Complete guide to meta tags in SEO

A Wodpress window showcasing the fields that enhance image optimisation

A complete introduction to all the meta tags a webmaster may need when creating or optimising a webpage for SEO.

Everything will be covered here, including: Title Tag, Meta Description, Alt-Text for images, Canonical Tag, Noindex, Nofollow, H1 – H6 tags, Robots Meta Tag and the various tags involved in Google News.

But first, let’s answer the question…

What are meta tags?

Meta tags are HTML elements that provide information about a web page for search engines and website visitors.

These elements must be placed as tags in the section of a HTML document so therefore need to be coded in your CMS.

Some are easier to implement than others, especially if you have WordPress or any other ‘out-of-box’ CMS, where things like merely writing a headline creates your H1 tag and there are specific sections to add your own canonical links or meta descriptions.

None of them are as complicated as they sound though, so let’s define each one in alphabetical order.

Alt-Text for images

As we stated in our guide to image optimisation for SEO, Google can’t ‘see’ your images, but it can ‘read’ them and what it reads is what you write in the alt-attribute.

Alt-text should be clear, descriptive, concise and not stuffed with keywords. Alt-text is also what’s used by screen reader software to describe images to people with visual impairments.

The alt-text also shows up in the text box that appears when you hover over an image.

Canonical Tag

If there are two identical pieces of content that exist on the internet (normally if you’ve syndicated another website’s content) you must include a Canonical Tag which contains the original published article’s URL.

This will pass all of the PageRank and other Google ranking signals back to the original webpage, informing the search engine that this is the page that should appear in search results.

The Canonical Tag will look like this in the link HTML:

Or often there’ll be a section in your article’s CMS where you can simply copy and paste the original URL:

canonical tag

Google News meta news_keywords

The meta news_keywords allows you to specify the 10 most relevant terms in your news articles.

To use Google’s own example, in an article about the World Cup you could add the following code to help Google News better understand the nature of your content:

The meta news_keywords tag is only useful for sites that are in Google News by the way, the won’t be any use if you’re not.

Google News Standout Tag

You can tag an exclusive, breaking story from your website by implementing the standout code.




Or, you could use a meta tag:




This should only be used for genuinely excellent and original pieces of journalism. If Google finds you abusing the standout tag it will either ignore your site’s tags or remove you from Google News all together.

Google News Local Source Tag

Google recently introduced a Local section in Google News, which it claims will “surface content from regional papers to hyper-local blogs that otherwise wouldn’t appear in national news.”

Unfortunately these tags can’t be manually added, instead they’re automatically added by Google. It does this by “looking at where a publisher has written about in the past and comparing that to the story location.”

H1 – H6 tags

The H1 tag is what visitors see at the top of your page. Your headline or webpage name will (in the majority of cases) form your H1 tag.

H2 – H6 tags tend to form any subheadings in your article. It’s a good idea to break up you content with as many H2 and H3 tags as possible, but try to use them in a descending, logical order.

h2 and h3 tags

Normally you’d only use one H1 tag per-page. Although this isn’t strictly true if you’re using HTML5 where you can use one H1 per section.

Meta Description

The meta description is the short paragraph of text that appears under your page’s URL in the search results, it’s also something you should have complete control of in your CMS.

guide to primavera sound 2016 Google Search

Write succinctly (under 156 characters is good), clearly and make sure it’s relevant to your headline and the content of the article itself.

Nofollow

Add rel=“nofollow” to any links that you don’t want search engine crawlers to follow.

For example:

EXAMPLE

This basically means that Google does not transfer PageRank or any other ranking signal across these links.

You’re encouraged to use nofollow for any paid links (such as those brought about by sponsored content or native advertising), links for products in return for reviews or publicity and untrusted content.

It’s also a good idea to make sure any comments on your website are automatically nofollow as this can be a haven for web spam.

Noindex

Adding a noindex tag to your page will stop search engine crawlers from indexing that particular page. You may wish to use this if you want to keep certain pages private.

To prevent Google web crawlers from indexing a page, place the following meta tag into its section:

To prevent other search engines indexing a page on your site:

However Google warns that it is still possible that your page might appear in results from other search engines.

Robots meta tag

The robots meta tag lets you specify if a particular page should not be indexed by a search engine or whether all the links on a page should be followed or unfollowed.

Place the robots meta tag in the section of your webpage, like this:




(…)

(…)

Here are the various implementations of the Robots Meta Tag and what they mean:

Do not Index this page. Do not follow the links on the page

Do Index this page. Do not follow the links on the page.

Do not Index this page. Do follow the links on the page.

Do not index images on this page.

Do not show a “Cached” link in search results.

Do not show a snippet in the search results for this page

Do not offer translation of this page in search results.

Title Tag

Title tags are used to tell search engines and visitors what your site is about in the most concise and accurate way possible.

title tag on page

The keywords in your title tag show up highlighted in search engine results (if the query uses those keywords), as well as in your browser tab and when sharing your site externally.

You can write your own title tag inside the area of your site’s HTML:


Example Title

Example Title

You should use a few accurate keywords describing the page as well as your own brand name. Only use relevant keywords though, and the most important thing to consider is that although you are formatting for search engines, you should write for humans.

Three fascinating talks from ClickZ Live: San Francisco [Video]

Presenting three of the most popular and interesting talks from our ClickZ Live event in San Francisco earlier this summer.

Here we grant you exclusive access in the form of three videos, showcasing the latest insight and practical learning from three leading figures in digital marketing.

Sit back, relax and give a warm armchair welcome to Alex Niehenke from Scale VP, Andrew Sherrard from T-Mobile and Simon Sproule from Aston Martin.

Unicorn Hunters: Uncovering the Secrets of the Unicorn Culture from their Birthplace

Unicorns are still a relatively rare and increasingly sought after breed, but what is the secret to these $1billion+ beasts? What can you learn from Silicon Valley to drive innovation and build a start-up culture in your business without being Google?

Here’s Alex Niehenke, Principal at Scale VP with the answer…

Redefining Wireless and Marketing in the Age of the Empowered Consumer

T-Mobile has single-handedly disrupted wireless with its Un-carrier strategy. By defying ‘carrier’ rules and putting customers first, the company is striking a chord with consumers and igniting a revolution.

Today, T-Mobile is the fastest growing wireless company in the United States. T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Andrew Sherrard will share his insights on how the brand is redefining a category by listening to customers and changing wireless for good…

Aston Martin’s World Class Content Experience

Content creation and experience for a luxury brand like Aston Martin is fascinating and challenging at the same time. Aston Martin has a substantial following from brand enthusiasts which needs to be nurtured and respected, but at the same time, the reality of the luxury market is selling to a very narrow audience of high-net-worth individuals.

During this session, Aston Martin’s CMO will uncover how to serve both audiences and target the right content at the right time to the right people…

SEO outsourcing: what do you need to know?

Numerous websites outsource their SEO, but why is this so important?

In this day and age, website owners realize that you cannot run a profitable internet business without optimizing their website.

However, it is very expensive to hire top-tier, domestic companies to do this job for you. Starting a new website is a big financial burden as it is. So, people decide to outsource instead.

What is SEO outsourcing?

Outsourcing isn’t a new concept. It has been around for decades and it represents the basis of Western economy.

How did outsourcing start?

Salaries are the biggest cost for any company. As the USA started experiencing economic growth, living standards began to grow at the same time. People wanted higher salaries.

It became an increasing burden for companies that looked for a way to remain competitive and profitable. A solution was presented in a form of foreign developing markets where price of the workforce was significantly lower.

Fast forward to today.

Almost every industry uses outsourced labor. SEO is no different in that regard. Countries such as India, Pakistan, Philippines are among the leading providers of the service. At the same time, they are slowly catching up in terms of education and productivity. High tech industry is no longer exclusive to Western countries.

However, even with all the benefits, outsourcing SEO services can have its flaws.

Pros of outsourcing SEO

Before you decide to outsource your SEO, it is necessary to consider all the information.

First, let’s see all the benefits.

1) Cheaper cost

Outsourcing work on the internet is a bit different than traditional outsourcing. Given that the internet is a global network and you can easily and quickly access data, price discrepancy is significantly lower.

Here, cost of a service reflects quality of work. Nevertheless, companies from developing countries will always be able to give you a discount due to differences in living standard.

I cannot emphasize enough how important SEO is for up and coming organizations. Regardless of your budget, you should always keep in mind that outsourcing will save you a lot of money and it is definitely one of the crucial factors here.

2) Expertize

As I mentioned, the best option for you would be to employ services of a top-tier company. However, most of the people do not have that much money for the initial investment. Instead, they try to perform SEO by themselves. That is a big mistake.

Search engine optimization is a sophisticated, quickly developing profession. You have to stay in the loop and constantly learn new things. To top it all off, methods and processes constantly change. It requires a lot of time to adapt new, efficient procedures. Most of the website owners do not have this time at their disposal.

Outsourced companies seem like a perfect solution. Combination of price and expertize will make them more than worth it.

3) Long-term solution

In comparison to any other promotional method, SEO is definitely a long-term solution. Every internet company should have a separate department which will exclusively deal with this type of marketing.

A lot of people decide to start in-house SEO seeing it as the optimal long-term solution. But, the question of money still remains. If you already wish to pursue strong optimization, it is best if you use an outsourced company and start working with it as soon as possible.

Building a relationship with an ambitious foreign organization will go a long way and it will be the best financial option.

Cons of outsourcing SEO

Now, let’s consider all the potential issues.

1) Uncertainties regarding the company

Employing services of a foreign company is like purchasing a cat in a bag. Unless you have cooperated with them previously, there is no telling what can go wrong.

The very fact that you are not a part of the same society, legal or economic system makes it even harder. As we said, deals on the internet are mostly verbal. That is another thing that needs to be considered.

As if this wasn’t enough, there is always a question of efficiency. Two companies with a same price tag can produce completely different results. You can never tell until you start working with an organization.

This is precisely the reason why many websites have stopped outsourcing; they hired a reputable SEO company for a solid price and were dissatisfied with its results.

2) Cultural barriers

Globalization and the internet have done wonders for local companies. Not only are we able to do business all over the world but we are also able to meet new cultures. Unfortunately, differences in cultures and customs oftentimes lead to issues.

SEO companies are not different in that regard. Even though this is a high tech business reliant upon international cooperation and working with different nationalities, outsourced SEO experts will always have traces of their domestic culture. Generally speaking, this is not a big issue but it may lead to additional tensions.

Luckily, as the trend of global cooperation continues, we expect that these problems will become less and less apparent.

3) Trying too hard to impress

This can be an even bigger problem than lack of efficiency.

In order to get a job (or keep one) an outsourced SEO company is prepared to do various things. Of course, this depends on values and strategy of an organization. But, in many cases they will be prepared to do obsolete or even harmful things just so it can appear that you are making progress and getting links.

If such a thing occurs, not only will you lose money due to inefficiency, but you may also jeopardize long-term health of the domain leading to Google penalty. Again, this is the reason why you have to employ a trustworthy professional as he will have full control of your internet business.

Conclusion

There are a lot of different things to be considered when hiring an outsourced SEO company. Like with other business decisions, there are some risks and some benefits. No matter what you decide, make sure to get all the facts straight beforehand.

Proficient SEO experts can be a great long-term investment and can save you a lot of headaches. That is, if you find the right person for the job.

Could ‘people-powered’ Digle be the future of search?

A screenshot from the Digle landing page with a faint map of the world represented in grey dots as the background. To the right of the map is a large magnifying glass icon in pale grey. On top of this background is a search bar with the question 'What are you trying to find?' Underneath is a link with a triangular Play button reading 'Watch Digle in action'.

It’s search, Jim, but not as we know it.

In a search industry where most of the major players are focused on machine learning, artificial intelligence and developing increasingly sophisticated algorithms, it’s unusual to come across a company which sets out to do the exact opposite.

Enter Digle, the ‘people-powered’ search platform. One part Yahoo Answers, one part classifieds, and two parts gamified search engine, Digle has set out to buck the system of search and SEO by putting the power into the hands of people, not machines, to find and deliver results.

In a way, it makes a lot of sense. Search engines have definitely been developing in a direction which means they are better able to interpret search queries in a human way: to parse complex, multi-part searches, answer full questions, even recognise and identify images. But you know who can already do that? Humans.

“You can’t compare a person’s semantic intelligence to a robot’s; we can listen to what someone says and understand what they mean, what’s most important to them, how all the different facets of what they are saying fit together, and so on,” says Nathan Fried, CEO of Digle.

We’re being encouraged to treat search engines (and their accompanying voice assistants) more and more like people – having conversations with them, asking them questions, and teaching them how to understand the kinds of queries we want them to respond to.

But although progress in this area has come along in leaps and bounds, we’ve still got a long way to go, and trying to track down a specific item or piece of information can be a protracted, multi-part process that often ends in frustration. Digle’s solution to this?

To let people do the hard work for you. But while this might sound like a good idea in principle, how does it work in practice?

People-powered search

Digle is currently in early-access mode, with no apparent restrictions on who can sign up, so I created an account and had a poke around.

Digle’s landing page is styled like a traditional search engine, with a search bar and an invitation to type in what you’re trying to find. However, regardless of what you enter, you’re taken to your dashboard with a form to fill in to create your actual search, and then to another page after that to add more details. Or if you don’t have a Digle account, you’re directed to a login page.

I don’t think that styling its landing page as a regular search engine does Digle any favours, since it might set people up with expectations for a more traditional search experience, only to be frustrated when they’re directed to multiple forms instead of seeing any results.

What Digle does do very effectively is create a system which makes it rewarding for people to both post and fulfil searches, knowing that there has to be some incentive for people to take part in the search process. The platform has XP, which you can rack up by posting searches, contributing ‘finds’ for other people’s searches, submitting feedback to the platform and so on.

You also earn badges when you reach a specific milestone (like posting five searches), and can level up after gaining a specific amount of XP.

I mentioned that you need to fill out a form in order to submit a search; how it works is that you provide as many details as you can about what you’re looking for, what kinds of criteria will satisfy your request, as well as anything you definitely don’t want people to include, and attach any links or images for further context.

You also have to specify a time limit for ‘Finders’ to submit responses in, which can be anything up to six days; and you set a reward for the search in ‘credits’, which contribute to search ranking and can even be redeemed for cash. Then you sit back and watch the responses roll in.

The Request a New Search form on Digle, with spaces for search category, title, search expiry time, reward (in credits), and an optional Pro Features section which is not selected.

Creating a new search on Digle

Users on Digle post searches for a wide variety of things: to track down an item to buy, to gather information or advice (which is where the ‘Yahoo Answers’ part comes in), to find deals, to track down courses, jobs or job seekers (which is where the ‘classifieds’ part comes in). CEO Nathan Friel is clear that Digle isn’t just about sharing opinions, though.

“We make it very clear that Digle is about specific searches and relevant results, not opinions! We’re not fussed about what someone else thinks or supposes (like Quora, perhaps). It’s about smart people trawling through the tons of information online and offline to find results that solve the specific problems and needs of a search.

“There is an element of crowdsourcing, but Digle is more than that. We’re a search service, and we’ve developed our platform to be intelligent as possible from a tech point of view. So it’s a mix – we couldn’t do it without the people, but there’s a lot of muscle coming from the setup and service that we provide as a business.”

No to SEO

One of the key ethos behind Digle is the idea that it’s more equal than SEO. Friel believes that tactics like SEO and PPC favour businesses and organisations with the biggest budget, even when they might not be the most relevant to a user’s search.

“There’s a whole world out there on the Internet, yet so much of what we see is the content for which the SEO or PPC budget was higher. You get a kind of censorship that leads people easily to a small pool of results, omitting those that may contain, for example, higher discounts on products. It’s then harder, and takes longer, to reach alternatives even if those alternatives are indeed more relevant to the person’s search.

“SEO is a great way of dealing with the sheer quantity of results online, but the downside is the omission of potentially good results. If you sell the cheapest USBs on the market, but you only opened your eCommerce store last week, you’re going to have a hard time getting noticed. The only way is if you have the ad spend to queue jump… but how many small businesses can do that and compete with gargantuan brands who dominate their space?

“It’s certainly not always in the customer’s best interest.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t a way to optimise your searches within Digle – or that Digle itself doesn’t use algorithms to sort through and present searches to the user.

When you create a search on Digle, you have to give your request an 80-character title, which is the only real detail that users get about your search up-front, so it’s helpful to make it descriptive and attention-grabbing. You can also add tags to improve search visibility.

A screenshot of the Digle 'smart search' page, with users' searches represented as cards containing the user's name, level and XP, followed by the search category and title, and a button labelled 'View'. The card also shows how much time is left on the search. Examples include a search for 'Hair care - reduce hair frizz' and 'Cheap wheelie suitcase'. To the right is a round purple button labelled 'Shuffle' with a round arrow on it, similar to the Refresh button on an internet browser.

Searches on Digle are presented in a ‘card’ style format, with 80-character titles

In your Digle profile, you can specify interests, which are used to match ‘Finders’ with the most relevant searches for their attention. At the beginning, a search is only visible to Finders who match with it, but becomes visible to a wider audience over time if no Finds are submitted.

This presumably means that tagging your search with more criteria will help it match with a larger pool of Finders – up to a point where the tags are still relevant, of course.

The future of search?

When I signed up to Digle for the first time, a confirmation message cheerfully informed me that I was ‘one step closer to the future of search’. While this is probably a little bit tongue-in-cheek, there’s some truth to it as well.

While I don’t think Digle in itself is the ‘future’ of search, if I had to guess at what the future of search might be, I’d say a system in which you can input any query and get an accurate result back. And that’s obviously what the creators of Digle have set out to do with their platform.

A confirmation message on a grey background which reads "You are one step closer to the future of search. Stand by, your email invite will arrive in your inbox shortly." The Digle logo is present in the top left hand corner.

Friel emphasises that he doesn’t envisage Digle as a replacement for traditional search engines like Google or Bing. In fact, he even expects that Finders will use web search engines to help others find what they’re looking for.

“We’re not an alternative to Google. Google is great at showing you every option, but we’re here for when you don’t want to check – or can’t check – all the options yourself (or can’t even get Google to show options that seem relevant).

“Ultimately, you’re going to choose Digle when you hit frustration point, or when you don’t want to waste time looking, or indeed when it makes more sense to let someone else with better search knowledge find you something that’s going to save you money in the long-run.”

I can see a lot of potential uses for Digle, but also a lot of situations in which I definitely wouldn’t use it. For example, with nutrition advice – which I helped one Digler search for (and learned a lot about iron deficiency in the process) – I personally would prefer to sort through the information myself, learn what’s true and what’s a myth, and make a decision about my diet based on what I’ve learned.

With Digle, you more or less have to take the information that Finders present to you at face value, otherwise you might as well have just done the work yourself.

But it could be great for giving someone a starting point, allowing Finders to contribute their individual experiences and expertise on a topic, or putting someone in touch with an opportunity they wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

A screenshot of a Digle search with the question "How does Digle find the answer to this question" as its title and no other information. There are no finds submitted for the search.

How indeed?

While there may be platforms out there which do something similar, like Yahoo Answers, Craigslist, or Gumtree, Digle still has something new to contribute, combining elements of search and socialisation with gamification and crowdsourcing – or more accurately ‘crowdwisdom’, the name given to using the collective knowledge of a group to find the best result.

It’s a fun platform to use and easy to get hooked on, as you check back to see what new searches have popped up, or get a rewarding sense of accomplishment as someone marks your Find ‘Good’ or a ‘Winner’. It has the potential to become a powerful tool if – and this is always the big if – it can catch on on a large enough scale.

And Digle’s creators have some ideas about what the platform could mature into over the longer term.

“Digle does and always will provide personally-crafted results for each search, but over time, we’re going to have accumulated so much specific data from across the web – double-filtered satisfying links or websites related to specific keywords and conditions. We believe that this will open up powerful indexing opportunities that will be used to serve users in different ways.

“Obviously our main focus right now is growing the community, but the fact remains that Digle’s search power has the potential to mature into something rather complex over time.”

15 writing tips to rank higher on social and search results

15 writing tips to rank higher on social and search results - SEO test

Online writing has its own style and it’s even more challenging when you consider its impact on SEO. Here are 15 tips to keep in mind when writing for the web.

There’s no need to think of Google every time you’re writing a new post, but it’s still useful to understand what makes a piece of content effective, both in social and search results.

Here are some quick tips to consider when writing your next post. Feel free to copy-paste them, write them down, bookmark the page, or memorise them.

1. Title

A title has to be descriptive, but also concise. Google only displays the first 55-60 characters of a title tag, which means that an ideal length is approximately 55 characters, to make sure you don’t see your title cut off on SERPs.

Think of your title as a preview to your content. As this will be the first impression of it, you need to maximise the chances of a click to the site, and a powerful title can certainly be very effective.

There’s no need to rely on clickbait titles to increase your traffic, as this may not be appreciated by readers, which will eventually harm your long-term audience.

Facebook recently announced that it will penalise clickbait posts with a reduced news feed reach, due to a new algorithm update. This is an attempt to make publishers understand that there’s no need to be vague, misleading, or controversial to lure new audience to your site, especially when the quality is not satisfactory to your promises.

There are still many ways to increase your traffic, but still respect your audience and a closer look at your recent topics and what led to their success could help you understand even more science of the headline.

2. Headings

Headings are both important for the structure of the page, but also for SEO. They can help Google understand the main topic of a post and thus, facilitate the ranking process.

Subheadings can improve the browsing experience for readers, helping them scan a longer post and guide them through the rest of the article.

You may use all the heading elements, from H1 to H6, depending on their usability, the type of the text, and its length, while you can also use more than one H1 heading, if you feel that it boosts the reading experience. Consistency is also important in all your posts and the way you use headings, in order to help search engines understand the way you use them.

3. Add value

It may sound obvious, but it’s still important to conduct the necessary research for your topics to get a deeper understanding of it, but also to spot the right content gap you want to fill.

Every piece of content should add value, while it is also useful to focus on relevance and consistency, taking your target audience into consideration before deciding on your next topic.

4. Decide on the length

The length of the content varies depending on the industry, the reason it’s created, the audience, or even the available time. Longer content may increase the chances of search engine optimisation, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t create content of less than 1000 words.

It’s better to have several posts of more than 300 words to keep your content fresh, consistent and relevant, rather than creating less content to focus on its length.

The more content you have, the higher the chances to boost your ranking on SERPs.

5. Aim for more time spent on site

The time readers spend on your content indicates whether you can grab their attention and convince them to read more of your content.

One of the metrics that defines the success of content is the time readers spend on it. If the bounce rate is high and they only spend a few seconds on it, it means that you have fewer chances to convert them into loyal readers and eventually visitors.

However, if they spend fice or more minutes at the page, it is an indication that they are really interested in the topic and they want to thoroughly read about it.

You can increase the time readers spend on your content by improving the quality of it, focusing on its relevance to the audience and adding value to what’s already available.

6. Focus on quality

Quality content is not just about increasing the time spent on the site, it is also about building your reputation as an authority to your field. This is a useful way to increase trust with your audience and use your content to build new relationships.

There’s no need to sacrifice quality over quantity, as your content serves as the best way to boost your credibility and thus, your ranking in SERPs.

7. Pick a keyword

There’s an old myth regarding keyword density and whether you should focus on it, or not. As SEO changes year by year, keywords should not be your priority when creating content, but they still serve as a starting point when picking a topic, but also as a useful SEO ally when using them properly.

Google may focus more on the context, rather than the specific keywords, which means that quality and relevance become important, but you can still use a focus keyword in your title and your text.

Just make sure you’re not using it way too often, ruining the text’s readability.

8. Optimise content for social sharing

By the time your content is ready, it’s time to focus on its optimisation to ensure that you increase the chances of its distribution. It’s not enough to write good content if it doesn’t reach the target audience.

Optimisation may include the right headline, the proper image, the caption that will be used in social media, the use of the right social platforms, the hashtags that could be included, or the planning of the social posts.

It’s all about understanding both your content and your audience to excel both in creation and distribution.

9. Add meta tags

It may sound obvious, but it’s also a task that we may overlook. Meta tags (title and meta description) affect the traffic your content will have from search results, which means that it’s vital to optimise them as much as possible to be both clear and effective.

If you’re using WordPress, it’s easy to control your meta description with a plug-in, like Yoast, to create the best version that previews your content.

It’s the meta description that may influence a user whether to click on a page or not, affecting the CTR and thus, the success of your content.

Here are some good and bad examples of meta descriptions if you need further help.

10. Think of the target audience

This is another obvious point, but it’s still vital. Content cannot be successful if it doesn’t meet the requirements of its target audience.

There should be a great understanding of what the audience expects from you, which questions they want answered, and how you can help them.

Start by analysing your existing content and how the audience responded. What worked and what could be improved? Is there a post that went surprisingly well?

How is the social interaction to your posts and which content got most links to it?

11. Test readability

The readability of your content may affect the time readers spend on your page, which as we mentioned, it affects the value your content has.

There are many sites and tools (example) to test your readability score. You don’t have to spend too much time on them to learn how to make the structure of your content simple and clear. You may still use it as an indicator of what you could improve.

12. Test your SEO

You don’t have to be an SEO expert to check your content’s potential success in search rankings.

If you’re using WordPress for example, tools like Yoast SEO, SEO by SQUIRRLY, or SEO Control Center can indicate what you need to improve, while they also help you expand your knowledge in search engine optimisation.

For example, you can learn whether your focus keyword is used properly on the key sections of your text (heading, url, meta description). You can also learn about the keyword density, and whether you need to use your focus keyword more, always in a natural way as part of the text.

15 writing tips to rank higher on social and search results - SEO test

Moreover, SEO by SQUIRRLY for example has the option of SEO Live Assistant, which is exactly what it promises to be, your live assistant in real time, while you’re writing your post.

This may help you learn more about optimisation and create content both for humans and search engines.

13. Think of the visual element

It’s rare to see a piece of content without any images, and there’s no reason not to add them when they can provide further information and help with the content’s readability.

Visual content helps with the formatting of the text, its optimisation (both for SEO and social media), but it’s also a useful way to engage with the quick readers, the ones that prefer to skim the content rather than just read it.

Our love for visual content

That’s why infographics became popular over the past years, as they are informative, but still appealing.

Thus, your visual content can stand on its own, or serve as an enhancement to your written text. In both cases, make sure there is a reason you add it. Visual content is not just about aesthetics, it should have a value and a justified reason of existence.

Need help with SEO tweaking for your images? Here’s a useful guide to image SEO.

14. Add links

Don’t be afraid to add links, whether they are internal or external. There’s no need to link to every single post you come across, but it’s still useful to showcase your references. It’s not just about crediting the source, but it’s also about helping Google rank your blog.

Outbound linking should indicate that you help the reader expand the knowledge on the topic with more useful posts. Google will also appreciate your dedication to the topic and the audience. Beware, users are becoming suspicious with links.

Internal linking is also important, as it helps you build authority and offer further value with previous content you may have written. This helps Google “crawl” your key topics and thus, rank you accordingly to these. And of course, you need to ensure that links open in new windows.

15. Proofread and edit

Not everyone is good at catching all the mistakes in a piece of content. If you feel that editing is not your strongest part, find the right tool, or ask for a professional’s help.

Quality is crucial and it also affects the authority of your content, so you certainly cannot overlook it.

The three Vs of contact data: verify and validate for value

data1

A new report from Informatica is highlighting the importance of clean contact data for marketers who want to ensure they are communicating effectively and providing the best possible experiences for their customers.

The report – Contact Data Verification Strategies for Marketing and Sales [viewable here as PDF] – gives a good insight into the thoughts of US marketers leading the way with data-related strategy.

For me, what really stuck out from the research was how marketers rightfully want the best possible value from the contact data they collect and keep. But it is how they verify and how often they validate that data which ensures it is the best it can be.

So here we have: The 3 Vs of Contact Data…

1. Verify

Informatica’s findings are pretty clear cut when it comes to the negative effects of bad contact data.

Respondents cite wrong phone numbers and emails not hitting the inbox as two key problems arising when user details are wrong or out of date. This, of course, can be a massive waste of time and resources.

There might be little semantic difference between the terms ‘verify’ and ‘validate’. But it can be handy to highlight initial verification as a separate process compared to the validation that occurs later on in the B2C (or B2B) relationship.

The report finds that the outset is still the most important time to collect names, emails, phone numbers, etc. 63% of US marketers agree that verifying data upon point of entry is the most productive piece of best practice relating to contact data. The importance of the website at this stage is not understated:

“The channel that collects the most accurate contact data is website and content marketing, pointed to by 55 percent of respondents.”

But only 48% of enterprises and 20% of SMBs say they currently have a technology solution in place to collect contact data as people complete forms on their website.

2. Validate

If we take initial verification – ideally via the website – as the first step to good, clean, accurate contact data, then there needs to be some strategy in place in order to validate that data going forward.

Respondents are very varied in regards to their contact data validation habits, 16% even admit they never bother and a further 15% only do so annually.

Yet, finding the time to check databases to ensure data is still accurate is considered a productive piece of best practice by 45% of US marketers. 41% say the same of validating data directly with customers when possible. 76% are also using ‘third-party data to append or enrich incomplete contact data.’

3. Value

As I mentioned earlier, websites offer the most valuable contact data – according to 55% of respondents. For comparison, just 27% say the same of social media and 19% say the same of search.

Those marketers on the quest for the most valuable data need also to have an understanding of the ‘types or fields’ deemed most essential by contact data leaders.

data3

Informatica’s research finds that 83% consider the email to be the most essential piece of contact data to have. One might expect that the contact names of customers are also very important to those surveyed (66%). Yet, perhaps surprisingly, title or job function is considered most essential to 39% of US marketers – a higher percentage even than phone numbers or mailing address.

With the importance of email so commonly accepted, it is interesting to note that the report also finds that on average businesses say they’re missing email addresses for 22% of their contacts.

Takeaways

This research reinforces the need for a good strategy to ensure contact data is valuable. Of course, value here is not only referring to the business case or ROI of data efforts – but also to ensure consumers have a valuable experience when they interact with content and messages.

For US marketers at least, a lot of weight is put on the initial verification of contact data with the website being the channel of choice for this first stage. But keeping good contact data is an ongoing process, and validation needs to happen with regularity to ensure numbers and addresses are accurate and up to date.

With this in mind and an understanding of the best channels and types of data to collect, marketers can ensure they have the contact data of the utmost value.

Guide to Google ranking signals – Part 5: duplicate content and syndication

telegraph polls

Last week we published the third instalment of our complete guide to Google ranking signals.

It concentrated on ‘content freshness’ and the practical ways you can ensure your webpages are recognised by Google as being relevant and up-to-date.

This week we continue diving into on-page content factors, with duplicate content and syndication.

What is duplicate content?

Duplicate content refers to a webpage’s content that appears in more than one place on the internet.

Let’s say you write an article on all the animals discovered and named after Frank Zappa. Then someone else copies and pastes your exact text into a new webpage on their own website. Then you’re both going to have duplicate content issues. As well as a big ‘falling out’ over multiple emails.

Duplicate content isn’t necessarily a bad or wrong thing, apart from in the above example where it’s just straight up theft.

Google won’t penalise duplicate content. Instead it will decide which version of the duplicate post should appear in search results and ignore the other.

Chances are Google won’t care which came first, it’s more likely to care which site has the highest authority.

There is technically an in-built safety net here. A high-profile site will theoretically never indulge in outright stealing other smaller site’s articles. It’s just not worth the damage.

Conversely many large sites are constantly scraped of their content to be republished elsewhere. Our own SEW articles are ripped off more than 10 times each by different scraper sites, but it never affects our rankings because those sites are of such poor quality they’re ignored by Google.

However there are perfectly acceptable ways of dealing with duplicate content in a ‘white hat’ manner.

How to manage duplicate content

1) Obvious one to start… do not copy another site’s content without asking permission first. It’s bad for you, the site you’re copying from and the reader too.

2) If you’re using segments or quotes from another webpage in reference to your article, then give them credit and a link back to the original source.

3) If you have duplicate content on your own site, set up a 301 redirect so Google only indexes your preferred page.

4) Ensure that Google is only indexing your preferred domain, i.e. either with the www prefix or without it: http://www.example.com or http://example.com. Google may treat the www and non-www versions of your domain as separate sites with separate pages, thus harming your visibility.

You can set your preference in Search Console.

5) You may experience duplicate content issues if you use a separate mobile version of your site. Using a mobile responsive website instead will solve the problem.

6) Before you accept posts from guest writers, double-check they haven’t been published elsewhere. Bloggers probably aren’t acting unscrupulously if they have been previously published, they may just not understand that this can cause search visibility problems.

However, if you have permission from the original author and website, there are ‘safe’ ways of publishing duplicate content that will benefit you, the author, the original website and Google happy.

Content syndication

Content syndication is the term used for the tactical republishing of your original article on another third-party website. It’s particularly useful if you’re a smaller publisher or an up-and-coming writer who wants a larger audience.

If content syndication is carried out correctly by the site republishing the content, there should be no reason why this will lead to duplicate content issues.

Here are a few SEO friendly methods for content syndication…

  • rel=canonical tag

The safest way to ensure there are no duplicate content problems is to use a rel=canonical tag on the republished article.

This will tell Google that the linked article is the original and therefore should be indexed, and any ranking benefits will be passed through.

  • meta noindex tag

According to Eric Enge’s Whiteboard Friday video, this is the same principle as the canonical tag. The republishing site implements a meta noindex tag on the page, instructing the search engine to remove the page from its index.

  • Clean link to original article

You can also just use a clean text link within the article itself.

For example: many of these content syndication tips originally appeared in what is content syndication an how do I get started?

This is an adequate method if you have limited access to the HTML of your article and can’t implement a rel=canonical tag.

Guide to Excel VLOOKUP basics and top five rookie mistakes

VLOOKUPs Work Like Phone Books

Following on from our time saving Excel shortcuts, we continue offering updated advice for the time-sensitive spreadsheet enthusiast.

Back in 2013 John Gagnon wrote a very popular post about VLOOKUP basics and rookie mistakes.

We thought we’d update the piece to reflect some minor changes for accessing the functionality to VLOOKUP words and values in Excel 2016.

An Excel VLOOKUP can be a marketer’s best friend because it can save you hours of work. Give this formula the information you have (a name) and it looks through a long list (list of names) so it can return the information you need (phone number).

The problem is we often struggle to remember how to use the formula – or worse make mistakes.

We’re going to fix that now. This post will explain:

  • How VLOOKUPs work.
  • Using ‘Tell me’ to access VLOOKUP functionality in Excel 2016.
  • Five rookie VLOOKUP moves to avoid.
  • Limitations you might encounter.

Many of the tips are courtesy of John Gagnon, and are accurate as of September 2016.

How to use a VLOOKUP

Remember phone books? Phone books happen to give us a fantastic mental model to understand how VLOOKUPs work.

Basically, the phone book is a long list of just a few columns: names and phone numbers. You pick up a phone book with a clear intention – find a phone number (info you want) for a specific person (info you have).

Once you’ve found the person you’re looking for, you look at over to the second column to find their phone number. Call made, problem solved.

It turns out this is the same principle for how a VLOOKUP works. Let’s breakdown what each piece of the formula to understand what they mean:

VLOOKUP Breakdown

There is an added piece of information needed for a VLOOKUP called a range_lookup. This basically is how accurate you want your results.

Excel 2016: Using ‘Tell Me’ to access VLOOKUP functionality

Excel 2016 comes with a new multi-purpose search box, the ‘Tell me what you want to do’ tool. Click the box, or ALT + Q to jump right to it. From there, if you type ‘VLOOKUP’ or any lookup or reference search term, really, then the function you need will appear in a dropdown menu.

vlook-up

For the purpose of this article, I want to VLOOKUP a value. Selecting this then offers the ‘Function Arguments’ box where you can add in the Lookup_value and Table_array etc.

excel

As you can see, it’s a little more helpful for newer users than in previous editions of Excel.

Five rookie VLOOKUP mistakes to avoid

Realizing VLOOKUPs work the same as a phone book is helpful. It’s also helpful to know the common mistakes. Here are the top five mistakes made by VLOOKUP rookies.

1. Not having Lookup_Value in first column of your table array

VLOOKUPs only work when the info you have (lookup-value) is in the first column of data you’re looking at (table array). To use the phone book, you need to start with a name first. You can’t start with the phone number and find the name.

Lookup Value Must be in First Column

2. Counting the wrong number of columns for Col_index_num

Once Excel has found the value you gave it, it needs to know what give you back. This comes in form of a column number. Make sure to start counting from the first column of the range (table array).

Counting Wrong Number of Columns

3. [Range_Lookup] Not using FALSE for exact matching

Many marketers get the wrong values because they forget one step. Ninety-nine percent of the time we want exact match, which means a value of FALSE (here’s why).

Must Use FALSE for Exact Matching

4. Forgetting absolute references (F4) when copying the formula

The power of a VLOOKUP is it can be copied down to hundreds or thousands of cells. But once you copy this down, the references change leading to errors. To fix this issue convert your range to an absolute value instead of a relative value, so cells don’t move around (as they tend to do).

5. Extra spaces or characters

Occasionally when data is copied from one source to another, a few leading or trailing spaces tag along. This causes issue during the match, so use TRIM to delete any spaces added to the cell (except for any single spaces between words).

VLOOKUP 201: The John Smith problem and going left

After you use VLOOKUP enough, you’ll encounter its limitations. For example:

  • It only returns the first match it finds, even if there are hundreds of possible matches.
  • It can only return a value in the table array to the right – it can’t go left!

(There are simple solutions to these problems, creating unique keys and pasting – but we’ll save those for another time.)

Back to the phone book for a moment. How many John Smiths are listed? Probably more than one. But with a VLOOKUP, only the phone number of the first John Smith is being returned! You’re probably calling the wrong guy.

To make sure you’re calling the right John Smith, you need to bring in additional information. Commonly for phone books it’s an address (e.g., John Smith at 123 Acme Lane or John Smith at 765 NW Jones St.).

Again, it’s the same for VLOOKUPs.

Let’s say you want to know match type by keyword. Your match type column would be identical (all “broad”, in this case), and your second variable (keyword) would differentiate the data.

Create a new table with both pieces of data in columns, and insert “&” in the table_array field of your VLOOKUP. Then the VLOOKUP knows to return the combined data for your result.

What are your most common uses for VLOOKUPs? Is there anything about VLOOKUPs that stump you?

The natural evolution of digital for brands: becoming more human

It used to be that digital interactions portrayed in the Jetsons, on Star Trek and through KITT on Knight Rider were make-believe preserved for the television and big screen.

However, with the rise of digital personal assistants in recent years like Cortana and Siri, and intelligent bots, what was once science fiction is quickly becoming fact.

We are on the cusp of the next big shift in computing—a shift that is fueled by the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and built around the one act that comes most natural to us—conversation.

We are optimistic about what technology can do, and this is rooted in a belief that every person and organization should be empowered to achieve more. It’s important though to set some context on how we’ve arrived at this new reality to help answer why you should care and what you should do as a marketer.

Every decade is marked with a shift driven by technological innovation. From the proliferation of PCs during the 80s to the emergence of the Web in the 90s to the rise of mobile and the cloud in the last decade – we have expanded our commerce, improved our communication and strengthened our connections.

But while these advances have helped the world become smaller, in many ways they’ve added layers of complexity, and more significantly, they’ve put the onus on us, the user, to adapt our behavior and expression so that we can be understood by the machines.

But what if we could just talk and interact with technology in exactly the same way we do with other people? Call upon it when we genuinely need support and not have to change the way we behave in order to reap the benefits?

We envision a world where digital experiences mirror the way people interact with one another today. A world where natural language will become the new user interface. A world where human conversation is the platform—the place to discover, access and interact with information and services, and get things done.

Computing is becoming more human

The mobile first, cloud-centric world of computing is driving this new platform of engagement. With the ability to understand tone of voice, interpret emotions and remember conversations, the nature of AI is no longer about man vs. machine, it’s about machines complementing and empowering people to do more of what really matters to them.

One of the major trends that has set the stage for an era of people communicating with their devices is the growth in people communicating through their devices.

With more than 3 billion people using messaging apps every day, consumers are spending five times longer on average using messaging apps than they do on all other mobile apps.

And, what’s more, we’ve reached a point where natural language is the new universal user interface with technology. Search intelligence is now embedded across platforms and services, harnessing intent understanding and using a vast base of semantic knowledge.

When coupled with machine learning that’s infused throughout all of our digital interactions, technology is becoming more human. People and machines are able to sustain conversations with personal digital assistants and intelligent bots in such a way that the meaning, intent and even emotion behind the words are as comprehensible as the words themselves. And we’re nearing a time when this will be scaleable to every individual and every business.

Conversations are the new platform

Imagine if brands had the opportunity to engage with consumers in ways that were not only relevant and personal but also in an environment where their added value is proactively sought out by the individual themselves. In the realm of conversations as a platform, this is the new reality.

Picture having a sudden craving for pizza. Just by telling the personal assistant on your phone “I would love a thick crusty four seasons pizza right now,” you’ve initiated a conversation to seek options or gone directly to your preferred pizzeria.

The bot you choose to talk to will place the order for you and arrange delivery and payment within seconds. In essense, you expressed a need, an emotion and took the initiative to engage with a particular company through their bot and you got what you wanted with more speed and ease than was previously possible.

This example illustrates how brands need to be ready for the engagement opportunities within this conversational exchange.

Marketers must think strategically about the best framework for building bots that cater to natural language and play into conversations across all platforms.

From there they must figure out how to connect these into their existing cloud, CRM and other elements of their digital marketing ecosystem. This is a business strategy that will require input across functions – starting with the CMO and throughout marketing, sales and IT – in order to offer a customer experience that is consistent with other more traditional digital engagements as well as being timely, relevant and serendipitous.

It’s a time of fundemental change in the digital technology experience. Conversations as a platform, A.I. and emerging search technologies are advancing this next frontier in ways that will simplify and enhance our lives and will be critical to every future marketer’s success.

To put a twist on these three timeless words from the Cluetrain Manifesto, it’s not just “markets are conversations,” but the future of “marketing is conversations.”

Ryan Gavin is General Manager, Search and Cortana Marketing at Microsoft.

Six most important search marketing news stories of the week

women underrepresented

Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from around the world of search marketing and beyond.

This week we’ll mostly be talking about Penguin 4.

What do you mean you haven’t seen the first three? Well don’t worry, I’ll bring you up to speed. In the first instalment, a terrible tragedy befalls a young penguin at Camp Crystal Lake while the teenage camp counsellors weren’t paying attention.

Then 21 years later, the Penguin returns… hang on I may have the wrong Wikipedia tab open here… I’ll get back to you.

Penguin 4.0 news round-up

As Google confirmed last Friday, Penguin 4.0 is now being rolled out. The spammy link punishing update now works in real-time and will only penalise offending webpages rather than the entire domain.

Penguin recovery time:

It seems Penguin recoveries are happening right now, as Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed on Twitter…

@atmoore81 it’s happening as we speak. or tweet. it will take a few more days to finish that part

— Gary Illyes (@methode) September 28, 2016

It’s also worth noting that Penguin 4.0 has been coming together gradually over time, with the main component rolling out on the 23rd.

2/? @rustybrick we choose that announcement date because it’s just hours away from the most noticeable part’s launch time. In fact we said..

— Gary Illyes (@methode) September 28, 2016

Expert view on Penguin 4.0

This week we talked to a few SEO practitioners to get their expert views on Penguin 4.0. and for some advice for those who wish to avoid being affected by Penguin.

Kevin Gibbons: Focus on building a brand, not links. Aim to tell your story via content, data-driven analysis and knowledge – and amplify to a targeted audience via multiple channels; social media, paid search, digital PR etc…

Gerald Murphy: Data analysis is even more important to SEO. This most effecient way to analyse this update is to breakdown links by category, sub category, and page level, and then compare this with data, such as, visits, average blended rank, and revenue, for example.

Nikolay Stoyanov: Forget about shortcuts in SEO! There aren’t any. The only way to stay on the safe side and secure your brand, visitors and sales is if you do white hat SEO. Write well researched and useful content and build quality links to it.

Just 36% of people entering the tech industry are women

As Luke Richards reported this week, the technology industry is lagging behind many other sectors when it comes to the proportion of women taking up entry level positions.

McKinsey’s report, Women in the Workplace, surveyed 132 companies which collectively employ more than 4.6m people. It shows that while 75% of CEOs in corporate America are saying gender equality is a top ten priority, tech is still woefully behind.

More online product searches start on Amazon than Google

As reported by Graham Charlton this week, Amazon is beating Google for product searches.

The second annual State of Amazon study by BloomReach found that 55% of consumers start their online product searches on Amazon, compared to 28% who opt for a search engine.

The survey of 2,000 US consumers found that Amazon’s share of the action was up 11% year on year, and the figures down for search engines and other retailers.

amazon beats google

Google AdWords introduces cross-device remarketing for TV ads and offline sales

Google AdWords has released a new product designed to “close the loop between TV and digital” with Brand Lift.

According to the AdWords blog post, Brand Lift will be able to show marketers how TV ads increase Google and YouTube searches for brands compared to YouTube campaigns.

updated-tv-lift

There’s little to set up, you just need to be running Brand Lift on both your TV campaign and YouTube campaign, and Google will report the searches for your brand.

Google is also introducing location extensions and store visits measurement for the Google Display Network to help marketers “close the loop between online ads and offline sales.”

As people browse specific websites or interact with their apps, brands will be able serve ads that show a business address, Google Maps directions or photos.

AdWords announces improved remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA)

In a busy week for AdWords, the paid search platform has announced improvements to RLSA to give you more flexibility on how you adjust search ads, bids, and keywords.

  • Reach your customers across devices. If someone visits your website on their laptop or tablet, you can now reach them with more relevant ads when they search on their phone.
  • Keep site visitors in your list for 540 days. This longer membership duration makes it easier for businesses with seasonality or high consideration products to reach their customers
  • Add your remarketing lists at the campaign level later this year, making it faster and easier to use RLSA. This will work for Customer Match too.