All Posts By

Wisam Abdulaziz

News

Browsers Pro-privacy Enhancements and Their Impact on Marketers

Privacy is becoming a major concern for online users and companies are taking actions to address this concern and improve user’s privacy. Apple is a leader when it comes to pro-privacy enhancements, FireFox and Google Chrome seem to be following their footsteps recently.

What is Apple Safari doing to address privacy concerns:

In 2017 Apple started their ITP project (intelligent tracking prevention), with ITP1.1 they started to be strict with third party cookies (partition them or purge them when some conditions met) which caused big issues to cross-sites trackers like Google and Facebook. Google and other providers came up with a solution to get around that by storing their cookies as first party cookies and use variables in the URL to pass their tracking token to the next website.

ITP1.1 kept developing to become ITP2.0, ITP2.1 then finally ITP2.2. The biggest change that will make a big difference for marketers started with ITP2.1 where Safari started being strict with some first party cookies (keeping them only 7 days from the last visit), ITP2.2 is supposed to remove tracking variables from the URL (URL decoration) and reduce first party cookies lifespan to one day, this will be more difficult to get around for cross-site trackers, even if technologies like GA find a solution to get around that Safari may shut it down quickly if they are not happy with it.

How is ITP2.2 Going to Impact Marketers?

  • New users data in Google Analytics will be impacted with that, if a user comes back to the website after 2 days of the last visit they will be treated as a new user
  • Attributions will be impacted in Google Analytics, if a new user comes from a paid click and 2 days later they come through an organic click the initial medium will be set as organic. This will paralyze the whole attribution model in Google Analytics
  • Google Remarketing Ads will lose its ability to track users for more than one day
  • Disabling URL decoration will cause issues to cross domain tracking in Google Analytics as this feature relays solely on URL decoration to pass the CID to the next domain
  • Disabling URL decoration will cause also big issues to affiliate marketing platforms like Commission Junction where cross site tracking and URL decoration are the foundations of their conversion tracking

Safari’s market share is almost 15% worldwide, but not all versions of Safari will have ITP2.2 enabled so the short term impact will not be that significant. I have done some year over year analysis on metrics like new users where I expect to see a spike in new users coming from Safari but I could not notice any difference yet.

I tried my websites on Safari 12.1.1 and the life span of _ga cookie was only 7 days:

This cookie is supposed to have 2 years lifespan (the screen shot below is taken from Google Chrome on a Mac)

So for now only ITP2.1 seems to be live not ITP2.2  (_ga cookie will have one day lifespan when ITP2.2 becomes live)

What About Chrome and FireFox?

FireFox has announced their own version of anti cross site tracking policy, they are supposed to roll it out this summer but it is still not clear how strict it is going to be.

Google Chrome has announced a cookie control plan without a lot of details (I do not see it causing any interruptions to Google Ads or Google Analytics)

I will keep updating this post with any new privacy and cookies policy changes by any major browser.

 

News

Google Updates The Search Quality Raters

Google just refreshed the search quality raters document which at some point in the past was leaked then made available by Google, this document is still getting a lot of attention from the SEO community especially after Google presenting the E-A-T concept (experience authority trust). Unfortunately many people in the industry do not read well what is behind this document:

  • This document is created by engineers that write algorithms, the main objective for them is to understand the impact of their algorithm changes on the quality of the results, something like if we give more weight to online reviews is that going to improve the results or not, when they ask raters to use E-A-T to evaluate the results the engineers objective is not to use E-A-T as is  in the algorithm (many parts of the E-A-T can not be programmed in an algorithm) but to adjust parts of the algorithm that can lead to better E-A-T results, what are those parts? This is the question that SEOs need to answer
  • There is a lot of data available for Google now, the part that scares me is Google Chrome data. I was playing last week with their user experience report using their BigQuery and I was surprised that each user’s session speed was available for the public for almost every domain on the web, I know Google keeps saying we do not use this data in the ranking algorithm but really? If Google decides to use Google Chrome data along with some other data available for them they will have bullet proof algorithm. What I am saying here is that there is no shortage of ranking signals for Google, in the rating document they mentioned few and every one started to use them as the only ranking factor forgetting about the other 200 if not more ranking factors

What I like more about the quality raters document are the ideas that it gives to webmasters to improve user experience, in my opinion that is where webmasters need their time and energy and they will be ahead of all algorithms if they do that

Google is all about scaling:

Scaling an algorithm needs metrics that a machine can understand easily and quickly, anchor text is a good example for that, yes it can cause you a penalty if you misuse it but when it used right its power is still the same as it was when I started doing SEO in 2004, we need to remember that very well when trying to reverse engineer the algorithm

 

News

Googlebot Is Now Evergreen With The Latest Chromium

Google has done a major update to Google bot making it evergreen (always running the latest version of Chromium) Compared to the previous version, Googlebot now supports 1000+ new features, like:

  • ES6 and newer JavaScript features
  • IntersectionObserver for lazy-loading
  • Web Components v1 APIs

This sounds great but the biggest question is still unanswered for webmasters which is do we still need to do dynamic rendering when we use advanced JavaScript frameworks like Angular? I think the answer is still yes or at least most of the time. Assuming the Google Mobile friendly tool is now up-to-date with the most recent Google Bot version, we still need to test the website there and find out if Google is able to render it properly or not, based on that we can make a decision to provide a dynamic rendering or not.

News

Google is Launching CallJoy Small Business Phone Technology

Google is launching Easy-to-use phone technology for small businesses CallJoy for $39/month inspired by Google Duplex

calljoy

Call tracking is vital for a small business in order to understand which marketing channels are working and improve customer service. This system should be able to provide all call tracking needs like:

  • Logging calls in an online dashboard
  • Call recording
  • Phone number with local area code
  • Unlimited call recording & transcripts
  • Textback functionality
  •  Analytics & insights
  •  Spam blocker
News

Thank You Google Case Studies to Sell Schema to Clients

Google has been encouraging websites owners to apply Structured Data to their content for a long time (Schema is one formation of structured data built by Google), today they have published a new reminder to stress how important Structured data is, they took it even a step further by providing few case studies in their post, they have also added more in their case studies gallery:

Structured data

Caption

 

 

On Page SEO Uncategorized

Keyword Research and Content Mapping

It is not difficult to explain to anyone what is a keyword, most of us use Google everyday and we type words/questions in the search box to find information, answers, services and products. When we try to market a service or a product in search engines it is very important to find keywords that can make a difference to the bottom lines (leads and sales), finding relevant keywords to any website is not a difficult task but understanding the intent behind those keywords and map that intent to the marketing funnel needs some extra efforts.

Looking at the funnel above can raise a simple question, why do we need to target keywords in the awareness and interest stage, should not we target bottom of the funnel keywords only?  There are few reasons for that:

  • There is a limited inventory for bottom of the funnel keywords for every business
  • Bottom of the funnel keywords are normally very competitive and difficult to rank for especially for new website
  • Bottom of the funnel keywords do not fit informational content like blog posts and articles which are very important component of SEO

Before going through examples that we can use for each stage, there are three attributes that you need to keep in mind for a keyword that will help you to do the right mapping:

  • Intent, use your judgment to decide the location of a keyword in the marketing funnel, words like buy, hire, services are buying signals
  • Search volume (the number of people that search for a keyword on a monthly basis)
  • Keyword difficulty, this metric is an estimate provided by third party tools like SEMrush predicts how difficult it is to rank for a specific keyword
  • Number of words in a keyword, normally more words means less competition (long tail keywords)

Awareness keywords (top of the funnel):

Let us assume you offer SEO services in Toronto and see what keywords we can use for every stage of the funnel. Thankfully it is 2019 and the level of awareness with SEO is really high but there are still many businesses that do not know about it or know a little about it.

We can target people that never heard of SEO using digital marketing content that speaks to SEO, examples:

  • How to rank higher on google
  • What is Digital marketing

For people that heard about SEO but they are seeking more information:

  • What is SEO
  • How to do SEO

Articles and blogs are the best form of content to use to target awareness keywords, working with a SEO client that doesn’t have a blog or an article section to create awareness is almost impossible.

For clients that sell popular products and services (dentists, lawyers etc) awareness might not be required but blogging on a regular basis is still recommended to target top of the funnel keywords (writing interesting educational topics to their users).

Expect a very low conversion rate for top of the funnel keywords, you need to target highly searched keywords or a large number of keywords at this stage to make it up for the low conversion rate. There are many benefits targeting top of the funnel keywords that go beyond short term conversion rate:

  • Establishing authority in the space
  • It is easier to find low competition keywords that can fit the awareness stage, there is almost unlimited inventory of them
  • Blogging on a regular basis will send freshness signals to search engines
  • On average, it takes approximately five to seven touchpoints to close a sale and a visit from those keywords will count as one of them

It is strongly recommended to use marketing automation to nurture top of the funnel traffic and move it down in the marketing funnel.

Interest keywords (middle of the funnel):

Some people also call them also consideration keywords, they are used to target users that become totally aware of what they need to solve their pain point, in our example the client now is aware that they need to do digital marketing  to keep growing their business and they need to hire someone to do that for them as they do not have the expertise themselves or in-house. Examples of the keywords we could be used for this stage:

  • Digital marketing agencies
  • Online advertising services

In general marketing or product pages will be used to target those keywords, in some cases blogs or articles could be used also depending on the keyword. A better conversion rate is expected from those keywords comparing to the awareness keywords but they will be more competitive with a limited inventory.

Decision keywords (bottom of the funnel):

At this stage the user (potential client in our SEO example) decided (possibility after a lot of research) that they need search engine optimization >> to improve their ranking >> that can lead to a relevant high conversion traffic >> which will lead to business growth (in other words they will make more money), the reason I mapped this thinking process that way (which I recommend sharing with the client) is to make sure that the client has the right expectation about the service, every client’s ultimate goal is  making more money but our accountability as SEOs at the beginning of the project is to rank and drive relevant traffic, being accountable only for revenue is not fair as conversion rate has too many variables (UX, prices, reputation etc) beyond our control. Examples of keywords to use in this stage:

  • SEO company Toronto (location is a very strong buying signal)
  • SEO services
  • SEO company

The home page, marketing or product pages will be used to target those keywords, blogs and articles do not fit well here. A better conversion rate is expected from those keywords comparing to awareness keywords but they will be more competitive with a limited inventory.

If the conversion rate is still low causing a very high CPA (cost per acquisition) here are few things you can suggest to the client:

  • If you see any glaring UX issues (e.g. missing call to action above the fold) suggest fixing them otherwise propose a UX audit
  • If a call tracking is implemented with call recording listen to few phone calls and make sure they are answered professionally
  • Implement user engagement solutions like exit pop up or chat
  • Apply a competition analysis to find out if the client’s pricing is competitive and if they have a unique selling proposition

The keyword research process:

Regardless of the available budget for any client a full keyword research is recommended at the beginning of any SEO project, here are few recommendations that can help with keyword research:

  • Hold a meeting with the client to understand their business and find out if they interested to rank for any specific keywords. It is also important to understand their areas of operation (which countries or cities they can service)
  • Requesting access to any paid search campaign will help a lot to find the right target keywords quickly (keywords with a high number of clicks and a high conversion rate)
  • Asking the client to provide few competitors to be used later in a ranking competition analysis

After getting the information above we should be able to come up with few seed keywords, the seed keywords for a SEO company will be something like:

  • SEO
  • Internet marketing
  • SEO services

The seed keywords will be used in your favorite keyword research tools (e.g. SEMrush, Ahrefs or Google Keyword Planner), I will be using SEMrush for this example

With some work on the filters available in this tool like:

  • Number of words
  • Questions
  • Search volume
  • Country (in my case I have chosen Canada)

You should be able to generate a list of keywords that can fit all marketing stages (top, middle and bottom of the funnel).

Keyword Gap is another tool that is available in SEMrush that can help a lot with keywords research using ranking competition analysis

Please note that there is some vetting required here to refine the keyword lists that SEMrush produces, SEMrush provides Excel exports for all those lists making easier to work with them. After vetting is completed you should have a list of keywords in three groups:

  • Bottom the funnel keywords, those are the most important keywords where the home page and other key pages will be used to target them
  • Middle of the funnel keywords
  • Top of the funnel keywords that will be used in the blog calendar if the client decides to blog

Tow factors will decide which type of keywords you can target first when you start a project:

  1. The level of authority available for the website comparing the difficulty of the keyword (SEMrush provides a keyword difficult score)
  2. The budget available for the project

Here are few scenarios you can expect:

  • Low budget project and low authority domain with difficult keywords: Start the project with easy keywords in the bottom or middle of the funnel and long tail keywords (low search volume relevant keywords with low difficulty and multiple words).
  • Healthy budget project and low domain authority with difficult keywords: Choose easy keywords in the bottom or the middle of the funnel and provide a content plan to target top of the funnel keywords
  • Healthy budget project and high domain authority with difficult keywords: Choose a mix of difficult and easy keywords in the bottom and the middle of the funnel and provide a content plan to target top of the funnel keywords

At this stage we should have a list of target keywords and we can move to the content mapping process where we run our target keywords against the list of keywords that the website is already ranking for (we can get this list from Google Search Console), with some Excel processing like using VLOOKUP we should be able to split the target keywords into 3 groups:

  • Keywords that already ranking somewhere (not top 5 results), already have good content available for them and their landing pages are not used to target other important keywords (those keywords will be placed in the queue for on page optimization)
  • Keywords that are ranking some where (not top 5 results) but their landing pages are used to target other more important keywords, those keywords will be considered content gaps or content opportunities and new pages will be created for them
  • Keywords that do not rank anywhere and there is not landing pages to target them, those will be considered content gaps and new content will be recommended for them

Additional recommendations:

  • Similar keywords that could be targeted using one page must be grouped together (no need to create a dedicated page for every close variation of the same keyword)
  • While doing on-page SEO on existing pages it is very important to look at all keywords each page ranks for and make sure not to de-optimize the page for high traffic keywords
  • Keywords that are not in your target keywords list that are ranking somewhere (not top 5 results) must be be added to the on-page SEO queue (low priority task)
  • Keywords that rank in the top 5 spots, on-page SEO should be done if need be. CTR optimization (on-SERP optimization) is recommended if those keywords have a low CTR
  • Keywords that rank on the first page and trigger featured snippets like answer box (SEMrush can produce this list) must be optimized for the answer box
  • Keywords that trigger Google local three pack (SEMrush can produce that list) must be used to optimize GMB (Google My Business), those keywords could be used to produce city pages (a dedicated page optimized for each major city in the area of operation)

 

Finding the right keywords that take in consideration business priorities, the current level of authority, the keyword difficulty and the existing performance is the foundation of a successful SEO project

Next stop on-page optimization

On Page SEO

Interactive Onpage Optimisation and Content Maintenance

Interactive optimization and content maintenance start when:

  • The SEO technical fundamentals are well optimized (Crawlable, indexable website with a SEO friendly CMS)
  • Content creation and on page optimization are completed for top target keywords
  • There is enough data in Google Search Console (preferably 13 months or more) to conduct content performance analysis

The reason I call this stage also interactive optimization is that it can start only few months (1-3 months) after doing the first wave of SEO where search engines will complete processing the new changes so we can evaluate if our SEO work :

  • Generates the planned results (e.g. top ranking for target keywords and more traffic from different variations of keywords)
  • Needs more tweaking (e.g. there is a progress but we did not hit the expected results, content enhancement will be required to improve performance)
  • Creates new opportunities  (e.g. some unexpected keywords are ranking for content that is not optimized for them, new content will be created to target them)

Evaluating the results of an SEO project:

There are too many ways to evaluate the success of a SEO project but for the sake of interactive optimization the best way to evaluate success is the ranking improvements for the target keywords before and after the project, if most of the target keywords reached the desired ranking (top 5 spots in the SERPs for example) then it is missions accomplished we just need to monitor those keywords and move on to another project, on the other hand if the ranking did not reach the desired results we need to reassess the situation and try different actions, the most popular actions to try in this case are:

  • Enhance the content and optimize on-page elements (it is very important to check the top ranking websites for the target keywords and better their content and on-page work)
  • Increase the number of inbound links pointing to the content/pages where the target keywords did not achieve the desired ranking (could be done using the website navigation or the blog contextual links), make sure to use a keyword rich anchor text while doing that.
  • Increase the number of external links pointing to the content/pages where the target keywords did not achieve the desired ranking
  • Keep working on the website overall authority and branding

If all controllable SEO elements (content, on-page, technical SEO and internal linking) are optimized well but the desired ranking for the some target keywords is still not achieved then most likely the authority level required to rank for this keyword is not enough for this website/domain, going after a less competitive keyword or a different variation (less competitive) of the same keyword is recommended in this case.

Exploring New SEO Opportunities:

To start this process we need a keyword mapping document preferably in excel that lists all the keywords the website ranks for, the URL, Search volume, impressions, CTR. Google Search Console is the only place where you can find all this data, SEMrush report also includes the majority of this data (using both is recommended as some data like answer box and local pack are not available easily in GSC). Once this document is available you need to create 7 categories for those keywords:

  • Keywords that rank well and they have a good CTR (just monitor them)
  • Keywords that rank well and they have a low CTR (do on SERP optimization for them)
  • Keywords that do not rank well and they are the target keywords for that landing page (you need to apply the recommend actions listed in the previous section)
  • Keywords that you did not plan to target but search engines find your content relevant to them, in most cases the landing page will not be able to target them while keeping the page optimized for the existing target keywords, those keywords will be marked as content gaps
  • Keywords that trigger a local 3 pack (those will be used to optimize Google My Business/GMB profile)
  • Keywords that trigger an answer box or any other featured snippet (featured snippets optimization is recommended if they rank at the top of the first page)
  • Knowledge based keywords like when, what, where, how type of keywords  (those will be used in the blog calendar)

Based on performance and priorities a new SEO project must be created to handle the new available findings in each category.

Content maintenance:

Time does not always work well for SEO, after few years working on a website few things will happen:

  • Search engines may change their algorithms and guidelines in a way that can impact negatively ranking and traffic
  • Content can expire, not all content is evergreen
  • Even for evergreen content the bar will be risen in some cases by other websites that enhanced/improved their content (e.g. adding media files like videos), this will result in ranking drop for less maintained content

Monitoring content performance and reacting quickly to red flags will be key to retain and improve organic search engine traffic. Thankfully the new version of GSC with some crawling tools have made content monitoring easier, what do we need to monitor?

  • Keywords and pages that are losing traffic and ranking year over year (you can monitor that month over month but you need to mind seasonality), finding the reason behind that decline will decide next actions (e.g. if the content has expired then refresh the content)
  • Pages that are not getting any impressions (those are normally pages with thin content or very old content that you need to improve, remove or redirect)

Interactive SEO optimization is an endless task especially for large websites and it is the main reason for hiring an in-house SEO specialist

Next step technical SEO

On Page SEO

On Page SEO

On-page SEO refers to any search engine optimization work  you do on a website that is fully under your control (mainly on the content and the source code of the page). At this stage I assume you have completed the keyword research and the content mapping which should enable you to produce a list of URLs with one or two keywords to optimize each URL  for.

Before start doing any on-page SEO you need to have some understanding to what constitutes a web page, a web page is simply a combination of HTML code, text and embedded resources (JavaScript files, CSS files and more) that are passed from a server to a browser, the browser will be able to render that combination of codes and resources into the visual web page that you see everyday, on-page optimization focuses mainly on the visible text on the page and the HTML code. In order to view the source code of a web page just do a right mouse inside the page >> click view source and you will see a code similar to the code below (just a basic page I created as an example):

This code will render in the browser like this:

It is very important to understand the visibility of each element in the HTML code to users and search engines, there are three possibilities for a web page element visibility:

  • Visible to search engine crawlers only not to users but it will be used in the search engine result page SERP  (e.g. description tag)
  • Visible to both users and search engines  (e.g. H1 tag)
  • Visible mainly to search engines and social media bots with less chance to show on the SERP (e.g. structured data and rich snippet)

On-page optimization cannot be done in isolation of a marketing plan, content should appeal to users and encourage them to take certain actions, if the element is invisible to users we can possibly optimize it more for search engines.

On-page SEO in few words is making sure that key page elements like title tag, H1, URL and page content include directly or semantically the target keyword, so the keyword mention is important but it should not be done at the expense of user experience:

  • If the element is visible to users on your page you have to be extremely cautious (not to damage user experience while optimizing) and focus more on users than keyword mentions (H1 tag for example)
  • If the element is not visible on your page but visible in the SERP (ALT tag for example) you can be more aggressive with keyword mentions but you also need to focus on making that element more enticing to page to click

Title tag:

Visible to search engines and has a significant weight on ranking, not fully visible to users as browsers will show it in the uppers status bar and it is used in many cases by search engines as the clickable text that leads to a website in the SERP

Optimizing the title tag is a tricky process as search engines will show only 50-60 characters or no more than 300 pixels which could be 5-10 words only depending on the size of each word. The first segment of the title tag should describe what is the page about (a keyword mention is recommended in this segment) the second segment could be generic like including the brand name, example (Assuming I am optimizing a page for SEO expert):

SEO Expert 15 Years Doing SEO  – Wisam Abdulaziz

You can see that the title tag includes one mention of the keyword, it has a marketing message (15 years doing SEO) then another partial mention of the target keyword (SEO), the brand name was placed at the end

Description tag:

Visible to search engines only, doesn’t have a significant weight on ranking, it is used in many cases by search engines as a snippet in the SERP which gives it a huge value from a click through rate (CTR) prospective.

Similar to title tag there is a length limit (155-160 and can go longer than that in some cases), this is a decent real-estate to deliver a good marketing message that entices people to click on your listing in the SERP, a keyword mention is still recommended as Google normally bold searched keywords inside the snippet, example:

A long career as a SEO expert where I helped more than 1000 clients to gain more exposure on search engines that lead to more traffic and business.

I have one keyword mention and a marketing message.

H1 Tag:

Every page should have a heading, some CMS (content management systems) contain it in H1, H2, or H3 others will not use any Hx tags, regardless of how your heading is coded in the page this section will speak to optimizing the first heading of a web page. H1 tags have a premium location on the page, they are always located at the top (above the fold in most cases) and totally visible to users because of that user experience and delivering the right marketing message are more important than keyword mentions as people that read H1 tags are on your website and they are potential leads or customers.

H1 tag does not have a limit on the number of characters as search engines do not use it very often in their SERP but I still do not see it going more than 10 words, example:

Check Points That an SEO Expert Can Audit for Your Website

I have a keyword mention, I tried to create some curiosity so the user will continue reading the page

Body Content:

This is what matters most to both users and search engines, the first priority here is to create a winning content that gives users the best answer to their question (search query/keyword), first thing needs to be done here is searching the target keyword on Google and visiting the top 5 or even top 10 results to find out the characteristics of a winning content for your target keyword also find out what are they missing, examples of a winning content assessment:

  • Average number of words is 500 words/page
  • Average number of images is 5
  • There is one video on each of them
  • They are missing some statistics regarding that topic
  • They are missing linking out to some great resources around that topic

Now start writing your content to better the current winning content, keyword mentions normally come naturally in the body content if not one or two mentions in a user friendly manner will be suffice.

Internal Linking:

Google started their search engine based on a patent called Page Rank, which is a number from 1-10 that gives pages with a lot of links (external or internal links) more value, this concept applies also to internal linking optimization, the more internal links a page has the more authority or importance it will gain from Google which will give it a better chance to rank.

The anchor text of the internal links will pass a strong relevancy signal to search engines about the content of the destination page, so it is important to keep it as keyword rich as possible.

The easiest way to understand internal linking optimization is visiting a Wikipedia page try this one you can see every time they have content/page related to any phrase in that article they will link to it, this contextual interlinking will be passing weight or page rank to the linked pages it will also pass relevancy signals by using the keyword as an anchor text

3 ways to do internal linking:

  • The Wikipedia style of internal-inking called contextual internal linking
  • Optimizing the website information architecture (IA) by linking the most important pages from the upper navigation using keyword rich anchor text, while doing IA optimization it is important to keep user experience in mind as the upper navigation’ main function is helping users to find content easily and quickly on the website
  • Breadcrumbs navigation is a good tool that can improve user experience and help with keyword rich internal linking

Answer Box Optimization:

Goolge has 20+ types of rich snippet (refers to any result that is not the blue link with gray text beneath it), the most popular rich snippet to optimize for is the answer box which normally ranks at the top of the page (called ranking 0) ranking in this position comes normally with a very high CTR that can reach 40%, the answer box in many cases will be used in voice search results on consoles like Google Home.

Picking the right keyword to target is going to be key to achieve results here, if you do not have any chance to rank for a keyword that trigger an answer box organically on the first page (preferably top 5 spots) then find another one as your chance to take that answer box is close to zero, do not listen to those who say it is a schema play and ranking doesn’t matter, in more than 90% of the cases schema has nothing to do with answer box.

Recommendations to gain answer box ranking:

  • Do the regular on-page optimization you do normally for any page as explained in this section (keyword mentions in title tag, H1, body etc)
  • Optimize the opening paragraph or any other paragraph in the article to answer the question (in most cases it is the keyword that triggers the answer box)
  • Keep the content well structured and organized (use spaces, breaks, <ol>, <p> and other mark up tags that make a post easy to read for humans)

Recommendations to gain a list based answer box ranking (with a list inside it):

  • Same recommendations above for regular answer box, make sure to include a sentence that clearly defines the purpose of the list right before the first item
  • Optimize the title tag and H1 to include keywords that normally trigger the answer box with a list  (Example: most popular, things to do, best, types of, steps, facts).
  • Each item on the list should be distinguish it from the rest of the text, (i.e. <h2>, <strong>, <li>)

URL Optimization:

The URL of a web page is not fully visible to users (browsers use it in their upper status bar where many users do not pay attention), search engines read it and use it sometimes in the SERP but it barely has any weight on ranking (it used to have a lot of weight back in the days). You can focus more on search engines while optimizing URLs, example:

www.wisamabdulaziz.com/seo-expert

Notes:

  • Do not change the URLs for existing pages only for the sake of making the URL more descriptive or keyword rich (too many things can go wrong in a process like that)
  • URLs are used by search engines as content identifier, all links will be counted to a URL, changing one letter in the URL without proper 301 redirect can cause page authority loss and potentially ranking loss
  • Keep the URLs clean and make sure the URL is changing when people navigate to a new page, avoid using # tags or complex special characters and keep them readable for humans

Images Optimization:

The two image elements that could be optimized for an image are both invisible, ALT tag (invisible 99% of the time) and file name. Those elements must describe the image content in few words, if you can make them keyword rich that will be good if not just focus on keeping them descriptive to the image content

Finally you need to know that the on-page optimization process applies to many other platforms like:

  • Google My Business
  • Youtube
  • App stores like Itunes and Google play

They have very similar elements to a web page like title and description, the concept of including keywords in them and making them enticing for people to click is the same. Few other elements that are not available in a web page but available in those platforms:

  • Category
  • Tags
  • Thumbnail

Next stop: Off page optimization

UX and CRO

User experience Conversion Rate and CTR Optimization

Conversion rate optimization (CRO), UX and CTR optimization could be considered  part of SEO now. SEOs are supposed to optimize websites to score well based on known ranking factors (Google uses 200+ of them but few of them are known to SEOs), but do search engines have any ranking factors related to CTR, CRO and UX? In the early days of search engines they did not use any user experience related ranking factors, but that has changed in the recent years, the ones that Google admitted using as ranking factors (with small impact or results) are:

  • Website speed
  • Secure websites
  • Mobile fist index (they want to understand user experience with mobile phones especially above the fold area)

Let us remember also that Google bot has evolved a lot now, it can crawl, parse and render pages with better understanding of the layout (e.g. what content is above the fold, what is visible to users on the first load and what is not), understanding user experience on websites is becoming a high priority for Google especially in the mobile era where it is difficult to create a good user experience considering the limited screen space available for developers. The other looming question is whether Google going to use the user experience data available for them as ranking factors in the future if they are not already using them, Google owns :

  • The most popular browser on the web (Chrome)
  • The most popular email service (GMAIL)
  • Cookies on almost every website on the web (Via Google Analytics, YouTube and more)

They can go beyond link profile and on-page SEO analysis to find quality websites, there are too many user experience signals available for Google now that they can use as ranking factors.

To make it clear here I am not asking you to be a UX expert, you just need to gain enough knowledge to cover the basics. There are four types of UX optimization that you can do and they have different level of difficulties and time requirements, I will walk you through all of them one by one and you can choose what to apply for each project depending on the needs and the available budget:

  • Web design standards and convention of the web
  • Experimental (using A-B tests and multivariate testing)
  • Data driven
  • User feedback driven

Web design standards and convention of the web

People visit 5-7 websites/day on average, most website follow very similar standards that become expected by most users when they visit a new website, some of them are:

  • A logo on the left upper corner of the page that you can click on to take you to the home page
  • Upper navigation menu in the header of the page, in most cases it has a contact us page
  • A slider or a page wide image at the top is becoming popular in modern design
  • A phone number placed in the header and the footer of the website and social media profiles linked from header or footer
  • Websites should adapt to all device sizes (responsive design)
  • A call to action is expected in the header area of the website (read more, get a quote etc)
  • The message has to be loud and clear above the fold (marketing message, company vision, summary of the service)

By checking a website design against the conventions of web design you will be able to come up with few recommendations to improve user experience

Experimental A-B testing and multivariate testing

You can provide users with two different copies of the page (multivariate testing where the difference between the pages is not significant) using technologies like Google optimizer or even two significantly different pages (A-B testing), after you have enough data available you can find out the winning version (the one with less bounce rate and better conversion rate) and use it on the website.

Landing pages services like Unbounce and Instapage are offering similar services now

Please note that you need a significant amount of traffic and conversions in order for those tests to give you trusted results which is not available small websites with few conversions/week. For small websites you need to follow the conversion rate best practices (e.g. a prominent call to action) and convention on the web when doing CRO

Data driven:

Technology can provide us with many user behaviour signals without users even knowing that we are doing that (we still have to respect users privacy), few examples for that:

  • Mouse movement tracking, you can use CrazyEgg, HotJar or a free service like HeatMap, once you have enough data you should be able to restructure the page to make it more effective for users
  • GA (Google Analytics) a good starting point is analyzing pages with a high bounce rate, in most cases this is a signal that users are not finding what they are looking for quickly. Find the top keywords that drive traffic to those pages and make sure that users are getting their questions answered quickly without taking any extra actions like scrolling down or clicking on a tab or a button
  • Landing pages with low conversion rate should be analyzed and re-optimized, low conversion rate could be a result of a poorly structured page, it could be also a signal of low trust due to lacking of social proof, adding partner and awards badges, clients or users testimonial could be helpful.
  • Slow loading pages which could be found in GA present an opportunity for improvement. Reducing web page speed will have a positive impact on conversion rate
  • Low CTR (click through rate) in SERP (search engine result page), this data is available in GSC (Google Search Console), when CTR is low it could be a signal that your content is not relevant enough for that search query or the text snippet that is used by search engines is not good enough, always make sure that title tags and description tags are enticing for users to click, if Google is picking the SERP snippets from another section in the page optimize that text to make more relevant for the target keyword and more attractive for users to click.

There are many other data sources where you can find user behavior signals that you can use to optimize your website for a better user experience and eventually better ranking with search engines

User  feedback based:

Surveying website users asking them general questions what do they think about the website or what changes they like to see is a very effective usability improvement tactic, this could be done using services like 5 seconds testing or any other similar testing services where you upload a screen shot of a website and ask people see it for 5 seconds before answering few questions like:

  • What services do this website offer?
  • What phrases or words do you remember from the website?
  • What do you think about the design of the website?

There many solutions to conduct a scurvy on a website depending on the CMS your are using, some solutions that rely on JavaScript embedded codes can work almost on any website, Getsitecontrol is an example for that.

Trust:

I tried my best not to tab into marketing while taking user experience and conversion rate but that is really difficult, you can create the best landing page on the web but it will still convert less than poorly designed landing page if it will not be trusted by users. Think about a bank like Royal Bank offering wealth management service and Joe the Financial adviser offering the same service, even with Joe having a very well optimized landing page and offer the same services for a lower price Royal Bank will have a better chance to convert, here are few tips to over come that:

  • Be a brand, create a nice logo and user it consistently, design a professional website, pick clours and fonts for your brand and user them on all marketing material. Advertise on different channels especially community events.
  • Use social proof signals like user testimonials, case studies, stats and award winning and mention badges (e.g. as seen as Toronto Star)
  • Offer quick communication options like online chat

Finally even if search engines will not use more user experience signals as ranking factors in the future, providing a good user experience should be always a priority. User experience can even affect other areas of SEO like attracting link, do people link to websites where they had a bad user experience with? The answer is no.

Next step: tracking and Analytics