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The Bruce Clay blog provides SEO news, analysis, and Internet marketing how-to articles that help marketers and SEOs stay informed. Founded in 1996, Bruce Clay, Inc. is a leading provider of search engine marketing with an emphasis on professional SEO services.
Keyword research tools are useful — until they don’t have enough data for your keywords.
You need to select phrases worth targeting. Sure, search engines understand concepts that are semantically connected and don’t just match keywords anymore. But when you write a webpage or design an ad, you still need to know which words to use that will do the best job conveying your concepts to searchers.
Many keyword tools lump variations together, like singulars and plurals. And they may ignore regional differences altogether.
So you may be left in the dark, just guessing.
Enter Google Trends. This surprisingly flexible and free tool can shed light on your keyword research. It gives relative search volume data — helping you choose between close alternatives, discover regional preferences and more.
Here, I’ll show you five ways to use Google Trends to make enlightened SEO keyword choices.
1. Discover Keyword Variations by Region
Your keyword research tool may not show differences in terms across a region or a country. Or it may look like the search volume is too low for you to worry about some keyword candidates. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes it’s not.
As an example, what should you call something to put on the bed of a truck? If you’re on the East Coast, you’re likely to use the term “truck cap” or “camper shell.”
Looking these terms up in SEMrush provides keyword volume data and difficulty scores for the queries. You can also see a few alternative terms. However, there’s little or no information for these variations in a standard keyword tool.
Data from SEMrush provides a good starting place but may not give the full story. (click to enlarge)
As a result, you might be tempted to just write about truck caps and camper shells, and leave it at that.
Don’t stop there! If you enter all of the keyword suggestions you find into Google Trends, you’ll see a bigger picture.
That’s because people in different regions search for different terms. You can look at the chart by subregion to see this clearly.
Google Trends can show terminology differences between regions. You can view any country’s data here. (click to enlarge)
So if your website targets the Pacific Northwest, you’ll want to include truck canopy. And in places like Montana and Illinois, you’ll want to talk about truck topper, too. These make sense for those markets.
Which of those two images would you rather use to make a case for your keyword and content recommendations?
You might wonder why the other keyword tools didn’t show any meaningful data for the alternative search terms. It’s likely because their data is based on nationwide searches. But we know it’s important to speak the language of our customers. So use Google Trends to help find keyword ideas for unique content by region.
2. Spot Changing Trends
Language and search behavior change over time. How can you make sure your content reflects these changes?
Case in point: We used to call ourselves an “digital marketing” company. Several years ago, Google Trends confirmed that “digital marketing” was declining as a search term. “Digital marketing” was rising. So we updated our site to reflect how people were searching for our services.
Trends let you visualize swings in word usage. (click to enlarge)
By the way, “digital marketing” no longer fits our services as it’s become a very broad term. What we really do is provide great consulting services for “search marketing” (SEO, PPC, content, and social), but we do not do email or CRO or reputation management or PR and so on. So our keywords have evolved again.
Sometimes trends swing quickly and permanently.
For instance, Google AdWords rebranded to Google Ads in July 2018. A month later, Google Ads had already overtaken Google AdWords in relative search volume – which the trend chart shows.
Language changes can happen quickly. (click to enlarge graph)
Searchers change terms and adapt their searches faster than you (or your boss) might think. So plan to check Google Trends regularly. Watch for competing trends and update your content accordingly.
3. Augment Your Google Analytics
Do you ever notice a big shift in your website analytics data and wonder what’s going on?
There may be times when you don’t have enough historical data to know if your site is seeing an expected change in visits, or if something unusual has happened, maybe in the world at large.
Look in your analytics and Google Search Console data for organic traffic to your landing page for a particular keyword. Also look in Search Console for organic search queries related to your term. Compare this to Google Trends for the same searches, and you can get a more detailed understanding of your site in comparison to larger search trends.
4. Find Spelling Preferences
Keyword search volume tools often lump results together. “Donut” and “doughnut” are listed as having the same search volume in SEMrush. Google Keyword Planner won’t even give volume results for the spelling “doughnut” – even though “doughnut” is the preferred spelling by the Associated Press (which guides most blog and newspaper writers).
Data from SEMrush (click to enlarge)
But using Google Trends, you can actually compare spellings to see how much search volume each variation gets.
Use Google Trends to confirm how to spell keywords. (click to enlarge)
More importantly, notice the annual spike in search trends for all these donut-related terms?
Scroll down to the Related queries section, and you can see searches related to National Donut Day in the U.S. (the first Friday in June). Aha! You have a new content idea for your site’s donut silo.
Related queries can give you clues for content needs. (click to enlarge)
5. See What’s Trending Today
Don’t forget daily and realtime search trends. Google Trends lets you change the length of time for your research to just the past day, past 4 hours, or even the past hour!
When there’s an out-of-season spike in visits to your avocado recipes and your PPC budget for those related terms is spent by lunch, the trending searches can point out the avocado recall announcement and give you terms to add as negatives in your campaigns.
Avoid Data Pitfalls Where Google Trends Messes Up
Google Trends can get confused, however.
Searching for “dish soap” and “soap dish” shows identical search interest over time (you can’t even see the blue line below the red in the chart below). Yet they are two very different terms, and their results in a Google search are completely different.
On some comparisons, Google Trends can’t tell the difference. (click to enlarge)
Search volume from Ahrefs confirms that there is a difference in the terms, as you would expect:
(click to enlarge)
Another workaround for this Google Trends glitch is to use a plural for one or both search terms, when it makes sense.
You can see that the trends for “dish soaps” and “soap dishes” are distinctly different.
Google Trends distinguishes the plural versions. (click to enlarge)
Similarly, “marketing technology” and “technology marketing” also show identical search volumes in Google Trends.
When your common sense tells you that can’t be right, you’ll want to verify with another source. This could be as simple as performing a search in Google. Or you can look at comparison search volumes in another keyword research tool to see if searches really are identical.
Remember, you are not your target market. You might be in your pickup with a truck cap and eating a donut, while your reader is driving around Seattle with a truck canopy and trying to find a doughnut.
Use Google Trends to shed light on your keywords and help you know exactly what you should call things when.
Like this article? Please share it with others who can benefit from these keyword research tips!
Search operators are a prefix or addition to a query in Google or Bing that limits the results set. They work like customizable filters.
The results page you get back provides entirely different results than the average search.
Example 1 “advanced search tips”
One common operation is to use quotation marks (“) to match an exact phrase. So searching for “advanced search tips” (with the quotes) finds only pages that have those words together as a phrase.
Duplicate content is a problem for SEO. So use exact match searches to find any sites that have copied your content.
Why Should I Use a Search Operator?
Search marketing professionals routinely use search operators to filter results from a search engine.
These advanced search skills let you easily:
Locate something specific online
Research a site you’re optimizing
Investigate the competitive field
When you get comfortable with a few of these commands, you can find what you’re looking for much faster.
How Do I Use Advanced Search Operators?
You enter search operators in the search bar along with your regular query, but with some modifications.
Be sure to type the operator next to your query text with no space.
Example 2 site:bruceclay.com siloing
The site: prefix lets you find content within a certain website. In this example, site: tells the search engine you want to browse a particular domain, bruceclay.com is the domain, and siloing is the topic you are interested in finding.
Your results would look something like the screenshot below. Google found 363 pages about siloing on BruceClay.com:
The site: command filters your search results to just one website.
It’s often useful to search for a longer phrase within a particular website. You can combine the operators site: and ” “ such as:
This search found 157 pages. Without the quotation marks, the query would bring back way too many results. The engine would find pages about voice or search — so nearly all the pages on our site!
Bing and Google Search Operator Documentation
Each search engine has its own set of advanced search operators. Here’s the official documentation from the two major search engines for your reference:
List of Advanced Search Operators for SEO (Cheat Sheet)
In the table below, you’ll find the search engine operators that we routinely use in SEO research. (This is not an all-inclusive list.)
Shows the version of the webpage from Google’s cache.
Finds webpages that contain links to a particular type of file (such as pdf, mp3). This function is unique to Bing.
Returns only webpages with the file extension you specify (such as htm).
Finds results of a single type only (such as pdf).
Presents some information that Bing has about a webpage such as related pages from the site, external pages talking about the webpage, and related results.
Shows pages that contain a specific word in their body text.
Finds pages that include a specific word as part of the indexed title tag.
Finds pages that include all query words as part of the indexed title tag.
Finds pages that include a specific keyword in their indexed URLs.
Finds a specific URL in the search engine’s index. Also can be used to find pages whose URLs contain all the specified words.
Finds webpages that are similar to the specified webpage.
Restricts the search to pages within a particular domain and all its subdomains.
Acts like a wildcard that can take the place of any word or phrase. Example: tallest * in the world
Excludes results that contain the word following the minus sign. Place this operation at the end of your search query.
Finds instances of the exact text within the quotation marks everywhere it appears in the search engine’s index.
Search Operators Used in SEO Research
Here I’ll share more ways to use the search commands for SEO research. In the example queries below, the searched phrase is in italics.
Analyze the Competition
Example 3 related:bruceclay.com
The related: operator gives you a glimpse of competitor content.
You’ll see a small selection of what Google considers to be similar. Then you can analyze their SEO metrics — including word count, keyword use, meta data and inbound links — so that you can make your page equal to and then better than its competition.
Example 4 allintitle:seo blog
This query brings up webpages that have both “SEO” and “blog” in their metadata title. We could use this in order to find competing blogs to our own.
The search operators allintitle: and intitle: let you find pages using your keywords in title tags.
Similarly, the commands allinurl: and inurl: let you identify the competition that use keywords in URLs. (Note that as of this writing, the intitle: command works in both Google and Bing searches, but allintitle:, allinurl: and inurl: work only in Google.)
Example 5 cache:https://www.bruceclay.com/seo/
The cache: command shows you a search engine’s cached version of a page. It’s a way to check how the search engine actually sees your page.
Cache shows what page content the search engine considers relevant to retrieve, making this Google search operator a valuable SEO diagnostic tool.
Find Information About a Specific Page or Site
Example 6 info:competitorsite.com
Using the info: command in Bing gives you results that seem like a collection of these advanced search operators. It’s a one-stop shop to access a variety of onsite and offsite results about a website.
Note: Google deprecated the info: operator in 2017.
Discover Indexation Problems
Example 7 site:yourdomain.com
A site: command shows how many pages the search engine has indexed. Though the total number of results is only an approximation, it is a quick way to find out if you have an indexing problem — either too few or too many pages in the index.
Example 8 site:yourdomain.com/blog/*
Specify a particular subfolder of your site to see how many pages it contains. For instance, adding the wildcard * finds all pages under the /blog/.
Help with Site Maintenance
Along with doing SEO research, you can employ advanced search techniques to make site maintenance easier.
Example 9 site:yourdomain.com contains:pdf
The contains: Bing search operator gives you a powerful tool to find links within a site that point to a particular type of file. For example, the query above lets you locate every page on your site that has a link to a PDF file.
Further Refine Results
Example 10 cats -musical
A minus sign (-) before a keyword removes any results with that word. Again, it’s a way to help filter results when a query might otherwise be ambiguous. If you’re looking for info about cats the animal, but there’s a showing of Cats the musical in your town, you can search cats -musical to remove results about the theater production.
Example 11 intitle:keyword -site:yourdomain.com
You can use the minus sign (-) before a search command, too. The above example finds webpages that have your keyword in the title tag, excluding those on your own site. This reduces the clutter when doing competitor research.
Did you like this advanced search operators guide?
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Both searchers and search engines want webpages to be lightning fast. So it’s no surprise that page speed is a ranking factor in Google’s search algorithm.
Multiple studies have shown that page load time also heavily impacts a site’s bottom line: conversion and revenue.
Using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is one way to speed up your webpages for people using mobile devices.
AMP can present additional benefits: appearing in the AMP carousel in Google search, and offering a better experience to searchers.
Google marks AMP results with a lightning bolt, and some SERPs include an AMP carousel.
Is AMP Right for Your Site?
Originally, the AMP solution was intended for media sites. Google wanted to help news stories come up almost instantly from the search results.
Over time, AMP has spread to other types of sites — particularly advertisers, ad-technology platforms and ecommerce sites as well as publishers.
Google recommends AMP primarily for these types of sites. (image credit: AMPproject.com)
Today, many websites can benefit from implementing AMP. Retailers and many others use AMP to serve landing pages fast. And ads in this format have a better chance of being seen.
If you’re looking for a way to make your webpages faster, AMP may be right for you.
You don’t need AMP at all for webpages that are responsive and fast enough already.Google’s Gary Illyes has said this publicly.
What are alternatives to implementing AMP?
Content Delivery Network. CDNs work by bringing the heaviest resource files on a site closer to the end user. Less distance to travel means faster delivery, so your pages display more quickly on a mobile device.
Fully implemented HTTP/2. The HTTP/2 protocol speeds up data transport on the web. So if your market has 4G or 5G internet speeds and your website is HTTP/2 enabled, then you probably don’t need AMP at all.
Progressive Web Apps technology. PWAs can make your website behave like a native mobile app. https://developers.google.com/web/progressive-web-apps/ We have written about these before (see What Is a Progressive Web App).
Here’s a story to illustrate that HTTP/2 statement.
One of our consulting clients, a U.S. company, converted several thousand of its webpages to AMP. Four staff members worked for five weeks to complete the project.
The result? Their AMP pages displayed slightly faster to mobile searchers. But the website’s rankings and traffic were unaffected. In hindsight, their time and effort would have been better spent creating new content.
The AMP solution makes the most sense in countries/regions with slow network speeds. For example, our Bruce Clay India office has helped implement AMP for some clients there with good results.
If you believe AMP is right for you and you’re ready to start, I’ll outline the basic first steps.
How to Implement Accelerated Mobile Pages
To implement Accelerated Mobile Pages for your website and track results, there are three basic steps:
Create the AMP page template.
Roll out the AMP page.
Track with analytics.
We’ll look at each step in detail below, and I’ll also link to AMP documentation for more info.
Once you have decided which parts of your site should be AMP’d, here are the basic steps to creating, publishing and tracking AMP pages.
1. Create the AMP Page Template
The first step in implementing AMP is creating a webpage template.
AMP integrates with many different publishing platforms. You can view the list in AMP’s Quickstart guide and choose your content management system to get more details.
You can build AMP templates from scratch. Or you can convert existing HTML pages into AMP format. The documentation gives information on all the options.
Pointers for creating an AMP template:
When creating a page template for AMP, ensure that it meets AMP specs. You can find guidance on HTML format and more at the AMP specifications page.
Keep it simple. After all, the point of AMP is to have a clean, stripped-down webpage.
Include some sort of navigation to your domain on each page. You can link from a logo, image or text. Because AMP pages are served from a Google cache, giving searchers a link is essential to try and keep them on your website.
If you need to keep ads on your webpages, you must migrate them. Use the amp-ad component. If you cannot use <amp-ad&rt;, then do not include ads in your AMP templates. (You can read more about advertisements on AMP here.)
I like the idea of testing one or two types of pages from your website on AMP first. Ideally, include some pages that rank so that you can see if Google is serving the AMP version in mobile search results.
Depending on your site’s crawl rate, it could take a couple of days before Google finds, checks and indexes the AMP version of the page.
Let the rollout run for at least one month (longer if you can do it). As long as your pages are getting traffic, you’ll build enough data to ensure that rolling out AMP sitewide is worth it.
3. Track with Analytics
You’ll want to track the performance of your AMP pages. Since AMP analytics will be different from normal Google Analytics, read this guide to understand how it works.
You can track pages via in-house or third-party analytics. Many analytics vendors have built-in configurations for amp-analytics.
You can use amp-pixel for simple tracking and amp-analytics for everything else.
Technical recommendations as you’re setting up tracking:
Make sure to use the canonical URL and other variables to define what should be recorded. This is essential to understanding any traffic increases or decreases due to AMP.
Use the extraUrlParams attribute in amp‐analytics to add a query string parameter to the canonical URL like “type=amp” or something similar. This will make it easy to differentiate AMP pages from normal webpages in analytics, or to create a custom segment if you need to. This way, you can compare total traffic on pages before and after the AMP launch.
Side Note: How Accelerated Mobile Pages Work
If you’re wondering how AMP pages can possibly appear to load instantly, it’s because they are optimized differently than a regular webpage.
Below I’ve summarized optimizations that AMP does to reduce the amount of work a browser must do to display a page. (See the full list on the AMP Project site.)
Here’s what the AMP process can do:
Size resources (such as images, ads and iframes) statically – The browser knows exactly how the page will be laid out from the start.
Don’t let extensions block rendering – The page doesn’t have to wait even if there are extensions coming.
Allow inline CSS only – Bloated CSS files don’t delay the page.
No HTTP requests until fonts start downloading – Keeps fonts efficient.
Minimize style recalculations – All DOM reads happen up front to lay out the page.
Only run GPU-accelerated animations – The graphics processing unit handles visual animations (transform and opacity), reducing strain on the CPU.
Prioritize resource loading – The most important resources (above the fold) get downloaded first.
Load pages via prerendered content – Above-the-fold content may be available even before a user selects it, so it appears instantly on click.
7 Ways AMP Makes Your Pages Fast - YouTube
AMP is one way that you can speed up your webpages and offer a better experience to mobile users.
If you’re ready to amp up your webpages, follow the basic steps in this article and the AMP documentation to get started. You might even be able to attend one of Google’s AMP Roadshow workshops (see worldwide schedule here).
But my advice for most sites is: reconsider.
Unless this is critical to your business, please do not implement AMP.
The time you invest converting your webpages to a different format could be better spent creating good content that will serve all of your users.
Now I want to know if you’ve implemented AMP and what tips you have for our readers. Let me know in the comments below.
For a term that’s been around since 2001, there are still a great many people asking “what is SEM?”
It would seem that this should be an easy question to answer. After all, SEM has had nearly two decades to settle its definition. And yet, the question is still asked.
The term search engine marketing was popularized in 2001 by Danny Sullivan, then editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land. Danny wanted SEM to describe all search engine marketing initiatives, both organic and paid. Even today, you’ll occasionally see SEM used as a one-size-fits-all term for any marketing involving search engines.
Industry professionals and publications also throw around the term search marketing with ease. This might sound like the same thing, but it isn’t.
And of course, there is also the venerable search engine optimization (SEO) to consider. SEM, Search Marketing, SEO …
With all these terms, no wonder there is still confusion.
What Is SEM?
SEM stands for search engine marketing. As it is commonly used today, SEM describes only the money-backed portion of marketing through a search engine.
SEM involves buying PPC (pay-per-click) ads that display on a search engine results page (SERP for short). Ads may be placed through Google Ads, Bing Ads, or other search engines.
You know you’re doing SEM if …
When you give a search engine money to appear on their SERP, you’re doing SEM.
Common SEM concerns are cost per click and cost per acquisition (CPC and CPA). These indicate how much money is being spent on search advertising, and whether the return is worth it.
Some other important terms used in the world of SEM include:
and many more
SEM is the area where search engines make most of their money. As a result, paid search advertising takes precision so that ad dollars aren’t wasted. That makes SEM a marketing specialty of rapid change, one of the more exciting frontiers in search.
Does “Search Engine Marketing” Include SEO?
The short answer is no. SEM and SEO are now two different roles.
The longer answer is: “Not anymore, but it’s complicated.”
When Danny Sullivan created SEM back in 2001, he used it as a catch-all to describe all efforts that encouraged website traffic from search engine results pages — including paid and organic search initiatives. According to Danny then, both SEO and PPC folks worked in search engine marketing. Simple. Clear. This definition was accepted by the industry at the time.
Yet in the 18 years since, the common understanding of the term SEM has shifted.
What caused this change? A few possible causes include Wikipedia’s page on SEM being entirely skewed toward paid efforts; Yahoo’s push of their PPC solution; and the general alphabet soup of confusing marketing acronyms. (For a detailed history of the term SEM, see Danny’s recap from 2010.)
Whatever the reason, the answer to the question “what is SEM” has definitively changed. SEM now means paid.
Today when you head to Search Engine Land, you’ll find SEM defined this way:
“SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.”
That clearly includes pay per click, local search ads, product listing ads, and all advertising efforts with regard to search engines.
What about “Search Marketing”?
In place of SEM as an umbrella term, the industry coined the phrase “search marketing.”
Again looking at SEL, the definition of search marketing is:
“Search marketing is the process of gaining traffic and visibility from search engines through both paid and unpaid efforts.”
You may recognize that definition as Danny’s original meaning for SEM.
Defining SEM for the Future
Raise your hand if you think “SEM” is done evolving. Anyone?
I see signs that SEM will expand in meaning in the future.
In 2019, search marketing conferences are including more than just search engine advertising within the track called “SEM.”
Exhibit A: SMX West
The upcoming SMX West conference divides their tracks into SEO (organic) and SEM (paid). So that division is clear. You can expect to learn about organic ranking in the SEO track. In the SEM track, sessions focus on PPC topics like improving a Google Ads campaign.
What’s striking is the addition of advertising platforms besides Google and Bing. Sessions in the SEM track also talk about:
Exhibit B: Pubcon Las Vegas
I wondered if SMX was just an exception here. So I looked at another big marketing event, Pubcon.
It turns out that Pubcon’s “SEM” theme also covers more than just traditional search engines. Facebook advertising makes the cut. And there could be others that just aren’t mentioned in the summary description.
At least in the context of conferences, SEM can mean any variety of online ad placement. (This is somewhat counterintuitive.)
No longer are sessions merely focused on Google and Bing. They cover non-search outlets that accept ads, too.
Will this lead to another shift in the definition of SEM? Or will another term entirely take over to encapsulate the always evolving and always exciting world of digital marketing?
The scope of what we do as search marketers has grown. So should our definitions.
Search marketing, in my view, now has to include more than just organic SEO and paid SEM in the major search engines. It also involves video, server issues, site performance, voice, YouTube, Amazon, and the list goes on.
One thing is certain — the search industry continues to develop. So too will the language we use to describe it.
If you find yourself asking what is SEM 10 years from now and discover the answer has changed once again, at least you won’t be surprised.
WordPress is a simple-to-use content management system that’s also free. It offers everyone from solo bloggers to the world’s leading brands a platform to create custom and powerful websites. No wonder almost a third of all websites run on WP!
Still, WordPress was made for users, not for Google or SEOs. That’s why SEO plugins exist — to plug in the holes with added functionality that helps your content be indexed by search engines and found by searchers.
As a marketer, content creator or analyst, how do you choose the best SEO plugin for your sites? Here, we’ll take a look at six plugins, their many features, and finally a price comparison chart so that you can compare them:
Plugins often come in both free and premium versions; the premium versions unlock more functionality and service. I’ll address both versions where appropriate.
Plugin No. 6 is our soon-to-be-launched WP plugin, Bruce Clay SEO, which fills in the gaps left by other plugins on this list (see our list of what your SEO plugin is missing).
1. Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is the most popular SEO plugin. It’s easy to use, driven by a simple user interface. The majority of people use the free version.
Here’s what the free version offers (from its plugin page):
XML sitemaps functionality at the push of a button
Full control over site breadcrumbs
Set canonical URLs to avoid duplicate content
Title and meta description templates
Content & SEO analysis to write SEO-friendly text
Snippet preview to show how your post or page will look in the search results (also on mobile)
Cornerstone content and internal linking features help optimize your site structure
Integrates with Google Search Console
Manage SEO roles to give people access to specific sections of the Yoast SEO plugin
Bulk editor to make large-scale edits to a site
Strengths: As a leading plugin, it’s driven by market awareness and brand presence. It’s easy to use. The free version is typically enough for most users. Weaknesses: It’s built for everyone and no one industry in particular. As a result, some users feel the SEO recommendations are too generic. In addition, even though it’s fairly simple to use, the features may seem overwhelming to beginners. Active installations: 5+ million Rating on WordPress: 5 stars
Yoast’s Paid Version
Yoast offers a premium version for annual fees ranging from $89 for one site up to $756.50 for 15 sites. Additional offerings of the premium version include:
News SEO, video SEO, local SEO and WooCommerce SEO extensions
Premium users get one year free access to a support team
Insights tool shows you what your text is focusing on so you can keep your article in line with your keywords
Multiple focus keywords to optimize your article for synonyms and related keywords
Automatic internal linking suggestions of posts to link to
Social previews to help manage the way a page looks when shared on social networks like Facebook and Twitter
Redirect manager to address redirect errors from Google Search Console, deleted pages and changed URLs
2. All-In-One SEO Pack
All-In-One SEO Pack offers entry-level features to assist with SEO for beginners. It also has advanced features and an API for developers.
Here’s what the free plugin offers (from its plugin page):
XML sitemap support
Image XML sitemap submitted to Google and Bing
Google AMP support
Google Analytics support
Support for SEO on custom post types
Advanced canonical URLs
Redirect attachment pages to parent post
Automatically notifies search engines about changes to your site
Built-in API so other plugins/themes can access and extend functionality
Provides SEO integration for e-commerce sites, including WooCommerce
Nonce Security built in
Automatically optimizes titles for search engines
Generates meta tags automatically
Avoids typical duplicate content found on WordPress blogs
For advanced users, fine-tune everything to optimize SEO
Override any title and set any meta description and keywords
Compatible with many other plugins
Translated into 57 languages
PHP 7 100 percent compatible
Strengths: As a leading plugin, it’s driven by market awareness and brand presence. Some users appreciate that you can turn off features you won’t need to use. Weaknesses: This plugin is built for everyone and no one industry in particular. Some people comment that the user interface is not as friendly as they would like it to be, and say that for true beginners, it might be too complex to understand. Active installations: 2+ million Rating on WordPress: 4.5 stars
All-In-One’s Paid Version
All-In-One SEO Pack offers a pro version for annual fees ranging from $97 for an individual to $699 for an agency. Additional offerings of the pro version include:
Advanced support for WooCommerce
SEO for categories, tags and custom taxonomies
Video SEO module
Access to video screencasts
Access to premium support forums
Access to knowledge center
3. SEO Ultimate
SEO Ultimate has the most robust feature set of the all-in-one-type WordPress SEO plugins. Check out its plugin page for more details on each of the following features.
Here’s what the free plugin offers (from its plugin page):
Title tag rewriter and meta description editor
Open graph integrator
Rich snippet creator
Link mask generator
Meta robot tags editor
SEO ultimate widgets
Plugin settings manager
SEO/SEM-enhancing custom HTML
.htaccess editor and the robots.txt editor
Textboxes to the end of your posts/pages that contain automatically generated link HTML
Meta keywords for posts, pages, categories, tags, terms and the homepage auto-generated and editable
“Read more” links include the posts’ keyword-rich titles in the anchor text
Rel=”nofollow” settings when migrating from other SEO plugins
Dashboard of green/yellow/red indicators for SEO-friendliness
Buttons that make it easy for visitors to share content on social
Strengths: This plugin has a nice set of robust SEO features. Also, the ability to import and export data from other sources, including other SEO plugins, is something users find handy. Weaknesses: The free version is no longer being updated for WordPress. Because the tool is advanced, it requires training to get the most out of it. Active installations: 100,000+ Rating on WordPress: 4 stars
SEO Ultimate’s Paid Version
SEO Ultimate+ costs from $49 for one site to $249 for 20 sites annually. $500 will get you unlimited sites. Additional offerings of SEO Ultimate+ include:
Structured data, schema and rich snippets
Global canonical manager
Alt attribute mass editor for images
Improved open graph options for social networks
The code inserter+ module
HTML and XML Sitemaps
Rel previous and next pagination optimization
SEO data transporter
4. SEO Squirrly
SEO Squirrly is an SEO plugin that aims to be an SEO advisor.
Here’s what the free plugin offers (from its plugin page – check it out for more in-depth information on each feature):
SEO Live Assistant
Briefcase, keyword strategy assistant
Facebook Open Graph support for both images and video
LinkedIn titles, images and description for better sharing
Rich Pins for Pinterest
Customize meta title and description
Works with multisites
Blogging assistant to help keep readers on the page longer
Strengths: Robust features. Works well with the WooCommerce e-commerce plugin. Weaknesses: The plugin is free if you do less than five posts per month on one site; otherwise, you need to upgrade to the paid version. Some features that used to be included free are now separate paid products, such as search engine rank tracking. Active Installations: 30,000+ Rating on WordPress: 4.5 stars
SEO Squirrly’s Paid Version
SEO Squirrly offers a premium version for monthly fees of $29.99 for pro and $71.99 for business. Additional offerings of the premium version include:
This is a paid plugin ($9 per month), and just some of the things it offers include:
Multiple keywords analysis
XML Sitemap generator
SEOpressor over-optimization check
Progressive LSI keywords engine
301 URL redirect
SemantiQ density tells you if the content is related to keywords
On-page robot rules
Schema and Dublin Core markup support
SEOpressor site audit
SEOpressor local SEO
Google Knowledge Graph help
SEOpressor score manager for optimization
Optimize the homepage
SEOpressor smart link manager
On-page meta settings
Sitewide link policy
Facebook Open Graph customization
Automatic smart linking
Twitter Card customization
SEOpressor role settings
Strengths: Can be used on multiple domains and works well with other SEO plugins. Many people find it easy to use with a strong user interface. Weaknesses: Computes its own scores and tracks them over time, but lacks a connection to performance analytics data or search results. This means that the trends could be misleading since they don’t reflect how your content is actually performing in the search engines. Active installs & ratings: The plugin does not appear in WordPress’s plugin directory, so this data is not available.
6. Bruce Clay SEO for WordPress (now in beta)
While many of the above plugins compete with each other, our approach is different. Bruce Clay SEO WP is meant to supplement and extend the free versions with powerful needed features.
We gathered input from industry practitioners on what they wanted to see in an SEO plugin. Then we designed our plugin not to replace the plugins you may be using, but to provide much more data than is available today.
Of course, our plugin provides capabilities similar to others as well, but that is just in case you’re not using any other SEO plugins.
What makes this plugin unique: It enriches your publishing workspace with SEO insights based on real-time search results and analytics. In other words, you can see beyond the page you’re working on, without leaving WordPress. It’s the integration with our SEOToolSet and Google Search Console/Analytics that makes this possible.
The Bruce Clay SEO plugin works like software as a service (SaaS). Rather than a static one-size-fits-all checklist approach to optimizing a page or post, our plugin uses a live connection with the SEOToolSet software to analyze your keywords and competition in real time.
As a result, the optimization recommendations you see are customized. So your page can better compete in its specific ranking environment.
There’s no free version, but it’s priced affordably at $24.95/month per domain. (Try it! The first week is free — then you can decide if you want to keep it.)
As a bonus, plugin subscribers can also use the SEOToolSet itself. Data is shared between the plugin in WordPress and the user’s SEOToolSet account. Those who want to can run domain ranking reports and take advantage of many other external tools.
Bruce Clay SEO features are powered by patent-pending technology. WordPress users can:
Optimize a page or post for more than one keyword.
See clearly where keywords appear in the content through color coding.
Know which pages and posts are your top performers.
Identify problems with mobile usability and performance.
Check the site for duplicate content.
Evaluate top-ranked pages for your keywords in real-time.
Get recommendations for keyword usage in tags and content (even word count) based upon competitors.
Find out how much content has been written on your site per keyword.
See how each of your pages or posts is performing, using integrated Google Analytics data.
View top-performing posts or pages per author/contributor to the website as measured by visitors over a selectable period of time.
Find out when there is a possibility of duplicate content, like meta information or the content on a page.
Discover the page or post’s readability and compare it to keyword competitors.
Use along with Yoast, if desired. Compatibility is built in.
We often get questions from people wondering why their site isn’t ranking, or why it isn’t indexed by the search engines.
Recently, I’ve come across several sites with major errors that could be easily fixed, if only the owners knew to look. While some SEO mistakes are quite complex, here are a few of the often overlooked “head slamming” errors.
So check out these SEO blunders — and how you can avoid making them yourself.
SEO Fail #1: Robots.txt Problems
The robots.txt file has a lot of power. It instructs search engine bots what to exclude from their indexes.
In the past, I’ve seen sites forget to remove one single line of code from that file after a site redesign, and sink their entire site in the search results.
So when a flower site highlighted a problem, I started with one of the first checks I always do on a site — look at the robots.txt file.
I wanted to know whether the site’s robots.txt was blocking the search engines from indexing their content. But instead of the expected text file, I saw a page offering to deliver flowers to Robots.Txt.
The site had no robots.txt, which is the first thing a bot looks for when crawling a site. That was their first mistake. But to take that file as a destination … really?
SEO Fail #2: Autogeneration Gone Wild
Secondly, the site was automatically generating nonsense content. It would probably deliver to Santa Claus or whatever text I put in the URL.
I ran a Check Server Page tool to see what status the autogenerated page was showing. If it was a 404 (not found), then bots would ignore the page as they should. However, the page’s server header gave a 200 (OK) status. As a result, the fake pages were giving the search engines a green light to be indexed.
Search engines want to see unique and meaningful content per page. So indexing these non-pages could hurt their SEO.
SEO Fail #3: Canonical Errors
Next, I checked to see what the search engines thought of this site. Could they crawl and index the pages?
Looking at the source code of various pages, I noticed another major error.
Every single page had a canonical link element pointing back to the homepage:
In other words, search engines were being told that every page was actually a copy of the homepage. Based on this tag, the bots should ignore the rest of the pages on that domain.
Fortunately, Google is smart enough to figure out when these tags are likely used in error. So it was still indexing some of the site’s pages. But that universal canonical request was not helping the site’s SEO.
How to Avoid These SEO Fails
For the flower site’s multiple mistakes, here are the fixes:
Have a valid robots.txt file to tell search engines how to crawl and index the site. Even if it’s a blank file, it should exist at the root of your domain.
Display a custom 404 page when a page URL doesn’t exist. Make sure it returns a 404 server code to give the search engines a clear message.
Be careful with autogenerated pages. Avoid producing nonsense or duplicate pages for search engines and users.
Even if you’re not experiencing a site problem, these are good points to review periodically, just to be on the safe side.
Oh, and never put a canonical tag on your 404 page, especially pointing to your homepage … just don’t.
SEO Fail #4: Overnight Rankings Freefall
Sometimes a simple change can be a costly mistake. This story comes from an experience with one of our SEO clients.
When the .org extension of their domain name became available, they scooped it up. So far, so good. But their next move led to disaster.
They immediately set up a 301 redirect pointing the newly acquired .org to their main .com website. Their reasoning made sense — to capture wayward visitors who might type in the wrong extension.
But the next day, they called us, frantic. Their site traffic was nonexistent. They had no idea why.
A few quick checks revealed that their search rankings had disappeared from Google overnight. It didn’t take too much Q&A to figure out what had happened.
They put the redirect in place without considering the risk. We did some digging and discovered that the .org had a sordid past.
The previous owner of the .org site had used it for spam. With the redirect, Google was assigning all of that poison to the company’s main site! It took us only two days to restore the site’s standing in Google.
How to Avoid This SEO Fail
Always research the link profile and history of any domain name you register.
A qualified SEO consultant can do this. There are also tools you can run to see what skeletons may be lying in the site’s closet.
Whenever I pick up a new domain, I like to let it lie dormant for six months to a year at least before trying to make anything of it. I want the search engines to clearly differentiate my site’s new incarnation from its past life. It’s an extra precaution to protect your investment.
SEO Fail #5: Pages That Won’t Go Away
Sometimes sites can have a different problem — too many pages in the search index.
Search engines sometimes retain pages that are no longer valid. If people land on error pages when they come from the search results, it’s a bad user experience.
Some site owners, out of frustration, list the individual URLs in the robots.txt file. They’re hoping that Google will take the hint and stop indexing them.
But this approach fails! If Google respects the robots.txt, it won’t crawl those pages. So Google will never see the 404 status and won’t find out that the pages are invalid.
How to Avoid This SEO Mistake
The first part of the fix is to not disallow these URLs in robots.txt. You WANT the bots to crawl around and know what URLs should be dropped from the search index.
After that, set up a 301 redirect on the old URL. Send the visitor (and search engines) to the closest replacement page on the site. This takes care of your visitors whether they come from search or from a direct link.
SEO Fail #6: Missed Link Equity
I followed a link from a university website and was greeted with a 404 (not found) error.
This is not uncommon, except that the link was to /home.html — the site’s former homepage URL.
At some point, they must have changed their website architecture and deleted the old-style /home.html, losing the redirect in the shuffle.
Ironically, their 404 page says you can start over from the homepage, which is what I was trying to reach in the first place.
It’s a pretty safe bet that this site would love to have a nice link from a respected university going to their homepage. And accomplishing this is entirely within their control. They don’t even have to contact the linking site.
How to Fix This Fail
To fix this link, they just need to put a 301 redirect pointing /home.html to the current homepage. (See our article on how to set up a 301 redirect for instructions.)
For extra credit, go to Google Search Console and review the Index Coverage Status Report. Look at all of the pages that are reported as returning a 404 error, and work on fixing as many errors here as possible.
SEO Fail #7: The Copy/Paste Fail
The site redesign launches, the canonical tags are in place, and the new Google Tag Manager is installed. Yet there are still ranking problems. In fact, one new landing page isn’t showing any visitors in Google Analytics.
The development team responds that they’ve done everything by the book and have followed the examples to the letter.
They are exactly right. They followed the examples — including leaving in the example code! After copying and pasting, the developers forgot to enter their own target site information.
Here are three examples our analysts have run across in website code:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://example.com/”>
How to Avoid This SEO Fail When things don’t work right, look beyond just “is this element in the source code?” It may be that the proper validation codes, account numbers and URLs were never specified in your HTML code.
Mistakes happen. People are only human. I hope that these examples will help you avoid similar SEO blunders of your own.
But some SEO issues are more complex than you think. If you have indexing problems, then we are here to help. Call us or fill out our request form and we’ll get in touch.
“SEO audits” can mean different things to different people.
In general, an SEO website audit identifies issues that hinder a site’s ability to be found in search results and recommends changes to fix those issues.
The end goal of a technical SEO audit? To help you improve the site’s search visibility and bring in more organic traffic.
But the approach to SEO audits varies across practitioners and agencies. Which approach fits you best depends on many factors.
TL;DR: Three levels of SEO audits exist. They all aim to uncover ways to improve a website’s visibility in search. From free tools to an expert’s analysis, all audit types have their place. This article lists five auditing tools, explains the different approaches, and clarifies what you can expect to pay and to get from each level of SEO audit.
The 3 Levels of SEO Audits
Three levels of technical SEO audits exist today:
The “Good” SEO Audit: A software tool uncovers superficial SEO issues (many of which may be useful). The tool produces a one-size-fits-all generic report. Appropriate for when you don’t have an auditing budget, or you want to check some basics yourself before starting with an agency. Never a waste, but not a deep dive.
The “Better” SEO Audit: An SEO vendor or practitioner offers additional SEO insights but without many solutions. They can identify problems that data analytics alone can’t uncover. Without in-depth solutions, this only points to possible trouble areas, but sometimes that is all you need.
The “Best” SEO Audit: An SEO agency performs an in-depth technical audit. It requires the labor and expertise of a seasoned SEO analyst(s) who specializes in technical website analysis and SEO business strategy. This is a manual review supported by tools, and it takes many hours.
Of course, you may have different names for each of these levels of audits. Each serves a purpose.
However, when all three levels come together in one powerful and “best” SEO audit, you gain a solid understanding of where your website is today, where it can be tomorrow, and what needs to be done to get it there.
Let’s look at these three levels in detail, starting with the “good.”
The “Good” SEO Audit
Let’s start with the most basic SEO audit.
Mostly automated, this type of SEO audit uses a software tool. The software examines your website against a set of SEO factors and generates a list of things to fix.
Most often, businesses themselves use these tools to do simple self-audits. But this type of audit tends to be superficial.
What’s lacking here is the knowledge behind the recommendations. You might receive a brief explanation, but understanding the “why” behind the suggestion can be unclear.
Add to that the fact that every business and website is unique. The tool may say “X” is a problem — but is it really a problem for your site’s situation? And how much priority should you give to it?
The “best” SEO audit’s power lies in its expert analysis and strategic recommendations. Click To Tweet
For example, if you’re seeing a traffic loss, a tool-generated report offers no understanding of why. Is there a search engine penalty involved? Could projects that your team is running, like a redesign, be affecting rankings?
The self-audit tool doesn’t take into consideration any number of important things that could be impacting your SEO.
Still, it does serve the purpose of a quick-and-dirty website review. And you can send the recommendations to your developer team to make quick fixes.
Software tools generally contribute to any SEO audit procedure, though the more comprehensive audits give much more insight.
SEO Audit Tools I Recommend
Below I’ve listed five software products I like for SEO audit work. They have both free and paid versions, so the price can range from $0 to several hundred dollars per month for a tool subscription.
1. Nibbler (My Favorite) Nibbler is my preferred auditing tool. It looks at everything from on-page factors to back-end considerations, breadth of content, mobile factors, freshness and more.
1. Nibbler report example
Nibbler’s free version limits you to three reports for five webpages per test. But it offers a paid version that opens up the report to 100-plus pages. This more comprehensive reporting comes in between $50 and $120 per month.
2. SEO-Detective SEO-Detective is a free tool that analyzes a site one webpage at a time against more than 20 factors, including Alexa rank, server information, keywords and more.
2. SEO-detective sample report
3. SEOptimer SEOptimer audit data is available in multiple languages and covers everything from on-page SEO factors to usability and accessibility. It prides itself on speed (being able to analyze a site in 30 seconds or less), and allows users to customize and white label reports.
3. SEOptimer tool screenshot
Paid plans for SEOptimer run from $29 to $59 per month, and you can run a report for free and download the data when you sign up for a 14-day free trial.
4. UpCity UpCity offers an SEO “report card” that covers things like ranking and on-site analysis including links, trust metrics and accessibility.
4. UpCity’s sample report
The report card is a free feature. It’s wrapped into their paid SEO software aimed at agencies at $150 to $800 per month.
5. WebPageTest.org WebPageTest is a free tool that is useful for verifying or identifying speed issues.
5. WebPageTest.org screen shot
As you can see, these five SEO auditing tools cover many best-practice SEO tactics. After accessing the data, you should make recommended changes where it makes sense for your website.
The downside is that these tools do not listen to your business and website problems, nor do they dive deeper into the data. That is the next level of auditing that I will cover.
In an SEO audit, the human insights piece makes a great difference if you want to understand major SEO issues impacting the site. Click To Tweet
The “Better” SEO Audit
Level 2 SEO audits are better because they typically involve an SEO vendor or SEO practitioner.
The vendor or practitioner will likely use a software tool such as those I outlined in the previous section. In addition, they can:
Listen to you and learn about your business situation, goals, and past SEO decisions that may be impacting your website.
Analyze your Google Analytics and Google Search Console data for more insights.
Manually identify SEO issues that are below the surface and not easily recognizable by a tool.
This deeper dive can often result in problem identification, sometimes very quickly. You’ll receive important explanations of what’s behind the data uncovered in analytics and auditing tools.
What to Expect from a Level 2 Audit
Some of the things an audit like this may discover are:
Your content is not good enough. Software can only do so much to analyze content (for example, word count or reading score). A human can compare your website content to your competitors’ pages that are ranking in the search results. Such an evaluation can pinpoint where you have room for improvement.
Your website design is bad. A software tool won’t be able to tell you that you have an ugly, hard-to-navigate website. It won’t notice that you have a bunch of junk code that’s preventing search engine spiders from doing their job. Having expert eyes on the overall development and design to identify SEO problems is key.
Your inbound link profile is poisoned. There are many reasons why a link profile can go bad. A website that has been around for a while has probably had multiple webmasters. During that time, the rules of SEO may have changed, or those responsible may not have understood Google guidelines. Whatever the reason, it’s the SEO auditor’s job to interpret potential spam issues hurting the site.
Your server is way too slow. Google cares about how long it takes to get information from your webpage, and says it should display in 200 milliseconds or less. An older study found a correlation between an increased “time to first byte” and decreased search rankings.
To clarify, a tool can certainly check page load time. But is the reported load time normal among your competitors? And have you lost traffic due to delays? An audit tool cannot tell you the answers. But they’re crucial to deciding how to prioritize your slowness issues.
In a Level 2 SEO audit, the human insights piece makes a great difference if you want to understand major SEO issues impacting the site.
If you engage with an SEO vendor, know that the price varies greatly depending upon the issue prompting the audit, site complexity, and the size of the agency’s SEO checklist.
Here’s the rub: Most audits at this level are little more than a problem list without solutions. Those fixes are yours to research.
Normally, a reasonable “better” audit by a professional as described here ranges from $3,000 to $12,000 (USD). This covers a one-time review; afterwards, the engagement is typically over. You can compare this against the cost and the need to employ an SEO analyst in-house.
At the end of the day, all three levels of SEO audits can be useful. Something is better than nothing. Click To Tweet
The “Best” SEO Audit
Each level of audit has its place based on a business’s needs and budget. Luckily, you have options.
At the “best” auditing level, you engage with an SEO vendor that has explicit knowledge of how to perform a thorough technical and strategic SEO website audit. You want to choose an agency that makes audits a core business specialty and has enough hours available to do it (up to 100 hours or more).
Commonly, a Level 3 audit takes advantage of the kinds of tools I’ve mentioned for the other levels. Tools improve the process. But the “best” SEO audit’s power lies in its expert analysis and strategic recommendations.
What to Expect from the Best SEO Audit
A technical SEO audit at this level uncovers everything in the first two levels of auditing, plus it delivers the following:
Expert knowledge. The most comprehensive audit means you’re working with a senior SEO analyst with many years of experience versus a junior analyst doing a more “by-the-book” review. The senior analyst will be apprised of any algorithm changes (known or suspected) as well that may be impacting the site.
Competitive research. The auditor makes a comprehensive review of not only your website, but also competitor websites. This will help create a strategic roadmap of how to compete in the search results based on those that are ranking already.
New opportunities. The audit will include in-depth keyword analysis that will expose new opportunities for search visibility based on a business’s goals. This can be paired with a new SEO-friendly site architecture that works to improve a website’s authority through the structure of its content.
Prioritization & guidance. The auditor will not only identify the problem and describe exactly why it’s important based on Google’s guidelines, but also explain how to resolve it. You should receive in-depth instructions on how to implement solutions, complete with a priority list of what to tackle first.
You can expect an SEO vendor at this level to spend a lot of time researching and analyzing – sometimes over 100 hours depending on the website – in order be as thorough as necessary.
At that level of labor, these audits often start at $20,000 and can exceed $50,000 for very large ecommerce sites. (Side note: You can learn more about the cost of SEO and what goes into the price tags.)
Our search marketing agency mostly does the “best” audits; we also run many auditing tools and tasks internally over the course of every project. Let us know if we can help your business.
At the end of the day, all three levels of SEO audits can be useful. In other words, something is better than nothing.
If you’re deciding which type will work best for you, consider these factors:
The age and complexity of your website
Problems you’re experiencing, such as severe traffic loss
Projects on the horizon (for example, a site redesign), and more.
In all cases, expect to make improvements to your site following an SEO audit.
Bottom line: Making the right changes uncovered in a technical SEO audit WILL help you compete in the search results.
I want to know: Have you ever had a “best” level of SEO audit, and what were your results? Tell me in the comments below.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an evolving discipline that’s rooted in both best practices and trending strategies. So we have to keep updating this SEO checklist — and occasionally rewrite it entirely, as I’ve done today.
One checklist can’t uncover everything an individual business should do when it comes to SEO and its website. But it’s very helpful to use alongside your SEO tools to ensure you’re covering the basics of a tactical SEO roadmap.
I hope you’ll find it to be a helpful reminder of the many items to check during your SEO projects.
I’ve divided the SEO checklist into sections, so jump around as needed:
Many of us already knew by the time Google confirmed it: Content is one of the top three ranking signals (out of hundreds). If you do nothing else, your content strategy is an essential part of your online success.
1. Target Audience Research
This is a biggie: Know your target audience, the questions they have, and their pain points. Knowing what questions they ask and what types of queries they might ask Google helps inform your keyword research.
This, in turn, will help you create content that answers those questions and solves their pain points. (You’ll use keywords you select as a basis for this content — one main keyword topic per webpage — but more on that shortly.)
Understanding searcher intent is an important step in crafting content. Answering typical questions your target audience might have also helps your page be found for voice search queries.
2. Keyword Strategy and Research Keyword research needs to be an ongoing process. It starts by identifying a focus phrase or two for the topic you want to write about (using your preferred tools — there are dozens of good ones out there).
When you have a keyword phrase in mind for a page or a section of your site, check it in Google search. View the top results, the “People also ask” questions, and the rest of the search engine results page. This SERP provides your best clues to what is actually the searcher intent for this query. Make sure your content fulfills what searchers want when looking for this keyword, or look for a more appropriate keyword phrase.
I could write volumes about this topic; just know that keyword research is part of any solid SEO checklist. Our SEO Tutorial will get you started and includes a free version of the SEOToolSet Keyword Suggestion Tool.
3. Word Count
The amount of content you need on a webpage varies by topic, keyword, competition and the intent of the query (read about the three types of search queries to the right).
How many words is enough? There’s no black and white rule. To determine an approximate minimum page length, look at the top-ranked URLs for a keyword you’re targeting. How long are those pages? (Note: A tool like our SEOToolSet Multi Page Analyzer comes in handy for this kind of analysis.)
Averaging the top competitors gives you a ballpark for what a search engine probably considers the normal word count for that topic. It’s safe to say that informational webpages almost always warrant more text, at least 450 words.
Quality content is key. Google’s Panda algorithm detects low-quality content and demotes its rankings. So avoid thin content and focus on robust coverage of your website topics that proves your subject matter expertise.
3 Main Types of Search Queries
These queries happen when a user intends to buy something now. Searching for the exact brand and model of a product, for instance, suggest the intention to buy.
These are research-oriented queries. Sometimes research is done in advance of a future transaction. For example, a search for “best electric toothbrushes” indicates that the searcher will probably purchase one in the near future.
Navigational queries help a searcher get somewhere, whether online or in the physical world. Searching for the name of a restaurant, for example, will get the user to that restaurant’s website, phone number, or physical address.
4. Call to Action (CTA)
For each of your pages, ask yourself what the user would need/want to do from here. Then make it easy to do!
Your key pages should make it clear what primary action a visitor can take next. On a product page, the CTA to “add to cart” or “start a free trial” should be prominent. On a service page, the CTA might be “call” or “get a quote.” Make the CTA clear and easy to select. On the homepage, help the visitor to take the next step in your conversion funnel.
The actual language of a CTA should be active (usually an imperative verb). The placement and design of the CTA should draw the visitor’s attention. But test variations to see what works best for you.
A page doesn’t have to be transactional in nature to warrant a call to action. If an informational page is a top-performing traffic driver, such as a blog post that answers a common question or an FAQ page, the call to action might encourage the visitor to “find out more” or enter the conversion funnel.
5. Content Freshness
Make sure to periodically review your content (webpages and blog posts) to make sure that the information is up to date.
For example, this very checklist is regularly refreshed. SEO best practices have to evolve as search engine guidelines and technology do. If your industry also moves quickly, your content needs to keep up.
“… unmaintained/abandoned ‘old’ websites or unmaintained and inaccurate/misleading content is a reason for a low E-A-T [expertise, authority and trustworthiness] rating.”
What’s on your site that needs a refresh? Update it!
6. Static Content on Homepage
Your homepage acts as a central hub to pass authority to top pages on your site through internal links. It’s probably also where people land most often when they search for your brand or main products/services.
It’s important to have static text that talks about your brand and top theme(s) on the homepage.
If you have a homepage with content that constantly changes, such as nothing but headlines, it can dilute the theme of your site. This results in poor rankings for key terms. So try to maintain sections of consistent text on the homepage.
7. Duplicate Content
Do a search to see if your content exists elsewhere on the web. You may want to check out CopyScape.com and use it regularly. If your site appears to have copied content from another source, that’s a low-quality signal to search engines and may cause your site to rank lower. Similarly, if other sites have copied your content, it could be a problem from an SEO standpoint.
If you have duplicate content within your site, such as three URLs with the same content, a search engine will filter out the dupes. Only one will display in results for relevant queries — and the page that Google chooses might not be the page that you want to rank.
Review each important page, from the homepage to a high-priority product page, with an eye to the following issues.
8. Title Tag
In general, title tags should be about 9 words (+/– 3). You want to make sure that each page’s title tag is unique and describes the most important information about your page. Include the top keyword so that it appears before the cutoff in the SERP, which for Google is approximately 70 characters including spaces.
Remember, the title tag often becomes the title that searchers see in search results. Both the title and description text can influence click-throughs to your site. So craft compelling tags. You don’t want to waste your prime real estate in the SERP with boring copy.
9. Description Tag
The meta description tag should also include the most important information and keywords near the beginning. If the search engine chooses to display your description text, it will include approximately 24 words or 160 characters with spaces.
Keep in mind that Google reserves the right to replace your meta description text with a search snippet generated from Google, which is usually pulled from the page’s body content. A search snippet appears instead of the meta description whenever Google deems the snippet of text more relevant for a given search.
10. Keywords Tag
The meta keywords tag is not a ranking consideration for Google, but we still advocate putting the page’s main keywords in this tag. It’s also a good location for misspellings of your key terms.
The keywords tag is valid HTML code that gets indexed with the page. We’ve tested this repeatedly and found that, in cases where a specific query string does not exist elsewhere on the web, Google will search its index and find the page containing that string in its meta keywords tag.
11. Heading Tags
Headings allow a reader to see the main sections and points of a page. They give visual cues for how body content is organized. They also signal to search engines and readers what topics are covered on a page.
As a technical point, make sure the first heading tag within the body of a page is an <h1>. The following heading tags can be <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, etc., and should be used like a page’s table of contents.
Navigation elements and other global text should be styled with CSS and not heading tags (watch our Ask Us Anything video for more about this).
12. Image Optimization
Images greatly enhance your pages. Content needs visual elements to break up the text and keep a reader interested.
Images also provide additional ranking opportunities through image searches and blended web search results.
Images can slow down a page’s loading time. To reduce file size and to increase speed as much as possible, resize the files to their display size rather than uploading the original file and making the browser shrink it. Also, include width and height attributes in image tags.
File names should describe the image and include a keyword. You can also optimize the caption and the text surrounding an image to reinforce what the image is about.
13. Alt Attributes
Make sure to include an alt attribute with each image. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that a website should always describe the image on a page for the vision impaired.
Accessibility is important to Google, and having alt attributes is a primary indicator that your site is accessible.
As an SEO checklist item, ensure that your images have accurate alt text that, if appropriate, includes a keyword for the page. Alt attributes are also required of validated HTML code (per W3C standards).
14. Video Optimization
Videos are powerful engagement objects that add multimedia interest to keep visitors on your page longer. Highly consumable content, videos give you additional SEO benefits and social sharing opportunities.
Optimize your videos to be found in search. Video content provides ranking opportunities both in regular searches and in video-only search engines where they’re uploaded, especially YouTube.
Like images, embedded videos can slow down the load of a page. There’s a slew of optimization best practices for YouTube, Vimeo and other video hosting sites. Read our guide on 10 video SEO tips to improve SERP rank.
15. Structured Data Markup
Structured data clarifies for the search engine what content on your page is about. Specifically, it helps the search engines understand what type of information you’re presenting.
For example, you could use structured data markup to indicate an upcoming event your business is hosting, specifying its date, time, location, and other details. If Google is clear about what’s what on your site, then additional bits of information have the potential to show up in your search results.
Example Google search result showing structured data for events
16. More Structured Data
Besides the schema markup we just mentioned, there are other ways you can structure data to make it more digestible for search engines.
Table of contents at the top
Headings that contain a key term or question, followed by the answer in body text
TL;DR (“too long, didn’t read”) summary near the top of your article
All of these structural formats can help people read your content more easily. They also encourage Google to use your content in featured snippets. Google gives more information about structured data in the search results here.
17. Social Meta Tags
Social markup, or social meta tags, refers to the code used to enhance content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest. Content in these tags dictates what image and text will show up when someone posts a link to your content on a social network.
By specifying social markup in your HTML, you can ensure you look your best on social media. Facebook Open Graph tags, Twitter Card markup and Pinterest Rich Pins are the major social markup tags. Click through if you want more details on each platform’s options:
18. URL Optimization
Use dashes rather than underscores in page URLs. Underscores are alpha characters and do not separate words. Dashes (or rather, hyphens) are word separators, but should not appear too many times or it could look spammy. For more on this topic, check out this post by Google’s Matt Cutts (an oldie but a goodie).
You also want URLs to be descriptive and contain keywords, without being spammy. And shorter URLs are preferable to long URLs.
19. Fully Qualified Links
If you make your internal links fully qualified, there’s no question by search engine spiders, browsers, etc., as to where the file is located and what it’s about. If your link looks something like “../../pagename” (a relative link), then it may cause crawl issues for some search engines.
Rather than relative URLs, use fully qualified links (beginning with http:// or https://). Note that your sitemap should always have fully qualified URLs.
Externalizing these files also can speed up your page load time, which plays a role in Google’s ranking algorithm.
Businesses with a local brick-and-mortar presence or local service areas have a special set of SEO factors to pay attention to. Here are a couple important steps.
21. Claim Google My Business Listing
A Google My Business listing is free and is a critical first step for local brick-and-mortars and businesses with service areas. A Google My Business listing can enable your site to show up in Google Maps, the local pack of Google Search results, and Knowledge Graph panels for your business.
A Knowledge Graph panel shows information from your Google My Business listing.
There’s a lot more involved in local SEO, but claiming your listing in Google My Business and in Bing Places gets you started.
22. Local Schema Markup
Local businesses can benefit from on-page schema markup related to their business. (You can browse the available codes at schema.org. Especially important for all businesses is the NAP + W code, which designates the business’s name, address, phone number and website.
We’re truly living in a mobile-first world. Businesses need to ensure that their websites cater to the mobile browsing experience. This is made more important with the rollout of Google’s mobile-first index. Now, Google prioritizes the mobile version of your content when it comes to indexing and ranking.
As an SEO checklist to-do, make sure you’re using a mobile-first strategy. I’ve listed a few specifics below.
23. Mobile Usability
Search engines are invested in providing users a great mobile experience. See how your site is performing on mobile devices with the Mobile Usability Report, located within Google Search Console.
This report lets you know if your touch elements are too close, if your content is sized to the viewport, your Flash usage, font size and more.
You can also use Fetch as Google within the Crawl section of Google Search Console (old version) to render your site the way Google sees it on different mobile devices.
Thinking about the future of SEO is a habit of mine. I like to anticipate where things are going, and no doubt this has helped me keep my SEO consulting business headed in the right direction over the past 22 years. Thought leadership is fun!
In an industry like organic search engine optimization, the pieces never stop moving for long.
Example #1: AI
We’ve just begun to see the impact of artificial intelligence on marketing and the world.
AI is ramping up with businesses in general, but surveys vary widely on how many organizations have implemented AI in their operations so far. Statista found 5 percent while Narrative Science reported a whopping 61 percent of survey respondents saying that they were using AI in 2017.
AI is impacting search much faster.
Search engines have been driving AI at full throttle for years. Google’s complex algorithms can now improve on their own, thanks to machine learning powered by artificial intelligence.
With AI, the search engines — and eventually businesses in general — can evolve at a superhuman pace.
Only by keeping our eyes on the horizon can SEOs keep up. The horizon gives you the long-range view, the big picture. To see that, I look through two lenses:
What’s good for the user.
What’s good for Google.
To See the Future of SEO, Follow the Money
When I try to anticipate where SEO is going, the most important question I ask is: How will Google make money?
Organic listings felt the pinch as the space at the top of a SERP opened up to allow up to four paid ads.
But the disappearance of organic results above the fold had just begun.
Example #2: Local Listings
A “local pack” complete with map entered the SERP picture. It gave local businesses a chance to show up organically on Page 1 when the searcher was physically nearby.
The local pack did push other top organic results (such as national brands) farther down the page for certain queries. On the upside, it also created a whole new field of competition that many SEOs welcomed.
But Google needed to make money … enter local search ads. These ads often appear above organic listings in the Local Pack and map results, especially for mobile users.
More ads directed at local businesses arrived. Google Home Services, now expanded and rebranded as Local Services ads, feature many types of local businesses vetted by Google.
LSAs play to both priorities, helping users and profiting Google. And they appear right at the top of the SERP — filling the above-the-fold space with non-organic listings.
For many queries, the space given to local listings offers mostly ads.
The Disappearing Organic Space
A slew of other changes have arisen in the same way … first as an organic feature, and then converted to a space for revenue-producing ads for Google.
Today, organic web listings may be crowded down the page by many features:
PPC ads (paid)
Shopping ads (paid)
Local Services ads (paid)
Local pack entries (may be paid)
Featured snippets (may be paid in the future — expect it)
Folks, organic listings will soon disappear above the fold.
What’s an SEO to Do?
Sites need to take advantage of the organic SEO opportunities that do exist today, among them:
Use structured data elements and structured data markup. Doing so will help you grab featured snippets. In turn, your content becomes more likely to come up in text and voice search results.
Answer questions in your content. This can help you rank for long-tail queries and show up as the answer under “People also ask” questions.
Be optimized for local search, if applicable to your business.
Serve site visitors well, with great content and a positive experience. Give visitors what they want pain-free, and they may come back on their own.
Don’t forget any of the normal SEO to-dos, from optimizing on-page content to making sure your site is crawlable. (See our SEO Checklist for the essentials.)
Looking at the future of SEO, I have one more piece of advice to add to this list.
Videos Are Crucial for Winning Back the SERP
Videos appear prominently in Google search results, especially for queries with a “how to” intent.
Videos can even take the featured snippet (aka Position 0). Take a look at the examples below:
All these video links fill the space above the fold. They count as “organic” results. However, when you click a YouTube video result, what do you see first? You see an ad.
Since video results create ad revenue for Google/YouTube/Alphabet, organic has ads!
Videos are crucial for winning back the SERP and preparing for the near-future of SEO. Click To Tweet
“How To” Will Rule Organic Results
Videos often answer questions more efficiently than any other format.
From how to use a staple gun to how to grow your business, you’d probably rather watch someone tell you how, in living color, than read an article looking for the answer. And you’re not alone.
YouTube sees more than an ad opportunity here. It’s launching a new YouTube Learning channel with a $20 million investment. In addition to supporting independent content by “Edu Tubers,” the channel plans to showcase original educational programs made by YouTube, as well.