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Written by Justine Rabideau on Feb 6

Because ranking on the first page of Google can bring significant traffic, raise brand awareness, drive conversions & more

Here, you’ll find:

  • The steps to conducting an SEO audit
  • Why an SEO audit is important for your site
  • The tools that’ll help you audit your site
  • Common SEO missteps to avoid

Google and other search engines are a huge source of opportunity for businesses. That’s where an SEO audit comes in. Having a site with strong SEO is key, since 75% of people never scroll past the first page of search engines. The core of an effective SEO strategy is about improving your rankings and trying to appear on page one.

HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

The three pillars of an effective SEO strategy are on-site structure, content, and your link profile. (Image via Rawpixel)

Conducting an SEO audit helps you pinpoint missing parts or areas of improvement in your current strategy. It also gives you a helpful framework you can refer to down the line to ensure you’re doing everything you can to rank as highly as possible in organic search results.

The three pillars of an effective SEO strategy are on-site structure, content, and your link profile. What do all of those terms mean? Keep reading to find out.

On-site structure

Because Google crawls millions of web pages per day, a clean on-site structure is crucial to any SEO strategy. On-site structure refers to:

  • Technical issues
  • Mobile performance
  • Page speed
  • User behavior

Not having the proper structure in place can seriously hinder your ability to rank on page one. For example, users will get frustrated and leave your site without taking action if it doesn’t load fast enough. Let’s dig into the elements of on-site structure.

Perform a technical audit

There are lots of different tools out there that will help you audit your site and uncover any technical issues that might be going on during your SEO audit. We often use SEMrush: it gives users a high-level overview of errors (which are more serious issues), warnings (which should be addressed, but aren’t as pressing), and notices (which are mostly for awareness).

When you run a site crawl, there are dozens of technical issues these tools are looking for, such as:

HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

But don’t be alarmed! If the technical jargon overwhelms or confuses you, working with an SEO expert and a web development team can do wonders to ease your mind. After all, they work with this type of language every day and know how to address and correct these issues.

Pro tip: Crawling your site for technical issues isn’t a one-and-done exercise. This is something that you should do regularly (ideally once a month or more depending on the size of your site). After all, new issues can pop up anytime.

Check indexed pages

Once you run a technical crawl, a good next step is to check and see what pages are indexed in search engines. As Google explains, a page is “indexed” if it has been visited by the search engine’s crawler, analyzed for content and meaning, and stored in the search engine’s index. 

To check indexed pages, head to the search engine, then type “site:” and your domain into the query box. The below example shows this for our site, hawksem.com. 

HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

This allows you to see if there are pages that should not be indexed because you don’t want users visiting them. For example, development or staging pages from a site redesign should be removed immediately.

You also most likely don’t want landing pages solely used for paid efforts to be indexed. (To deindex a page quickly, you can leverage a tool like Google’s Remove URLs Tool.) You should also ensure these pages contain a “noindex” tag so Google crawlers knows not to index that page in the future.

On the other hand, you could have pages that are missing from the index and missing out on a huge portion of traffic. If for some reason the crawlers aren’t getting to your blog content, you want to look into why it’s not crawling and indexing as it should be.

Review mobile friendliness

Mobile accounts for 58% of all Google searches, meaning more than half of us search on our phones. Not only are people using mobile more frequently but, in early 2018, Google announced that they’re crawling the mobile version of your site first. 

You’ll have a hard time ranking well if your mobile site isn’t fast and easy to navigate. Even if most of your website traffic is currently coming from desktop users, it’s still extremely important to pay attention to your mobile site and mobile experience.

To know if your site is mobile-friendly, you can use a tool like the Google Mobile Friendly Test. If your results say your site has issues, the tool will give you suggestions for how to fix them and improve the mobile experience.

Pro tip: It used to be a best practice to have your regular site and your mobile site be separate, perhaps with a different or modified URL. That’s not the case anymore. Ideally, you want a website that’s responsive to all devices and sizes (since device sizes can vary).

Test page speed

Some people think mobile friendliness and page speed are tied together. While it’s true they’re closely related, page speed is a separate (but equally important) ranking factor. 

The fact is, 53% of users abandon a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. While 3 seconds sounds really fast, most users today have been trained to want things faster. And if a site seems sluggish, users will probably bounce and seek out another site that will give them the information they’re looking for in a flash.

Resources like Google’s PageSpeed Insights and HubSpot’s Website Grader will tell you your average load speed. They also offer recommendations and more information to help improve speed.

Analyze on-site user behavior

Google Analytics is one of the most important tools to measure your organic traffic and engagement during an SEO audit. It can offer you huge amounts of data to measure things like user behavior, site flow, and more. 

HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

In the Audience Overview section of Google Analytics, you can segment the traffic by organic only. Then, you can see how many users and sessions organic traffic drove over a certain time period. It’s also possible to segment all organic traffic, which includes other search engines like Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and more, vs. just Google traffic. 

You can also view engagement metrics like bounce rate, pages per session, and average session duration. This can help determine how engaging your content and website design are for users.

Don’t panic if the bounce rate looks high or your average session duration looks low! It’s all about looking at this in context. If users are bouncing but spending two minutes on your page, it means they’re likely reading the content but not taking further action like clicking to another page. 

The homepage is usually the top driver of traffic. It typically has the most  backlinks and ranks for branded terms, so this is to be expected. As you continue your SEO efforts, your goal should be to get more traffic to some of these internal pages instead. This way, users get to the content they’re searching for as quickly as possible and don’t have to land on your homepage and navigate to it.

HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

Focus your content strategy

Once you’ve identified crawling or technical issues and reviewed how users are behaving on our site you can move on to content strategy. The content on your site has huge impacts on your ability to rank well in search engines. It also affects how your users navigate your site.

Determine your personas & audience

When you’re defining your content strategy, the first step is to understand who your audiences are through personas. Personas help you understand your audience in-depth: their goals, pain points, and what they’re looking for. Once you understand your audience, you can appropriately write content that meets their needs.

The No. 1 rule of content writing for the web is to write for the user, not search engines. Google’s goal when ranking pages is to give the user the most informative results that will answer their question or query. Satisfying that requirement is what’s going to help you rank. 

Pro tip: When developing a content strategy, don’t forget about video and images. These types of content are very engaging and can be shared on social media as well. 

Conduct keyword research

Keyword research is crucial to understanding what keywords your target audience is typing into search engines. Ideally, you want to use your content to answer these queries as thoroughly as possible. Everyone has their own tools and methods for doing keyword analysis, but the guide below is a great place to start. 

HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

This SEMrush example graph illustrates how a website has ranked over time. SEMRush is a great tool to use for this part of your SEO audit because it also shows where Google algorithm updates happened, which may have affected performance. You can also add notes in Google Analytics (called annotations) to be able to quickly reference historical changes, like a site redesign, and identify patterns. 

Next, you want to dig into which keywords you’re currently ranking for and which pages are ranking for those queries. Perhaps the most important place to check your current keyword rankings is Google Search Console. You can also view how many impressions you’re getting for certain keywords, average position, and what your clickthrough rate (CTR) is for those keywords.

After analyzing your list of keywords you’re ranking for, tools like Moz, SEMRush and Ahrefs can show you the search volume, competition, and related keywords for the terms that are worth targeting. One of the best ways to find keywords and related questions is by doing your own search engine query and seeing what comes up. You can review SERP features like “People also ask,” Featured Snippets, and the related searches at the bottom of the results page as well.

Pro tip: Don’t forget long-tail keywords. There can be significant volume on keywords with four or more words. Plus, competition is generally lower for these terms vs. more broad terms.

Audit your content strategy

Once you’ve done the keyword research and determined what pages are ranking and which are not, the next step is to conduct a content marketing SEO audit.  This process can help uncover pages that could be hindering your performance and opportunities to revitalize and improve existing content.

  1. Pull a list of all blog URLs on your website into a spreadsheet (Hint: you can use the site search method discussed earlier, or your sitemap)
  2. Use Google Analytics to see how many site visits each page has had over the past six months, and use a tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush to see how many backlinks it has (this process will take quite a bit of time, depending on the amount of pages on your site)
  3. Identify pages with “thin content” that don’t satisfy user intent. The exception to this would be press releases or event pages, which are naturally going to be shorter pages
  4. Look for any posts that have duplicate content or topics and decide if they should be combined into one long-form pillar post or removed from your site
  5. Identify posts with outdated content and make a plan to update that content as needed — it helps to keep a running list if posts need to be updated on a regular basis
  6. Repeat! (Ideally, on an annual or bi-annual basis)

Analyze your link profile

When you’re reviewing your link profile during an SEO audit, you want to focus on backlink analysis, disavowing spam links, and internal linking. 

Many digital marketers have a love-hate relationship with backlinks, because getting quality backlinks (which are links to your site that originate on another credible website) can be a difficult and tedious process. But it’s an important part of your SEO, as are the other strategies below.

Audit your backlink strategy

Many digital marketers have a love-hate relationship with backlinks. Getting quality backlinks (which are links to your site that originate on another credible website) can be a difficult and tedious process.

The first step in a backlink audit is to use a tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush to download a list of your existing backlinks. From there, you should review and assess each individual link to determine its quality. Depending on how many links you have, this could be a long process, but we promise it’s worthwhile. 

While each tool has a different way to assess link equity, like Domain Authority vs. Domain Rating, it’s worth noting that Google has its own proprietary way to measure link equity. Remember, these metrics don’t mean anything in a bubble. They’re mostly helpful when comparing your site to competitors and others ranking for your keywords. Pick whichever tool you feel comfortable with and use those metrics to measure the quality of a specific link or website.

Don’t immediately disavow a link just because one of these tools says it has lower Domain Authority or Domain Rating than yours. Relevancy is more important than these metrics.

To assess link quality during your SEO audit, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the site seem completely irrelevant to your industry? 
  • Are there a significant amount of ads? 
  • Does the website feature “unsavory” content? 
  • Is the anchor text clearly spamming to get keywords into the link? 

If there’s a link you don’t actually want associated with your site, you can disavow it, which tells Google to ignore that link. This tool should only be used if you’re highly confident the links could be hurting your ability to rank, otherwise you can drastically harm your SEO efforts.

Pro tip: Don’t pay to have your site listed somewhere for the purposes of increasing backlinks. You’ll almost definitely get caught and penalized. It’s not worth the short-terms gains it might bring, so focus on links gained naturally by creating valuable content.

Review your internal linking strategy

Internal links (links on your site that link to other places on your site) are often overlooked, but are just as important as your backlinks. It’s difficult to control which sites are linking to you and what anchor text they use, but you have full control over internal links.

Make sure the internal links you add in your content are relevant. Links higher up on the page are crawled first and are therefore considered most important to Google. You should also use external links to relevant, authoritative sources to help Google understand your website is legitimate. However, you want to use an internal link over an external link as much as possible.

There are some common mistakes you want to avoid when it comes to internal linking, such as:

  • using generic phrases in anchor text like “click here” or “learn more”
  • excessive linking via images instead of text (though it’s OK to link via images once in awhile, text links are preferred)
  • linking to your homepage — this is almost certainly your highest authority page already and doesn’t provide any use for the user, who could just click on your logo to go back to the homepage

The takeaway

A deep-dive SEO audit like the one described above takes time, effort, and dedication, but the knowledge and insight you’ll get in return are immeasurable. By getting familiar with these tools, following these best practices, and committing to regular SEO audits, you’ll start to see your organic rankings climb — and what’s a better feeling than that?

For more on this topic, check out our webinar, SEO Audit 101: Take Your SEO from So-So to Stellar

Need more SEO help? We’re here for you.

Justine Rabideau

Justine Rabideau

    Justine Rabideau is HawkSEM's Lead Strategist. She's in charge of leading and executing marketing strategies across the digital spectrum including PPC, social media, and SEO. She has worked with clients of all sizes and budgets across a variety of industries. In her free time, she enjoys running, cooking, reading, and Netflix.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Feb 4

    Competition is stiff for e-commerce — these SEO strategies can help you rise through the ranks

    Here, you’ll find:

    • The elements of a good e-commerce SEO strategy
    • How to set up your site for SEO success
    • Common e-commerce SEO missteps to avoid
    • The importance of proper tracking and reporting

    Whether you’re selling a hyper-specific luxury boat motor, a plain white t-shirt, or any of the billions of products in between — when it comes to e-commerce, good SEO matters.

    While ads can get you in front of the right prospective customers at the right time, having strong SEO will ensure you also have a steady stream of organic traffic coming your way. Not sure what steps to take? Keep reading.

    Start with standard SEO practices

    When it comes to SEO, it should come as no surprise that the standard rules across the board also play a big role on e-commerce sites. Some of those practices include making sure your site is well organized with a sitemap.

    You also want your site to be easy to navigate and interact with across devices, and secure like any other site. (Google has confirmed that there’s a slight rankings boost for sites serving content over HTTPs vs. HTTP, according to Ahrefs — yet another reason to follow suit.)

    Implementing these basic SEO practices into your marketing strategy will help you start your e-commerce SEO off on the right foot and ensure you’ve got the proper framework (literally and figuratively) to build on. 

    Find the right keywords

    Digital marketers won’t be surprised to know that, for e-commerce just as with other businesses, the right keyword strategy is table stakes for strong SEO. Focusing on long-tail keywords (along with site performance) is likely going to be the best way to see early wins when it comes to your SEO.

    SpyFu explains that you can also conduct keyword research through:

    • starting with Google Keyword Planner
    • using Google Search to see what’s currently ranking organically
    • leveraging a tool (like theirs) for competitor research
    • playing around with Amazon Suggest
    • entering target keywords into Wikipedia to find more related words and phrases

    Once you conduct your keyword research (with an eye on things like search volume, relevance, and competition), aim to use it just 3-5 times per page. This will give you the juice you need to start building up page credibility without looking like keyword stuffing. 

    HawkSEM: The E-Commerce SEO Strategy Your Website Needs

    44% of people begin their online shopping experience with a search engine and 30% of all traffic to e-commerce sites coming from search engines. (Image via Rawpixel)

    Use relevant product titles & descriptions

    Leveraging the proper keywords in your product titles and descriptions should also be a standard practice across your site. Instead of just keyword stuffing (which Google frowns upon), tag your items by categories, accurately title your images, and make sure those images are fast-loading. 

    Crazy Egg reports that 44% of people begin their online shopping experience with a search engine. They also say that 30% of all traffic to e-commerce sites comes from search engines. This is all the more reason why you should be thoughtful about your titles and descriptions. 

    Don’t just say what a product is — describe what it’s made of, what its purpose is, and how it’ll benefit the buyer. 

    Create a Merchant Center account

    Something we recommend all online sales brands do is to create a Google Merchant Center account with proper data feeds for the search engine to leverage in its shopping tab on the search engine results page (SERP). 

    This is a free feature that helps you organize your content in a way Google favors — and it gives great exposure to new customers with images (unlike search results). 

    With the Merchant Center, e-commerce brands can:

    • upload accurate product information
    • reach customers through paid and unpaid channels
    • view reports for your programs linked to Merchant Center
    • and more

    This is also a good feature to take advantage of if you create Google Shopping ads or might want to in the future. 

    Ensure your site is properly set up & reported

    Many online brands carry tons of products. Because of this, implementing all of these various SEO strategies into each of them can be a timely undertaking. 

    Plus, product SEO can be a bit trickier than standard website SEO. For example, you may offer one shirt in four different sizes and 10 colors all on the same product detail page, or PDP. 

    You have many more possibilities for canonical URLS (also called canonical tags), which help search engines understand that some pages will have very similar information on them and points to which ones should be given the most value or weight. 

    Making sure your canonical info is set up properly helps ensure that your monitoring and reporting will be accurate. This is also a good way to set yourself apart from the competition and boost your bottom line.  

    Pro tip: You can create a list that tells search engines which links are canonical through Google Search Console. Use the URL Inspection tool to determine which links Google considers canonical. (However, know that Google might choose a different canonical page than the one you designated for various reasons, such as content or page performance.)

    Stay consistent to avoid common errors

    When adding new products is a frequent task, making sure they align with the same strategy as your others is key. This is because you want to set things up so each product has a fair chance at performing its best online. 

    Consider creating a checklist for adding new products to your site so nothing slips through the cracks. This can include everything from the optimal image sizes and product name formats to the tone of descriptions, URL parameters, and more. This will also make it clearer which items are performing better than others.

    Other common SEO missteps that e-commerce brands should avoid include:

    • Poorly organized content that makes navigation or filtering products difficult
    • Out-of-stock items showing up in lists without being able to be filtered out 
    • Not having individual images for different variations offered
    • Not properly making use of img tags or metadata at a product level
    • Inconsistent image or video sizes
    • Slow-loading sites
    • Non-responsive sites or limited options by device
    • Unclear return policies
    HawkSEM: The E-Commerce SEO Strategy Your Website Needs

    It’s key to keep CRO in mind and consistently test elements like layouts, filters, and images for products, to see which ones result in better performance. (Image via Rawpixel)

    Remember that conversion rate optimization (CRO) is part of SEO

    Because of the high competition that surrounds many e-commerce brands, your site’s ease of use can really be a make-or-break factor in its success. 

    That’s why it’s so key to keep CRO in mind and consistently test elements like layouts, filters, and images for products, to see which ones result in better performance. 

    Pop-ups, for example, may not be as effective as banners and may even turn off some users. You can also analyze your site’s performance through the use of heatmap, scrollmap and confetti reports. These reports track your site visitors’ behavior to illustrate where people are gravitating, where they’re bouncing, and more. 

    As we’ve discussed before, you can set your site up for maximum CRO by optimizing your checkout process and being mindful of not overwhelming your shoppers with too many options.

    The takeaway

    It’s becoming increasingly difficult for e-commerce brands to stand out in the saturated online space — that’s why SEO can be such a game-changer. 

    The brands that climb the SEO ladder successfully following best practices like making use of the right keywords, taking note of what audiences do and don’t respond to, and having a consistent listing process. While solid SEO takes time, it’s a worthwhile endeavor for e-commerce businesses that aim to be around — and thriving — for the long haul.

    Ready to take your e-commerce ads to the next level? We can help.

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Jan 29

    Everything you need to know about search engine optimization

    Here, you’ll find:

    • What search engine optimization (SEO) is
    • Why SEO is an important part of digital marketing
    • What makes up a good SEO strategy
    • SEO trends worth keeping an eye on

    It’s no secret that, in today’s digital marketing landscape, it’s all about the search engine. Whether you rely on organic reach or leverage paid ads, getting on page 1 of the search engine results page (SERP) is always the goal.

    But it doesn’t come easy. The algorithm changes often, and new competitors can crop up anytime. Having a site that’s optimized for search engines can be the game-changing factor that helps your brand stand out.

    For the full 411 on SEO, let’s dive in.

    What is SEO?

    The point of SEO is to rank organically for relevant searches to your website without having to pay for ads. As we’ve mentioned before, following SEO best practices helps ensure your site is set up for success. These strategies also add value to your overall brand while showing prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

    One of the most effective SEO methods is to publish well-written, original content that can inform people or answer their questions. Unfortunately, SEO isn’t quite as simple as that, and just having quality content is only scratching the surface. 

    What is “the algorithm” and how does it affect SEO?

    Google (along with all other search engines, such as Bing) has an algorithm that takes hundreds to thousands of different aspects into consideration when a user enters keywords or a query into the search bar. 

    That’s why, when we say “search engine optimization,” we’re talking about setting up your site to show search engines that your brand is relevant, trustworthy, and legitimate in relation to your industry. 

    HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

    Paid and organic search results on the SERP for a query about creating a gallery wall

    You can learn about the process and guidelines Google adheres to make sure their algorithm “meet high standards of relevance and quality” here. However, search engines keep marketers on their toes by regularly rolling out tweaks and updates without much (or any) advanced notice. 

    Since it launched, Google has gone from making only a handful of algorithm updates every now and then to rolling out thousands of changes each year. These updates come with varying levels of impact on the search engine results page, or SERP — according to Search Engine Journal.

    Because of this, it’s worth your time to focus on white-hat, long-game SEO techniques rather than trying to game the system through black-hat “quick wins.” The latter may get your site penalized down the line (more on that below). 

    Key factors that help determine which results will appear for your query are:

    • Meaning of your query
    • Relevance of web pages
    • Content quality
    • Usability of web pages
    • Context and settings

    How to start your SEO off on a clean slate

    Whether your site is brand-now or has been around for a decade or more, it’s never too late to put good SEO practices in place. Even if everything looks fine and dandy, websites can have hidden technical errors. These may not appear or be visible to the end user, but Google’s crawlers can detect it in the website’s code. Depending on the issue, this could cause your site to get penalized. 

    Put simply: If too many “red flags” exist on a site, Google will value it less than a competitor’s site. Because of this, your site may not rank well despite having original, informative, and high-quality content.

    Other issues Google dings your site for include:

    • 404 error pages (aka broken links)
    • Missing or duplicate meta tags
    • Duplicate content
    • Pagination issues (such as too many indexable URLs)
    HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

    A 404 error page from Mailchimp

    To avoid Google undervaluing your site, making sure it’s “clean” is an important first step. Once you have a solid base to build off of, you can focus on content strategy and creation, links, schema markup, and other optimizations.

    This stage can be time-consuming. You may want to look into having your developer crawl the site and conduct a wellness check or getting an SEO audit from a marketing agency. (Snag one directly from us here!)

    SEO through quality content

    Whether your business is e-commerce, financial services, or something in between, having well-written content on your site is beneficial for so many reasons. Not only does it strengthen your SEO, but it can educate your audience, show that you’re a thought leader in your industry, and help attract more visitors to your brand. 

    When you’re crafting a quality content marketing strategy, key steps include:

    • Fleshing out your personas
    • Defining your voice and tone
    • Determining the keywords you want to cover through content
    • Deciding the best brainstorming, writing, and editing process
    • Prioritizing promotion
    • Regularly analyzing performance

    If you want your content to help boost your SEO, it’s important to pay attention to grammar and spelling. One way to think of it is: If an English teacher were to grade your website like a paper, would they give you an A, or an F? Google’s algorithm will read your content like an English teacher, and will also grade it (to a degree).

    Once you’ve determined your relevant keywords and search terms, it’s time to work on creating the content. At the beginning of the writing process, think about how your content can answer questions of who, what, where, when, and why. 

    HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

    A content calendar example from a SaaS company

    Pro tip: When creating content, avoid keyword stuffing. This practice of over-inserting the keyword you’re trying to rank for is frowned upon. Plus, Google can recognize when someone is clearly mentioning a search term repeatedly and downgrade your ranking.  

    Once you feel confident about your content output and strategy, it’s wise to plan on regular content audits. This will allow you to identify old posts, high-performing pieces, and other content-related factors that will impact SEO. 

    Search engines favor new, robust content. By continuing to optimize pages, you can benefit from the long history attached to a URL while making sure the info on your site is timely, accurate, and up to date.

    What are some stats on SEO?

    • More than 51% of smartphone users have discovered a new company or product while conducting a search on their smartphone.
    • 72% of consumers say search is their first choice to find information on local merchants.
    • Today, more people use search engines to find products or services than any other marketing channel.
    • On average, B2B buyers conduct up to 12 searches before engaging with a brand.
    • Google has more than 92% of the search engine market share worldwide. 
    • 61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority.
    • 50% of search queries are four words or longer.

    Metadata

    As Moz explains, meta tags provide information about the webpage in its HTML. This info is dubbed “metadata.” While it’s not visible to your readers, it’s key nonetheless. Meta tags live in a page’s source code, and it’s used to tell search engines what a page is all about.

    HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

    How meta titles and meta descriptions look when creating content in WordPress with the Yoast SEO plugin

    Having pages with proper meta tags (which includes a title and description that accurately represent the page’s content) can impact not only the ranking of your page, but your clickthrough rate (CTR) and bounce rates as well. 

    When the preview for a page is accurate and lines up with the page’s content, those in search of what you’re offering already have a good idea of what they’re going to get from that particular page.

    Header tags

    No matter how high quality the content or well designed the page, if your site features large blocks of plain text, you’re in danger of having eyes glaze over and people bouncing from your page. Much like the metadata, header tags (the most common being H1, H2, and H3) serve as a kind of outline or table of contents for each page. See that “Header tags” line above? It’s an H3 header tag.

    These tags also serve to emphasize what a paragraph or section will be about. This makes it easy for readers to scroll to the parts of your page that particularly interest them. Header tags are tied to SEO because search engines can weigh these headings and subheadings more than the paragraph copy in terms of importance. 

    If your blog title is H1, your headings are H2, and your subheadings are H3, they’ll be prioritized in that same order when it comes to the search engine. Also worth noting: While header tags extend to H6, most sites stick with H1-H3. 

    Backlinking

    Linking is an incredibly important aspect to cultivating SEO that ranks you well. Having high-quality, highly relevant backlinks (which are links from another domain to yours) tells search engines that other sites trust yours, so end users probably can as well.

    We’ve talked before about more backlinks (also called inbound links) from credible sites help you rank higher on the SERP. Think of backlinks like endorsements. They’re used to let Google know your site is valuable and legitimate.

    You can encourage backlinks to your site by: 

    • Publishing unique statistics, survey data, or other exclusive info
    • Writing guest blogs or being quoted on other credible websites
    • Partnering with influencers in your industry
    • Reaching out directly to sites you want backlinks on

    When it comes to reaching out, there’s no magic formula. And, like SEO itself, it takes time. Your best bet, when cold-emailing another brand to request a backlink, is to keep the message short, make it personalized, and highlight the benefit for their site, not yours.

    For example, if you find a well-known industry site is using outdated stats or content that you happen to have an up-to-date version of, send it to them and see if they’ll replace the older link.

    Disavowing links

    Not all backlinks are good, however. Spammy or “toxic” backlinks can lower your site’s domain authority and your rating. In turn, this lowers how trustworthy your site appears. If there are a bunch of spammy sites linking to yours, Google will treat your site as a terrible one as well. Consider it a “guilty by association” mindset.

    Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent low-quality sites from tanking your SEO rep. Disavowing these toxic sites (which tells Google not to associate these links with your website) is key to maintaining a higher standing with Google.

    While external linking is important, internal linking shouldn’t be overlooked. Linking from your own pages to other pages on your site is beneficial in Google’s eyes. It can also be helpful to the end user as well (which, really, is a big reason why search engines value internal links).

    Pro tip: When it comes to disavowing backlinks, Google warns that this advanced feature should be used with caution and only in cases where the link is sure to reflect negatively on your site. “If used incorrectly,” Google explains, “this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results.”

    Schema markup, structured data & rich snippets

    Schema is a structured data vocabulary created by the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex). Structured data is what helps these search engines better understand and define what a post or page is about. 

    This special language can be added to an HTML markup as code to enhance the snippets that appear below your content on the SERP. With schema markup, you can add elements like a publish date, event schedule, or product rating. It can improve your SEO and CTR by adding context to your pages, thus helping you rank better.

    HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

    Google’s structured data markup helper tool

    This additional content is referred to as “rich snippets.” If a normal snippet merely includes the URL, title tag, and meta description, any additional info is considered a rich snippet. 

    You can add schema markup to your pages by visiting schema.org, selecting the type of markup that you want to use, and adding the code to your page. If you publish on a site like WordPress, you can add this data via plugins in a snap. Once added, you can test that the structured data was set up properly via Google’s structured data testing tool.

    Pro tip: While adding structured data to your pages can boost SEO, adding it doesn’t guarantee that will show up on the SERP, even if you’ve followed all of the steps correctly. 

    What is local SEO?

    HubSpot defines local SEO as a way to help businesses “promote their products and services to local prospects and customers. To gather information for local search, search engines rely on signals such as local content, social profile pages, links, and citations to provide the most relevant local results to the user.”

    “Near me” searches, or searches based around a local city or region, are extremely popular these days. In fact, 80% of consumers use search for local information. However, location-based searches are treated slightly differently than a standard search. If you own a local business, have a local blog, et cetera, then you’ll want to keep local SEO in mind.

    One way to do this is by making sure your site is optimized for Google My Business (GMB). This search engine feature aims to show that a business is relevant and authentic. As a bonus, GMB-optimized businesses may show up as a pullout sidebar on the SERP, giving your biz that much more exposure.

    HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

    How HawkSEM’s Google My Business page looks on the SERP

    Optimizing for Google My Business entails:

    • Creating a verified GMB page for your company
    • Garnering authentic online reviews from customers
    • Responding to these reviews using location-based info
    • Using Google Posts in your account (which allow you to share news and messages on your GMB page)

    Other ways to optimize for local SEO include publishing location-specific content, adding separate location pages to your site (if your brand has locations in multiple cities), and making sure your NAP (name, address, and phone number) info is consistent and accurate across the web.

    Accelerated mobile pages

    The majority of searches are now done on mobile devices. In fact, Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2018 to take precedence over its traditional desktop index. Because of this, it’s crucial for your SEO to make sure all of your pages are mobile friendly. 

    Created by Google and Twitter, accelerated mobile pages (AMP) are a critical part of Google’s mobile approach. AMPs feature a more minimalist, stripped-down HTML version of a webpage for quick loading and easy access on mobile devices. 

    It’s up to you whether or not AMPs are worth it for your business. While they may receive a favorable ranking on the SERP, these pages often don’t have as many elements or designs as regular pages. 

    Since AMPs don’t appear to be going away anytime soon, it’s worth it to at least explore your options when it comes to enhancing your AMP content for Google Search and customizing these pages to fit your needs.

    Important metrics

    We often get asked what types of metrics or KPIs are most important to keep track of when it comes to SEO. In terms of core KPIs, we generally look at:

    • Organic sessions
    • Organic bounce rate
    • Average page views per session
    • Domain authority/rating
    • The number of keywords or search terms ranking in the top 3 results (above the fold, first page)
    • Keywords or search terms ranking on page 1 (in spaces 1-10)
    • Keywords or search terms ranking in spaces 11-50

    The metrics you look at and prioritize will depend on factors like your goals and how long you’ve been actively implementing your SEO strategy.

    White hat vs. black hat SEO

    “White hat” and “black hat” are SEO techniques marketers can leverage when optimizing a site. Basically, white hat SEO techniques are ethical, Google-approved methods that are looked favorably upon by search engines. White-hat techniques include publishing high-quality content that speaks to a human audience, implementing a long-term SEO strategy, and including alt tags with your images.

    Black hat, on the other hand, refers to methods that attempt to trick search engines by making a site appear more legitimate than it is. These methods include keyword stuffing, creating blogs for the sole purpose of generating links to other sites, and hiding “invisible text” in the code of your website in an attempt to game the algorithm.

    Black hat methods are frowned upon by search engines. While it’s not against the law to use them, they can get your site flagged for violating guidelines or prevented from appearing in search results entirely. Plus, black hat techniques often result in a poor user experience with your website.

    Then there’s “grey hat” SEO. These are SEO methods that, while not currently against search engine guidelines, could become viewed as black hat in the future. This includes posting fake reviews, offering incentives for online reviews, and purchasing expired domains for the sole purpose of linking or redirecting to your site.

    How visuals enhance SEO

    Speaking of alt tags, visuals are another important part of good site SEO. According to TechCrunch, 82% of all consumer IP traffic will be video by 2021. Not only that, but Search Engine Watch reports that video content has a 41% higher click-through rate than plain text.

    If you have the bandwidth and budget, experimenting with video content could end up being what sets you apart from your competition on the SERP. Pages with videos are often visited for longer periods of time, and a longer visiting period can only mean good things when it comes to SEO.

    In terms of photos, graphics, and other static imagery, Yoast explains that well-chosen images can complement your content and get you a good ranking in image search results.

    “Alt tags” are alternative attributes on an image’s img tag. The purpose of this tag is to describe what the image is portraying, which not only helps the search engine understand the image, but it’s used as context for the visually impaired.

    Depending on your website platform, it should be easy to add SEO-enhancing alt tags to your images as well as a title and meta description for your videos.

    Pro tip: Videos can also be optimized by choosing an eye-catching thumbnail image, investing in paid ads for promotion, and adding captions.

    HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

    Speed doesn’t just matter to users — it also matters to search engines

    Why is site speed important for SEO?

    Site speed, especially on mobile, is becoming — well, has already become — another highly important aspect with regards to SEO. That’s partially because a site that takes even a few seconds to load can cause a significant number of visitors to immediately bounce.

    But speed doesn’t just matter to users — it also matters to search engines. Google has been upfront for years about how page speed is a ranking factor for them (though, admittedly, not a hugely significant one). You can test out how speedy your pages are with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. 

    The takeaway

    Search engine optimization is important when it comes to ranking on the SERP and growing your reach. But, at the end of the day, the goal of a search engine is to connect users with the answers they seek.

    As long as you follow the above tips — and have a fast website with high-quality content that’s engaging, unique, current, and helpful — you’ll be well on your way to boasting successful, strong SEO. 

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Jan 7

    New year, new URL? Here’s how to successfully pull off migrating your site.

    Here, you’ll find:

    • Different types of site migrations
    • How to plan a site migration
    • What to do during a site migration
    • Common migration missteps to avoid

    Whether you’re opting for a more secure site, getting a design refresh, or moving to a new CMS, there are plenty of reasons to take on a site migration. But this project is one that shouldn’t be taken on lightly.

    Migrating your site is a technical, multi-step process — and a misstep can result in broken links, a poor mobile experience, and loss of significant SEO you’ve worked hard to build.

    But before you break into a cold sweat, keep reading! Jessica Weber, one of HawkSEM’s SEO & SEM managers, is here to help us break down just a few of the big steps to take before, during, and after a site migration.

    There are different types of site migrations

    First things first: It’s important to acknowledge that site migration comes in many different forms. For example, a migration from an http to https URL is completely different from a redesign, which is different from a domain migration. 

    The nature of a site migration is often a wildly complicated and technical process. Because of this, it’s crucial to have a plan for how to tackle this project before, during, and after the migration itself.

    Other types of site migrations include:

    • Moving to a new domain
    • Changing URLs
    • Updating navigation or architecture
    • Adding mobile functionality  
    • Migrating part of a website
    • Moving to a new host or server
    • Moving to a new CMS or framework
    • Website redesign or template change
    HawkSEM: How to Successfully Perform a Site Migration

    When you’re working on a site migration, you always want to execute and test everything in a staging environment before it goes live on your actual website. (Image via Unsplash)

    Before the site migration

    According to Jessica, the “before” stage is the most important phase of a site migration. That’s why our #1 advice for site migration is to plan ahead

    One of the first steps you take should be to create a site mapping document. This includes a list of your URL redirects — it works from the old site to the new site to make sure you’re passing all of your site equity onto the new site vs. losing it.

    Essentially, this makes sure that your new URLs (if applicable) reroute from your old URLs so no pages are lost or dead-end with a 404 error. Equity refers to the fact that your old URLS have been around longer and thus have had more time to drum up page authority and traffic. You don’t want to lose that when you migrate your site. 

    Pro tip: When you’re working on a site migration, you always want to execute and test everything in a staging environment before it goes live on your actual website. Sites like WordPress can walk you through the creation of production, staging and development environments.

    During the site migration

    As you’re migrating your site, you want to implement your comprehensive list of 301 redirects. Moz explains that, when the new site URLs are different from the old site URLs, 301 redirects “tell search engines to index the new URLs as well as forward any ranking signals from the old URLs to the new ones.”

    You need to use permanent 301 redirects if your site migration entails:

    • Moving to or from another domain or subdomain
    • Switching from http to https
    • Parts of the site being restructured in some way

    Next, you’ll want to update all of the canonical tags on your new, old, and other sites, if applicable. If your site has a page that can be accessed via multiple URLs, Google will view this as duplicate content — that’s where canonical tags come in. 

    As the search engine explains, “Google will choose one URL as the canonical version and crawl that, and all other URLs will be considered duplicate URLs and crawled less often.” So make sure the canonical URL you’re directing to is the one that already has the most site equity.

    Pro tip: Google recently launched a Change of Address Tool for sites migrating from one domain or subdomain to another. However, this isn’t the tool to use for changing from http to https, redirecting pages on your site, removing www from your domain, or moving without making user-visible URL changes. 

    Additional steps to take during the migration process

    Along with the above, don’t forget to check these to-dos off your list:

    • Updating all of the internal links on your sites so that they point to the new URLs
    • Updating all of your tracking codes
    • Setting up Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for your new site (if applicable)
    • Updating your XML sitemap (if you don’t have a plug-in that will create it automatically) and submitting it to Google and Bing
    • If you have any high-value backlinks, reach out to the owners or editors and ask them to update the link
    • Updating outside links you control, such as Google My Business, social profiles, analytics, and anywhere there are citations, NAP (name, address, phone number), or links back to your site, so they point to the new URLs 

    Pro tip: Launch your new site during an “off” or slow period of time, if you can. That way, your team can test out all the live links and address any issues quickly before customers and prospects see them.

    HawkSEM: How to Successfully Perform a Site Migration

    There are endless reasons why site owners may see SEO changes after migrating a site, regardless of the type of migration. (Image via Unsplash)

    After the site migration

    Finally, the finish line! Once you’ve successfully moved over your site content, tweaked it all in a staging environment, and followed the steps above, it’s time to launch. 

    After your new site is up and running, it’s a good idea to continue monitoring 404s and Google Search Console to make sure everything is tracking properly. You also want to monitor your rankings — if you migrated and, after a few weeks, your rankings aren’t where they were (or better), it’s time to audit and see what might’ve gone awry.

    How do avoid a drop in SEO after a migration

    No matter how thorough you are with your site migration, it’s still possible to see a dip in your SEO performance. There are endless reasons why site owners may see changes after migrating a site, Jessica explains, regardless of the type of migration. 

    A big part of this is because the Google algorithm is wary of bit site changes, so you’ll almost always see a dip after migrating while Google reassesses. If you’re migrating to new URLs, you may lose some equity through redirection. 

    To ensure your SEO suffers as little as possible, avoid these common site migration mistakes:

    • Waiting too long to start the site migration process
    • Launching before you’re ready
    • Not comprehensively redirecting the proper way
    • Not updating canonical tags
    • Deciding to launch new sites that are not as well optimized as the old sites
    • Not making a copy of the old site
    • Failing to transfer your disavow file that tells Google which of your backlinks should be ignored
    • Not completing and saving a crawl for reference (you can crawl your site with a tool like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb)

    Website crawler tools allow you to crawl your websites’ URLs to better analyze and audit your technical and onsite SEO. 

    Don’t be afraid to consult a professional

    It’s natural to be overwhelmed by the idea of a site migration — it’s an involved project with a lot of moving parts. While we’ve laid out the main elements of a site migration, much more goes into it along with the above.

    If it seems like too much to take on, we suggest consulting an experienced professional who can ensure your migration goes smoothly.

    The takeaway

    Planning and preparation are the most important phases of a successful site migration. Along with this, it’s key to remember that SEO is part of every page, and it should be one of the first things you consider during a migration. 

    Give yourself peace of mind during a site migration by following every step necessary to ensure you don’t look site equity, and keep a record of everything you do and need to do during the process. (Or, better yet, consider giving the job to a pro who can work with you to ensure the migration is a success.) Happy launching!

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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    Written by Sam Yadegar on Nov 26

    Rome wasn’t built in a day. Good organic traffic for your site isn’t either.

    Here, you’ll find:

    • Content tips to improve your traffic
    • How to make SERPs work for you
    • What keyword types to leverage for traffic
    • Ideas for growing your reach both online and offline

    From one-click shopping to social media likes, we’re living in a world accustomed to instant gratification. “Waiting” isn’t a concept with too many fans — particularly in the business world.

    So it’s no surprise that, when it comes to improving organic web traffic, you want to see results yesterday.

    And while it’s not entirely impossible to see dramatic increases in a relatively short amount of time, maintaining a steady traffic increase takes work.

    The trick is knowing what steps to take to get you there. That’s why we compiled these 14 tips that illustrate what to do to see your traffic continue to climb.

    HawkSEM blog - 14 Proven Ways to Grow Your Organic Traffic

    Having a sitemap will keep things organized and, as a result, help you rank higher on SERPs. (Image via Unsplash)

    1. Optimize your website

    When you’re looking to increase organic site traffic, ensuring you’re working with a fully optimized website is a great place to start. We’ve talked before about the importance of doing a website “wellness check.” For this, you’re checking for things like titles, meta descriptions, and keywords across your pages.

    Depending on your website platform, you can add a plugin like Yoast that’ll provide you with optimization and readability tips when you’re uploading or editing a web page or blog.

    Having a sitemap will also keep things organized and, as a result, help you rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). If this seems like a lot to keep track of, you can always create a website checklist to tick off to make sure each page is optimized before you hit “publish.”

    2. Make sure each page has its own target keyword

    Pages on your site with the same target keyword will compete in search engine results — not a good look for your business.

    Each page and blog post should have its own primary target keyword (or set of keywords), when possible. This essentially makes the page the de facto authority for that term on your site. You can use a program like SEMRush to check and see whether or not you have any keyword duplications within your site pages.

    If you do, don’t panic! You can consolidate these pages. For the pages that have no traffic or conversions tied to them, you can simply move that content to the better-performing page. Then, you simply redirect the old URL to the new one-stop-shop page.

    Pro tip: Of course, you can use similar keywords throughout your website and blog. But it’s a good idea not to have two pages focusing too much on one keyword. That can trigger Google to ding the pages for duplicate content. You can overlap target keywords if the content is unique enough not to be flagged as duplicate, but you should aim for your targeted keyword page to rank highest on your site for that specific keyword.

    3. Leverage analytics

    You’ve got all the access you need to your site data — don’t forget to leverage it! Free platforms like Google Analytics will show you insightful organic metrics such as bounce rate, traffic sources, and time on page.

    Once you see patterns in your traffic metrics, you can create a plan for optimizing accordingly. For example: Got a page with a high bounce rate? Revisit it and ask yourself things like:

    • Does the page title match its content?
    • Visually, is it laid out well?
    • Is it easy to read?
    • Does the page load too slowly?
    • Is there a clear next step for the reader?

    You can also use analytics programs to find those long-tail keywords that are guaranteed to lead to high conversion rates — we’ll get to that in a minute.

    4. Focus on quality over quantity

    Plenty of sites engage in “keyword stuffing,” where they repeat the same keyword multiple times on a page. But not only does this type of content come off as inauthentic, Google knows what you’re doing — and they don’t like it either.

    Flooding your site with keywords isn’t going to get you the organic traffic you’re seeking. It’s a better use of your time to focus on creating quality content that will lead to unique ranking improvements, such as content writers with E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.)

    Pro tip: When you focus more on generating relevant, valuable pages that educate and help your target audience rather than what you think the algorithm wants, you can start to see your organic traffic grow steadily over time.

    5. Make content work for you

    Landing pages should be minimalist and have a clear call to action (CTA). Too much text can make it difficult for customers to find exactly what it is that they want.

    That’s why it’s a good idea to move some of your keywords and phrases into blogs. These pages help improve your rankings without inundating every website visitor with too much info at once.

    When creating content, be sure to link internally to your own content as well as authoritative websites. This can establish partner relationships and encourage others to give you quality backlinks that direct to your site, which is another way to boost your traffic numbers.

    HawkSEM: 14 Proven Ways to Grow Your Organic Traffic

    Having quality backlinks shows the algorithm that your website is credible. (Image via Unsplash)

    6. Have a consistent backlink outreach plan

    Speaking of backlinks, we know that Google values these kinds of links (that link to your site from another authoritative site) when relevant. They show the algorithm that your website is credible.

    We’ve mentioned before that there’s, sadly, no shortcut to getting them. You can, however, work smarter vs. harder and set your site up for easy backlinking if and when the opportunities arise.

    A platform like Ahrefs can show you which sites and pages are linking to your competitors, but not to you, via its Link Intersect tool. From there, you can plan your outreach strategy. Consider requesting backlinks in situations like:

    • Someone is linking to competitor content that you have a similar, newer (and ideally better) version of
    • You’ve linked to someone’s content and given them a relevant backlink already
    • Someone has created an industry directory you’d like to be included in
    • Someone has given you backlinks before and is likely to do it again

    7. Focus on building relationships

    As humans, the need for community is at our core — and it’s crucial for businesses, too. While it can be easy to fall into the habit of working in a silo or with your small team, branching out can have lots of benefits, including site traffic.

    Quoting an industry expert or having them pen a guest blog on your site adds credibility while allowing your brand (and audience) to benefit from the person’s knowledge. Alternatively, getting your own content published on high domain authority sites can potentially bring you traffic for years to come.

    Pro tip: When you’re brainstorming topics to write up for other sites, it’s a good idea to pitch content in line with keywords that are relevant to your business but also highly competitive. The more established website may rank better for those terms and send a ton of traffic your way.

    8. Become a thought leader

    Depending on how saturated your industry is, you may have stiff competition when it comes to garnering traffic. So it’s no surprise that sometimes, you’ve got to go above and beyond to stand out.

    You can begin to position your brand as a thought leader by:

    • Applying for someone from your company to speak at conferences
    • Consistently posting high-quality content that’s fresh and relevant
    • Reaching out about opportunities to be a guest on an industry podcast
    • Being available as an expert source to be quoted in media interviews

    This relates back to the point above about relationships — there’s only so much you can do from behind a screen. Talking to people in person is an effective way to expand your brand’s reach.

    9. Be active on social media

    Having an active social media presence is another useful way for companies to get the word out about their products or offerings. It’s also a great place to take part in industry conversations.

    Along with your website, maybe people will check a brand’s social media accounts to see how they present themselves. You can have an edge over less-active competitors by posting on a consistent basis, whatever that means for your and your bandwidth (whether it’s multiple times a day or once a week).

    Check hashtags for relevant industry conversations that could benefit from your insights. It’s also worth noting that different industries leverage social media in different ways, and different audience demographics gravitate towards different platforms, like LinkedIn for more B2B brands and Instagram for e-commerce.

    Pro tip: Think outside of the Big Four (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn) by posting visual content on Pinterest, such as an exclusive infographic, with a concise description and a link back to your site. You may be surprised at the traffic that results.

    10. Get on Quora

    In case you’re unfamiliar, Quora is a popular question-and-answer site. Users pose questions about everything under the sun and others respond with answers.

    Quora is a great place to search for questions related to your industry, then provide your insights along with a bit about what makes you qualified to add a response. You can then link to your site and boom, you’ve just connected with someone (or a few someones) who may not have known about your company otherwise.

    HawkSEM: 14 Proven Ways to Grow Your Organic Traffic

    Long-tail keywords are generally three- to four-word keyword phrases on a specific topic. (Image via Unsplash)

    11. Use the SERP to inform new content

    A high results-page ranking can be a game-changer for your company’s traffic. One way to improve your ranking is by going straight to the SERP.

    Type in some common search engine questions related to your keywords and check out the “People also asked” section. What other common questions are popping up, and how can you answer those through your own content?

    Next, look at the featured snippets (a box of selected search results that appear above Google’s organic results to provide a concise answer to a posed question) that show up.

    How did they format their content to be featured here? This insight will help inform how you approach future content ideas so you can work towards your business appearing in those sections instead.

    12. Look into long-tail terms

    When it comes to keywords, the more specific you can get, the less competition you’ll likely be up against. Long-tail keywords are generally three- to four-word keyword phrases on a specific topic vs. something more generic like “paid search.”

    They help you rank for industry terms over your competitors, because you have more room to find a unique angle that hasn’t been thoroughly touched on yet. See what gaps there are, then determine how you can fill them.

    When you compare long-tail phrases built around specific keywords to keywords with the best search traffic, you’ll find that conversion rates with the former are typically higher. While these keywords may have a lower monthly search volume, they can have a higher probability of conversion.

    13. Implement secondary keywords

    As we mentioned in strategy #4, keyword stuffing is a no-no. At the same time, repeating your keyword phrase helps Google and others understand what your page or piece of content is about.

    That’s where secondary keywords come in. These are keywords similar to the main one you’re trying to rank for, with slightly tweaked phrasing. This also helps break up your copy and makes it sound more authentic.

    An easy way to determine helpful secondary keywords is by searching for your primary keyword on Google, then referencing the resulting list of related searches.

    14. Remember: it’s a long game

    Like SEO, solid organic traffic takes time to cultivate. Don’t get discouraged if you put effort into the above strategies without seeing immediate results.

    Over time, if you monitor your site performance, you’ll start seeing those lines move up. At the end of the day, the process of improving your ranking is a marathon, not a sprint.

    HawkSEM: 14 Proven Ways to Grow Your Organic Traffic

    Like SEO, solid organic traffic takes time to cultivate. (Image via Unsplash)

    The takeaway

    Improving your organic traffic doesn’t need to be complicated.

    In fact, it can be as simple as picking the strategies that work for you, creating a plan to implement them, consistent tracking, and iterating based on the data you gather.

    Want to know more about how HawkSEM and improve your organic traffic and your overall digital marketing ROI? Let’s chat.

    This post was originally published in September 2014 and was updated in November 2019.

    Sam Yadegar

    Sam Yadegar

    Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Oct 5

    There’s no shortcut to good SEO, but the right agency can help you create a strategy that will have a lasting positive impact on your brand.

    Here, you’ll find:

    • What questions to ask an SEO agency
    • How to set realistic expectations
    • A few red flags to look for
    • Why aligning on core values is key

    When some people hear the word “elusive,” they may think of Mariah Carey — stick with us here.

    But for those stuck on page 20 of search engine results pages (SERPs), that may be how they describe their SEO.

    The good news: Partnering with an SEO agency can change all that by helping you become more visible in search results, boost your credibility, and more. But before you sign on the (virtual) dotted line, make sure you know these secrets to success.

    1. Get a full understanding of SEO

    First things first: before you go through the process of connecting and vetting SEO agencies, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re up to speed on where SEO practices stand today. The industry is evolving quickly, so even if you’re familiar with the concept of SEO, there could be a development or two you’ve missed.

    Having a firm grasp on the latest SEO methods that are most used today will help you be better prepared to ask all the right questions and know what to look for when optimizing your site and its content.

    HawkSEM blog: 7 Success Secrets for Partnering with an SEO Agency

    An SEO audit offers a clearer idea of where your company’s SEO currently stands. (Image via Unsplash)

    2. Prepare for a full site and strategy audit

    To prepare for a consultation, many agencies will perform an SEO audit of your website. This gives them a clearer idea of where your company’s SEO currently stands. A typical audit will pinpoint things like:

    • Site structure issues
    • User experience (UX) issues
    • Content gaps
    • On-page and off-site issues

    The depth of the audit will depend on a few things, including the size of your business and how much content you have. Depending on how familiar you are with your site’s SEO, you may want to discuss internally with your team ahead of a consultation to determine things like:

    • How SEO is currently being implemented
    • What SEO processes are currently in place (if any)
    • How SEO is currently being tracked and measured

    3. Set realistic expectations

    Alright: this success secret is a big one. If an agency tells you they can swiftly get you from page 40 on Google to page 1, run. As Forbes reports, assuming SEO will be an overnight transformation is one of the biggest mistakes people make with search engine optimization.

    Sure, SEO best practices can be implemented relatively quickly, but to see real results? That takes time. The reasons mainly boil down to the fact that multiple factors determine good SEO, and search engine algorithms constantly change with little to no warning. There’s no shortcut to building an authoritative brand with high-quality content. You can set measurable goals, but it’s a consistent practice, not a one-and-done task. A good agency will be upfront about that.

    4. Ask to see case studies or stats

    A good agency will tell you how amazing they are. A great agency will show you, with stats and testimonials to back them up. During the vetting process, don’t be afraid to ask about references, case studies, or stats garnered through past SEO work.

    You can also do your own independent research and check out any public reviews the company has on review sites or its social media pages, for added context.

    HawkSEM blog: 7 Success Secrets for Partnering with an SEO Agency

    You can get a sense of a company’s values by posing questions like, “What would past clients say about you?” (Image via Unsplash)

    5. Understand their core values

    This success secret may not seem as important as the others, but it’s on this list for a reason. Finding an agency with core values that are similar to your own can be a helpful indicator in determining if a partnership will be successful.

    In addition to straight-up asking them, you can get a sense of a company’s values by seeing how they talk about themselves on their website, asking about their communication style (another important aspect to be aligned on), and posing questions like, “How do you describe your company in one sentence?” or “What would past clients say about you?”

    6. Make sure pricing is clear

    When partnering with an SEO agency, as in most other business cases, you get what you pay for. That means that if a company promises the moon and stars for a rock-bottom price, it may be too good to be true. These agencies often employ “black hat” or shady tactics, which can actually end up hurting your SEO rankings.

    When looking at pricing, you want to be clear on what’s included in the SEO agency’s rate. Some may simply optimize your site and content or provide recommendations for your developer and marketing team to carry out. Others will take the time to understand your goals, help you create a targeted keyword list, create optimized content for you, and work closely with you to implement their recommendations.

    HawkSEM blog: 7 Success Secrets for Partnering with an SEO Agency

    The most effective SEO agency partnership will include plenty of involvement on your side — to the benefit of your overall brand. (Image via Unsplash)

    7. Be willing to do your part

    Sure, you’re partnering with SEO experts because you want them to take the reins and ensure your business is performing the best it can in search engine rankings. But it’s still a partnership. The most effective SEO agency partnership will include plenty of involvement on your side — to the benefit of your overall brand.

    Once you figure out a solid communication style and cadence, align on goals, and put a strong plan in place, regularly scheduled calls or check-ins are a great way to keep everyone on the same page.

    An SEO agency can be a game-changer when it comes to growing awareness and exposure for your business. The above tips will help you feel confident when entering into a partnership with an agency.

    Interested in how HawkSEM can take your SEO to the next level? Request a consultation here.

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Sep 25

    It’s like the age-old saying goes: An SEO pro’s work is never done.

    OK, so maybe we made that up. But the sentiment holds true — with the ever-changing algorithm and advances in tech, optimizing your website for search engine results is an ongoing process.

    The good news? There are SEO best practices you can put in place that will set you up for success for months and even years to come. These 11 best practices will not only help ensure you’ve got top-notch SEO, but they’ll add value to your overall brand, and help illustrate to prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

    Here, you’ll find:

    • Quick wins for optimizing your website
    • The must-have elements of quality content
    • The latest Google developments to leverage
    • The upcoming SEO trends to keep an eye on

    1. Authenticity is key

    These days, Google’s algorithm is all about authenticity. Some have dubbed this E-A-T: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. The sites with credible content created by trustworthy authors move up in the rankings, while those without the right credentials get cut. 

    By providing proper attribution — say, giving the blog writer a byline at the top of the post and a photo with a short bio at the bottom — you can effectively illustrate why this person is the authority on whatever topic they’re writing about. 

    HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

    Video is a great way to increase page time and boost engagement. (Image via Unsplash)

    2. Embrace video content

    In the spirit of this quality-over-quantity trend, video is fast becoming a highly effective content tool. Video is a great way to increase page time and boost engagement — TechCrunch reports that, by 2021, a whopping 82 percent of all consumer IP traffic will be video. 

    But once your video content is good to go, don’t forget to optimize it. You can optimize your videos by:

    • Deciding whether to host it on another site or on your own (this will depend on your goals)
    • Choosing an engaging thumbnail image
    • Creating a thoughtful title and meta description
    • Optimizing the page the video is hosted on
    • Investing in paid ads for promotion
    • Including captions within your video

    3. Focus on high-quality content

    In case you didn’t already know: if you’re churning out page after page of content, promoting it, then moving on, you’re doing it wrong. When it comes to SEO best practices, it’s far more beneficial to refresh your old content as well as create new, quality content that’s comprehensive. 

    If your current strategy is to post for the sake of posting, go ahead and throw that plan away. Instead, pivot your plan to include regular refreshes of existing posts to make them more valuable, whether that means updating stats, including new quotes, or adding the latest developments related to the subject.

    While keywords are crucial, the quality of content is becoming more important as the algorithm becomes more sophisticated. It’s a good idea to use variations of the keyword as well as associated keywords and language related to the topic of your content. 

    Pro tip: Look at what type of content ranks best for your topic, then create something even more valuable.

    4. Prioritize mobile-first indexing

    The masterminds at Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2018. Before this, Google was crawling and ranking the desktop version of a website.

    But with the increasing rate at which people are searching for things on their cellphones, it became clear that using the mobile version would be the best way to help the majority of their users ensure they’re getting the best results.

    So, what does this mean for you? Your site has to look sharp on mobile to rank well. That means no wonky formatting, no slow page loads, and no weird margins that make reading or scrolling nearly impossible.

    Do a spot check on your pages by pulling them up on your mobile device to see how they’re rendering. If you don’t have a mobile-responsive site, it will continue to pull your desktop version, but this leaves you more prone to a sub-par user experience and search engine results page (SERP) ranking.

    5. Make sure your site is up to speed

    Speed is a vital part of good SEO practices. Even though research shows that people will bounce from a site within about 10 seconds or so if you don’t catch their attention, many sites still suffer from slow page-load times.

    Images and video are two features that can affect page speed since these tend to be larger files. More — and larger — files mean more HTTP requests, which means more load time. 

    Make sure the files you’re uploading aren’t bigger than necessary (they don’t need to be magazine-quality high-res photos to look good on your site). And consider enabling compression, so your files are compressed (aka smaller) and take less time to load.

    Enabling browser caching can also help, as this means the page isn’t loading completely from scratch each time it’s visited.

    HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

    Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform better than those without. (Image via Unsplash)

    6. Don’t underestimate good visuals

    Visuals don’t just catch the reader’s eye — they help bring your content to life. Our experts recommend using at least two images per blog post, whether that means photographs, well-designed infographics, or something else.

    But don’t just slap a couple of free stock images into your copy and call it a day. The images you choose should make sense for the topic you’re covering, and the look should feel in line with your brand, even if you’re using stock imagery.

    By now, you probably know what’s coming next: optimizing!

    Once you’ve found some high-quality photos and compressed them to the proper size to keep your page speedy and your formatting on point, make sure to include proper alt text that corresponds to the image. This is what will show up if someone has images disabled on their device, or potentially if they hover their mouse over the image. Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform even better. 

    7. Monitor your reviews

    Brand sentiment is part of what the algorithm takes into consideration — not only for Google but for other review sites like Facebook as well. Because of this, it’s important to keep a close eye on your reviews across various sites, and even consider setting up alerts so you’re notified daily or as soon as a new one hits.

    Negative reviews should be publicly addressed, if possible, as long as the comment seems authentic and not like spam (you should be able to tell the difference). Do what you can to turn this disgruntled customer’s opinion around — it could be as easy as:

    • Offering a refund
    • Getting them on the phone with a customer service rep to sort out an issue
    • Talking to them when they’re less fired up, reminding them there are people behind your brand
    • Apologizing for a miscommunication, misunderstanding or mixup, which could result in the person deleting their negative review entirely

    But don’t just respond to the negative reviews — acknowledging and thanking someone for a positive review makes your happy client feel seen and valued. And, as we know, word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools around.

    HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

    HawkSEM client cdljobs.com’s featured snippet on Google’s SERP.

    8. Keep featured snippets in mind

    It seems like featured snippets (also known as answer boxes) are all the rage in SEO these days. Featured snippets are usually found in the space between paid search ads and ranked results, sometimes accompanied by an image or video. 

    Featured snippets are a SERP feature that often shows up when someone asks a question in the search box — the snippet result usually includes what the algorithm deems the most relevant answer.

    Similarly, Google’s Knowledge Graph panel boxes will often appear on the SERP when you search for people, places, and things. It can be tough to get a featured snippet or knowledge panel spot, so see what those who land those spots are doing and how you can emulate them in a way that makes sense for your business.

    9. Look into structured data

    To help search engines understand what a post is about, the major players (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex) banded together to create a structured data language called Schema.

    Schema is a type of vocabulary with tags you can add to the HTML markup of your web pages and emails.

    One of the biggest benefits to Schema is that it can enhance the snippets that appear below your page title on the SERP. It allows you to add enriching content like a publish date or rating, rather than simply the meta description. 

    10. Own and manage your backlinks

    Oh, backlinks — so valuable and yet so elusive. While there’s no real shortcut to getting quality backlinks, by putting in the work, it’s still possible to begin seeing SEO-boosting results. The first step is to measure up your site’s current backlinks, then compare the results with those of your competitors. 

    Sites that will link to your competitors are likely to link to you as well — if your content is optimized, high-quality, and relevant (it’s also a good idea to link to relevant, high-authority sites). When reaching out about backlink opportunities, it’s key to prioritize personalization, show the value you’re offering, and focus on building a relationship with this business, not just asking for a favor out of the blue.

    Take things to the next level by partnering with other high-authority brands upfront during the creation process — they’ll feel more involved and may be more likely to link to the post once it’s live.

    HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

    Voice search is predicted to encompass half of all online searches by 2020. (Image via Unsplash)

    11. Keep an eye on voice search

    Forbes predicted that voice search would dominate SEO in 2019 and encompass half of all online searches by 2020. The appeal of being able to search without using a screen is understandable — you can get answers and find information while doing other activities like cooking or driving.

    The concept isn’t new, but household technology devices like Google Home have taken the trend to a whole new level.

    Optimizing your site for voice search is a whole ‘nother ball game — but it can be done. Along with ensuring it loads quickly, you can optimize for voice search by:

    • Making sure your site is mobile responsive
    • Including longtail, natural-sounding keywords
    • Prioritizing featured snippets
    • Keeping copy concise and digestible
    • Having strong local SEO (like a thorough and accurate Google My Business Page)

    While the voice-search space is still developing, early results show that prioritizing this search type can yield better brand awareness, revenue, and more.

    The algorithm’s goal is to help people find answers and resources they need. By implementing the above best practices, not only will your site become easier to find, but you’ll be able to better connect with users and customers who can benefit from what you have to offer. 

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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