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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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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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.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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    Written by Sam Yadegar on Sep 18 , 2020

    Paid search and SEO are key to building a solid digital marketing strategy — and they’re even better together. 

    Here, you’ll find:

    • Reasons to have both paid search and SEO in your marketing plan
    • Ways SEO and paid search complement each other
    • How leveraging both can increase ROI
    • Ways these strategies can be integral to overall campaign success

    Paid search (also known as pay-per-click or PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) are two sides of the same coin. While paid search targets those searching for keywords related to your business through ads on the search engine results page (SERP), SEO ensures your website, content, and social profiles are poised to rank well in organic search results.

    While each of these strategies can be effective on its own, pairing them together is an effective way to build a strong digital marketing foundation for your brand. 

    So, how can paid search and SEO work together? For starters, each initiative should be deployed consistently and with cohesive messaging. After all, creating ads that look and sound nothing like your website may confuse visitors and cause them to bounce. It’s up to you to make sure they fit together smoothly instead of working in silos.  

    The good news: By proactively making the paid and organic components of your search engine marketing (SEM) work together, you can speed up your campaign optimization and boost ROI. 

    1. Test new keywords

    Keywords are the pillars of both SEO and paid search marketing strategies. You can use the same keywords for both. However, when the time comes to add new search terms to your campaign, testing them with SEO tactics can be time-consuming and labor-intensive (like writing new content and regularly updating existing posts).

    On the flip side, testing new keywords with PPC ads is quicker and, often, easier. Creating an ad with a new keyword and monitoring results can take less than a week. With SEO, it could take months to have enough data to glean real results.

    As soon as you see how well a keyword is doing with paid search, you can decide whether it could work for your SEO campaigns and projects.

    2. Retarget visitors

    After a decent amount of time and effort put towards SEO, you could see this work paying off handsomely by attracting more and more visitors to your website. However, data show that only about 2% of them will convert after the first visit. 

    The last thing you want is to provide valuable content only to have potential clients use this knowledge for buying products elsewhere. To avoid this problem, you can take advantage of retargeting, also called remarketing. 

    When a user leaves the website, you can inconspicuously attach a piece of code to “cookie” or anonymously track them. As these visitors go to other websites, your ads appear to guide them back to your landing pages, which ups your chances of converting the lead. 

    paid search and seo together

    Paid search marketing can give an SEO campaign the push it needs, since the latter can take several months to show significant results. (Image via Unsplash)

    3. Cross-analyze data

    Both SEO and paid search tactics give you a variety of data to work with.This data is crucial to campaign success because it can illuminate what’s working and what’s not, so you can iterate and make updates accordingly. 

    You can analyze the same metrics from both campaign types, including but not limited to:

    • Time spent on website
    • Conversion rate
    • Click-through rate
    • Local conversions

    By using this information and conducting A/B tests, you can figure out which keywords work best and how effectively you’re targeting your buyer persona. And, while it’s possible to analyze metrics for each campaign separately, doing it together can give you more valuable and detailed insights.

    4. Dominate the SERPs

    Some companies feel tempted to stop their paid search marketing campaigns once they manage to rank high in organic search results. But even if your website is proudly sitting on page 1 of the SERP, paid ads will always be higher up on the page, increasing your chances of visibility.

    You can dominate the first page of Google in more than one way by:

    • Implementing regular content updates
    • A/B testing your PPC ads
    • Taking advantage of retargeting 
    • Optimizing content for the SERP features

    When consumers see the same website on top of the SERP and in the ad, they tend to consider it credible. In this case, SEO and PPC complement each other perfectly, with SEO picking up where paid search left off.  

    5. See faster results

    Paid search marketing can give an SEO campaign the push it needs, since the latter can take several months to show significant results. You may already have a high-quality, well-structured website filled with valuable content. But things like domain authority, high-traffic blogs, and strong social followings usually take a while to gain momentum. 

    PPC ads can bring more visitors to your website in less time than with SEO alone. This information allows you to tweak your SEO campaigns while improving the bounce rate and dwelling time to rank higher on Google.  

    6. Enhance SEO content through PPC ad copy

    The tactics that work for your paid search marketing campaign can often work for SEO as well. The best part about PPC ads is that you can get first results (even if it’s just analysis) quickly.

    Once you see which PPC ads bring the most conversions, you can get valuable information about what type of content, title tags, and meta descriptions to use for your website.

    And with PPC ads, it’s easy to split-test your work. By testing several types of ad copy, you can understand what works for both the ad and what could work on your website.  

    rowing teamwork

    Paid search and SEO complement one another, improve your bottom line, and help your overall program succeed. (Image via Unsplash)

    7. Learn more about your target audience

    Paid social media ads are another effective way you can gain insight into the way your target audience feels, thinks, and acts.

    One great thing about social media advertising is the target options available on the various main platforms. You can get hyper-specific about who you want seeing your ads (like middle-aged luxury car owners who live in Chicago and love fishing, for example). When you analyze data from these campaigns, you can discover new information about the target audience and use it for both your future PPC and SEO programs.

    8. Optimize your budget

    Using PPC and SEO together doesn’t just enhance your overall marketing efforts. It can also help you cut costs, generate additional revenue, and save time. 

    Leverage both of these in tandem by:

    • Cutting content creation costs by testing keywords with PPC ads
    • Generating revenue with PPC conversions while the SEO campaign is gaining momentum
    • Saving time on keyword search by using the same keywords for both campaigns
    • Speeding up your SEO campaign with PPC retargeting and lead generation efforts

    The takeaway

    Paid search and SEO don’t only coexist well, but they can enhance one another with results greater than the sums of their parts. In this way, they complement one another, improve your bottom line, and help your overall program succeed. 

    By learning how to make these two strategies work together, you are giving your marketing campaign a powerful boost. Want more PPC or SEO expert insights? Get in touch.

    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 May 14 , 2020

    “SEO is like a resume: you polish it so you have your best foot forward.” – Matt Cutts

    Here you’ll find:

    • Why guarantees don’t exist
    • The most common SEO myths
    • Why more isn’t always better
    • Ways SEO is like a muscle

    When it comes to digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) is on the front lines. And for good reason: every good marketing manager knows SEO is a key part of your overall program and initiatives. 

    But with all we know about SEO myths, misunderstandings still abound. Let’s debunk a few of them to get a good idea of what SEO is — and what it isn’t.  

    HawkSEM: seo myths blog

    The moment you stop your SEO tactics, everything you’ve achieved so far starts evaporating. (Image via Unsplash)

    Myth #1: SEO guarantees top search engine rankings

    Truth: While search engine optimization tactics can help you get to the first search engine results page (SERP), guarantees simply don’t exist. SEO is only one part of the SEM strategy. Without other components like pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, it’s hard to achieve tip-top results.

    SEO is an ongoing process, which may take months to show any significant results. Even then, you may not get on top of the first SERP. However, with the right approach and a well-thought-out strategy, it’s possible to achieve high rankings.

    Myth #2: Once you achieve desired results, SEO is complete

    Truth: The SEO process is ongoing. The moment you stop your tactics, everything you’ve achieved so far starts evaporating.

    SEO is like a muscle. As long as you keep at it consistently, it stays strong. Once you stop flexing it, the muscle mass begins losing strength — often faster than it was gained.

    New SEO trends and updates appear almost every month. Without following them and adjusting your efforts accordingly, it’s impossible to maintain high rankings.

    Myth #3: SEO is a cheating tactic

    Truth: One of the most pervasive SEO myths is that search engine optimization is just a way to cheat Google so your website ends up on the first SERP. The fact is that there are certain “quick-win” tactics that people will use to try to leapfrog into higher results. These methods are referred to as black hat SEO, and their efficiency is quickly approaching zero.

    Highly advanced Google algorithms can now identify black-hat techniques like keyword stuffing, poor content, broken links, and much more, rendering them nearly obsolete. What’s worse, employing these tricks may get your site penalized or have your pages disappear from results altogether. Basically, it’s not worth the risk. 

    After all, search engine optimization is about making your website highly valuable to your audience and leveraging ethical, white hat tactics. These include targeting a human audience, publishing images with alt tags, and following other suggested search engine guidelines.

    Myth #4: SEO is cheap

    Truth: Achieving top-notch results with little investment of budget or time is nearly impossible in most niches. SEO isn’t an exception. Search engine optimization requires continuous investment. Any solutions offering a high-impact return at a low price point (whether that means dollars or effort) are likely short-lived, ineffective, and often against guidelines.

    As we mentioned, it can take time to see significant results with SEO. But by investing the time and money it takes to ensure your site is optimized, your content is high-quality, and your website as a whole can be viewed as trustworthy, you’ll be poised to see results that will be worth it.

    HawkSEM: seo myths article

    Remember the muscle comparison: It’s impossible to get a huge bicep after two workouts, no matter how long and rigorous they are. (Image via Unsplash)

    Myth #5: It takes forever to see SEO results

    Truth: Speaking of time, the time it takes for SEO to start working depends on how you begin. If you already have a well-designed website, high-quality content, and a smart backlink strategy, the effect may become visible in a few weeks.

    Some tactics that help you see fast results include using low competition keywords and optimizing metadata.

    If you’re starting from scratch, that’s fine! Just manage expectations and don’t fall for the SEO myth of expecting results to be immediate. Remember the muscle comparison: It’s impossible to get a huge bicep after two workouts, no matter how long and rigorous they are.

    Myth #6: SEO is all about keyword search  

    Truth: Some people believe that SEO boils down to doing a high-quality keyword search and sticking these keywords into the content on their websites.

    While keywords and content are the pillars of SEO, they’re hardly the only components of the strategy. Search engine optimization works with website speed and design, backlinks, mobile-first indexing, social media, security, and much more.

    Myth #7: Buying links boosts your ranking

    Truth: Buying links is a black hat SEO technique, which is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you buy links, they may boost your rankings for a while. But eventually, the search engine will catch on and slap your website with a penalty.  

    Recovering from such a punishment may take months. It will also hurt your entire marketing strategy.

    It’s worth noting that several legal ways to “buy” links exist. For example, paying a website for posting your content (guest post) with a link inside is perfectly within regulations. But keep in mind that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a respectable website that will post poor content, so you need to keep the quality high whether the content is on your site or another.

    Myth #8: The more backlinks you have, the better

    Truth: With backlinks, ignore SEO myths that say that quantity matters more than quality. Google focuses on the authority of the page that links to your website. Links from well-respected websites are much more powerful than links from no-name or spammy sources. The backlink should, of course, also be relevant to the content you’re posting.

    SEO experts can devise strategies for garnering high-quality backlinks. While getting them might take time, one high-quality backlink can be more powerful than its 50 low-quality counterparts. 

    Myth #9: High-volume keywords are all you need for achieving high rankings

    Truth: Sure, high-volume keywords are appealing to you… and everyone else in your industry. That’s why the competition for them is fierce. If you focus solely on these keywords, you’re more likely to get frustrated and have difficulty rising through the ranks.

    Using high-volume keywords is an essential part of your SEO strategy, but it’s hardly the only one. Low competition and long-tail keywords could bring you impressive results as well, so try focusing on those. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

    hawksem blog: seo myths

    Know how to spot SEO myths and misinformation so you know you’re on the right track. (Image via Unsplash)

    Myth #10: Long content ranks better

    Truth: Long content ranks better only if it’s valuable. If you can write a 500-word article full of high-quality information and include keywords organically, go for it. Google doesn’t check for the length of your content — it checks for relevancy and value.

    Aiming for a higher word count could lead to adding fluff and making your articles downright boring, leading to a higher bounce rate. Sure, longer content has more room for internal links and keywords, but at the end of the day, it’s about how valuable the content is, regardless of the length.

    Pro tip: Though there’s no magic SEO word count you want to hit, it’s worth noting that you want to steer clear from thin content. This type of content is defined as “content that has little or no value to the user,” according to Yoast. They add that Google considers low-quality affiliate pages and those very little or no content as thin content pages.

    The takeaway

    Search engine optimization is a complex marketing strategy. To understand how it works, you need to be able to see through the common myths. If you’re trying to implement SEO tactics on your own, you want to be careful with the information you use as guidelines so you know you’re on the right track.

    Many SEO myths stem from the lack of knowledge about the latest updates. Staying on top of the current SEO trends and exploring Google algorithms can help achieve the results you seek.

    Need help creating a top-notch myth-free SEO strategy? Let’s chat.

    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 Apr 23 , 2020

    Make sure your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is primed for success in 2020 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 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 (and should be) an ongoing process.

    The good news? There are SEO best practices you can start putting into place now that’ll set you up for success months and even years down the road. These methods will not only help ensure you’ve got top-notch SEO, but they’ll add value to your overall brand while helping illustrate to prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

    SEO includes both on-page (elements on your own website) and off-page (which comprises 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 ensure your site is getting as much exposure as possible.

    Let’s dive in.

    15 SEO Best Practices for Success in 2020

    It’s a good idea to give your website a “wellness check” once a year at least. (Image via Unsplash)

    1. Plan for regular “wellness checks”

    There are multiple factors that go into making sure your site is optimized for the search engine results page (SERP). That’s why it’s a good idea to give your website a “wellness check” once a year at least.

    As we’ve mentioned before, you can seek out a website grader tool that’ll instantly tell you how your site’s SEO stacks up.

    During this SEO wellness check, you’ll want to check for things like:

    • Page titles (ideally 70 characters or less)
    • A site map for easy navigation
    • Relevant meta descriptions (ideally 300 characters or less)
    • Headings and subheadings on blogs and other pages
    • Dead-end pages (broken links that route to empty 404 pages)

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

    2. Conduct a content audit

    There’s no single “right” way to conduct a content audit. The aim of this practice is to analyze your content. With an audit, you can identify old posts, high-performing pieces, duplicate content, and everything in between.

    Creating a spreadsheet is the easiest way to conduct an organized content audit. This spreadsheet should have categories for:

    • Content title
    • Content type
    • Author
    • Date published
    • Keywords
    • Meta description
    • URL
    • Word count
    • Traffic

    You can uncover lots of insightful SEO data through this type of audit. It’ll show you which content could use a refresh, which pieces need to be optimized, any duplicate content that could hurt your SERP ranking, and which pieces aren’t getting you any traffic whatsoever. This will also help you identify top traffic drivers that you’ll want to work to expand upon or replicate.

    If you have a high volume of content (and not a lot of time to gather this info manually), you can use Google Analytics or SEMRush to help you gather the URLs and other info you need to perform the audit.

    Pro tip: A content audit can also help identify topic gaps you can fill via new content. Which topics 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.

    3. Create (or update) your content strategy

    The best content strategy is one that’s not set in stone. Here’s why: 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
    • Target personas
    • Tactics
    • Creation process
    • Projects

    Your strategy could also map out how often you plan to publish content. Some content strategies even include content creation checklists to ensure each published piece is optimized before it goes live. 

    Optimized content has elements such as:

    • Subheadings
    • Title tags
    • Internal and external links
    • Meta descriptions
    • Sentences and paragraphs that are easy to digest
    • Images with alt text
    By providing proper attribution, you can effectively illustrate why this person is the authority on whatever topic they’re writing about. (Image via Unsplash)

    By providing proper attribution, you can effectively illustrate why this person is the authority on whatever topic they’re writing about. (Image via Unsplash)

    4. Prioritize E-A-T

    These days, Google’s algorithm is all about authenticity. These parameters have been 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 left in the dust.

    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.

    When it comes to trustworthiness, ask yourself if your overall site looks trustworthy, if there are quality backlinks related to this topic, and whether or not the reader has a reason to trust that the author knows what they’re talking about. If you answer “yes” to all, then you’ll know you’re covered.

    5. Embrace video content

    Video is fast becoming a highly effective content tool, and it’s 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 following SEO best practices such as:

    • 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

    6. 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.

    7. Make sure your site is up to speed

    Speed is a vital part of following SEO best 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.

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

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

    8. 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.

    9. 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 — 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.

    10. 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.

    11. Look into structured data

    Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex banded together to create a structured data language called Schema that helps search engines understand what a post is about.

    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.

    Backlinks are like endorsements — they help illustrate to Google that your site is legitimate and valuable. (Image via Unsplash)

    Backlinks are like endorsements — they help illustrate to Google that your site is legitimate and valuable. (Image via Unsplash)

    12. 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.

    There’s no secret to getting good quality backlinks, but 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)

    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.

    13. Stay in the SEO best practices loop

    The rules surrounding SEO best practices are ever-evolving. Because of that, keeping up with the latest updates and changes can seem like its own full-time job. That’s where an SEO newsletter comes in. Instead of taking the time to research, you can work smarter (not harder) and let the latest news come straight to your inbox instead.

    There are plenty of SEO newsletters to choose from, and you may even be able to find one that applies specifically to your industry. Moz Top 10 is a popular newsletter that sends out the 10 most valuable pieces of SEO content every two weeks. The newsletters from Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal are worth subscribing to as well. (P.S. Hawk has one, too!)

    14. Keep an eye on voice search

    Forbes predicted that voice search would 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.

    15. Track your progress

    Having goals is only half the battle — you also need to be tracking your progress. This keeps you on the right path and can shine a light on how and when you should be iterating your processes.

    Keep an eye on your monthly ranking status and any new backlinks you accrue. This also allows you to quickly see when to disavow links that might be spam, which can hurt your SEO status. Disavowing a link basically tells Google to ignore the link in connection to your site.

    You can even monitor website speed as you add new content. Being able to evaluate your progress and efforts is key to your SEO success.

    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.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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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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