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Written by Sam Yadegar on Feb 15 , 2021

These tactics can help get your philanthropic organization in front of the right people at the right time.

Here you’ll learn:

  • Why nonprofits should prioritize SEO
  • Which tools to use for content ideas
  • How to adjust on-page SEO
  • Which website elements nonprofits should pay attention to

Strong marketing tactics have always been a key part of any nonprofit organization’s success. And now, with online and mobile giving becoming the preferred method for donors, nonprofit organizations are digging deeper into digital marketing. 

With smaller budgets and more modest team sizes, nonprofits often have to get creative and remain agile to stay afloat. Luckily, a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy can help bring awareness and site traffic to these orgs without breaking the bank. 

Nonprofit SEO isn’t drastically different from for-profit SEO. Often, the goal is to attract website visitors with high conversion potential. The only difference is that the nature of conversion involves donating and volunteering rather than buying.

Why do nonprofits need SEO?

SEO involves following a set of tactics to get your website rising to the top organic spots on search engine result pages (SERPs). For nonprofits, this strategy comes with a variety of benefits:

  • Competitive edge – SEO can be a low-budget marketing strategy that helps you compete against bigger organizations.
  • Visibility – These efforts help donors and volunteers find your organization on the internet.
  • Local attentionLocal SEO tactics allow you to reach local audiences that show interest and engagement through search behavior.

Besides attracting donors, high visibility can raise awareness about an issue, thus serving one of your nonprofit’s core goals: promoting social causes or advocating a certain standpoint.

Keeping the objectives in mind, let’s go over key SEO tips for nonprofits.

nonprofit team

The content you create can be repurposed and made into different types of media, thus keeping your marketing costs low. (Image via Rawpixel)

1. Make sure your website is user-friendly

Search engines pay special attention to the user-friendliness of your website. Besides creating an intuitive interface and using a thoughtful, easy-to-navigate design, don’t neglect these technical issues:

  • Page loading speed – Must be under 2.5 seconds.
  • Text readability – A top-notch content structure (smaller paragraphs, headings, sub-headers) can help you win the fight for competitive keywords.
  • Interactivity – Your website should respond to the user’s input in less than 100 milliseconds (according to Google’s Core Web Vitals ranking factors).
  • Mobile optimization – With 25% of donors using smartphones to make donations, mobile optimization is key. And since more than half of all searches are done on mobile these days, Google has adopted a mobile-first indexing strategy.

Pro tip: If your website is user-friendly, visitors tend to stay on it longer. This increases the “session duration,” which, according to some evidence, is a Google ranking factor.

2. Focus on your content

Content is king when it comes to nonprofit SEO efforts. But sharing valuable information doesn’t just bring donors to your website. It also raises awareness for your cause. Here are a few things to consider when writing content for your nonprofit’s website:

  • Check your previously written articles (if you have any) and make sure they include enough organic mentions of your keyword. (By the same token, don’t overdo the keyword inclusion — this is a blackhat SEO technique called keyword stuffing.)
  • Keep readers engaged by pairing your text with visual content, such as graphics, images, or videos. (In 2020, video was the #1 form of media used in content strategies.)
  • Diversify your content — common types include blogs, whitepapers, lists, and case studies. Don’t forget images and infographics for easier sharing on social.
  • Source content ideas from volunteers, donors, and competitors.
  • Aim to provide value and educate your audience with guides, how-tos, and downloadable templates if applicable.

Pro tip: The content you create can be repurposed and made into different types of media, thus keeping your marketing costs low.

3. Take advantage of free tools

An important advantage of nonprofit SEO is its reasonable budget. It’s possible to achieve many initial SEO content-related goals by using free or low-cost tools that are readily available online.

AnswerThePublic can help you learn what your target audience is interested in, with the aim to create high-quality blogs. You can also use BuzzSumo to discover what type of content is currently popular to find potential outreach opportunities.

Even if you have many content ideas for your website, SEO tools can help you figure out what will resonate most with your target audience.

Have more SEO questions? Connect with an expert

4. Work on your backlinks

If content is king when it comes to nonprofit SEO, link building is the queen. That’s because search engines pay special attention to websites that link back to your site. If credible, high-authority websites do this, your site is more likely to end up on the top of the SERPs.

There’s no “one weird trick” to getting quality backlinks, unfortunately. In our experience, the key to getting other websites to link to yours is creating highly valuable in-depth content. You can, however, speed up the process by using the following tactics:

  • Write guest posts for trustworthy, high-authority websites that allow adding a link to the writer’s bio or your website.
  • Share annual reports, hard data, and statistics collected by your organization.
  • Create highly shareable content like infographics.
  • Add social sharing buttons to each content piece.
  • If applicable, ask corporate partners, sponsors, and even other nonprofits to link to your website.

High-quality backlinks can be hard to acquire. But through consistency, they often yield excellent SEO results.

nonprofit volunteering

Besides helping volunteers find you, staying on top of local SEO can lead to additional partnerships and opportunities. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Implement local SEO

Potential volunteers are likely to turn to the web to find nearby nonprofit organizations to work with that align with their values. Your goal is to make sure your website is one of the first that they see on the SERPs.

Ways to increase your local visibility include:

  • Create a Google My Business listing so your website shows up in response to “near me” searches.
  • Register your nonprofit on Google Maps to make it easier for volunteers to discover your local offices.
  • List your organization in local directories to help your target audience find you.
  • Take advantage of local keywords when creating content for your website.
  • Create location-specific pages for each office, if applicable.
  • Try to get backlinks from local businesses, charities, and other nonprofits.

Besides helping volunteers find you, staying on top of local SEO can help you generate awareness in your community, which can lead to additional partnerships and opportunities.

6. Adjust your on-page elements

There are varying types of SEO: on-page, off-page, and technical. On-page mainly deals with the elements of your website. To make your site more appealing and optimized for search engines, make sure to keep these on-page elements in order:

  • Create a unique and relevant title tag for each page.
  • Create a well-written meta description (while it’s not a ranking signal, this description can impact click-through rates).
  • Include keywords in titles and meta descriptions.
  • Add alt text to images.
  • Make sure anchor text is accurate and descriptive.

The takeaway

Search engine optimization is one of the most efficient (and cost-effective) ways to generate traffic to their websites. By practicing top-notch nonprofit SEO, it’s possible to attract donors, find volunteers, and increase awareness for your cause.

Focus on high-quality content, backlinking strategies, and technical page excellence to start seeing the results you want. 

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 Sam Yadegar on Feb 4 , 2021

Think traditional SEO is all you need? Keep reading.

Here you’ll find:

  • What defines local SEO
  • Which businesses benefit from local SEO
  • Positive impacts of this SEO type
  • Steps to implement local SEO properly

Trying to increase traffic and conversion rates without local SEO is like trying to sell parkas during the summer in Florida. Not only is it very unlikely to be effective, but it displays a deep misunderstanding about the audience involved.

Local SEO is often undervalued. People frequently believe that it serves the same purpose as traditional SEO, or they mistakenly believe that it’s irrelevant for their business.  

The truth is that local SEO can do wonders for your brand’s overall SEO health. Let’s discuss basics, debunk some common myths, and determine how to make it work for you.  

Google Maps on iPhone

While many businesses may benefit from global traffic, they’re almost always more relevant in specific areas. (Image via Unsplash)

What is local SEO?

Basically, local SEO optimizes content to accurately answer locally relevant or location-based searches. For example, a California-based store appearing in results for someone searching “groceries” in Europe isn’t very helpful. This type of SEO uses area factors to rank higher in search results to target local audiences.

Which businesses should use local SEO?

All of them! While many businesses may benefit from global traffic, they’re almost always more relevant in specific areas. Many stores mistakenly try to reach the largest audiences instead of those most likely to convert. You could have a million website visitors in a single day, but if they’re overseas and you don’t process international payments, they’re not the right fit.

While service providers like plumbers and painters often don’t have physical locations, they typically operate within a set service area. Their potential customers will likely use local keywords when searching for them. Other service providers, like accountants and writers, may have virtual businesses. However, they may not be looking to take on international clients due to things like time zones, language barriers, and currency differences.

Pro tip: Despite the widespread belief that only physical businesses profit from local SEO, there are usually areas and local keywords that apply for all company types. Think about things like what you sell, where or to whom it’s most useful, who your ideal audience is, and what location has the most of that demographic. 

Local SEO facts and benefits

Many businesses ignore localized SEO because they’re unaware of its advantages. Let’s break down some key stats, findings, and benefits.

Statistics:

Top benefits:

  • Improved overall SEO
  • Higher Google’s results rankings
  • Increased traffic
  • Targets bottom-of-funnel consumers
  • Can result in more in-store sales
local business sign

Optimize your local SEO by maintaining exact address consistency across the web. (Image via Unsplash)

How to implement a successful local SEO strategy

A winning organic localized SEO strategy has two important components: Google My Business and organic search results. Let’s examine both and cover the best practices for each.

Google My Business listing

Google My Business (GMB) is a free service that allows you to create and manage a profile that Google displays in search results. This powerful tool provides detailed, easily accessible information, and conveniently facilitates contact right from Google.

When building your profile, use accurate and detailed information to create a comprehensive listing without information gaps. Proofread carefully and confirm that all info is error-free and displaying properly on Google. Don’t forget to update as needed if things like your hours or location change.

Pro tip: Virtual businesses don’t qualify for a Google My Business listing at this time.

Organic search results

Local SEO is just like traditional SEO with the addition of local keywords. Examples include things like:

  • City/state/country
  • Local landmarks
  • Local lexicon (pop vs. soda or inspector vs. detective)
  • “Near me”
  • “Closest”

While website content is obviously important, blogs aren’t your only option. Use whatever format feels most relevant to your business, website, and SEO goals. Content marketing alternatives include:

  • Local news and updates
  • Case studies
  • Webinars
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • How-to guides

Advanced local SEO insights

Some of our most advanced insights for using localized SEO include:  

  • Reinforce with repetition: Include your location and keywords metadata and geotag local images
  • Use citations to improve rank, visibility, trust, and prominence
  • Include content targeting rich snippet placement 
  • Leverage Google tools like Analytics, Search Console, and Keyword Planner to evaluate effectiveness, understand audience behavior, and identify high-traffic keywords  
  • Create detailed listings similar to GMB on directory sites like Angie’s List and Thumbtack
  • Get relevant local sites, area blogs, and news outlets to link to your site
  • Have an FAQ section on your site with info about your address, locations, or service areas, and include your full address in your site-wide footer

Pro tip: Optimize your localized SEO by maintaining exact address consistency across the web.

The takeaway

Google has made local SEO a powerful tool. Particularly if you have a physical business location, this can be an essential component of your well-rounded search optimization strategy overall.

Not only will leveraging these tips and tactics help improve your SEO profile, but it can do wonders when it comes to beating your local competition as well.

Need more SEO help or insights? We’d love to help.

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.

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jan 25 , 2021

Ensure your SaaS SEO strategy is on par for long-term success with these expert tips and insights.

Here you’ll find: 

  • What defines SaaS SEO 
  • The importance of SEO for these companies
  • Overcoming common SEO challenges
  • Ways SaaS brands can improve their SEO

Are you familiar with companies like Google, Slack, Shopify, Zoom, and Square?

Then you’re familiar with the software-as-a-service industry, or SaaS. 

With an annual growth rate of 18%, SaaS brands have become one of the fastest-growing business models in recent years. In fact, experts project the global SaaS workload will reach 380 million in 2021. 

Because of how quickly technology changes, goals and strategies often evolve quickly in the SaaS world. That’s why having a strong SEO strategy as part of your digital marketing plan is essential to stand out from the competition. 

SaaS SEO strategies

With SaaS being the competitive space that it is, an effective SEO strategy is imperative if you want to stand out. (Image via Unsplash)

What is SaaS SEO?

Of course, SEO is important for all businesses with an online presence. It helps your website and content have the best chance of ranking in a potential consumer’s organic search results. It’s also a cost-effective way to position your brand as a thought leader and grow your reach. 

The main goal of SaaS SEO is to increase your organic website traffic by securing high rankings for a list of relevant keywords people might use when searching for something that matches or is similar to what you offer. With SaaS being the competitive space that it is, an effective SEO strategy is imperative if you want to stand out. 

PPC, social ads, and affiliate marketing are often used by SaaS companies to rapidly grow their customer base, but it can sometimes result in higher acquisition costs. This is due to more competitors entering the market and targeting the same audience as your brand. A strong SaaS SEO strategy is a proven way to drive consistent traffic, which results in organic growth and lower cost-per-acquisitions (CPAs). 

The importance of SEO for SaaS companies

SaaS companies have seen a whopping 5,000% growth from 2011 to 2020, according to Scott Brinker’s Annual Martech 5000 analysis. With so many players vying for leads and attention across a variety of markets, it’s more important than ever to be sure that your SEO is where it needs to be. 

More than just helping your organic rankings, a strong SEO strategy can help you:

  • Scale your growth: When you focus on producing helpful evergreen content, you can reap exponential growth that will benefit your brand for years to come.
  • Reduce CPA: With paid media, such as all types of advertising or sponsorships, your CPA usually increases over time as most-likely to convert audiences are exhausted. While SEO requires ongoing investment, the costs rarely increase with each click. This results in reduced CPA over time.
  • Bring customers from other marketing channels: The SaaS content created for SEO purposes can also be used as part of other marketing strategies such as social media and email campaigns. Work smarter, not harder, by repurposing this content for a multi-channel approach that helps drive and convert consumers. 

Overcoming a common SaaS SEO challenge

To paraphrase Spider-Man, with great opportunity comes great responsibility. Most SaaS companies have robust tools at their disposal (not to mention unparalleled access to their customers). But working so closely with a tech product isn’t without its challenges, from outages to data breaches and plenty of unexpected setbacks in between. 

The same goes for SEO. One common SEO challenge SaaS companies face is consistently creating and optimizing high-quality content. Creating better content that provides consumers with more benefits is key to outranking competitors in the SaaS world. 

Taking the time to create engaging blog posts and product content that positions you as the expert will differentiate your SaaS brand from others. Tips for creating strong SEO content include:

  • Leveraging the right keywords
  • Ensuring your pieces are formatted thoroughly and consistently
  • Only publishing accurate, up-to-date content
  • Including engaging images or videos with your posts
  • Styling content in an easy-to-read way (with section headers, bulleted lists, and concise copy)
  • Including internal links along with external links to relevant, credible sites

Need more assistance with a digital marketing strategy for your SaaS company? We can help.

Tips for better SaaS SEO

The more time you spend on digital marketing for your SaaS brand, the more you realize things never stay stagnant for long. (Image via Unsplash)

5 SEO strategies for SaaS companies

1. Leverage knowledge centers

Along with an active blog schedule, it’s wise to consider having a knowledge center on your website. Similar to blogs, these centers often feature granular, in-depth content about your SaaS platforms functions and features. It’s a great place for tutorials, how-to videos, and screenshot-heavy walkthrough posts.

2. Promote your content

While creating engaging content is crucial, your posts shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. Prioritize backlinking, which helps improve search rankings through other websites and online sources. This tactic illustrates that others trust your brand. You should also have a consistent practice of content promotion, whether thorough paid channels, on social media, via your newsletter or all of the above.

3. Include tools on your website

Having linkable assets and helpful tools on your SaaS website is another proven way to build your linking strategy and improve SEO. Tools can include calculators, downloadable checklists, product comparisons, or other items that provide value to visitors and make sense for your niche. This is a tangible way to provide value to visitors while they actionably engage with your site.

4. Ensure mobile optimization

Mobile-friendly websites are no longer a “nice to have.” They’re a must. Having a responsive web design ensures your website will render and work properly, regardless of the device your customers use to view it. Not only that, but Google’s mobile-first indexing has made a mobile-optimized website a top factor for ranking in search results. 

The takeaway 

The more time you spend on digital marketing for your SaaS brand, the more you realize things never stay stagnant for long. Goals evolve, rules change, and new competitors crop up all the time.

Luckily, building a strong SEO foundation can set your brand up for long-term success, without the fear of having to scrap everything and start from scratch because of a new, unexpected industry development. 

The idea behind SaaS is to make it easier for people to solve problems. By maintaining your SaaS brand’s SEO, you can be sure that the solution you’re providing connects with as many members of your audience as possible.

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.

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Written by Caroline Cox on Dec 8 , 2020

Make sure your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is primed for success in 2021 and beyond.

Here, you’ll find:

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

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

…OK, so maybe I made that up, but the sentiment holds true. With the ever-changing algorithm and constant advances in technology, optimizing your website for search engine results is (and should be) an ongoing process.

The good news? Putting these SEO best practices into place now can set you up for success months and years down the road. 

These tactics will ensure you’ve got top-notch SEO and add value to your overall brand while showing prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

SEO includes both on-page (elements on your own website) and off-page (things like backlinks and social media) optimization. While you have more control over your on-page SEO, there are things you can do for both categories to get your site as much exposure as possible.

Let’s dive in.

HawkSEM: Best Practices to Boost Your SEO

Think of an SEO audit like a wellness check for your website. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Plan regular SEO audits

Multiple factors go into making sure your site is optimized for the search engine results page (SERP). That’s why it’s a good idea to conduct an SEO audit at least once a year. This process will give you a holistic view of where your SEO currently stands. 

The steps to conducting a thorough SEO audit are:

  • Perform a technical audit using a site-crawler tool
  • See what pages are indexed in search engines
  • Review mobile friendliness
  • Test page speed
  • Analyze on-site user behavior
  • Revisit your personas and audience
  • Conduct keyword research
  • Audit your content strategy
  • Analyze your link profile
  • Review backlink and internal linking strategies

There are other elements of your site that can affect SEO. Things like your domain’s security (especially if people log in or are asked to submit their info on places like landing pages), long-tail keywords, and compressed media files all go into creating top-notch SEO.

A content audit can also help identify topic gaps to fill via new content. Which themes related to your business have you not covered? Which related topics are your competitors outranking you for? 

Often, these chosen topics relate to the products or services your business offers. Narrow them down, then use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to determine the popularity and competition for these keywords.

Pro tip: Want an idea of where you stand before conducting a full SEO audit? You can leverage a website grader tool that’ll instantly tell you how your site’s SEO stacks up.

2. Create (or update) your content strategy

Speaking of content: The best content strategy is one that’s not set in stone. That’s because the more you create content, the more data you can gather, the more topics you can cover, and the more opportunity you have to optimize your site for search engines.

Your content strategy serves as a high-level look at your content goals and how you plan to achieve them. Plus, it’s one of the most effective SEO best practices you can adopt.

Whether you create a doc, a slideshow, or go old-school with pen and paper, your content strategy should include:

  • Goals
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Target personas
  • Tactics
  • Creation process
  • Projects

Your strategy should also include how often you plan to publish content. It’s also wise to have a content creation checklist to ensure each published piece is optimized and consistent before it goes live. 

Optimized content generally features elements like:

  • Subheadings
  • Title tags
  • Internal and external links
  • Meta descriptions
  • Sentences and paragraphs that are easy to digest
  • Images with alt text

3. Embrace video marketing

There are multiple reasons why video marketing belongs in your 2021 strategy. It’s fast becoming a highly effective content too, while serving as a great way to increase page time and boost engagement. HubSpot reports that 88% of video marketers reported that video gives them a positive ROI.

Once you’ve mapped out a strategy and created your first video, don’t forget to optimize it. You can optimize your videos by following SEO best practices such as:

  • Choosing an engaging thumbnail image
  • Creating a thoughtful title and meta description
  • Optimizing the page itself that the video is hosted on
  • Investing in paid ads for promotion
  • Including captions or subtitles within your video

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.

Then, in the summer of 2020, Google announced it would enable mobile-first indexing for all sites in search by April 2021. 

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.

Use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool or do a spot check on your pages by pulling them up on your mobile device to see how they’re responding and rendering. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly 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.

HawkSEM: Best Practices to Boost Your SEO

Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform even better — like, ahem, this one. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Get your site up to speed

Speed remains a vital part of following SEO best practices. Not only is it a factor in Google’s slated 2021 Core Web Vitals ranking rollout, but “a slow-to-load page can be a huge problem for bounce rate,” according to Search Engine Journal.

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.

6. Don’t underestimate good visuals

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

But don’t just slap a couple of photos 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 speed and 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. Because of this, it’s important to keep a close eye on your reviews across your Google My Business profile, Facebook page, and other various sites. 

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
  • Appealing to their emotions and making them feel heard
  • 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 — SEO best practices suggest 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.

8. Keep featured snippets in mind

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

Featured snippets are usually found in the space between paid search ads and ranked results, sometimes accompanied by an image or video. In 2020, Google made a few tweaks to featured snippets. These included testing multiple contextual links (which they later said was unintentional) and, in some cases, taking users straight to the blurb being referenced in the snippet when they click the link (sometimes with the featured text highlighted).  

While there’s no “one weird trick” to snagging a featured snippet, there are a few ways to prime your content for this spot on the SERP, such as:

  • Dating your content
  • Avoiding first-person language
  • Thoroughly answering a “why”-based query
  • Following the format of existing featured snippets
voice search - seo 2021

More than 4 billion voice search devices were used in 2020, and the figure is slated to double by 2024. (Image via Unsplash)

9. Examine your structured data

Structured data, also called Schema markup, is one way search engine bots crawling your site can understand your website content. This is an important part of healthy technical SEO: the better bots understand your content, the better your chances are of ranking in search results.

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.

In August 2020, Google announced that its rich results test tool would now support article structured data. According to Search Engine Land, this can help you better pinpoint structured data issues and potentially drive more traffic to your pages.

Pro tip: There are hundreds of Schema types. Those unfamiliar can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to add structured data to their sites.

10. Own and manage your backlinks

Oh, backlinks — one of those SEO best practices that’s as valuable as it is 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 vs. asking for a favor out of the blue.

Some ways you can encourage backlinks to your site include:

  • Publishing unique stats, research, or findings
  • Guest blogging on other sites
  • Leveraging industry influencers
  • Reaching out to sites with directories (like a site’s resources page)

While backlinks are important, it’s worth noting that — as SEO experts point out — it’s not necessarily a numbers game. Quality will win over quantity, and backlinks are just one of many ranking factors that search engines take into account.

Pro tip: A study from fall 2020 found that shorter content earns the most backlinks, so keep that in mind when crafting your link-building strategy. 

11. Keep an eye on voice search

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 smart-home technology devices have taken the trend to a new level. More than 4 billion voice search devices were used in 2020, and the figure is slated to double by 2024.

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 long-tail, natural-sounding keywords
  • Prioritizing featured snippets
  • Keeping copy concise and digestible
  • Having strong local SEO (like a thorough and accurate Google My Business Page)

The takeaway

The algorithm’s goal is to help people find answers and resources they need. By implementing the above SEO 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. 

Whether you’re fine-tuning your current strategy or starting from scratch, now is a great time to assess your goals, evaluate your current practices, and implement a stellar SEO plan.

Want even more expert tips to up your SEO game? Let’s chat.

This article has been updated and was originally published in September 2019.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 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 Oct 30 , 2020

Once you know these common search engine optimization (SEO) mistakes, you can take the proper steps to avoid them.

Here you’ll learn:

  • Some of the top SEO mistakes to avoid
  • Why you shouldn’t ignore technical SEO
  • A solid approach to SEO budget planning
  • Why SMART and OKR goal setting is great for SEO

The power of SEO is undeniable — data shows more than half of all website traffic comes from organic search. That’s why marketers work hard to implement all the available tactics at their disposal. 

But proper, well-rounded SEO is also highly intricate, involving on-page, off-page, and technical aspects. A more generic approach can lead to a variety of SEO mistakes that slow down the optimization process.

Once you know some of the most common SEO mistakes out there, you can be sure not to fall for them.

8 seo mistakes

Simply copying the competition’s strategy, especially with SEO, can be dangerous. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Expecting quick results

One of the most common SEO mistakes we see is the “need for speed.” Focusing on fast results usually undermines the entire SEO strategy, which leads to disappointment and mismanaged expectations. 

Depending on the condition of your website, the quality of content you publish, and the number of backlinks you garner, SEO can take at least four months to produce significant results. 

Pro tip: If you want quick output in the meantime, pay close attention to your paid search ads. They can help with lead generation while improving your SEO efforts.

2. Underestimating the cost

Don’t fall into the “too good to be true” SEO trap. Low-cost, high-quality, and fast-results SEO is the stuff fairy tales are made of. Anything from well-written blog articles and stellar SEO-friendly website design to proper competitor analysis calls for time and money investments. 

While it may not be as straightforward as your paid search budget, it’s worth factoring in funds for things like website updates, longform content designs, a social media manager, and a content agency partnership or content manager. As in most facets of your business, you get out what you put in.

3. Copying the competition

We’ve talked before about the importance of staying on top of what your competition is doing. Knowing which keywords they rank for, which backlinks they use, and which content they favor is the key to staying ahead. 

However, simply copying the competition’s strategy, especially with SEO, can be dangerous. Let’s break down a few reasons why.

Not seeing the full picture

When you’re simply copying what your competitors are doing, you could be missing the bigger picture. For example, some websites block SEO crawlers, so backlink reports you get are incomplete. If some backlinks are invisible to the tool you’re using, you could be copying an incomplete strategy, thus achieving worse results.

Google penalties

The other danger of copying the competition is not knowing how sustainable its strategy is. Your main competitor could have been achieving excellent results for a short time, only to be slapped with a Google penalty next month. The copycat will go down together with the culprit.

4. Using black and gray hat SEO tactics

Speaking of penalties, your competitors may or may not know the basic black-hat SEO techniques to avoid. Black-hat SEO tactics, which can be done purposefully or by accident, include publishing duplicate content, keyword stuffing, and using private link networks.

The thing about these risky SEO techniques is that Google knows all about them, and may ding your site if they catch you using them. After all, even if your intentions are good, search engines have no way of knowing it.

8 seo mistakes - team meeting

While you may be used to optimizing written content, don’t forget about photos, videos, and graphics too. (Image via Unsplash)

Pro tip: Search Engine Journal recently highlighted 8 on-page SEO techniques that Google hates. These include only optimizing for desktop, unnatural internal linking, and spammy website footers. 

5. Neglecting your technical SEO

We’re evangelists of technical SEO around here. That’s because we know it often gets ignored by marketers since it can be tricky to understand. But it’s too important to let fall by the wayside.

Technical SEO generally refers to things on your website like: 

  • URL structures
  • Page speed
  • Internal links
  • Site security
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Your site’s architecture and navigation
  • Meta data

Conducting an SEO audit can give you a good idea of where your technical SEO stands. From there, you can pinpoint areas of weakness and take the necessary steps to address any issues. 

Check out our webinar recording, The Importance of Technical SEO, for even more insight.

6. Focusing on search engines over customers

Even though SEO appears to be all about optimizing for search engines, that doesn’t mean they should be the only focus of your strategy. Google’s goal is to make search results as valuable to the user as possible. To make Google happy, it makes sense to adopt the same goal.

Writing for search engines may help you rise through the ranks temporarily, but it’s not the way to build solid SEO in the long-term. Instead, keep focused on educating your audience, providing a streamlined user experience, and publishing accurate content. 

7. Failing to set clear SEO goals

Aiming to nab the top organic spot on Google’s search engine results page (SERP) sounds like a good goal. But what good is a goal without a clear path to achieving it?

Before you hit the ground running on your SEO strategy, make sure to map out clear goals. Consider using SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed) goals to ensure the proper structure of your campaign. 

You can also take advantage of the OKR (objectives and key results) approach to break down big goals into smaller components.

8. Ignoring video SEO practices

This SEO mistake is common because SEO tactics for things like video are relatively new to the landscape. While you may be used to optimizing written content, don’t forget about photos, videos, and graphics too. (Especially since Google reportedly prioritizes websites with video content.) Videos can increase your clickthrough rate (CTR), reduce bounce rate, and create quality backlinks. 

Here are some ways you can make sure your videos are set up for SEO success:

  • Include an easy way for viewers to share the video
  • Include a target keyword in your video’s file name
  • Add closed captions or subtitles to videos with dialog
  • Choose an eye-catching thumbnail image 

The takeaway

Even the most experienced SEO specialists make mistakes here and there. Learning from them can help you streamline your SEO campaign and remind you to stay in the loop on the latest developments.

Need more assistance with your SEO (or PPC) efforts? We’re here to help.

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.

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Oct 9 , 2020

Having an SEO-friendly website benefits you, search bots, and your users. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • Why your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) matters
  • Elements that help search bots crawl your site
  • Why proper site structure is key
  • Expert tips to get an edge over competitors

Over the years I’ve spent scrolling around the internet, I’ve come across some websites that wowed me, and some that made me click that “x” in seconds. The same is likely true for you as well. And, while you may not have exactly known why, the reason probably had to do with SEO.

That’s because, along with making sites more appealing to search engine bots that determine how to rank sites on results pages, quality website SEO often improves the visitor’s overall experience. Whether you’re building a new site or have one that’s been around for decades and needs a refresh, this checklist can help ensure you’re working with a site that’s poised for peak SEO performance.

From a sitemap and title tags to easy navigation and more, here are the main elements every SEO-friendly website should have.

Your SEO-friendly website checklist

seo friendly site: sitemaps

Sitemaps help you target your SEO efforts and keep site navigation organized, intuitive, and simple. (Image via Unsplash)

✓ A unique title tag and description for each page

Each page on your site should have its own unique title and title tag. (The title tag is what pops up on your tab when you open a page, and it populates with your URL on the search engine results page, or SERP.) 

This way, you won’t have pages with the same title that are competing with one another on the SERP. A few best practices for coming up with page titles include:

  • Keep titles under 60 characters if you don’t want them cut off in search results (going longer isn’t necessarily bad for SEO, though)
  • Important keywords should be toward the front of the title
  • Don’t stuff or repeat keywords multiple times
  • The title should be a concise, accurate description of the page’s content

Speaking of page descriptions, these are just as important when it comes to your site’s SEO. Descriptions are basically the one-sentence explanation that adds context to your page title. Descriptions should generally be around 150 characters.

✓ A sitemap

Having a sitemap is key if you want your website’s pages to rank. That’s because a good sitemap helps search engines find, crawl, and index your content properly. 

Sitemaps help you target your SEO efforts and keep site navigation organized, intuitive, and simple.

There are two types of sitemaps:

  • HTML sitemaps: These sitemaps are geared towards helping visitors arrive at and navigate through your site. You need an HTML sitemap to make your site navigable and user-friendly.
  • XML sitemaps: Extensible markup language (XML) sitemaps are text files. They include all of your website’s URLs and metadata. XML sitemaps help search engine bots crawl your site more efficiently. It’s easier for search engines to pick up on changes and updates when you use XML sitemaps.

It’s recommended that you use both types of sitemaps to build a strong SEO-friendly website for readers and search engines. As a bonus: sitemaps can also help boost conversions. 

✓ A mobile-friendly experience

It’s tough to deny: these days, most people are using a smartphone to look up information and research products or services. So, all of those best practices we mentioned above won’t do you much good if visitors find your mobile site clunky or difficult to use.

Not only is having a fully mobile-friendly site great for users, but search engine giants like Google look favorably on sites that work well on smartphones and tablets. 

You can ensure your SEO-friendly website is also mobile-friendly by:

  • Conducting a mobile-friendly site audit
  • Using a responsive site design that creates optimum user experiences no matter the screen size or type
  • Checking Google tools like Google Search Console’s mobility usability report and Mobile Test tool to see how your current site stacks up
  • Placing links far apart so they’re easier to tap 
  • Enabling CSS, JavaScript, and image files
seo friendly site: site architecture

Site architecture is basically the way that your website is structured and how the pages are organized. (Image via Unsplash)

✓ High-quality content

You already know how the sales funnel works. Take a look at the top of your funnel (where you’re trying to attract leads) and see which keywords and topics are floating around up there. 

These are the topics that you should start building up blog content about. They may not be the exact keywords or topics that lead to your services (or product), but they will start pulling in an audience. 

If you’ve already got a solid content plan in place, congrats! The next step is creating a plan to regularly audit and update your content so you know that what’s published on your site is as thorough, accurate, and up-to-date as possible. 

Pro tip: Avoid trying to game the search engines through using black-hat SEO tactics. These are methods that claim to help you boost SEO faster through unethical, shady means. In reality, they generally work for a short period of time, if at all, and can result in being penalized by search engines and dropping in rankings. 

✓ Proper site architecture

Site architecture is basically the way that your website is structured and how the pages are organized. Just as with a sitemap, the easier your site is to navigate, the higher the chances your visitors will stick (and click) around.

Site architecture also helps search bots understand how to prioritize your pages — generally, the pages at your map’s root are deemed more important. For example: hawksem.com/blog would be given a higher priority than something like vs. hawksem.com/blog/this-is-a-blog-post.

Proper site architecture involves easy-to-understand URL structures (which we’ll get to below), internal links and anchor text, and minimalist navigation menus.

✓ Descriptive URLs

seo-friendly website: URL structure example

The structure of your URLs may seem like a small thing — you may not even give them much thought if your site host auto-generates them for you. But the fact is that URLs can have a significant impact on your site’s SEO.

Along with a title tag and description, your URL structure is another thing search bots look at to determine the content of a page. A well-named URL will include a short title showcasing what the page is about. It should include the relevant keyword, if possible, and hyphens instead of underscores, since bots don’t recognize the latter. 

seo-friendly website: site speed tips

Even the best-organized site with the most educational, insightful content can’t overcome poor site speed. (Image via Unsplash)

✓ Internal links

Internal links are just another way to help search bots determine the most important pages on your site. By linking to your own internal pages (such as a blog post that links to another relevant blog post, just to be super meta), you can also potentially keep visitors on your site for a longer period of time.

When adding internal links, it’s a best practice to link to anchor text that explains what the page you’re linking to is about, rather than using generic copy like “read more.” 

✓ Good website speed

Even the best-organized website with the most educational, insightful content can’t overcome poor site speed. Not only does this create a negative user experience, but it greatly ups the chances that someone will bounce from your site altogether. 

The good news: there are a handful of relatively easy steps you can take to improve site speed. These include:

  • Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to assess current page loading times
  • Compress your images and other multimedia content to the lowest size possible without sacrificing clarity
  • Improve server response times by choosing high-quality servers
  • Perform JavaScript and CSS optimizations (by minimizing them)

Site speed matters to search engines, too: it’s one of the many ranking factors these platforms take into account.

✓ Optimized images

Along with compressing your images to boost site speed as mentioned above, there are other things you can do to ensure your site’s images are SEO-friendly. 

One of the most important things you can do when adding images to your site is to include alt tags. This content explains to bots what your image is, since they can’t “see” the image itself. It’s also a great step towards making your site more accessible to those who are visually impaired. 

The takeaway

The process of creating an SEO-friendly website can involve some heavy lifting in terms of time and effort. But once you’ve gone through all the necessary steps, the maintenance is fairly simple.

After all, the key behind SEO website features is simplification. The easier it is to navigate your site, the more valuable content you have, and the fewer unanswered questions site visitors leave with, the more likely your website is to convert. 

Need more help with SEO? We thought you’d never ask.

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.

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Written by Justine Rabideau on Sep 21 , 2020

Here’s why technical SEO is a key component to your brand’s overall digital marketing success.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What technical SEO is
  • How to determine your current technical SEO health
  • Tips for improving your technical SEO
  • How strong technical SEO benefits your brand

If you’re a marketing pro —  and reading this right now — we’re going to guess you’re familiar with the concept of search engine optimization, or SEO. (And if not, you can find a full intro to SEO here.) But there’s a lesser-known part of this process that’s often swept aside: technical SEO. 

Technical SEO is just as important as things like content and on-site SEO. Arguably, it’s even more important, since it can be more difficult to understand and tends to be the piece that’s ignored by companies and marketing teams. However, if your technical SEO is in tip-top shape, you can see huge improvements in some of your most important SEO KPIs. 

In a survey by G2, enterprise brands named technical SEO as their most successful SEO strategy. Let’s dive into the most important steps for improving your website’s technical SEO health.

technical SEO tips

Google and other search engines have their own bots (also called “spiders”) they send out to crawl websites via the source code on your website. (Image via Unsplash)

Audit your current SEO efforts

To make sure your technical SEO is where it should be, you’ve got to take a step back and look at where it currently stands. Conducting an SEO audit is one great way to do just that. A proper SEO audit is a mix of a manual walk-through of your site coupled with the use of trusted tools, such as SEMRush and Screaming Frog, to find common technical issues.

Some issues auditing tools look for when crawling your site include:

  • Duplicate content
  • Broken internal links
  • Invalid robots.txt format
  • Non-secure pages
  • Slow page load speed
  • Multiple canonical URLs

Once you’ve done an audit to identify what needs to be fixed on your site, the next step is to start addressing these technical issues. These audits can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s a good idea to have an SEO expert and a web developer review and help you address the more technical issues that may arise from the audit. 

Pro tip: You should register your site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools if you haven’t already. These free tools are powerful in understanding technical issues on your website. 


Here’s a short clip from a recent webinar I hosted that delves into how to perform a technical SEO audit.
 

Understand how search bots crawl and index

Currently, Google has billions of pages in its index. Google and other search engines have their own bots (also called “spiders”) they send out to crawl websites via the source code on your website. But these bots don’t “see” web pages the same way humans do. 

Think that if you just produce great content, Google will find it, rank it, and traffic will come? Not quite. If a bot can’t find or understand your pages, even if your content is the best on the internet, it can’t rank in the search results.

Despite how powerful search engines are, their bots crawl a finite number of pages across the internet. Because of this, you want to make sure they’re crawling the most important, high-quality pages on your site — not wasting time on low-quality pages. This is referred to as “crawl budget.” 

Crawl budget is extremely key for larger websites. If you have thousands of pages, but your crawl stats show that Google’s only crawling a portion of them each day, it means they’re missing big parts of your site. You can improve your crawl budget by excluding crawlers from irrelevant pages. These could be: 

  • Admin or login pages
  • “Thank you” or confirmation pages
  • Paginated pages
  • Testing and development pages
  • PPC landing pages

Pro tip: Check which pages are indexed in search engines by doing a simple site:[website URL] search in Google. You can click through all the indexed results to see if a chunk of pages might be missing or if there are pages that shouldn’t be indexed.

Rich Results Test tool

If you already have structured data on your site, you can check if it’s working properly by using the Rich Results Test tool.

Implement structured data

One way to improve how bots understand your website content is through structured data, also called schema markup. This is important for SEO and to prepare for the future of search, as Google and other engines continue to personalize the user experience and answer questions directly on their search engine results pages (SERPs). 

There are hundreds of different schema types, and the best fit for your website depends on your product or service, industry, and the type of content you offer. Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper is a highly useful tool if you’re not familiar with structured data. It walks you through the steps to add structured data to your site, notes which items need to be marked up, and creates the HTML for you. 

Structured data is important because it can help you stand out in the search results and increases the likelihood of your site being shown in SERP features like Featured Snippets or People Also Ask, which can be hugely beneficial for your site. If you already have structured data on your site, you can check if it’s working properly by using the Rich Results Test tool.

Secure your site

The “http” in URLs stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and it allows for information to be passed between web servers and clients. The “S” stands for secure. If a website isn’t secure, any information a user inputs on the page (like their name, address, or credit card details) are not protected and can be stolen. 

On a secure website, the code is encrypted. This means any sensitive information cannot be traced. Having a secure site can give you a small ranking boost. Plus, web browsers like Chrome are getting more aggressive about letting users know if they’re on a non-secure site and could be at risk.

Check if your website is secure by looking in your browser. If your site has a lock next to the URL, it’s secure — if there’s no lock or it says “not secure,” then it’s not. Secure domains will also show “https” in the search bar, vs. just “http.”

Having a secure vs. non-secure site can be the difference between a user converting or not converting. If your website is secure, your audience can feel confident that their personal data is safe and that your brand is trustworthy. On the other hand, arriving to a site with warnings that the page they’re on isn’t secure may make users uneasy and cause them to bounce. 

Pro tip: Page speed is another current ranking factor that you want to stay on top of by making sure your site is fast to load (on desktop and mobile). It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with Core Web Vitals, as these are slated to become ranking signals in 2021.  

mobile-friendly vs. not mobile-friendly sites

Examples of sites that are mobile-friendly (left) and… not so much (right).

Ensure your site is mobile-friendly

Websites that aren’t mobile friendly can have extreme difficulty ranking well in search engines. A good rule of thumb is to have a responsive website instead of a separate mobile site. You can test your mobile friendliness by using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

But it’s not enough for a site to be simply mobile responsive. Your site should also have a positive overall mobile user experience. Mobile users are very fickle and will bounce quickly if they can’t find what they’re looking for fast. 

Making sure your site is optimized for mobile users is a step many marketers forget to take, since we’re so often working from desktops. Google Search Console can also alert you to any mobile usability issues like clickable elements being too small or content being too close to the screen’s edge.

Review your website architecture

We’ve highlighted the importance of website architecture for SEO before. Basically, its goal is to make navigating your website easy, clear, and intuitive while making it easier for search engines to crawl your pages. The main components of website architecture are:

  • Navigation 
  • Internal links
  • URL structures
  • Meta data
tiered navigation on Zappos.com

An example of tiered navigation on Zappos.com.

Navigation

Navigation is important for user experience as well as search engines. Search bots crawl links and your sitemap, but they also use navigation to determine how important certain pages are on your site.

Because of this, you want to make sure your important pages are linked as “tier 1,” or most important. Ideally, you don’t have more than seven tier 1 items unless you have a really large website, and I usually don’t recommend linking tier 4 pages and beyond in the navigation to avoid clutter.

It’s also important to have footer navigation that lives on every page of your site. That way, when bots are crawling, they’re crawling your footer links. It’s common to link your privacy policy, support page, local info, and social media profiles in the footer. 

Internal links

When bots are crawling your content, they’re following both internal and external links. Because of that, you want to use internal links to guide them to the important pages on your site. 

You usually don’t need to link to your homepage internally since it’s going be your highest authority page anyway. You should, however, link to internal content, such as product pages and blogs.

Also, be sure to use keywords in your anchor text instead of generic phrases like “learn more” or “click here.” Bots use anchor text to help determine the topic of the content you’re linking to.

URL structures

If your website host automatically creates URLs for you when you add new pages to your site, you may not think about URL structures much. But these structures are yet another signal that explains what your page is about to search engine bots. Check out these two examples:

  • https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120338/
  • https://hawksem.com/blog/b2b-paid-social-media-marketing-strategies/ 

Not to toot our own horn here, but it’s clear that one URL structure has a much clearer explanation of what a page is going to be about than another. Also, you should use keywords in your URLs when possible, and URL structures should follow your navigation’s structure (like how the above blog title comes after “/blog/” root category). 

Pro tip: Avoid underscores in your URLs. Bots ignore underscores and will think anything separated by an underscore is one long word, so use hyphens instead.

Meta data

Meta data refers to things like your site’s page title and meta description, which summarizes the page’s content. These elements can help your clickthrough rate when you follow best practices like:

  • Including keywords
  • Using pipes or hyphens to separate words
  • Keep titles under 60 characters
  • Keeping meta descriptions under 155 characters

The page title may cut off in search results if it goes too long, especially for mobile. It’s also worth noting that Google outputs the URL above page title now on the SERP. This is another reason URL structure is important and should be easy to read.

The takeaway

The more technical side of SEO can be intimidating. After all, it’s filled with code, jargon, and robots. 

But by getting a handle on your technical SEO, you can be confident that your efforts are more thorough, well-rounded, and poised for maximum search engine visibility.

Check out this webinar recording, “The Importance of Technical SEO” for even more insights. Need help with your technical SEO? Get in touch.

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.

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Jan 29 , 2020

    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.

    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 about performing a site migration 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.

    Pro tip: Looking for strategies to grow your organic traffic? We’ve got 14 right here. 

    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 (or your chosen SEO agency) 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 more than 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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