machine learning: What you do and don’t need to know for SEO

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a field of technology that is surrounded by both hype and misconceptions.

It is predicted that $60 billion will be spent by brands on AI technology by 2025, so this hype is having a direct impact on where companies allocate their budgets.

A significant difficulty in defining the size of the AI market is in defining exactly where its boundaries lie. Although we tend to imagine eerily human robots that mimic our mannerisms, AI is actually a very broad field that encompasses a range of disciplines – some more relevant to search marketing than others.

More often than not, it is embedded in software that can process vast amounts of data to make or inform more intelligent decisions.

The headlines are typically reserved for AI applications like driverless cars and delivery drones, but this overlooks the fact that AI has the potential to improve every aspect of our lives.

Machine learning, which is a subset of artificial intelligence, is built on algorithms that take in data from their surroundings and take actions without being specifically programmed to do so. In other words, they learn from ‘experience’.

A brief look at the technology giants will show just how essential machine learning is to their respective growth strategies.

Google

  • Google’s RankBrain uses machine learning technology to analyze the context of content and serve more accurate organic search results. Increasingly, this applies to image and video results as well as text.
  • AdWords and Google Analytics both make use of machine learning to derive performance insights and improve ad targeting.
  • Google has publicly stated that the company has taken an “AI-first” approach, demonstrated in its software such as the Google Assistant but also in hardware, including Google Home and the Pixel smartphone range.
  • Google also purchased AI specialist company DeepMind for over $500 million to fuel their AI-first strategy.

Amazon

  • Amazon’s Echo devices, powered by an AI assistant, were the retailer’s biggest seller during the 2017 holiday season.
  • Amazon was an early adopter of machine learning for product recommendations. These algorithms assess our behavior – and that of similar customers – to proactively suggest new products to us.
  • The ecommerce giant has also made the news on numerous occasions for its experiments with AI-powered delivery drones.
  • Amazon Web Services encourages developers of all skill levels to engage with its machine learning tools.

Facebook

  • Facebook uses AI to interpret images, both to identify individuals and to understand the context of the visuals.
  • The Facebook News Feed tailors each user’s content using machine learning algorithms. Personalization is one of the most common and powerful applications of AI for social networks.
  • Facebook’s prediction engine makes more than 6 million predictions every second.

Apple

  • Apple uses AI to recognize the fingerprint and face of device owners, improving security and making it easier for users to unlock hardware.
  • Recently, Apple has partnered with IBM to create a mobile application for the latter’s Watson AI program.
  • Apple purchased unstructured data specialists Lattice Data for $200 million in 2017, which will help provide the reliable data that machine learning algorithms require to function effectively.

Clearly, AI is more of a new reality than a passing trend.

Machine learning is built into so many products and services, such as Spotify and Uber, that we sometimes see its benefits without understanding its processes.

It is therefore not so surprising that consumers aren’t fully aware of just how pervasive AI and machine learning actually are.

In a recent survey, just 33% of consumers reported that they currently use an AI-driven technology, when in fact 77% of them did so without even realizing.

What marketers require within so much noise is some clarity on how AI is actually going to affect – and potentially improve – their company’s strategy.

AI applications that apply to SEO and content

Query understanding

Google can use machine learning algorithms to get to the heart of a searcher’s intent. Based on someone’s past behavior and current location, their search for something like [pizza] can be understood at a deeper level.

Perhaps they want pizza recipes, the number of a local restaurant, or the location of a nearby pizza place. Machine learning can remove the guesswork and get straight to the right answer.

Personalization

Machine learning helps search engines to tailor their results to each individual user. That means we need to know our audience and their moments of need if we are to win in this new landscape. AI helps us to find these insights in our customer data just as it allows search engines to match queries to the most relevant responses.

Voice search

Digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant rely on AI to converse with consumers and pre-empt their requests. We must optimize for this new ecosystem by analyzing when and why people use these devices and also providing answers that can easily be pulled from our content. Structured data is one great way to achieve this.

Multimedia search

Brands need to optimize images, videos, and even audio clips for search. Through a process called deep learning, computer-based algorithms can interpret these assets

Analytics

AI can now unearth important statistics hidden within our analytics platforms. This saves time, of course, but also provides essential information to us automatically. If we use this knowledge to shape our content strategies, we can arrive at more creative and impactful results.

A new survey from BrightEdge corroborates this, too. Marketers report that better customer understanding is the most common success that AI brings to their campaigns.

This is followed by increased productivity, as machine learning can not only automate some of our daily tasks but also achieve them in a more efficient manner. The initial fear that AI would take over our jobs is increasingly replaced by a general sense of optimism of how AI can augment our abilities and extend what we can achieve.

These AI applications for SEO and content can facilitate much better results through insights, speed, and accuracy at scale.

AI applications that don’t apply to SEO

It would be fair to say that AI has entered the SEO arena and looks very unlikely to exit any time soon. However, there are still some AI applications that we as search professionals do not need to focus on.

Interestingly, 33% of marketers report that integrating AI into their current workflow is the biggest obstacle to AI adoption:

This is closely followed by the confusion about what is and what is not truly AI.

As such, drawing some of these boundaries about where we see the important links between SEO and AI can be very beneficial.

Some examples of AI applications that do not directly impact the search and content industry would include:

  • Programmatic media buying: Real-time bidding, for example, is powered by machine learning.
  • Recommendation engines, such as the one behind Netflix’s suggested titles for each viewer.
  • Chatbots: Although these can improve engagement rates, their impact on SEO performance is indirect.
  • Market analysis: Assessment of financial markets, for instance, relies on sophisticated machine learning algorithms.

Needless to say, many in the search industry will be interested in these fields, but knowledge of these topics is not a prerequisite for SEO success today.

Conclusion

SEO and AI are a very natural fit, so now is the time to start engaging with this technology.

Marketers do not need to be advanced programmers to understand the importance of AI in shaping the future of organic search and content marketing.

Undoubtedly, we have a lot of learning to do, which has always been a fundamental aspect of working in search marketing. It’s what makes this such an exciting industry to work in, after all.

There are fantastic resources to get started on this journey, such as Udacity, Coursera, and the Google-owned Kaggle data science community.

For marketers aiming to get started with AI today, I would recommend the following steps:

  • Identify a current use case to understand how brands in your industry are benefiting from AI applications.
  • Speak to technology providers that have integrated AI into their SEO products and workflows.
  • Track the impact that this technology has on the metrics that matter most to your business.

From there, you will have a fantastic case study to demonstrate the positive impact AI can have to the rest of your organization.

How to migrate your WordPress website domain name

Are you looking for a guide to migrate your WordPress website domain name? If the answer is “yes”, then you’ve come to the right place.

Migrating a WordPress domain name is not an overly common occurrence. However, there are many instances where a website might be required to change its domain name.

For example, your website might be penalized heavily by Google, and you want a new domain, or you might want to rebrand your business to a new name. Everything is fine until you have a proper reason to do so.

In this article, we will focus on the tools and techniques that will allow you to migrate WordPress website domain name. Before we start, however, let’s try to understand the impact of migrating your website domain on your SEO.

What is the impact of changing domain name on SEO?

One of the most common questions that a website owner has is: what will be the impact of moving the domain name on SEO?

As you might expect, Google will not respond quickly to the change in domain, and initially your search engine traffic will be impacted. With time and effort, however, your traffic will get back to normal after the switch.

To ensure that you get your traffic back, you need to follow a few simple steps. Don’t worry – we will go through them in this article. In short, you need to not only to buy a new domain, but also carry out proper 301 redirects to ensure that your SEO doesn’t get impacted any more than you can help.

Things to do before you start

Before we start, you need to do some pre-steps. These pre-steps will ensure that you don’t lose any of your work, and will also prepare the website for migration.

For the sake of an example, we will name the old site as “www.example.com” and the new site as the “www.newexample.com.” We will use these throughout the article for reference purposes.

How to migrate your WordPress website domain name

1. Creating a full backup

The first step is to always create a backup of your website, including files and database. As you are using WordPress, you will find a lot of backup plugins to do the task. We recommend using BackupBuddy, VaultPress, BackWPup or Duplicator. You can also use other backup plugins or services of your choice.

Last but not least, you can also back up your website using the Cpanel or use phpMyAdmin. Only try out these manual methods if you are sure what you are doing. For the most part, it’s a good idea to stick with backup plugins unless you’re 100% confident.

Once the backup is created, you can download it to your computer, or simply store it in the cloud.

2. Setting up the new site

To simplify things, we’ll use Duplicator as the example plugin for walking you through these steps.

To get started, you need to install the Duplicator plugin on your old site, www.example.com. Once done, you need to navigate to the plugin page from the WordPress side menu.

After you open the plugin, all you need to do is click on the “create” button to start the process of duplicating your website. After you provide the name of the package, it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 minutes for the backup to be complete.

Once done, you can download the package and secure it for the next step. For the sake of the tutorial, we will name the package “thekey.php”.

3. Connecting through FTP

The next step is to connect to your new site (www.newexample.com). You can use FileZilla to connect. After connection, just copy the the backup file, “thekey.php” into the root directory of the new website. You should be able to now access the website by typing the URL in your browser.

http://www.newexample.com/thekey.php

You need to change the URL and the file name accordingly for the above URL to work. Once done, you will now see a Duplicator Installer screen where it will ask for basic information such as the database.

Ensure that you check the “Table Removal” option and also ensure that the database on the new website is empty.

Next, you need to click on the “I have read all the warning and notices.” By clicking the “Run Deployment” option, the deployment process will now start.

After the initial installation process is completed, you will see another screen which is the “Update” screen. In this screen, you need to enter the old domain name and the new domain name. The plugin will try to guess the old and new URLs, but you should double-check to ensure that both values are correct.

The final step is to wait for the process to complete. After the completion, you can now log in to the WordPress admin panel using the old credentials and check if everything is working fine. The plugin also tries to prompt you to create a new backup which you should consider that you can always revert to the first instance if something goes wrong from here onwards.

You can also delete the installer file and clear your directory for any unnecessary files. You also need to re-initiate the permalinks by going to “Settings” -> “Permalinks.”

4. Final step: Implementing 301 redirects and notifying Google

With all the backups loaded into the new website, it is now time to tell Google that your new site is ready. To do so, you need to set up permanent 301 redirects using a simple .htaccess file hack. This hack is also used when switching a website from HTTP to HTTPS in WordPress.

You can find the .htaccess file in your wp-admin or wp-includes folder. It is a hidden file, and you might to search for hidden files if you are not able to locate it. After you locate the file, copy and paste the below code to make the magic happen.

#Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.newexample.COM/$1 [R=301,L]

Don’t forget to replace newexample with your new domain name.

With redirection complete, it is now time to tell Google about your new domain.

You need to use Google Search Console to let Google know about the change. Go to the left-hand menu and click on “Change of Address.” You can follow this simple guide by Google for step-by-step instructions.

Conclusion

Migration a website domain name is not a simple task. You need to carry out the steps with caution and concentration.

We hope you found this guide useful. If you are not sure how to proceed with the whole process, it is always advisable to hire a professional to do it for you. Also, don’t forget to share your opinions in the comments section below.

A guide to the standard reports in Google Analytics: Audience reports

Google Analytics is a tool that can provide invaluable insights into what’s happening on your website, your levels of traffic and engagement, and the success of your campaigns.

If you’re a newcomer to Google Analytics, however, the array of different reports available to you can be a little overwhelming. Where should you begin? Where can you find the most useful data about your website?

Google Analytics standard reports are the preset reports listed down the left-hand side of your dashboard, divided into the segments Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions.

The information that appears in these is preset by Google Analytics, and gives an insight into the data on every part of your site, from your audience demographics to the channels through which they find your website.

In this series, we’ve set out to tackle the ambitious task of explaining each segment of Google Analytics and the standard reports they contain. Last time, we looked at Real-Time Reports and how they can be used in your marketing and SEO campaigns.

In this instalment, we’re going to look at Audience Reports: what you can learn from them, and how you can get the most out of the data that they offer.

What are Audience Reports?

As with Real-Time Reports, the secret to what these reports do is in the name: they tell you more about your audience, the people who are coming to your site.

The Audience section of Google Analytics is an extensive one, with no fewer than fifteen sub-sections sitting within it, most of those with several different reports.

We won’t cover each one in exhaustive detail in this guide, but will give a quick whistle-stop tour of the main sections and look at some ways that you can use these reports to maximum effect in your marketing campaigns.

Overview

The Overview section shows you your website’s current audience at a glance. It’s not in real-time – you need Real-Time Reports for that – but nevertheless presents a useful snapshot of the current audience metrics on your site, with information on users, unique users, sessions, page views, bounce rate and more.

The default time period is set to a week, but you can use the calendar drop-down in the top right corner to adjust it and view metrics over a longer or shorter period. You can also use the buttons just below that to view hour-by-hour, day-by-day, week-by-week or month-by-month stats (note that the last two of these will only work if the time span you’ve selected is more than a week/month).

Active Users

This report gives you an insight into the number of unique users who have visited your site over various time periods – 1 day, 7 days, 14 days and 28 days.

This report is most useful for understanding the success of a promotional campaign while it’s running. As Google’s Analytics Help text for the Active Users report advises:

“If the numbers are consistently in line with your expectations, you’ve found your sweet spot.

“If the numbers are below expectations, reevaluate your marketing efforts to see whether you’re targeting the appropriate audiences, and whether your ads are winning auctions.

“In cases where you have a lot of 1-Day Active Users but the numbers drop off for longer term users, that can signal things like problems with a new release, or that initial enthusiasm isn’t translating into long-term engagement. For example, lots of users might be downloading an app but are finding that it doesn’t really meet a need they have or that it doesn’t capture their interest.”

Lifetime Value

The Lifetime Value report for Google Analytics was first tested in the first quarter of 2016 (as reported by Search Engine Roundtable at the time) and was rolled out fully in early 2017, although as I write this, the report is still in beta.

The report is geared towards Google Analytics users who have an ecommerce website, and is only available if you have activated ecommerce tracking on Google Analytics.

The Lifetime Value report allows you to filter by the date on which a certain user was acquired, making it possible to analyze users acquired during the most recent day-long, week-long or month-long campaign. It also allows you to compare various different Lifetime Value (LTV) metrics, including:

  • Appviews per user (applies only to mobile app users)
  • Pageviews per user (applies only to website users)
  • Goal completions per user
  • Revenue per user
  • Session duration per user
  • Sessions per user
  • Transactions per user

For a more in-depth examination of how these metrics are calculated, have a read of Optimize Smart’s ‘Measuring customers’ lifetime value in Google Analytics for mobile app and website users‘.

Cohort Analysis

A cohort of users is any group of users that is segmented based on a date. For example, a cohort could be a group of users with the same acquisition date (technically in GA this would be the Date of First Session), or a group of users who completed their first transaction during a specific time period.

To configure a cohort report, there are four main selections you need to make:

Cohort type: This is the date that you want to base your cohort on. A little frustratingly, GA currently only gives one option for this section – Acquisition Date. However, it is possible to use report segmentation to get some additional insights, such as segmenting by traffic source or campaign.

Cohort size: This is the time window that you want to use for your cohort type: e.g. by day, by week, by month.

Metric: This is the actual data you will see presented in the report. You can choose from aggregated metrics such as pageviews or revenue, or per-user metrics such as sessions per user or transactions per user.

Date range: This is the date range used to construct the cohort; you can choose from the last 7 days, last 14 days, last 21 days or last 30 days.

For a much more detailed guide to using cohorts in Google Analytics, check out ‘Understanding the Google Analytics cohort report‘ by Analytics Talk.

Audiences

To populate this report with data, you first need to define an audience within Analytics. To do that, you should enable Demographics and Interests reports, then create an audience.

You can use one of the preconfigured audiences available within Analytics, or create one from scratch. An audience might be as general as “current shoppers” (including users who have >0 product views, and excluding those who have >0 purchases) or as specific as users who have viewed the detailed page for [Product x], and then returned within 7 days to purchase.

Finally, publish your audience to Analytics by adding Analytics as a destination for that audience. The Audiences report will display data for your audience(s) from the point at which you create the report onwards – it isn’t available retroactively.

Once this is all set up, you can view Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions metrics for the audiences you have defined, and respond to their performance with actions like:

  • Devoting more of your marketing budget to bidding on ads for those users
  • Expanding on the hours during which you bid on ads shown to those users
  • Expanding the number of sites on which you bid for ads shown to those users.

User Explorer

To populate this report with data, you need to first enable the User-ID feature in your property settings. Once set up, this report allows you to isolate and examine individual, rather than aggregate, user behavior.

For each client or user ID, you can view the following initial data:

  • Sessions
  • Avg. Session Duration
  • Bounce Rate
  • Revenue
  • Transactions
  • Goal Conversion Rate

Then after drilling into the ID, you can see the acquisition date and channel for that user, along with an activity log detailing which actions that user took on your site during each session. You can use the Filter by menu to add and remove data types, and expand and collapse individual sessions as necessary.

You can use the User Explorer report to more closely examine any noteworthy behavior that you spot within a particular segment, to get a more detailed understanding of what might be going on.

By examining individual session behavior, you can also see when your users fall short of completing certain goals, and remarket to those users with specific information related to their experiences. Additionally, you can personalize your customer service and offer informed guidance based on the context provided by the User Explore report. Just remember to tread the line between “helpful” and “creepy”!

Demographics

The Demographics section in Google Analytics gives an insight into the age and gender of your website audience, and how different age and gender groups behave differently on your site.

Google cautions that, “Demographics and interests data may only be available for a subset of your users, and may not represent the overall composition of your traffic” – so bear in mind that this data may not be present for the whole of your audience, depending on whether or not it can track them via a DoubleClick cookie or Device Advertising ID.

The Overview report shows you the age and gender breakdown of your audience at a glance, with age divided into 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64 and 65+ bands. In the top right corner of each graph, you can see which percentage of users on the site this data represents.

The Age report gives a breakdown of how those different groups interact with your website – their average bounce rate, pages per session, session duration, and completion rate of any goals and conversions you’ve set – and the Gender report does the same for gender.

The graph at the top of the report allows you to view how many of each type of user accessed your site on any given day – so if you’ve been executing campaigns to drive a specific demographic (e.g. women aged 18-24) to your website, you can assess how successful that has been over time.

Interests

They say psychographic data, rather than demographic data, is where it’s at these days. If so, the Interests section of GA Audience Reports is where you’ll find your most valuable information. Google uses a variety of data points taken from places like Gmail, app messages, internet browsing habits and YouTube history to make a guess at each user’s personal interests.

GA splits up interest data into three categories, each with its own report: Affinity, In-Market and Other.

Affinity Categories: Users who have a general interest in the topic in question – Google describes the interest level of these users as “Lifestyles similar to TV audiences, for example: Technophiles, Sports Fans, and Cooking Enthusiasts”.

In-Market Segments: Users who have “product-purchase interests” in the topic in question, akin to a buyer who is at the bottom of a purchase funnel and ready to convert.

Other Categories: This category provides the most granular view of your users’ interests. For example, says Google, “Affinity Categories includes Foodies, while Other Categories includes Recipes/Cuisines/East Asian”.

These reports display similar data to the Demographics reports, with users segmented by interest area instead of by age group or gender.

So what is interest data good for? If you’re an advertiser, you can use it to more effectively target ads based on specific interests. If you’re a publisher or otherwise publish content marketing to your site, you can get ideas for content topics based on what your users are most interested in.

You can also segment your report to get an insight into how these interest categories align with other demographics or behaviors. For example, below I’ve segmented the Other report by the 18-24 age group, revealing which interests are most prevalent among the youngest age group on Search Engine Watch.

Apparently SEW’s younger readers are more into Bollywood than SEO…

Geo

The Geo section contains reports on the language and location of your website visitors.

In the Language report, you can view Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions for site users who speak different languages – particularly useful if you run an international business, or have been thinking about diversifying into international markets, as you can get an idea of which language markets it would be most worthwhile expanding into.

The Location report features a virtual map of your users’ locations, which is useful for targeting search and social ads. You can zoom in on data at the city level, which allows local businesses to know if their marketing efforts are driving traffic and conversions from the right regions, and is also useful for publishers who want to create locally-focused content.

Behavior

The Behavior section allows you to break down your audience by how often they visit your site, and the duration of that visit. You can learn how many times on average a visitor comes to your website, how many days tend to elapse between sessions for repeat visitors, how long visitors remain on your site and how many pages they visit whilst there.

If you’re a publisher, this is valuable data on how ‘sticky’ your website is and how successfully you’re managing to retain visitors. If you’re aiming to create more engaging content, you can track these metrics to gauge the success of your efforts, keeping an eye out for an increase in returning visitors or the duration of an average visit.

If you’re in ecommerce or sales, you can use this data in conjunction with Goals in order to learn what visitor behavior typically leads to a conversion.

Do you score the most conversions on the user’s first visit, or on subsequent visits? If the latter, what can you do to make your visitors more likely to return and convert?

Technology

The Technology section of GA Audience reports reveals which browsers, operating systems and even network providers your audience is using to access your site.

This information can be useful if your business creates online extensions, software or applications, and you want to know which browsers and operating systems to make them compatible with.

You can also use it to work out where you should be allocating your technical resources – if only a small fraction of your audience uses Opera, for example, it’s probably not worth putting a lot of time and effort into making sure that your website is optimized for that browser.

Mobile

If you’ve been in two minds about whether to optimize for mobile (though by now we hope we’ve persuaded you that it is worthwhile!) or want the data to back up an argument for a mobile site/app, head to Google Analytics’ Audience => Mobile section.

In the Overview report you can see Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions data for desktop, mobile and tablet users – which can also allow you to learn, for example, if your bounce rate is significantly higher on mobile (which might indicate a poor mobile experience) or whether more users are completing purchases on a desktop device.

The Devices report then provides you with incredibly specific insights into the devices your audience is using to access your website, down to the make and model of the device.

If you’re developing a mobile app and are unsure about whether to produce it for Apple or Android, or want to test your mobile site using the most common devices wielded by your users, this is the report to look at.

Custom

In this section, you can create a custom Audience report using your own chosen variables, metrics and dimensions.

As the scope of this series is standard Google Analytics reports (not custom), I won’t go into detail here about how to get the most out of this report, but Econsultancy has a solid beginner’s guide to creating a custom report in Google Analytics if you want to get to grips with the basics.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking reports are only available if you have benchmarking enabled on Google Analytics, but once you do, it gives an extremely useful insight into how your website audience and performance compare with other companies in your industry.

Google allows you to get extremely granular with the industry categories, providing a list of more than 1,600 to choose from. You can further refine the data by geographic location and traffic volume, allowing you to compare like for like with other websites of the same size and location.

Users Flow

The Users Flow report is a fairly unique-looking report that doesn’t immediately resemble any of the other standard reports in Google Analytics.

As the name implies, it is useful for studying and trying to understand the “flow” of users through your website – the path that they typically take from page to page. It also highlights where users drop off – so you can isolate where exactly users might be getting stuck or losing interest, and take steps to remedy it.

A drop-down menu in the top left allows you to view user flow by location, language, browser, mobile device, and other custom data dimensions.

This view can be particularly useful for ecommerce marketers to understand the path that users typically take to conversion, as well as for publishers seeking to understand which articles bring the most users to the site, and where users typically navigate after reading them.

How do you make use of Google Analytics’ many different Audience Reports? Do you have any novel applications to share? Leave a comment, and stay tuned for our next instalment on Acquisition Reports!

12 tips to improve your reputation strategy

To grow and stay ahead of your competitors, you need to take a hard look at your reputation strategy.

The online reputation of your business hinges on a variety of elements. It’s an ever-evolving digital mix-up of comments, reviews, blogs, and more.

It’s time to take a proactive approach to improve your online reputation. Not sure where to start? Here are 12 tips to make your business shine under any consumer microscope.

1. Upgrade your Trustpilot account

Trustpilot continues to sway consumers, and you probably have built up a few Trustpilot reviews for your business. But are you making the most of your Trustpilot account?

By upgrading your Trustpilot account from free to paid, you get more personalized features to net more ratings and reviews.

Paid Trustpilot features include:

  • Personalized email address from sender
  • Customizable review invitations to your customers
  • Rich snippet star rating in TrustBox
  • TrustBox optimization
  • Imported product reviews

Trustpilot paid features can make a big impact on your brand reputation. After all, reviews and ratings play a big role in consumer confidence to buy.

2. Get backlinks from high authority sites

A backlink from a high authority publication is a recommendation signal to consumers.

For example, people reading a Forbes article on “Best Health Apps” will assume that the Forbes journalist did his or her due diligence in finding the very best apps. This is a trust signal for consumers.

To get those high authority backlinks you can implement a link building strategy that allows you to be top of mind for journalists. Creating very shareable content on your blog or site is also a powerful way to earn those reputation building backlinks as well.

3. Have a “featured in” logo section

To amplify confidence to buy and boost your brand reputation, you can showcase the high authority publications your products or services have been featured in. This makes a Featured In section on your home page valuable, like this one from Your Doctors Online.

This reputation strategy tip is also a very easy one to implement once you have three or more high authority publications to list.

You can also use the press release strategy to develop a few high authority “Featured In” publications. Using PRNewswire iReach WebReach, you can launch a press release about your brand.

The press release will get picked up by a number of high authority publications, like Yahoo Finance. You can create a press release about a new product or service, new employee position, charity work, and more.

4. Get quoted everywhere!

Having a CEO, director, or manager quote in several publications can be another fantastic reputation strategy. This will compliment your link building strategy as well, since most quotes are accompanied by a link back to the experts business.

How do you get quoted everywhere? Well, it is actually easier than you may think. Using Help A Reporter Out (HARO) can accomplish this.

Simply sign up for a free account as a “Source,” fill in the information, and choose the industries you can add insights for.

This is a great way to boost your reputation as an authority in your industry. You will also get quality backlinks to your website, and use articles on social media to boost awareness and trust among your followers.

5. Facebook video ads

Video ads are trending in a big way for brands, and users want more videos than ever before. In fact, 90 percent of users said that videos are a big part of the decision process. Social media videos net 1,200 percent more shares than the average text social posts.

“It is indeed one of the best tactics to bring more exposure to your brand while helping you achieve your bottom-line,” Mike Templeman of Forbes explained.

Facebook video ads are among the best performers. Why video? Video is great for engagement and can also add that personal touch consumers want.

Like this video from Backlinko’s Facebook page with nearly 3,500 shares:

You can show your social audience that you are indeed real, knowledgeable, and highlight your brand’s value and benefits.

6. YouTube videos

Your social media videos will often come from YouTube, making this is another reputation strategy worth pursuing. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and you can highlight your authority and expertise via YouTube videos quite easily.

Going back to the previous Backlinko example, Brian Dean uses YouTube videos to showcase his expertise on digital marketing in an engaging and actionable way.

If you want to increase your reputation and become a thought leader in your industry, YouTube can be valuable. You can also build up a subscriber base to remarket to.

7. Collaborate with social media influencers

There is nothing like boosting your reputation through the recommendations of influencers your customers already trust. This makes social media influencers an important asset to add to your reputation strategy.

Did you know that 74 percent of people turn to social media for help with buying decisions? And 40 percent of people have made an online purchase after seeing an influencer use a product on social media.

Where can you find social media influencers to help improve your brand reputation? There are a few online platforms like FameBit, TapInfluence, and Traackr. FameBit is a free platform that allows you to connect with influencers in a variety of industries.

Since it is free, it’s a good way to test the social media influencer waters across social channels like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

8. Get more blogger reviews

Social media is not the only place to utilize the power of influencers. If your brand sells products, getting more reviews from bloggers people follow and trust can boost your brand reputation.

To get your products reviewed by influential bloggers, you will need to send them a quick pitch. This can be via a social media message, or through their email or contact form from their website.

Here are a few pitch tips for outreach:

  • Keep your pitch short and sweet
  • Highlight your product’s benefits
  • Explain why the blogger’s audience will like your product
  • Let the blogger have your product for free
  • Let them know you have an influencer marketing budget

9. Start a podcast

Another great way to improve your reputation strategy is to start a podcast. Podcasts help showcase your knowledge and can cover a lot of trending topics your customers want information about.

“If you’re not already engaging your target market with podcasts, prepare to launch your first piece of audio content,” Tyler Basu explained in an Entrepreneur article.

Podcasts are a great way to feed information to your audience. They can easily listen to your podcast while driving, at the gym, on the bus or subway, and even at work.

Your audience doesn’t need to focus all their attention on written content. Creating a podcast is also easier than spending hours developing a blog post. A few podcast types include:

  • Interviews
  • Solo podcasts
  • Two or more hosts
  • Narrative podcasts
  • Or a combination of the above

You will also need a separate hosting platform for your podcasts. LibSyn and Blubrry are two hosting platforms that are affordable and easy to use.

10. List your product on Amazon

Getting your product listed on Amazon is an exceptional way to boost your online reputation. Did you know that 80 percent of Amazon users make an average of one purchase per month? Given that there are around 300 million Amazon users in total, that’s a lot of potential customers – and reviewers.

This makes Amazon a big trust builder for consumers and should be part of your reputation strategy. Amazon also has a product review and star rating. This can make a big impact on your brand’s reputation.

Amazon listing guidelines are actually not as difficult as you may think. You will need to follow the step-by-step process and you could have your product on Amazon within a few weeks.

11. Create Quality Content

One tried and true method for improving your reputation strategy is to create quality content. Those 300 word blog posts will simply not do anymore. You want your audience to be engaged and learn something from your articles.

Develop actionable blog posts that show step-by-step ways to solve issues consumers in your industry and niche may be experiencing.

For example, if you are catering content to small businesses, you can have a post about email marketing. In the post you can list the exact steps to set up an email marketing campaign and tips on how to make it successful.

This, of course, will be time-consuming. Your blog post may turn into a 2,000-word masterpiece. But long-form content is good!

Research has shown that 2,000+ word posts get more organic traffic:

Long form content also gets more social shares and linking domains:

This will increase brand reach and awareness, increase authority, and thus improve your reputation strategy.

12. Increase your Google ranking

Many consumers often begin looking for a product or service via Google search. Unfortunately, most searchers don’t go past page one of Google search results.

According to a Chitika report, only 4.8 percent of traffic will land on page two of search results.

Why? Well, one reason may be that Google is satisfying searcher intent better. But many consumers may not trust the content after Google page one. Are all page one listings reputable? Not at all, but the consumer may not know that.

A quick search for “running shoes” will return some questionable results:

Note that Nike and Reebok aren’t even in the above the fold content listed!

This makes getting the best Google rankings possible essential. Luckily, all the above reputation strategy tips will help you achieve better rankings. Page one Google ranking serves up a lot of benefits, including a powerful online reputation.

What’s your reputation strategy?

Your online reputation is essential to the growth and success of your brand. Without a reputable online presence, consumers will turn to your competitors.

The above 12 tips to improve your reputation strategy can make your brand shine when consumers start doing their due diligence before buying from you.

What is your reputation strategy?