How to write powerful headlines and become a better blogger

We all know as SEO and marketing oriented people, that headline rocks: they are calculated as important factors in SEO, they help ranking high in SERPs, they encourage people to click on links and consequently affect click-through-rate (CTR), traffic and return on investment (ROI). As many experts keep repeating the same old adagio: “pay attention to your headlines”, in this article I will present few steps on how to get better at writing headlines that drive traffic.

  • Step 1: Come up with a topic

When I start thinking about writing a new blog post, my main idea represents my very first headline. Let’s say I want to write about creating headlines. My first title would be something like “How to create headlines“. This helps remind me what I want to write about even few days after I got the idea.

Then, when I start writing, I let the inspiration flow.Only at the end, when I re-read my blog several times, make the needed changes in terms of style, grammar and content I might end up either changing the title completely or refining my first draft. It might be that while writing the proverbial juices took over and I ended up diverting from my main topic; instead of talking only about headlines, I started talking about the essential elements that every blogger should keep in mind when writing. If that was the case, I need a major title change. Conversely, if the title still applies, I move to the next step.

CoSchedule-How to make better Headlines: Test1

Coschedule-How to create headlinesOne of my favorite SEO tools is definitely CoSchedule headline analyzer, as it gives a headline a score out of 100 based on four main parameters: common, uncommon, emotional and power words. The title “how to create headlines” gets a score of 61/100 which is equal to a C-. As expected from a very first draft, the title need some improvements. By looking at CoSchedule analysis, the headline is considered too short and too light in words. In addition, it does not include either keywords that people look for or strong negative or positive words that people are generally attracted to. Taking inspiration from the result, we can start making the headline more attractive by adding keywords and emotional terms.

  • Step 2: Add keywords to help SERP

As highlighted in step1, our headline needs a little bit of TLC; in specific, it needs additional keywords and emotional words. To begin with, “How to create headlines” could be improved by adding “for your blog“. This option achieves multiple goals: it adds length, specificity and contributes to generate interest in people who are looking for a guide on how to generate better titles to attract an audience. Finally, to make the title even more specific, I decided to change “create” with “write“. The final title will then be “How to write headlines for your blog“.

CoSchedule-How to make better Headlines: Test2

CoSchedule-How to write headlines for your blog

The second proposed headline scores already much better, 72/100 indicating how adding just few extra keywords helps generating a more powerful headline. As the headline contains now 7 words, CoSchedule ranks the new title having a good length, in terms of words and characters. However, it ranks poorly in terms of sentiment as it does not express a strong feeling but rather a neutral one. So far, our title has the right length, contains keywords such as headline and blog, but needs a bigger emphasis on generating a strong negative or positive feeling. Therefore, our next step would be coming up with words that stir strong emotions in our readers.

  • Step 3: Add some feelin’ 

As indicated in Step2, our headline needs some keywords that stir strong emotions, either positive or negative feelings.

If we think about it, there are 5 aspects on which our lives turn around: health, finances, relationships, emotions and purpose. Every time an headline dips into one of these aspects the chances of stirring people’s interest raises. Lets’ give you one example for each scenario:

  1. How to create headlines and become a less stressed blogger (health advantage)
  2. How to create headlines and increase sales (financial advantage)
  3. How to create headlines to engage with your audience (relationship advantage)
  4. How to create headlines to inspire your readers (emotional advantage)
  5. How to create headlines that turn people into entrepreneurs (strategic advantage)

Therefore, we could stir feeling by simply referring to one of these key aspects of everyone’s life. Let’s take into account the first case: we dip into a strong feeling (being stressed) and also the cause of such stress (writing a blog) by addressing a solution (How to write headlines). Therefore our new title would be something like: “How to write headlines and become a better blogger“.

CoSchedule-How to make better Headlines: Test3

CoSchedule-How to write headlines and become a better blogger

The third proposed headline has again an higher score compared to our first one. It scores 73/100, a B+. The headline has the right amount of words and characters, it contains enough emotional and power words.

By adding “to become a better blogger“, we specify that the article will address mostly bloggers who might strive to become better at what they do. As bloggers we have also more freedom in creating headlines that might range from very technical to humorous, a liberty that marketeers might not (often) have. As we have now covered all the main aspects of what makes a good headline, we could just stop here and be satisfied with our final product. However, we could try to strive for more and maybe get some better insights into headline making; for instance, by changing headlines to powerful headlines, we score 74/100 in Coschedule. We have now a great title!

  • Step 4: Take advantage of Marketing History

History of marketing 1900 to date
Source: Slideshare

Marketing has been around since mankind started trading. We can easily imaging merchants promoting the wonders of their goods to potential customers. Marketing acquired a well-rounded scientific identity starting from the 20th century, when people such as Howard Gossage, Leo Burnett and  Claude C. Hopkins  helped defying marketing key features still valid today. In particular, the pioneering work of Hopkins helped the understanding of how headlines can contribute to the success or failure of a marketing campaign.

As explained by Peter Sandeen, in his book “101 headlines formula” you can basically write any headline by following some simple rules:

  1. Start with a positive headline: “You need to”, “The secret of”, “What you can do”
  2. Ask a question: “Where”, “Why”, “Would you”, “Which one”?
  3. Be inspirational: “Learn today”, “Do not be afraid”, “Discover how”, “The easiest”
  4. Explain how: “The art of”, “Boost your”, “Become more”, “Here’s how”

Despite not getting a higher score on CoSchedule by adding words such as “Learn Today” or “The art of” to my title, they are still valid in helping you generate better titles.

  • Summary

In conclusion, to create powerful headlines, you need to:

  1. Come up with a topic you want to write about
  2. Summarizes your post content in 3-5 words
  3. Add some keywords to make it more specific
  4. Give your post keywords that stir strong feelings and raise emotions
  5. Take advantage of past marketing successes and learn from them
  6. Test your final product with CoSchedule headline analyzer
  7. Track your successes with Google Analytics
  8. Repeat and reinforce your successes

Health Site Audit of a Property Group Site

In this post I will discuss how to run a short SEO Audit for Zoopla, a property group online ecommerce site. I left out Google Analytics as I cannot access the site’s GA page and any tool that do not offer a free option. All the remaining steps that I will be describing here are totally free.

As SEO expert you are expected to be focusing on increasing the volume of qualified and relevant traffic to Zoopla Property Group from major search engines.

1. START CRAWLING

A spider software such as Screaming Frog is able to crawl a site in a similar manner to Googlebot and therefore is able to identify eventual site’s structure errors that might prevent the search engine from indexing the site. According to Screaming Frog results, there are 5 pages blocked by robots and 1 page with 302 error and 1 pages (found) with 301 status (moved permanently). This is a very good result as the 5 blocked pages are users’ account pages (/myaccount, /signin, /propertyclaim).

2. PAGE SOURCE ANALYSIS

Page source can provide a lot of information regarding on page SEO such as:

  • An optimized clickable title, which contains emotional and niche-related keywords
  • Presence of headers (H1 tags) and sub-headers (H2, H3 and H4)
  • Meta-tags such as title, description and keywords that provide SERPs and encourage clicks

Zoopla on-page SEO analysis will try to answer questions such as:

  1. How does Google Search Engine see Zoopla?
  2. Is the Homepage optimized for user experience?
    1. Does it show unique content?
    2. Is it easy to use?
  3. Is the website optimized with Meta-tags and tailored Keywords?
  4. Are Images described with ALT text?
  5. Are there JavaScript errors or broken links?
  6. Are Sitemaps and Robots.txt present?

THE SITE HOMEPAGE SOURCE

The meta-tags

The Meta-tags are still important SEO factors as they help crawlers and users to identify what a webpage is about and therefore a particular attention needs to be paid when choosing meta-tags as keywords in page titles help pages rank higher and title-tags are often used as the title of a search snippet link in search engine results pages. According to the “View Page Source“:

Zoopla-Meta-Tags
HTML Page Source for Zoopla Homepage
  • The Title Tag contains keywords that describe Zoopla identity
  •  The Description Tag contains keywords that provide information on Zoopla USP
  • The Keywords Tag has not been included. It might be worth adding one.

The page headlines

The Headline (H1) is still an important ranking factor and therefore a particular attention needs to be paid when choosing a title that helps to ranks well and attracts users.

Zoopla headline - H1
Zoopla Homepage Headline (H1)
  • The headline (H1) makes clear that the page is about “Finding a property in UK”
  • It clearly states the user’s advantage (“Find your next home”)

Sub-headers (H2, H3) might not help a site to rank higher, however they should be used in to help visitors navigate the site by breaking up page’s content in a logical manner and therefore they could provide a good opportunity to target secondary keywords/phrases. On Zoopla Homepage there are 5 H2 sub-headers which correspond to 5 different topics styled using CSS:

#ad-2016 h2 {
color: #fff;
font-size: 36px;
font-weight: normal;
font-family: ‘Droid Sans’, sans-serif;
}

#ad-2016 .box–s2 h2 {
color: #ffbe0a;
}

Zoopla Headlines - H2
Zoopla Homepage Headline (H2)

There are 3 H3 sub-headers which correspond to three well defined topics:

  • Newly listed properties in the UK
  • Property News
  • Property guides and tools
Zoopla Homepage H3 Headlines
Zoopla Homepage H3 Headlines

3. PRODUCT PAGE SOURCE

An internal page, such as “for-sales/details/40529388” shows:

  • A title-tag that corresponds to the page headlines (H1 and H2)
  • description-tag that corresponds to the page headlines (H1 and H2) plus the property price (amount + guide price) and the agency name
  • There is no keywords-tag which could eventually be added for better SEO
Zoopla Internal Page SEO
Zoopla Internal Page SEO
Zoopla Internal Page - Meta-tags
Zoopla Internal Page – Meta-tags

Finally, the internal page presents a H4 and one H5 headlines. H4 is used for the Zoopla disclaimer an H5 for the Transport  right-hand side-menu.

4. UNIQUE CONTENT

Google Search Test

In addition to meta-tags and headlines, another issue is often a poorly optimized page that contain thin or duplicated content; for instance the product page contains either a very short description or something that has been copied from the supplier. If we search for the above property in Google, Zoopla site is the first one to come up (above Rightmove, the first Zoopla competitor in the UK market). This is an amazing result as it shows a great SERP optimization for single property pages.

Google Keywords Test

If “buy property in UK” is typed in Google search engine, Zoopla ranks at position 3 below Rightmove. The same happens if “rent property in UK” is typed in a search engine. Therefore, this result indicates that Zoopla can still be optimized to rank higher. Some tests need to be run:

  • Site Health Audit to identify potential ares for on-page SEO optimizations
  • Competitor analysis to identify what the competitor is doing differently
  • Social media and off-page optimization analysis

Google Brand Test

When searching for the brand name in Google Chrome, Zoopla homepage is the first result, as expected from a site that has not been penalized. In addition, the second result is the Twitter account, the third the Wikipedia page and the fourth the Zoopla Android app. However, the Facebook and the Pinterest accounts do not appear on the first and that might suggest that social media presence could be optimized. In addition, social media share buttons could be added to the property pages to encourage shares.

Google Site Operator Test

Searching for site:www.zoopla.co.uk on Google Chrome, Google returns 20M results. This result needs to be compared with the effective number of pages on the site to identity eventual issues in the indexing.

First, have a look at Google Webmaster Tool under Crawl > Crawl Errors to determine if Google is reporting any issues with crawling the site. If Google is reporting 404 (not found) or 403 (access denied) errors, these need to be addressed. According to our previous Screaming Frog analysis, there are 2 301 and only one 302 redirects. Despite the fact that the analysis is limited to 500 pages only, this is a very good indication of an optimal site crawlability. However, it should also been taken into account that by providing multiple ways to browse the product catalog, all of which are indexable by default could give rise to duplication in the indexation. It’s definitely something to consider when conduction a deeper audit.

HTML Improvements

Google Webmaster Tools will provide suggestions of what needs to be optimized in terms of HTML by simply visiting Search Appearance > HTML Improvements. However, as I cannot visit GWT for Zoopla I will rely on Screaming Frog. In this case Screaming Frog is reporting:

Zoopla - Page Titles
Screaming Frog Analysis for Zoopla Page Titles
  • 24 duplication
  • 44 over 65 characters
  • 9 below 30 characters
  • 55 over 482 pixels
  • 7 below 200 pixels
  • There are no missing or duplicated titles
Zoopla Screaming Frog Meta Descriptions
Screaming Frog Analysis for Zoopla Meta Description
  • 10 missing
  • 28 duplicated
  • 37 over 65 characters
  • 2 below 70 characters
  • 34 over 928 pixels
  • 2 below 400 pixels
Zoopla H1 Analysis
Screaming Frog Analysis for Zoopla H1 Headlines
  • 6 missing
  • 22 duplicated
  • 1 over 70 characters
  • 3 multiple

In addition, the Screaming Frog analysis shows:

  • Images are all optimized as they all have an Alt Text description below 100 characters and a size no bigger than 100 Kb.
  • There are no JavaScript errors
  • There are no broken links

An SEO Analysis using an automatic SEO tool such as Varvy, shows:

4. Backlinks Audit

A site’s quality is largely determined by the quality of the incoming links and this is why it is important to keep an eye on the backlink profile of any site in order to disavow bad links and at the same time identify opportunities for improvement. A quick, manual audit on the site’s link profile can be performed using an automatic tool such as Moz, Majestic or Ahrefs to look for any obvious issues. To start with enter the URL into Site Explorer and click ‘Search’. Zoopla’s Moz analysis shows:

Zoopla Backlinks Analysis
Moz backlinks analysis for Zoopla
  • There are 3,601 unique root domains linking to Zoopla vs 885 K of total links
  • The site has a Domain Authority of 77/100
  • The Page Authority is 81/100

Anchor Text Analysis

The anchor text is clickable text in a hyperlink. The words contained in the anchor text can help defying the ranking that the page will receive by search engines. According to Remove’em, the anchor text distribution appear fine as most of the anchors have a low density (below 10%). Anchor text that appear having a density higher than 10%, are brand-name anchors, such as Zoopla and zoopla.co.uk. Brand anchors can have a high density on a single page and do not negatively affect SEO, but rather provide to establish brand authority.

Zoopla Anchor Text Analysis
Remove’em Analysis Result: Zoopla Anchor Text

Backlinks and Anchor Text

Majestic Backlinks analysis showed that 1/4 of total links. This rate respects Google’s guidelines as the the vast majority of your site’s backlinks are expected to be followed.

The backlinks appear to be topically relevant as they come from industry related sites (PrimeLocation, HouseSimple etc.), newspapers (The Guardian) and social sites (Facebook). Backlinks coming from niche-related high quality sites help to establish your site as an authoritative source of information in your industry. For instance, PrimeLocation, a site dedicated to buying and selling houses, has a page authority of 70 and a domain authority of 64, while HouseSimple, an estate agent site, of 44 and 33 respectively. Any backlinks coming from a national newspaper is by definition a huge bonus in ranking. It is important to check if too many of Zoopla backlinks are from low quality sites, otherwise the site could be negatively affected.

Zoopla Backlinks Audit
Majestic Site Explorer Result for Zoopla

5. Page Speed

Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool is a good starting point for identifying issues which may be affecting the site’s loading speed. The Zoopla URL is first entered into the search bar; then, after hitting  ‘Analyse’ Google returns a speed ‘score’ for the Zoopla site (out of 100) on both mobile and desktop. In green is a good score, a yellow score needs improvement and a red score requires attention.

In Zoopla case, the desktop loading speed needs a little attention (78/100), while mobile experience could definitely be improved as it scores pretty low (63/100). The best solution is to start by implementing the suggestions indicated by Google.

Zoopla Desktop Speed
PageSpeed Insight: Zoopla Desktop Speed
Zoopla Mobile Speed
PageSpeed Insights: Zoopla Mobile Speed

6. Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO focuses on optimizing the online presence of Zoopla on other sites, such as niche-related websites, social media platforms, directories and search engines.

Social Media

Zoopla has an overall very good social media presence: it is present on multiple platforms, it is currently updated regularly and each social media page presents several thousands of followers and likes:

  1. Facebook (544.072 Likes)
  2. Twitter (69.2K followers)
  3. Google + (65.436 followers)
  4. Pinterest (2,1K followers)

However, the content is duplicated among each social platforms which means Zoopla does not take advantage of the power of every social platforms.The same formula is repeated among each social media page: Short Sentence + Image + Link.

A better approach would take advantage of each social media:

  1. Facebook: Longer posts to create a better connections with users
  2. Twitter: Short entries to promote offers and share the latest news
  3. Google+: Encourage shares among communities
  4. Pinterest: Encourage Pins by showing your best/latest properties

Facebook

  1. Create longer posts to encourage connections with your followers
  2. Periodically update cover photo to promote the latest hot properties
  3. Add links to valuable sites (for instance, how to take care of a big garden, what questions to ask when buying a Victorian property, most profitable areas where investing etc.) to prove your site is more than an estate agency
  4. Re-share important posts of niche-related posts
  5. Encourage click-to-action (Click here to know more about [Topic])
  6. Use #hashtags to reach a bigger audience and encourage new followers
  7. Share updates about the human side of your business (your team doing something fun) or why Zoopla is a great place to work with etc…
  8. Ask people to post images on your business page (you could run a contest, such as #greenestgarden)

Twitter

  1. Add Text to Images to make your tweet more compelling
  2. Deliver news about your latest properties, offers and investments
  3. RT about information that your audience could find helpful:
    1. House Market Updates
    2. Gardening and housing websites
    3. Tweet tips on how to…(examples)
      • Make your house more homely
      • Make your property market-ready
    4. Encourage people to share photos of renovated properties bought on Zoopla (before and after)

Google+

  1. Posts on Google+ are immediately indexed by Google Engine (It helps ranking!)
  2. Engage with relevant Circles to create a wider audience
  3. Add Geographic tags when posting about properties (It helps showcase a property to potential customers)
  4. Add a GIF when posting about a properties (It could help CTR)

Pinterest

  1. Improve Image Description:
    1. Write down 2-3 sentences to describe the image
    2. Include keywords and hashtags in your image description
    3. Avoid using random text (“Image 15”) or only hashtags (#kitchen, #grey) or keywords (country kitchen, barn style)
  2. Follow Trends (Click on Popular) and add Pins accordingly
  3. Connect with well-established brands in your niche (Elle Décor, House & Garden etc.)
  4. Add Guest Pinners from followers and industry-related brands

How to perform a competitor analysis

Knowing what your competitors are doing, above all if they are doing incredibly well, could help you to design a better strategy and give you that extra edge that you desperately need. Looking at the most popular sites on the Internet, what characterizes them is the number of backlinks, SEO and visibility. As I wrote a blog about an ecommerce site audit, I will use Boohoo as the reference example and ASOS as its direct competitor.

Backlinks

The number of backlinks to a site is the most important ranking factor as every backlinks is a “vote” of popularity. However, not all the links are equal and two main factors are taking into account:

  1. Site Authority, the higher the authority of the site, the more weight the link will bring to your ranking
  2. Site Relevance, the sites pointing to your site must be somehow correlated to your site’s niche.

The best SEO tools to analyse backlinks are definitely Ahrefs or Majestics. However, they are not free tools and therefore I will be only showing their free and partial analysis. If you want a complete analysis of these two software, you can find plenty of tutorials and articles on how to use these SEO tools from Neil Patel, Jeff Bullas and MOZ.

First, you’ll find the total number of backlinks and how many domains are linking in. If you type in www.yourdomain.com you’ll find the total number of backlinks for the entire site, otherwise if you type www.yourdomain.com/pagename you’ll find how many backlinks and domains are linking in to that specific page. This option is particularly useful to determine if there are specific pages that are driving a lot of traffic.

Site Authority

However, this analysis is only about quantity and not about quality. A quality page has these features:

  1. A lot of backlinks linking to the page itself
  2. High SERP ranking
  3. It contains high quality content
  4. It contains links to other quality pages

We can therefore assume that if the site receives backlinks from quality sites such as Pinterest, Facebook or a site that is a leader in the field of the site’s niche topic, we can easily assume that the back-link comes from a trustworthy source. At the same time a link to our site makes it a high quality link if:

  1. It is in the right content
  2. There are other quality links (but not too many)
  3. The higher on the page, the better
Majestics-ASOS
Majestic Backlinks Result for ASOS

If your website is new and has few backlinks, it might be easy to analyze each link individually, however it can become a waste of precious time if you need to analyze hundreds of links manually. Luckily, there are automatic tools that allow people to find out about website’s authority. The two best ones are Ahrefs or Majestics as previously mentioned. However, I keep everything on zero budget, so I will be using free tools (which for the sake of a blog example is accurate enough).

URL Rating

URL Rating is a score that represents the overall quality and quantity of links pointing to that URL, on a scale from 0-100. The site SEO-Review-Tools allows users to get a URL rating analysis for free. Boohoo scores 74 for Page Authority, while ASOS has a page authority of 89.

Domain Rating

Domain Rating is a score that represents the overall quality and quantity of links pointing to anywhere on the domain, also on a scale from 0-100. Boohoo scores 68 for Domain Rating, while its main competitor ASOS has a score of 87.

Trust and Citation Flow

Trust Flow predicts how trustworthy a URL is. Its final scored is based on a back link’s nearness to the trusted and aged domains. The links that come from trusted neighborhoods are more dependable when compared to links that come from non trustable neighborhoods.

Citation Flow predicts how influential a URL might be based on the number of sites linked to it. The more links the site has, the higher the CF will be.

In this case, I used the Chrome extension of Majestic Backlink Analyzer. It can be downloaded for free from the Chrome Web Store. It is added to the Chrome toolbar and when visiting a website, it analyses the page CF and TF and other parameters. In my example, Boohoo homepage has a Trust Flow of 31 and a Citation Flow of 50, while ASOS scores respectively 27 and 42.

Site Relevance

It is very difficult to calculate a site’s relevance, in particular with an automated tool. However, following on-page SEO guidelines could give you an indication of the site’s relevance. Just run a quick site audit on the competitor’s site. In addition consider:

User Satisfaction

As we cannot access Google Analytics of your competitors, you can try to find out about user satisfaction indirectly. First, if a site ranks high for specific keywords, it is an indication that users that look for those keywords are satisfied or it would not rank so high as user satisfaction is key in Google ranking. Second, look at social shares. Pages with lots of social shares are an indication of user satisfaction. Third, if a site has a blog, positive comments are an indication of a successful page.

Keywords

Start looking into which keywords you want to rank high for. You can use several tools to find out how tough the competition is for specific, niche-related keywords that you want to rank for. There are several automatic tools you can use to look how your competitors rank for those keywords.

Keywords Alternatives – KW Finder

KW Finder - ASOS
KW-Finder Result for “Clothing Store”

In my previous article on Boohoo audit, ASOS, its main competitor, ranks high for the keywords “clothing store”. By searching for “clothing store” in KW-Finder, ASOS appears as the first SERP result to rank for these keywords. The chances of ranking high for “clothing store” are pretty low as ASOS receives almost 3000 visits/month based on these keywords and the overall SEO competitiveness for “clothing store” is 61/100, which is estimated as hard. However KW-Finder comes in handy as it offers alternatives to the selected keywords plus a SEO difficulty score next to every alternatives. In this case, clothing store possible alternatives are: “online clothing”, “fashion clothes” or even “clothing stores”.

Organic Keywords Ranking – SEMrush

SEMrush is an automatic tool for knowing the overall performance of a competitor and -in specific- what your competitor actually ranks for. SEMrush “Organic Research” calculates what a chosen site ranks for non-paid results and by clicking on “Organic Positions” it is possible to visualize all the organic keywords a site ranks for and the column “Traffic %” highlights the importance of each organic keyword to the competitor.

Shared Organic Keywords – SpyFu

SpyFu- ASOS
SpyFu Result for ASOS

SpyFu is very similar to SEMrush and as the latter software, it allows to compare your site against competitors. It is also a great tool to identify your main competitors and which percentage of keywords your site ranks for has in common with their main competitors (in SEMrush it’s called “Domain vs. Domain” under their “Tools” section).

Social Share – Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo-ASOS
Buzzsumo Result for ASOS

Buzzsumo focuses on social shares; if you enter a competitor site’s address you can find the pages the got the most shares on the 5 main social platforms. Buzzsumo is very useful as social media marketing aid as you can get ideas of:

  • The social media power of the competitor’s site
  • Reverse-engineered content strategies
  • What content works best on each social media platforms
  • Details of backlinks and social shares of each piece of content

Site Architecture

As described in a previous article, site architecture is an important factor in ranking. It might be that a better site structure of a competitor helps the site to rank higher. Therefore, it would be a good idea to analyze the architecture of the competitor sites. Based on my previous example, I will use Boohoo as my main site and ASOS as its competitor as it ranks higher for some keywords such as “clothing store”. Using Screaming Frog, it turns how that:

  • The Boohoo site has a page depth of either 1 (172 URI) or 2 (195 URI) from the homepage and only 19 URI are 3 clicks away from the homepage. Only 1 URI is 4 clicks away. This is great as greater depth means a worse user experience and more spread of link juice.
  • The information architecture (IA) of ASOS is similar to Boohoo; page depth of either 1 (55 URI) or 2 (31 URI) from the homepage, while only 4 URI are 3 clicks away from the homepage.
Boohoo-ASOS
Boohoo                                                                                         ASOS

Site Domain

If you Google site:competitorwebsite.com, this search produces as result the number of pages that Google has crawled for that specific site. This is the quickest way to determine the number of pages that Google has indexed for a competitor’s site. This gives an indication of:

  • The site of the competitor’s website and as consequence, the business overall size
  • Number of pages listed and therefore of the amount of products listed

How to write a SEO proposal in 5 easy steps

As outlines in previous blogs, SEO optimization implies digging deeper into a site’s structure, coding, content and linking. However, performing a site audit and identifying possible areas of optimization to help the site deliver a better user experience and better ranking, is just half of the work done, as our role as SEO expert might require to deliver our findings to team members, non-technical staff, stockholders and clients. To help you deliver a better SEO proposal to potential clients, here are few tips that might help you.

1. Introduce yourself

In case you are meeting a potential client or a group of people that are not familiar with you and your work, it might be worth introducing yourself, what you do and the company you work for in case you are representing a SEO firm. The key is to make yourself and your firm sound unique; from the logo, to your vision and mission, everything should convey a message that your your company is the best candidate for the job. It is important that your statements are supported by practical examples; for instance, you could include the logo of an important (and satisfied!) client. Past happy clients are the best tool to deliver a sense of trustworthiness in your audience.

2. SEO Analysis Key-findings

People that are hiring you as SEO-expert expect to hear what is wrong with their site and which solutions you recommend to bypass those problems to increase organic traffic and ranking. Some common problems include:

Site content and structure

The first aspect to consider is the website itself; if the architecture is optimized for an easy navigation and the site offers enough content to make the visit worth. If that is not the case, the site might needs to be re-designed to offer a better user experience and more content such as text, images, videos might be added to increase the time spend by the user on site.

Load Time

The site is well structured and rich in content, however, the site takes too long to load. As consequence, users get frustrated and click return without visiting the site. To understand how long a site takes to load use Google PageSpeed Insight tool and follow the recommended solutions.

Users are not converting

Everything works fine, however visitors are not converting; for instance, they abandon the site after visiting only one page, the spend little time on site, they do not click on “Purchase” making the ecommerce site totally worthless. In this instance, it would be worth digging into Google Analytics to identify issues that might prevent users from converting such as a poorly designed “Shopping Cart” page or issues with third-parties such as credit card submissions.

Mobile Devices

More and more people are accessing the internet through mobile devices, from mobile phones to tablets. Therefore, a site that is not optimized for mobile usage could potentially lose a big slide of its traffic. Again, use Google PageSpeed Insight to test loading speed on mobile and mobile optimization.

3. SEO Key-Solutions

In this section you need to provide the solutions to the problem you identified in the previous one.

Site content and structure

Identify solutions on how a site could improve their organic traffic through high quality content and a well-designed site structure. A blog post on Site structure and On-page SEO could provide a good example of your SEO knowledge. In addition, include some examples such as a case study.

Load Time

If a site is taking too long to load, causing loss of ranking and traffic, follow the Google Speed Insights suggestions. In addition, you should take advantage of Caching solutions and plugins. My own site forahand, was developed in Ruby on Rails, takes advantage of a caching gem.

Users are not converting

If the site content, architecture and loading time have all been optimized, but conversion rate is still low, the site could present issues that prevent users from performing the expected action such as signing up to a newsletter, purchasing a product, leaving comments. In order to make the site the most efficient for conversion, you should start by following these principles:

  1. Make the site’s identity and goal clear
  2. Spell out your USP (unique selling points)
  3. Write compelling headlines
  4. Make the call-to-action visually compelling
  5. Make the submission form short and easy to follow

After making sure that the site has been optimized for user navigation, you can start experimenting with landing pages and how custom-made pages could actually increment the number of conversions; for instance, first time visitors might land on pages that offer free content such as webinars and free PDFs, while recurrent visitors might be more interested in special offers as they might be ready to purchase your product.

Mobile Devices

Today websites are expected to work on a variety of devices and fit multiple screen sizes. To make sure that a site works well on mobile devices, you should check:

  1. Loading speed. Take advantage of caching, image optimization, minified code
  2. Avoid Flash and pop-ups. Use HTML5 instead.
  3. Make buttons big and at a fair distant between each other to make them visible and easy to click even on small screens
  4. Take advantage of Responsive Templates

4. SEO Program

Provide the details of your SEO program to the prospective client by focusing on their budget range. The plan should include

Team Members

  1. The name of the SEO project manager that will oversee the program and serve as a single point for program communication.
  2. The name of each team member such as additional SEO specialists, web designers, content providers, and other staff members who will contribute as the program requirements dictate.

Deliverable Details

  1. Comprehensive SEO plan with timeline
  2. Web concept, descriptions, tests, mock-ups and final product
  3. Monthly SEO reviews and website modifications/updates

Pricing and Plan Alternatives

The first draft should focus on the client budget, however you should also include a couple of alternatives in which you outline how you could solve all the site’s issues by upgrading to a more expensive plan. In this instance, you should offer a very detailed plan and make it a compelling case to justify the extra cost.

 

 

5. Closing the deal

Finally, to make sure that you will close the deal include a one page case study as example of your work which helps to make the case of the value of your proposal. If you can, include the final result, the value that you brought to the project and even a testimonial to support your case.

Site Audit for a fashion e-commerce site

In this post I will discuss how to run a short SEO Audit for Boohoo.com, a fashion online store. You can also run a more detailed one by following a complete Health SEO Audit. In this case, I was inspired by a blog post on how to perform a site audit in 15 minutes. I left out Google Analytics as I cannot access the site and any tool that do not offer a free option. All the remaining steps that I will be describing here are totally free.

1. Start crawling

A spider software such as Screaming Frog is able to crawl a site in a similar manner to Googlebot and therefore will be able to identify eventual site’s structure errors that might prevent the search engine from indexing the site. According to Screaming Frog results, there are 2 sites blocked by robots and 8 pages with 404 status (not found).

2. Page Source Analysis

Page source can provide a lot of information regarding on page SEO such as:

  • An optimized clickable title, which contains emotional and niche-related keywords
  • Presence of headers (H1 tags) and sub-headers (H2, H3 and H4)
  • Meta-tags such as title, description and keywords that provide SERPs and encourage clicks

The site Homepage source

The Headline (H1) is still an important ranking factor and therefore a particular attention needs to be paid when choosing a title that helps to ranks well and attracts users. If you are looking for ideas, please read How to make headlines SEriOusly great. Interestingly, Boohoo has chosen to use the brand logo as headline. This is a good approach as:

  • The headline makes clear that the page is about Boohoo
  • It contains a brand statement “24/7 fashion”
  • The image has an alt tag that replaces the logo when the image cannot be displayed
  • We might add an image description to increase SERP
Boohoo-Logo
Boohoo Homepage Headline: The brand logo

The sub-headlines (H2) is present and has been made well use of:

  •  Sub-headers divide the page into logical sections
  • They are styled to make an immediate impact
  • They provide clear, useful information to elicit conversion
  • They contain specific keywords (Basics, Petite, Tall etc.)
Boohoo-H2-headline
Boohoo Homepage Sub-header: Introducing our Boohoo Brands

The Meta-tags for the homepage:

SEO on Page Boohoo
Boohoo Homepage Source: Meta-tags
  • The title-tag corresponds to the page main goal (online fashion) and page-URL
  • The description-tag well describes the site’s identity (women online fashion) and includes even its (unique selling point) USP (100s of new styles daily)
  • The keywords-tag could be optimized with long-tail keywords such “latest trends”, “street-style”, “eclectic modern fashion” which could replace some repetitions such as “clothes/clothing”

3. Product Page source

Boohoo-New In Dresses
Boohoo New In Dresses Source: Meta-tags

An internal page, such as “New In Dresses” shows:

  • A title-tag that contains the page URL (New In Dresses) and the brand name (Boohoo)
  • The description-tag could be optimized to reflect the page content, for instance  “Get the latest trends in women’s dresses from boohoo.com selection. Shop affordable women’s clothing, from maxi to mini dresses”
  • The keywords-tag could be optimized as previously indicated. In specific, it would be great SEO practice to design keywords-tags which are related to the page niche. In this case, keywords should include dress-related terms such as “Mini-dress, Summer-dress, Cocktail dress, Gowns etc.”
  • Single product page opens when clicking on a single item/dress. Again, the meta description-tag is too generic. A better solution would be to use the style notes description as meta description-tag.

4. Google test: Unique Content

As indicated in the previous paragraph, single page product could be optimized with a better meta description-tag, for instance by using the style notes as meta-description in a manner that each product page has a unique description. Another issue is often a poorly optimized page that contain thin or duplicated content; for instance the product page contains either a very short description or something that has been copied from the supplier.

  • The styles notes are too short. A longer description would provide a better user experience. A product description should aim for at least 200 words.
  • When searching for a specific product in Google, Boohoo comes up as first result, which is a great SERP result.
  • Suggestion: instead of providing a generic “You’ll also like…” I would provide two sections: the first one “Complete the look” with a link to the remaining items shown in picture and another one called “Similar looks” to provide alternative solutions.

5. Google test: Brand search

When searching for the brand name in Google Chrome, Boohoo.com homepage is the first result, as expected from a site that has not been penalized. In addition, third, forth and fifth results are respectively the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, suggesting a strong brand presence on the main social platforms as expected by a brand that aims to become a leader by leveraging on social media exposure.

 6. Google test: Keywords search

Unless a visitor is specifically looking for Boohoo.com, they more likely will type keywords that best describe their type of search. Keywords that best describe the site’s identity are “Online clothing store”, “affordable fashion”, “Buy fashion trends” and so on. As keywords and long-tail keywords a site aims to rank for should be listed as meta-keywords, are the meta-keywords selected by Boohoo helping the site to rank well? Boohoo keywords are: “Women fashion”, “clothes shop”, “women clothes”, “women clothing”, “fashion online”, “men fashion”, “men clothing” and “online clothes shopping”. According to Google search engine results, Boohoo ranks high at every search term, it is either 1 or down few positions.This result shows that Boohoo could be optimized for specific keywords as ranking at position 2 causes 50% of traffic loss.

There are two possible solutions:

  1. Change keywords completely; for instance Boohoo ranks at position 2 for “clothes shop”. Instead of using “clothes shop”, focus on other terms such as “women fashion” that ranks well.
  2. Try a different combination to increase the chances to rank higher. Use long-tail keywords, such as “affordable clothing shop”, “fashion clothes store” or “online clothes store”.

7. Google test: The “Site” Operator

Searching for site:www.boohoo.com on Google Chrome, Google returns with 469,000 results. This result needs to be compared with the effective number of pages on the site to identity eventual issues in the indexing. First, have a look at Google Webmaster Tool under Crawl > Crawl Errors to determine if Google is reporting any issues with crawling the site. If Google is reporting 404 (not found) or 403 (access denied) errors, these need to be addressed. According to our previous Screaming Frog analysis, there are 8 404 errors. If they belonged to old pages, no longer available, the best solution is a 301 re-direct.

8. Backlinks Audit

As explained in a previous post, bad backlinks could hurt your site reputation, ranking and finally traffic. On Google Webmaster Tools it is possible to download a complete list of all the sites linking in. Each site could be checked for reputation by simply manually searching for them on Google search engine. If they look suspicious, they could be disavowed as indicated by Google guidelines.

9. Site Speed

The best tool to identify if a site is loading efficiently, is Google Speed Insight. When the Boohoo URL is entered in the free tool, the result shows a site that could perform better both on mobile devices (53/100) and on desktops (67/100). The best approach is to start applying the recommended solutions and then check the site speed again. The site has also been optimized for mobile devices; however some buttons are too small to work well on mobiles and need to be optimized (in particular if they could make the navigation more difficult or preventing conversion).

Are you afraid of the Big Bad Backlinks?

As SEO-expert, digital marketer, or webmaster, you are well aware that the best and most effective way to increase your ranking is to have quality, niche-related websites to point to your website. According to Google’s algorithm to determine a site’s value, popularity is one of the main factors taken into account; if a website is worth visiting it will organically get plenty or good backlinks, or at least, the majority of the backlinks will be coming from high quality sources.

The strategy that aims to drive more quality links pointing to your site is called backlinking and includes parameters such as content freshness, social sharing, links to other sites that add value to your site’s quality; for instance, if your blog talks about cinema, it will be obvious for such a website to connect with blogs and sites dedicated to film news, movie reviews and silver screen related sites (read more about how to create better back-links for your site). When you are planning to spend energy and money to increasing the number of backlinks to your site, you should be aiming to get 1 or 2 backlinks at week as more than that for a young site could be flagged by Google as spam, above all if your site is still seldom visited. The most important lesson that you can learn when you plan digital marketing is to try to engage with people, build relationships and finally grow backlinks naturally. As I explained in this blog the first rule of digital marketing is to be helpful. That does not mean you cannot apply a dose of self-promotion, you can still ask people to promote your articles or ask them to be a host of their blog, however, you need to keep in mind that you are building meaningful relationships that aim to add value to users and website visitors. Therefore, every self-promoting scenarios should aim to to create natural organic relationships and not a cheap method to get backlinks fast.

1. Track Backlinks

The best tool for tracking your inbound links (links pointing to your site) is to sign up to Google Webmaster Tools. If you already have an account, log in, click on your app name URL. On the new page click on Search Traffic from the left-side menu and then to “Links to your site” option from the drop-down menu. This option will generate a full list of sites linking in which can be downloaded and analyzed in Microsoft Excel. Another method is to download the Alexa Rank Site tool extension for Google Chrome Tool-Bar which allows you to track the number of sites linking in. If you have an Alexa account, you can even download the list of sites linking in.

2. Find Bad Backlinks

While you decided to promote your blog or website using pure-white hat strategies, some people might decide to use your website as a dumping ground for generating Black Hat backlinks back to their site. One upon a time bad backlinks were not taken into account by Google as ranking factor. However, negative SEO has now become a reality as bad backlinks are taken into account as an indication of the type of crowd a website is connected to as Google considers it is a webmaster’s responsibility to keep track of the links pointing to their site and eventually erase bad ones. This could make the task a little bit more daunting in particular when you are just starting out and you are not massively familiar with the entire SEO process. In case you are worried that links coming from suspicious sites could be potentially harm your ranking factor, the best approach is to download the CSV file that lists all the links coming into your site from Google Webmaster Tools. Open the file in Microsoft Excel and check each single link. The file contains a URL of the site and the date in which the link was added. Just click on the link and see what the site is about. A little tip: as the day in which the link is created in indicated in the file, save this file as it indicates what was the last link added to your site since the last time you checked.

3. Remove Bad Backlinks

In case you find the some sites are potentially spam and you are afraid you could encounter in a penalty, the first approach is to contact directly the webmaster and ask them to remove the link. If they ignore your request it is now time to ask Google to disavow that site. It will take time, so be patient. In order to ask Google to disavow some backlinks you need to follow Google Instruction.

  1. First, in a .txt file you need to copy and paste the URL of the entire website or a specific page you want to have Google to ignore when calculating your ranking.
  2. After listing all the URLs you need to explicitly tell Google that you have followed the rule of contacting the webmaster of the spam site first and asked them to remove it.
  3. For each website you want Google to ignore you state: “# Contacted owner of WEBSITE.COM on DATE (mm/dd/yyyy) to ask for link removal but got no response”. You finish with “domain: WEBSITENAME.COM” for each website you have listed. Now go to the website listed below, press “Disavow Link” button, ignore warning, “Upload file” and press “Submit”.
  4. For more information, read Disavow backlinks post from Google support.

Teach yourself how to perform a health site audit

Site Audit are health check ups of your site to identify eventual errors and poor performing elements that prevent the site from achieving the best results in terms of traffic, user experience and therefore ranking. A Site Audit can be performed using many free automatic tools available on the Internet; however, manual audits offer the best insight as someone’s knowledge and expertise can pin point exactly what needs to be optimized on the basis of a site history, performance, audience, goals and vision. The most common site audits are:

  1. Site Health Audits: To identify the general site health or when there is a site health issue such as loss of traffic or ranking.
  2. Red Flag Audits: Assessing a site for potential penalty issues which could cause loss of ranking and therefore of traffic.
  3. Competitive Site Audits: To identify site gaps both in the site structure and among its competitors in order to find new opportunities for growth.
  4. Conversion Optimization Audits: To analyse conversion issues, which can be due to lack of on-site SEO optimization or technical errors.
  5. Negative SEO or Attacked Site Audits: To analyse downturns in site metrics due to negative SEO methods, such as black-hat strategies.
  6. Penalty and Recovery Audits: To analyse downturns in site metrics when a site has been automatically or manually penalized.
  7. Security Audits: Security audits for site vulnerability especially important in high-risk verticals and high value sites, but everyone should have one.

Site Health Audit

A general site audit to identify potential performance issues. It focuses on:

  1. Quick Overview (indexed pages, landing pages)
  2. Technical (e.g., hosting, server metrics, down time, caching)
  3. Onsite (e.g., content, design, meta and schema tags, URL construction, page speed)
  4. Accessibility and Indexation
  5. Site architecture and internal linking
  6. Mobile Optimization
  7. Links
    1. Internal (e.g., internal link structures, anchor text, site architecture)
    2. External (e.g., links to your site, value, acquisition patterns, anchor text)
    3. Social media (e.g., profiles, optimization, links)

1. Quick Overview 

  • Start with Site:Search by entering in Google site: yourdomain.com
  • Count the number of returned pages. Google gives you an indication of how many pages the search engine found.
  • If the Homepage is first result, it is a good indication of a well designed site architecture.
  • Check if your designed landing pages appear in the Site:Search. If you own an e-commerce site a good landing page example could be your most popular product page or a sign up page. Independently from your site, a great landing page shows only key, essential content, a call to action (sign up or social share) and the user’s benefits.
  • Search for the brand or branded terms. If they show up, it is a good indication that the site has not been penalized.

2. Technical Audit 

Technical Audit are performed to identify technical issues that might make it difficult for search engines to crawl and index your site. In that instance, ranking might be compromised and as consequence, traffic or potential business might suffer.What follows is a checklist of items you should watch for when conducting a technical SEO audit. Here are the parameters that should be considered when performing a technical site audit.

  1. Hosting evaluates the security issues your website data might have.
  2. Server Metrics to consider
    1. Requests per Second (RPS) is the evaluation of how many requests per second are being sent to a target server and it is often referred to as Average Load. It is usually calculated as a count of the requests received during a measurement period expressed in seconds (in the range of 1 – 5 minutes).
    2. Error Rates is calculated as a percentage of problem requests relative to all requests and therefore measures the“performance failure” of a site. Generally, it is expected an Error Rate of less than 1% for a website to be considered successful.
    3. Average Response Times (ART) measures the duration of every request/response cycle during a Monitoring period and then calculates the mathematical mean of all the response times , which allows to determine how long the web application takes to generate a response.
    4. Uptime is the amount of time that a server has stayed up and running properly. The value can be calculated as an absolute value or as a percentage of actual server uptime to ideal server uptime.
    5. CPU utilization is the amount of CPU time used by the Web Application while processing a request, which indicates how much of the processor’s capacity is currently in use by your application.
  3. Google’s cache for key pages As discussed in the above point, time is an important parameter when it comes down to user experience. Caching is a method to improve load speed time and therefore your website traffic. While there are many methods for generating page caching, you can use a tool such as CacheView to visualize how a search engine, such as Google, cache your webpages. The cached version should not appear any different from the non-cached version: the content (both images and text) should be present, navigation links should not be missing and no extra content or additional navigation links should appear.
  4. 3xx Redirection  is a class of status code that indicates the client must take additional action to complete the request. 301s are used for all redirects when a page has been moved permanently. therefore, this and all future requests should be directed to the new given URI, without relaying on redirect chains. Other 3xx redirects include: 302s and 307s, a temporary Redirect, which indicates that the request should be repeated with another URI.
  5. Canonical version needs to be specified when there are several versions of the same page to establish which one the search engine should be referring/redirecting to and therefore not counting the additional versions as duplicated content. To define a canonical version, you need to add:< link rel=”canonical” href=”http://yourdomain.com/canonicalpagename”> to the non-canonical page <head>.

3. On-page SEO

According to MozOn-page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. On-page refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized, as opposed to off-page SEO which refers to links and other external signals.”

  1. Title Tags should be optimized and unique, the brand name included to improve click-through rates and about 55-60 characters to be fully displayed.
  2. Description Tags should be optimized and unique, compelling enough to entice users to click on the page and about 255 characters to be fully displayed.
  3. Primary keyword phrases that best describe your site’s goal appear multiple times as well as variations and alternate keyword phrases. They are also contained in <h1>headlines</h1>.
  4. Images file names and alt text are optimized to include the primary keyword phrase associated with the page.
  5. URLs are descriptive, include keywords, have few or no IDs/parameters and finally are less then 115 characters.
  6. CONTENT
    1. The Homepage should contain at least 150 words.
    2. All pages should present original content and not just a series of links.
    3. All pages contain <h1>headlines</h1> that attract readers attention.
    4. All pages contain keywords that match the intent of the homepage and landing pages.
    5. Users can easily convert as conversion pages are easily accessible.
    6. Users can learn about the product through well-optimized product description pages.
    7. Formatting is optimized through the use of CSS-stylesheets.
    8. Check for duplication by copying a snippet of content and search for it in Google Chrome. Otherwise, you can use a free plagiarism checker. The content is defined as unique when:
      1. It has not been copied from another site
      2. The same content does not appear on multiple pages
      3. It has a Single and Unique URL of idetification
  7. SITE SPEED
    1. Minify files such as CSS-stylesheets and JavaScripts as suggested by Page Speed Insights guidelines. Just test your pages and follow the instructions.
    2. Enable caching. If you want to learn more read this blog about caching for SEO.
    3. Enable compression using Gzip
    4. Optimize images, Reduce size without losing definition.

4. Accessibility and Indexation

The goal of accessibility is to make web content accessible to as many people as possible, including those who experience technical constraints such as interpreting images, JavaScript or other kinds of multimedia content. Indexation is the process that leads webpages to be added to Google search. If the page is not added into Google/search engine it cannot rank or being displayed in search results.

  1. By default search engines assume that they can crawl everything unless you tell them otherwise. A solution for completely blocking the index of a particular page is to use a add a robots.txt file to your webmaster tool page and specific which pages should be excluded. The file can be easily generated by using online Robotx.txt Generator and the pages that should be ignored by the search engine should be defined as follow:
    • <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex“> <– the page is not indexed, but links may be followed
    • <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,nofollow“> <– the page is not indexed & the links are not followed
  2. The Sitemaps protocol allows a webmaster to inform search engines about URLs on a website that are available for crawling/indexing. Add a sitemap and submit it to Google/Bing Webmaster Tools using a sitemap generator.
  3. Open the Web Developer Toolbar from Google Chrome and check if by turning off JavaScript, cookies, and CSS, the content and the navigation links still work.
  4. Open Google Webmaster Tool Googlebot to check if the site is accessed correctly.
  5. Use a software such as Screaming Frog to check for 4xx errors and 5xx errors.

5. Site architecture and internal linking

A site structure that is accessible both to users and search engines allows any business to gain organic traffic and better ranking. From the point of view of users, it means that a site easy to navigate will be more easily visited, referred and shared. From the point of view of the search engine, a clear structure means that the site is crawled more easily and therefore indexed more rapidly. To learn more of how site structure affects ranking  read this blog entry.

  1. Number of links on a page should not exceed 300 links
  2. Vertical and Horizontal linking structures are in place
  3. Main menus (category) re-direct to sub-menus (products) and item pages (product) as appropriate.
  4. Menus and item pages link to other relevant menus and item pages.

6. Mobile Optimization

As more and more people access the internet through mobile devices, a website needs to be optimized for mobiles to avoid the risk of losing traffic.

  1. A mobile site needs to be set up with a responsive design to optimize button and image sizes for small devices. In the first instance, CSS is set up in a manner that sizes are expressed in pixel and therefore as relative values of the entire page size. On the Internet you can find many free responsive design templates.
  2. Google Analytics tracking codes are set up if separate mobile content exists and it is different for mobile users.
  3. In case the mobile users’ experience is different, the site needs to be redesigned according to the intent of mobile visitors.
  4. The relationship desktop/mobile device needs to be established with rel=canonical

7. Links

Internal links are hyperlinks that point directly to a target contained in the same domain of the source; in short, an internal link points to another page on the same website. Internal links are important as they help users to navigate the site, give search engine an idea of the site structure and spread ranking power along the pages of the site (it is often referred to as link juice). As crawlers cannot access specific types of links, it is wise to keep them to the minimum as they will not be indexed. These links are:

  • Links in Flash or Java
  • Links that can be accessed only through search boxes
  • Links blocked by Robots.txt files
  • Links buried too deep in the site structure

External Links are hyperlinks that point to a target that belongs to a domain other than the source domain; in short, an external link points to your website from a different one or vice-versa. External links that point to your website are the most important ranking factor for search engines as they are difficult to manipulate and express a vote of popularity (a sort of “thumb up”). However, not all links are the same and therefore particular attention to link-quality must be paid when linking to an external site. In specific, links must show:

  • Relevance: they must be connected to the topic of your website; for instance, a link to a yoga site from a business site would not make sense. However, if you write about how to release stress, get in shape despite a busy life-style, the link gets immediately relevant.
  • Popularity: the link is sent to a well established, content-rich site. If we consider the above example, the yoga site should contain relevant content and in addition, be a well established site in the yoga community.
  • The anchor text used to link the page

If you want to know more on how to get external (or inbound) links to your site, read this article on inbound linking.

Social Media

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram have become powerful tools to increment the number of links pointing to a website at basically zero cost. They offer brand exposure, customer outreach, social shares and even potential free marketing (for instance, when a user subscribe to your page).Each platform presents its own unique characteristics and therefore it should be considered carefully before spending energies on a platform that does not suit the brand or the marketing strategy. If you want to know more on how to optimize your digital marketing strategy, please refers to these articles about Pinterest and Twitter. However, independently from the platform, you should always:

  • Write a compelling page profile that includes your name, photo, logo, even mission statement and vision.
  • Include hyperlinks that point to your main site.
  • Write consistently with relevant and quality content (do not spam!).
  • Engage with your audience (answer their questions, solve their problems, etc.).

5 reasons why your business needs SEO

Today, more and more people search online and base their purchasing decisions on online information. The Internet has made very easy for everybody to collect information about products and services before purchasing as everything we need to make a decision is at the power of our fingertips or simply a click away. According to a recent study, 81% of consumers go online before heading out to the store, and spend an average of 79 days gathering information before making a major purchase. For all the above reasons, it is easy to understand why it has become imperative to create an online presence for any business. However, with an even larger than ever number of well-established enterprises proliferating in the Internet, it is no longer enough to just have an online presence.

 

Pre-interview project - SEO Strategist
Why ranking high is a must for a business

In addition, if we consider that 62% of users do not go beyond the first page of results when they do an online search and that 42% click on the first link, while only 8% click on the second result (source MOZ), it is clear that ranking high is mandatory for any business aspiring to be the leader in their field. Finally, as more than 80% of users ignore sponsored link, and that 70% of traffic to a site is organic (unpaid) it is even more important than ever for a business to rank high in search engines. That is why investing in SEO cannot be ignored.

Reason 1: SEO helps people to find your website

Having a website that none knows about or visits is pointless. The final goal of a website is to increase brand exposure, drive customers to the store or promote sales on a digital platforms. As your customers are spending time online, why don’t allow them to find your business? Your customers are using search engines, so make sure you pop under their radar when they search for a business like yours! The best way is to invest in keywords, here are some suggestions:

  1. Select words that people would type if they were looking for a business like yours
  2. Investigate which websites already rank for those keyword
  3. Test few selected keywords with Google Adwords and track impression and conversions
  4. Consider  long tail keywords as they often convert better because they catch people later in the buying/conversion cycle
  5. For ideas on which tools to use for keywords planning have a look at this site

Reason 2: SEO helps sites to be on page one and above competitors

SEO is the most effective way to gain online visibility as it aims to drive organic (unpaid) traffic to a site. After selecting keywords that best represent your business -or better- how your customers and potential customers see your business, it is necessary to provide a great user experience to convert visitors to recurrent visitors, customers and finally brand ambassadors. First you need to provide a website that loads fast, does not contain broken links, it is easy to navigate, it includes images, videos, everything you need to offer a high quality experience that separates you from the crowd. Everything that includes page optimization goes under the name of On-page SEO. Constant optimization of poor performing features and inclusion of new fresh content on a regular basis, offer the best chance to rank high and remain above competitors. In case of sudden loss of ranking consider:

  1. Google penalized your site. Go to your Google Webmaster Tools page and check for penalties (Search Traffic > Manual actions). Follow instructions to solve the issue.
  2. Outsmarted by competitions. Analyze their strategies and adapt your accordingly.
  3. Website issues such as broken links, loss of page loading speed etc. A site audit will help you identify possible on-page issues.
  4. Loss of high quality inbound links, the most important ranking factor
  5. Google algorithm update

Reason 3: SEO is one of the most cost effective and best ROI strategy

SEO can be considered as one of the most effective business investments as it aims to drive organic traffic which in the long run provides the best conversion rate and therefore long term profits. While short-term profit can be made with pay per click (PPC) or online campaigns, it could cost a lot of money in the long run.Through the process of optimizing your page using SEO white hat strategy, you might:

  1. Enable your website to gain a new that you might currently not target.
  2. Every time you better your ranking, you solidify a certain amount of traffic.
  3. Every new visitor could turn into a potential customer
  4. Every time you rank in a position that gets a constant high amount of traffic (let’s say 1K visitors a day) on a long term that means massive revenue potential

According to , SEO should not be treated as a marketing channel but rather to guarantee the integrity of your online brand and therefore no return on investment (ROI) should be expected. I personally agree with this statement. As Google main function is to provide the best answer to people looking for a particular set of keywords, there is no amount of advertisement that could drive targeted organic traffic. Instead investing in SEO gives a website the best chances to rank high on the google radar when specific keywords are typed by an user. This is why providing the best user experience, SEO ensures that a website is properly identified by search engines by continuously assessing, creating and improving the quality of your site. Of different opinion is Kissmetrics. According to the site, companies that do not measure SEO ROI might be wasting buckets of money. The tool develop by Kissmetrics allows any first time visitor to be identified by a tracking ID identify their journey, and if they convert even months later. Basically, a way to define the ROI of SEO is to track the life-cycle of a visitor till the day they commit to a sale using an auto-generated ID code associated to any visitor of your site.

Reason 4: SEO brings organic search, the cheapest way to attract visitors

Organic search still drives the most traffic and conversions to websites, and is still the fastest growing source of traffic for most sites. This is the reason why whatever the business you are running, organic search will represent the best and most proficient long-term option. Examples of off-page SEO include social media share, post blogs tailored for your audience, engage with other members of your niche on their blogs through comments and links-exchange, submission of content to directories and search engines. These techniques have been proven successful to drive organic traffic at no cost and they are highly recommended by many SEO experts.

Reason 5: SEO is virtually synonymous with smart marketing

Today marketing is less and less about up-selling and more and more about offering valuable content to potential customers who will later identity the brand as a trustful business. SEO helps you build this bridge between your brand and your audience; it is about reaching out and communicating with people who are using Google to solve their problems and not about a series of guidelines and rules that people made up to win the ranking race in Google. As long as you write engaging content, reach out to people and provide a well designed and functional website, you are already half-way through to a successful SEO strategy (the other half is time and continue improvement).

 

Do you know the importance of site architecture for SEO?

Site architecture is one of the fundamental SEO (search engine optimization) aspects that need to be considered at the first stages of web development. Setting in place a great site structure -that is accessible both to users and search engines- allows any business to develop a SEO-friendly attitude since the beginning. From the point of view of users, it means that a site easy to navigate will be more easily visited, referred and shared. From the point of view of the search engine, a clear structure means that the site is crawled more easily and therefore indexed more rapidly. So…how do you build a great site architecture both for users and search engine?

Determine your website theme and create a Silo

Silos
Silo Site Organization

As Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” a high ranking site must provide:

  1. Useful information that goes beyond the site design and layout
  2. Clear structure and language (both for users and search engines)

According to Bruce Clay, a site can be compared to a jar of marbles of different colors. If the jar contains randomly mixed marbles it is difficult to determine how many of each the jar contains. In a similar manner, a site that does not organize its content in a rationale manner, will cause users and search engines to struggle to navigate and identify the site’s content. However, if the site is divided in themed categories in a similar manner in which a jar is divided into separated sections of colored marbles, users and search engines will be able to select a specific theme while ignoring the rest. This is what a Silo is. But…how do you build one that ranks better among equal sites?

  1. Know what your site is about
    • Find 10-100 keywords that best describe your site
    • Search on Google for those keywords. Do you come up with a site that is similar to yours?
  2. Create a clear theme
    • The major theme will be your homepage at the top of your structure
    • A series of categories will branch out from your homepage as links/URLs
    • A series of related sub-categories will branch out from each categories
    • Single item pages will branch out from each sub-category
  3. Create a Silo
    1. Directory Silos
    2. Virtual Silos
  • Directory Silos
    • Content is organized in separated categorizes with no cross-linking
    • Each category has a distinct descriptive heading and URL
    • One silo may contain multiple sub-silos (don’t go deeper than 3-4 levels)
    • Each silo should contain general keywords (shoes) and long tail keywords (high heels sandals)
  • Virtual Silos
    • Multiple silos are connected by hyperlink
    • Supporting pages are linked to the category they belong to plus to other supporting pages for that theme.
    • This type of cross linking establishes and reinforces the theme.

Build horizontally not vertically!

Deep and Flat Site Architecture
Deep (left) and Flat (right) site architecture

Most SEO specialists argue that site should be build with a flat structure in mind. That means that from the top level (Homepage) to the bottom one you are always few clicks away. This type of hierarchy implies that there are many top level categories and less bottom level subcategories. In the opposite case of a deep or nested site architecture, you have multiple levels with few categories and subcategories at each level. In the first instance your site structure would look like a short pyramid with a large base, while in the second instance, the structure will be much taller with a narrow base.

Why does an horizontal, flat site architecture help SEO?

In terms of user experience, visitors will more easily reach any content if they are few clicks away from any page. Visitors do not like to waste time in finding the information they are looking for: too many clicks might discourage a user to keep digging into your site. In the long terms that means losing visitors and therefore make a website useless (unless you use it as your personal diary!). In terms of search engine, a deep nested site structure is more difficult to be accessed by engine bots as once they have reached your site, they need to follow a long chain of links. In addition, the higher a page is in the hierarchy of a site, the higher the priority which could eventually help ranking.

In a flat site architecture there are more links per level…is that bad?

As there are fewer levels, a flatten structure will end up having more links per level compared to a deep nested site architecture. According to Google best practice, too many internal links per page is not considered SEO-friendly and some could end up being ignored by the search engine crawlers.

The Pagination issue of a flat site architecture

In a flat site, there are fewer subcategories and therefore in the case of a  e-commerce website, more products and therefore more pages will end up in the same group. If you decide to limit the number of products per category to limit the number of links coming out from a single category page, you could decide to opt for a paginated series option. The pagination can come in three form:

  1. Pagination with rel=“next” and rel=“prev”
  2. Pagination with “View All”
  3. Pagination with “Infinite scroll”
  • Pagination with rel=“next” and rel=“prev”

In this case a page shows a limited number of items and to view more a user needs to click NEXT or (to go back) PREV. What are you saying to the search engine by adding HTML link elements rel=”next” and rel=”prev” ? First, that the search engine should consolidate indexing properties, from the component pages/URLs to the series as a whole; second, that the users should be sent to the first one of the series as that stands out as the most relevant. You can decide to opt for such a pagination when a single article or forum thread cannot be displayed in one single page. In some cases galleries and lists can be displayed in a manner that every item has its own page. In some instance you might decide to add a nofollow to all the pages beyond page 1 in case you consider that page one is the most important and the rest could be ignored by crawlers. In my option, this could be risky as these pages will no be indexed. In this case, go to your Google Webmaster tools page, open the Parameter Handling section and set the paginated page parameter to “Paginates” and for Google to crawl “No URLs” (otherwise just leave the setting to “Let Googlebot Decide”) or you can tell Google Webmaster Parameter Handling to set the paginated page parameter to “Paginates” and for Google to crawl every URL.

  • Pagination with “View-all”

This is the option that search engines prefer. Therefore, if your site offers either the pagination with rel=“next” and rel=“prev” and the “View-all” option, Google will prefer the second option. However, the problem with this option is the high latency that a page would display in case it is required to load many items. In that instance, webmasters should opt for a multiple page pagination to improve the loading time and the overall user experience. If you want to make explicit that the View-all is your favorite option, you can add <link rel=canonical href=”view-all.html”> to each of the multiple displayed pages. Conversely, if you prefer the search engine to ignore View-all, just add noindex. This can apply when users prefer the multiple page display. In this instance the search engine will consolidate the indexing properties between the components and send users to the most relevant page (page 1). Finally, set the paginated page parameter to “Paginates” in the Parameter Handling section of Google Webmaster Tool to tell Google to crawl every URL. As the View-All page might become too heavy to load you could opt for the “Pagination with Infinite scroll down” solution.

  • Pagination with Infinite scroll down

This type of pagination allows users to scroll down a massive amount of content with no end in sight. This time of solutions can sometimes make users feel like lacking control on the data they are exploring and less likely to find information that they find useful as overwhelmed by the amount of data that keep loading. This solution can become even more frustrating when users revisit the same information a second time around. By being unable to pin point the location of the item they were interested in, users are required to skim through the same list all over again like the first time visit.

Pagination vs Infinite Scroll, who wins?

The main issue with Infinite scroll is the lack of control the user have over the amount of content loaded and its location along the page. Conversely, pagination can create limitations on the crawlability of multiple pages, limit the page juice transferring to pages they are linked to or dilute the page juice among paginated pages. Finally, coding errors could make paginated pages look like duplicated content to search engines or like low quality pages due to thin content.

A new solution: the Faceted Navigation Option

A very user friendly navigation menu allows users to filter items by multiple categories such as price range, size, color etc. Personally, as a serial shopper, I love this option as it allows me to go through shoes of my size only or bags of my favorite colors. However, it could also not be Search Engine friendly as it appears to create duplicated content and therefore making the crawlers take more time in indexing those pages. One solution is to make all unnecessary URLs links rel=“nofollow” and consolidate indexing signals  by adding rel=”canonical” from the unnecessary URL to a superset URL. You can even decide to disallow unwanted URLs in robot.txt and therefore let all search engines freely crawl only good content. Finally, you can even decide to send the unnecessary URLs to a separate host in order to create a high and low ranking site.

Navigation that reflects user behavior

A good navigation menu creates a glue that sticks together all the top level pages. Today every user expects to find a universal menu located either at top of the page or on the side from which they go back to top level pages from any page they are visiting. These pages will also be identified by search engine as the most relevant pages of your site and therefore will receive the highest ranking. But how do you decide which pages are the most important?

  • Keywords analysis
    • If the users come to your site because of specific search terms, optimize those pages to make easy for them to find immediately that type of content
  • Most visited pages
    • If specific page get the most traffic, add links to those pages on your homepage (the same can be applied to exit pages)
  • Optimize your categories by linking pages together
    • Add a vertical linking with breadcrumbs
    • Add horizonal linking to recommend similar products
  • Be wary of Drop Down menus
    • They must be in HTML to allow search engine to crawl them
    • They must be excluded in mobile apps as they do not work on such devices
  • Add Filters
    • Create filters to allow users to view only products/items they are interested in
    • In an ecommerce site, size should be listed before price
    • They help user experience and are crawled by search engines

 

Please leave me a comment and let me know how I could improve the article.

Have you checked your site design?

In building a website it is important to build a well design site that makes easy for people to visit, navigate and find the information that they are looking for. However, even an excellent constructed website is like a desert island if there are no visitors. No matter what you are trying to promote on the web; it could be a product, a brand, a blog or a vlog…you are looking for an audience that either buys into your brand/product or simply gets inspired from your blog or videos. While getting followers or people liking your pages on social media can be easily be done, driving people from media platforms or search engines and turning them into brand ambassadors or customers is a complete different matter! In short, how can you drive visitors to your site when you are just starting out?

First, we need to rank high in the search engine for specific keywords that best describe our site. It would be useless to rank high in the search engine when people are looking for “buying a car” if our website is about “how to take care of orchids”. Second, we need to make people land on the page that best describe their search request; for instance we could differentiate the page a potential visitor click on depending if they are looking for. If they are looking for places “where to buy an orchid” will click on a different page from people looking for tips on how “often you water an orchid”. Finally, once we attracted visitors, it is important to provide the best possible content and an easy navigation menu to encourage people to visit more pages and stay on site.

Now, there are few tricks that can be implemented to make the search engine chances of finding our site a little easier and therefore ranking higher on the search results. In this post I will focus on submitting the required information to webmaster tools and few tips on how better organize a website.

Submit a site map

A site map is a list of all the website pages that are accessible to users/visitors and crawlers. Crawlers are internet bot whose function is to browse the Internet to find out about new content  in order to update their indexes and therefore provide better search results to users. Sitemaps show how the website is structured (typically in a hierarchical fashion) and the relationship among web pages. Generally, a webmaster submits a XML sitemap that users do not see but that lists to the search engine all the pages of their site, how they are organized and how often they are updated. These sitemaps can be generated for free from sites such as www.xml-sitemaps.com. The final document is then downloaded into the root folder of your website’s directory. Finally, the domain.com/sitemap.xml needs to be uploaded into webmaster tools (under Crawl sub-menu). Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask, all support sitemaps. Submitting a sitemap does not guarantee indexing or better ranking, but they definitely help keep your site under the search engine radar.

Submit a robot text file

In addition to a sitemap, as webmaster, I also submit a robot text file. As sitemaps, they can be easily generated for free using tools such as SEO Tools and located in the root folder of your site’s directory. A robot text file  contains a list of allowed pages that canto be crawled by search engine crawls and spiders. In case there are pages that should not be accessed by search engine indexing bots, a robot text file can be generated and then added to webmaster tools. If all pages can be accessed by the search engines, the submission of a robot file can be ignored (however, as Google Web Tools keep reminding me that I needed to add one, I generated one).

Create a hierarchical website

The best websites offer an easy to navigate structure. If we were thinking of a website as a geometrical figure, we would think of a pyramid where the base is the homepage and you go up from main domains to single pages. According to the latest trend, every page should not be no more than 2 clicks away from each page. This is where navigation menus, sidebars and internal links come in handy to let users easily find the information they are looking for. In addition, sidebars and menus can also be used as “promotional tools” as they can display additional pages to visit and therefore retain visitors. However, as the user experience is key in ranking high, do not abuse the number of links, menus and sidebars (limit yourself to one main menu on top of the page, and a side-bar for extra information related to your page topic). In addition, do not exaggerate over the number of dynamic pages as Google prefers static pages.

Check multiple browsers and devices

Whatever your browser of choice, check few to make sure that your webpages are displayed correctly. By signing up to webmaster tools from different search engine, can help figure out pretty easily if there is a problem with our site as eventual errors are listed. In addition as more and more people access websites from mobiles and tablets it is of fundamental importance that our website is optimized for mobile users. A poor performance on mobile can affect massively the success of our marketing strategy. The best approach is to have a responsive website that delivers a different response depending on which device the page is access. Luckily for us, webmaster tools allow webmasters to check the performance of our site on mobile.  In addition, even sites that allow users to download free templates for web design, already contain the required information for allowing websites to be displayed correctly on multiple devises and even browsers.

Check your site speed (on multiple devices)

Site loading speed is also an important feature to promote incoming traffic as a long loading time could either prevent users from accessing your pages or clicking the return button therefore increasing the bounce rate. In case your Analytics is telling you the the bounce rate is pretty high (>30%), you might also consider to verify if your site is loading fast enough using the Site Speed tool in the Behavior Menu of Google Analytics. As the Site Speed helps you check multiple browsers and devices, the slow loading time could be restricted to a specific search engine or mobile device; for instance if most of your visitors are browsing from Safari or Samsung tables, focus on optimizing the user experience for Safari and tablets. In addition by entering your website URL in PageSpeed Insights of Google Developers, you can get a full report on how your site performs in terms of speed and also suggestions on what can be done to improve the site performance both on laptop and mobiles. Finally, download an app extensions such as Alexa traffic Rank tool (Google Play) and add it to Google Chrome toolbar. Every time you visit a site, the app shows how long it takes for the website to load. By comparing it to other sites, Alexa marks the site as slow, average or fast.

Add a Blog and encourage comments

Whatever your business is, it could be a product, a services, or a digital tool to increment brand awareness add a blog immediately! Blogging is a perfect method to present your product/service in a fun and engaging way without looking spammy; for instance you could write a blog post describing the benefits of an healthy diet, if you are selling fresh smoothies. In this manner you can achieve two goals: first, you create content that people are happy to read and second you prepare the mindset of your audience for promoting a product that is indeed part of a healthy diet. Finally, by adding high quality images, videos, encouraging comments, replies and shares you create an engaging page for people to communicate with the brand, establish a connection and eventually turn them into loyal customers.