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Written by Caroline Cox on Jan 10 , 2022

Search engines like Google roll out algorithm updates approximately every day. These tips can help you be prepared.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to keep track of core updates
  • Ways to prepare for an algorithm update
  • When to start panicking (spoiler: never)
  • Tips to bring your rankings back up

For search engines like Google, the ultimate goal is to help users through surfacing accurate query results. 

This process, which was started by matching key phrases to a search query, has turned into a plethora of complex algorithms. 

Google and other search engines (like Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Yandex) are always trying to enhance the user experience — and keep the latest black-hat techniques from skewing results. As a result, major algorithm updates can roll out multiple times a year. 

Minor updates happen more or less daily. Sometimes, these updates will be announced. Other times, they’ll be reported on by industry publications, but not officially confirmed.

The problem arises when a tweak in these algorithms causes your rankings to plummet out of nowhere. While it’s not possible to completely safeguard your rankings from being affected by future updates, you can prepare yourself for the changes and adjust tactics quickly.

Let’s take a closer look at how to prepare for algorithm updates, and what to do if they tank your rankings.

How to track algorithm updates   

Google reportedly updates its algorithm once or twice a day. While most of these changes are minor, core updates — the bigger, more involved updates — can have a significant impact on your rankings.

Often, websites will see dramatic fluctuations as an update rolls out, and rankings will go back to “normal” once the rollout is complete. 

One easy way to prepare for an update is to know about the changes in advance. Since these search engine companies don’t always offer a heads up, it’s worth taking note when they do, such as with the Core Web Vitals update.

Some ways to stay in the loop about major algorithm updates include:

  • Subscribe to reputable digital marketing news resources such as Moz and Search Engine Journal.
  • Set up Google alerts to monitor the key phrase “Google algorithm update” on Google Alerts and send mentions via email.
  • Read Google’s Search Central blog to find out about upcoming algorithm updates. It’s also an excellent source of other important SEO-related information.
  • Follow key players on Twitter such as Google Search Central, Search Advocate John Mueller, and Google’s Public Search Liaison Danny Sullivan. You can also follow hashtags such as #GoogleAlgorithm or #BingUpdate.

If you miss a warning about an algorithm update, you could end up blindsided by its effect on your website metrics. When you’re aware ahead of time, you can be better prepared for ranking fluctuations.

person's hand holding smartphone on google search app

If you want to try to prevent your rankings from taking a dive, take a look at your current SEO strategy. (Image via Unsplash)

How to prepare for new algorithm updates

The bad(ish) news: When Google offers a heads up about an impending update, it’s probably going to be significant. The good news: Getting notice ahead of time means you can prepare.

For example, Google announced its Core Web Vitals update about six months in advance, so marketers had the chance to test and tighten up their sites before the update officially rolled out.

Another reason not to panic is that, as Search Engine Land explains, if you’re following the best SEO and content practices, your rankings probably won’t permanently suffer from updates. In fact, it may be just the opposite — these updates could improve your position on the search engine results page (SERP).

If you want to try to prevent your rankings from taking a dive, take a look at your current SEO strategy. See how well they line up with Google’s general recommendations for update preparations. These include:

When a major update rolls out, your website’s rankings may experience a hiccup. But resist rushing into making serious changes to your content, website structure, or linking tactics. 

Most likely, your standard efforts will be sufficient to bring your rankings back to normal shortly.

Pro tip: Seeing website traffic drops that don’t appear to be algorithm related? HubSpot explains various ways to diagnose and fix traffic drops.

woman at computer frustrated holding her head in her hands

If you aren’t sure what caused your rankings to plummet, look for patterns. (Image via Unsplash)

What to do when algorithm updates tank your rankings

OK, worse-case scenario: An algorithm update does end up hurting your rankings substantially. There are ways to bounce back as soon as possible. Here are a few tactics to keep in mind.

1. Study the update

While the common purpose of all updates is the same (to improve the accuracy of results for a better user experience), each one addresses specific problems. 

If the search engine does decide to share extensive details, you can get the information from official resources. If not, you can review what other SEO experts have to say about the update.

Knowing which pain points are addressed or what types of sites have been affected can help you make targeted changes to your content. You may luck out and only need to make a few tweaks.

2. Check the patterns

If you aren’t sure what caused your rankings to plummet, look for patterns. 

Did only certain content types or formats experience the decline? Single out the pages that were affected the most and figure out what they have in common.

In Google Analytics, you can navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages, set the period for the time when the update went into effect, and compare the data to previous periods.

3. Review old content

While your new SEO and content marketing tactics may be in tip-top shape, your old content may be inaccurate or outdated. That’s why we recommend conducting regular content audits to pinpoint which pieces, if any, need a revamp. 

Audits are a great time to check for things like duplicate articles, dead links, outdated data, and any black-hat tactics that need removing.

4. Conduct competitor analysis

If your rankings are dropping after an update, part of the reason could be that your pages are now being outdone by the competition. 

If it’s been a while since your last competitor analysis, a new algorithm update is a great time to revisit it. Not only can you see how and where they’re outranking you, but it may offer helpful inspiration for new things you can try (with your own unique twist, voice, and perspective, of course). 

5. Publish new content regularly

Valuable content is a key SEO pillar, and it’s a great way to work towards improving your rankings. 

If you already have excellent quality and value content practices in place, see how you can amp up promotion and even repurpose your most successful pieces.

For example, a popular blog post could become a webinar, or an exclusive data point could be built out into a social media post or even an infographic. 

The takeaway

While somewhat scary and unpredictable, algorithm updates have a noble goal in mind. What’s more, if you follow the best SEO and content practices, you shouldn’t feel their effects too drastically.

If you do see a rankings dip, hopefully you’ll feel prepared to find out what the update affected and how you can move forward to get your site back up where it belongs.

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 Sam Yadegar on Dec 27 , 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 search engine optimization. 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?

Local SEO is a way to ensure your content is optimized to accurately answer locally relevant or location-based searches. 

For example, a California-based store appearing in results for someone searching for grocery stores 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 belief that local SEO only benefits physical businesses, there are usually areas and local keywords that apply for all company types. Think about 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 Search results rankings
  • Increased traffic
  • Targets bottom-of-funnel consumers
  • Can result in more in-store sales

Pro tip: Google conducted a local search ranking update in early December 2021 that they say “involved a rebalancing of various factors we consider in generating local search results.”

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 Business Profile (formally known as Google My Business) and organic search results. 

Let’s examine both and cover the best practices for each.

Google Business Profile

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

You don’t need to rely solely on searchers using Google Maps to find local businesses. Apple Maps has been gaining traction lately since its newest updates rolled out. If your business isn’t already on Apple Maps, we suggest adding it ASAP. (The Google Maps advice below applies to Apple Maps as well.)

When building your profile, make sure you fill it out completely with the most updated info so you have a comprehensive listing. Proofread carefully and confirm that all info is error-free and displaying properly on Google. And 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 Business Profile 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 in 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 GBP 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. Whether or not you have a physical business location, this can be an essential component of your well-rounded search optimization strategy overall to help increase your online presence.

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.

This article has been updated and was originally published in February 2021.

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 Nov 12 , 2021

A content audit can ensure what you’re publishing is accurate, high quality, and relevant to your audience. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • What a content audit is
  • Why these audits matter
  • How to conduct an audit of your own content
  • Why regular content audits are key

You always want to be publishing the latest and greatest content. Not only does content provide value to your audience, but it helps illustrate that you’re a knowledgeable thought leader in your industry.

If you’re not conducting regular content audits, you may be doing your brand a disservice. Especially if you’ve got years of published content in your library, there’s likely information on your site that isn’t accurate or relevant anymore. 

We’ve done content audit exercises with several of our SEO clients and seen impressive results. One client actually saw a 61% bump in blog traffic alone after implementing changes uncovered during the content audit process. 

Ready to make a content audit plan of your own? Here’s where to start. 

creating a content audit spreadsheet

There’s no magic number when it comes to exactly how many words a quality piece of content should have. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Create a spreadsheet 

First off, crack those knuckles and pull up a new spreadsheet. (If you’re a “spreadsheet person,” you’ll love this part, but if not, you’ll get through it!) Then put all of your blog URLs into the spreadsheet. 

If you have a sitemap, you should be able to easily pull in the URLs from there. (If you don’t have a sitemap, we recommend implementing one for best possible SEO).

You can also head to Google and conduct a “site:” search for your domain. This should bring up all of the pages that are indexed in search results on your website.

2. Dig into the data

Now, it’s time to analyze your blog’s performance data. You can start by determining how many sessions each page had over the past six months or longer, depending on how much traffic comes to your site and how much content you have. 

You can do this using Google Analytics or your preferred analytics tool. Looking at how many sessions each post has will tell you how many people are visiting the page.

Next, see how many backlinks point to each page. You can use Ahrefs, SEMrush or other similar tools to gather that info. Checking out backlinks is important because not all posts are necessarily meant to drive traffic. 

There may be another reason you published a piece of content, and it may be benefiting you by earning high quality, high authority backlinks, even if it’s not necessarily driving traffic or visits. 

You may also find that there’s a big batch of content with zero or few backlinks and no visits. For these posts, you may want to ask yourself why this content is on your site, since it’s not providing any SEO value. 

By identifying that batch of pages, you can brainstorm ways to repurpose and make the most out of this content, since it already exists on your site.

3. Identify pages with “thin content”

There’s no magic number when it comes to exactly how many words a quality piece of content should have. 

Generally, longer content ranks better, but you shouldn’t be writing content just for the sake of hitting a certain word count. After all, it’s about providing value to the user, not beating the search engine algorithm.

Thin content is classified as pieces that don’t satisfy a user’s search intent. Pages with only 200-300 words probably don’t provide a ton of value to the reader (though there are exceptions, of course). Search Engine Journal reports thin content “can negatively impact your search rankings and on-site user experience.”

See how you can make this content more robust. Can you build it out and include related topics, or should it simply be removed for your site with the URL redirected elsewhere?

4. Look for posts with duplicate or similar topics

As time goes on, especially in niche industries, it can be hard to branch out into different topic ideas for your content. Even if you follow all the steps for keyword and topic research, it can get difficult at a certain point. 

This is especially true if a lot of people have worked on your site over the years. You might find you have posts that aren’t the same word-for-word, but that cover the same topic in a similar scope. 

For these posts, you can consider removing or combining them into one longform piece. Figure out which one is performing better or is better written, or combine both into one awesome piece that provides more value for your site. 

Want more content insight? Check out our 10 Steps to Creating a Content Strategy for SEO webinar recording.

content audit plan

It’s wise to keep a running list of posts that need to be updated on an annual basis so you don’t have to dig through and find the post later. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Identify posts with outdated content or older statistics

As more information becomes available, you want to make sure you’re updating these facts and figures in your content. Particularly in the digital marketing world, things change really fast. 

Think about it: If you’re searching around online and find a post from 2014 in 2021, you might think it doesn’t contain the most relevant or up-to-date info. 

See what posts contain data or statistics that have been updated, like results from an annual industry survey. You don’t have to totally rewrite the post, but once you update this info, make sure you mention that the post is updated or revamped. 

Adding a small note as the bottom of the content and updating the date it was published usually checks off these boxes.

6. Redirect posts as needed

Don’t forget to redirect posts removed from your site to avoid 404 errors. Depending on where you host your site, there should be a plugin that makes this relatively easy. 

If you find a bunch of pages that need to be removed, make sure you redirect those URLs either to the most relevant post or to the main blog page. 

You want to put redirects in place because you don’t want 404 errors or links to 404 pages. Unsurprisingly, Google isn’t a fan of having broken or dead links on your site.

7. Plan to repeat this process regularly

Digital marketing audits are never a one-and-done task. Usually, auditing your content once or twice a year is enough to ensure your content library is fresh and relevant. You can set a calendar reminder for accountability. 

The frequency for your company will depend on your bandwidth. This is a time-intensive exercise, depending on your content volume, but one that’s well worth it. 

It’s also wise to keep a running list of posts that need to be updated on an annual basis (like posts that reference the current year) so you don’t have to dig around to find the post later.

Need more help getting your content on track? That’s why we’re here.

The takeaway

Content audits are a great way to zoom out and get an overall picture of how your content is performing. You can see what’s resonating with your audience, what’s not, and what simply needs a refresh.

By prioritizing content audits, you not only set your site up for maximum SEO, but you can feel confident that you’re providing as much value as possible to your site visitors and content readers. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in August 2020.

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 Caroline Cox on Oct 18 , 2021

What is Schema markup? How does it affect your website’s SEO? We’re glad you asked.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What Schema is
  • How Schema markup affects SEO
  • Ways to implement and test your site’s Schema
  • Tips for pinpointing Schema errors

Picture this: You’re dining in a fine Italian restaurant, there’s not a global pandemic, and you’ve just been handed a menu. Sounds nice, right?

However, all the dish names are in Italian, and you don’t speak Italian.

Luckily, all the ingredients are listed below the dishes. Voila! Now you know what to expect, and can order accordingly.

This is how Schema works for your website. It tells crawlers (or diners, if we’re sticking with the above example) what a page consists of. This way, it can serve up that page in accurate search results. But how exactly does this affect your site’s SEO?

With help from our Director of Marketing Operations, Jenny Palmer, let’s dig in — bon appetit!

woman adding schema markup to a website

Snagging spots in rich snippets can put your content in the coveted “position zero,” which is shown above the top organic result. (Image via Pexels)

What is Schema?

Schema markup (also called structured data) essentially is a script added to the code on the backend of your website. This code helps crawlers, such as search engines, understand the content of what they’re crawling, according to Jenny.

As Yoast explains, major search engines — like Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo — developed this vocabulary together. As a result, they have a shared language to understand websites better.

If your page has a video, you can add Schema that will tell crawlers it’s a video, what the title and length are, as well as other details. It clearly defines a page’s content, which can go a long way to help your pages become eligible for rich results or featured snippets.

How does Schema affect SEO?

When crawlers can easily and accurately understand your site and its pages, that means those pages are more likely to surface in organic results accurately — no guesswork required. And visibility in organic search results is key for your SEO.

Not only that, but Jenny says snagging spots in rich snippets can put your content in the coveted “position zero,” which is shown above the top organic result. Some examples of rich results sections include: People Also Ask, recipes, ratings, videos, images, and more.

hanging string lights - google featured snippet

A look at featured snippets for hanging string lights on a deck (via Google)

How do you set up Schema?

If you’ve already got Schema markup on your site, you can test it with a tool like the Google Rich Results Tester. Alternatively, you can go to Schema.org’s structured data validator, paste the code or website directly, and it’ll let you know what Schema is on your pages, if any.

These tools can also alert you to any errors with your Schema. And other tools like SEMrush can help pinpoint pages with missing data. 

What Schema markup should I use?

There’s a Schema for everything under the sun, from industries to specific offers. Because of that, the best route is often to go through your site’s sections and pages to see which ones would benefit from Schema, such as product pages, reviews, videos, and FAQs.

According to Jenny, many content management systems — like WordPress — have easy-to-use Schema plugins. You can also manually write a JSON script (or have your agency do it for you). This is an info-storing programming language that stands for JavaScript Object Notation.

If you’re not familiar with it, inputting this markup seems like coding, which can be intimidating. Working with an agency helps because they can assist you in choosing the best markup for your site among the many options.

Pro tip: Google has a ton of Schema templates available so you don’t have to start from scratch.

How can I find Schema errors?

Along with using the above tools, you can identify errors via Google Search Console. 

google search console schema

Simply go to the Enhancements section, click “Review snippets,” and check out the chart that shows errors, valid markup, and what’s called “valid with warning.” This in-between signal lets users know there are potential errors that may be worth a second look.

If this is all a bit overwhelming, don’t fear! As a digital marketing agency, we can help you easily identify your best Schema options.

The takeaway

There’s no way around it: the search engine results page is a competitive place. That’s why taking advantage of all the features at your disposal, such as Schema markup, can help you gain an edge. 

While there’s no guarantee that adding this markup will make your rankings soar, it’s certainly one way to enhance your site SEO. Showing up accurately in search results can lead to more clicks, a bigger reach, and a more authoritative site overall.

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 Caroline Cox on Sep 28 , 2021

From keyword research to content promotion, here’s the 411 on creating a content strategy designed with SEO in mind.

Here, you’ll find:

  • The 3 pillars of a successful SEO content strategy
  • A breakdown of steps to follow
  • Pro tips to help you optimize your website content
  • How to create a plan for regular content revitalization
SEO Content Strategy: A Step-by-Step Guide

(Image via Unsplash)

Creating a content strategy is a much more in-depth process than sitting down, typing out a bunch of words, and posting it on your website. This is especially true when you’re designing it for maximum SEO impact.

But why does having an effective content strategy even matter? 

For starters, a good content strategy can increase your organic traffic from search engines, grow your email subscribers, and help expand your social reach. 

HubSpot data shows 70% of marketers actively invest in content marketing. Publishing content that engages users and addresses their pain points can boost your overall brand authority and help lift you over your competitors.

Below, we’ve broken it down into 3 pillars highlighting what to do before, during, and after creating your content for SEO success.

Pillar 1: Preparing to write your content

There’s a bit of legwork to be done before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). This stage is extremely important, so we advise not skipping it to rush right into the writing portion.

Understand your target audience

The first question to ask before you write any piece of content or start developing your overall content strategy is, who is my target audience? Who do I want to be reading and digesting this content?  

If you already have ideal client personas built out, that’s great! You’re one step ahead. If not, you can begin building them by considering your target audience’s demographic, such as:

  • Age range
  • Locations
  • Interests
  • Job titles 

If you use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, you likely have access to a lot of this data already. You can also find demographic and interest data in Google Analytics and within the analytics section of your social media profiles. 

If somewhere the data doesn’t match what you’d expect — if it looks radically different in your Google Analytics profile compared to your existing CRM, for example — you could be missing out on opportunities or speaking to the wrong audience. 

Pro tip: In Google Analytics, “Affinity Audiences” allows you to see information on people who are actively researching a product or service. You might be surprised at what you find in these audience interest categories, so they’re worth looking into.

SEO content strategy - HawkSEM

A look at topic and questions research in SEMrush.

Conduct keyword & topic research

While keywords are important, they don’t mean as much in SEO as they used to. After all, Google updates its algorithm hundreds of times a year. 

Some are bigger than others, but the most recent ones — such as the MUM update — have focused on better understanding human language and how specific terms relate to topics. (Perhaps unsurprising, due to voice search and smart speakers.)

Thinking beyond keywords will be increasingly important as Google’s algorithm continues down the path of machine learning and artificial intelligence to power search results. Luckily, tools like SEMrush can help you delve more into the topics and questions people are typing into the search bar.

When conducting keyword research, check what keywords you’re currently ranking for first. This way, you don’t spend time focusing on a keyword you’re already ranking for. 

You can also identify any keyword gaps where you might be missing opportunities. You can use tools like Moz and Ahrefs to find related keywords, volume, and difficulty of terms that you discovered but that you’re not ranking for. 

In most cases, the higher volume a term is, the more difficult it’s going to be to rank for because it’s probably a lot more competitive, with a higher amount of other sites targeting that same keyword.

HawkSEM SEO content strategy - content calendar infographic

Build a content calendar

Many marketers think of blogs when they hear the word “content.” But there are many different content types that can increase user engagement and earn more backlinks. 

These include:

  • E-books
  • Case studies
  • Videos 
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts

Of course, some pieces of content are going to take longer to build out than others. Planning it out ahead of time and having a schedule or deadlines in place will keep you organized and on the right track. This can be as simple or as detailed as you want — even a shared Google spreadsheet can get the job done.

Details you may want to include in your content calendar are:

  • The type of content
  • The due date for the author to submit the content
  • The date the content is slated to go live
  • The associated keyword or terms
  • The author’s name 

Pillar 2: Writing and editing your content

Once you’ve done all the research and prepped your content calendar, it’s time for the actual writing! 

Write for people, not search engines

When it comes to your SEO content strategy, it’s  important to remember that you should be writing for people, not search engines. 

Consider Google’s main goal: to provide users with the best, most engaging content that answers the query they typed into the search box. If you can satisfy those requirements, that’s going to help you rank.

If you find yourself obsessing over things like content length or the number of times that you use the keyword within a piece, take a step back and put yourself in the user’s shoes instead. If they stumble across your content, would they find the information valuable? 

Would they want to:

  • Read more because your content really wowed them?
  • Be inclined to trust you since your content helped them or answered their question?
  • Take an action like signing up for a newsletter or downloading another piece of content?
  • Request a demo or consultation?

Consider E-A-T

E-A-T is a relatively new concept in the SEO world — it stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. This acronym is meant to help content developers and SEO pros understand how Google rates high-quality content. 

E-A-T really comes into play for sites that Google considers “your money, your life,” or YMYL (though it applies to other topics as well). These include topics like legal and financial advice, medical issues, and other things that impact your quality of life.

Google understands that, for these queries, finding the best and most accurate answers is particularly paramount, so they want to make sure the info they provide is sourced from qualified professionals.

Ask these questions to determine E-A-T standards

There are questions you can ask yourself to see if you’re meeting E-A-T standards. For expertise, you can ask: 

  • Is this content written by an expert or an enthusiast who is reliable and knows the topic well? 
  • Is Google able to recognize this person as an expert?
  • Is it referencing credible sources and actual statistics?
  • Should people feel comfortable trusting this content with YMYL decisions?

For authority, you can ask:

  • If someone researched the site producing this content, would they come away with the impression that it was trustworthy and recognized as an authority?
  • Does the site have verified client testimonials?
  • Is there an “About” page on the website?
  • Is there any additional content on the site showing this brand has authority on this topic?

For trustworthiness, you can ask:

  • Does the content present itself in a way that makes you want to trust it?
  • Is there trustworthiness in the expertise of the person writing the piece? 
  • Are there trustworthy backlinks pointing to this site? 
  • Does the overall site look trustworthy? 

E-A-T is a complex topic, but it ties back to that concept of writing for people and not search engines. 

Pro tip: When it comes to writing, there’s no one-size-fits-all number for how many times you should use a specific keyword in your copy. If you think maybe you may be on the verge of keyword stuffing, read it out loud and see if it sounds natural to the human ear.

hawksem featured snippet

Optimizing your content for the featured snippet allows you to potentially take up significant real estate on the first SERP.

Repurpose your content

According to SEMrush, businesses are continually increasing their content marketing budgets. Repurposing content allows you to stay within the marketing budget while achieving your SEO goals.

Besides updating your old pieces of content to keep them fresh, here are a few other ways to repurpose them.

  • Change the format: Turn blogs into podcasts, videos into blogs, client content into videos, and the like. With a strategic plan, you can create a brand-new piece of content that doesn’t just improve your rankings but also becomes more digestible for other segments of your target audience. 
  • Write e-books and guides: E-books and guides don’t just make excellent lead magnets. With a little work, they become fully crawlable by the search engines. You may have enough content on your website to create an e-book today. 
  • Design social media posts: Instead of simply reposting your content on social media, you can use a free service like Canva and turn quotes or other digestible pieces of information into eye-catching social media posts.

Look at each piece of high-ranking content as an opportunity to create at least one more viable, complementary piece.

Aim for the featured snippet

Optimizing your content for the featured snippet allows you to potentially take up significant real estate on the first SERP.

According to HubSpot, the top result on the SERPs without a featured snippet gets 33% of total clicks. The second result achieves 18% of the clicks, and the rest gets 11% or less. Once a featured snippet appears, it grabs 50% of all clicks.

When writing new content, it’s wise to keep the featured snippet in mind. You can also refresh your old content with featured snippet optimization tricks. These include providing a direct, concise answer to the question your audience may be asking, and optimizing for long-tail keywords.

A Search Engine Watch study showed that more than 55% of featured snippets are triggered by 10-word keywords, while single-word keywords appear less than 5% of the time.

Pillar 3: Publishing and promoting your content

Once the copy is written and optimized, it’s time to publish and promote. After all, what good is high-quality content if no one sees it?

Remember on-site SEO best practices

On-site SEO refers to general best practices to keep in mind with any piece you write. This includes things like having a page title and meta description. Ideally, both of these elements will have keywords in them, since Google uses them to help understand the content of your page. 

Headings also help Google understand the different sections of your content. If you have a long-form article with more than 1,000 words, those headings help search engines understand what each section is about. They also make it easier for users to scan and quickly find the content they’re looking for.

For SEO purposes, it’s a good idea to leverage internal links with keyword-rich anchor text. 

You’ve probably seen plenty of links with “click here” or “learn more” as their anchor text. But Google uses anchor text to understand what the page’s content is about, so if you’re using generic phrases, Google may have a harder time understanding your link.

You can also use high-authority external links as needed. If you’re referencing a study from the CDC or the FDA, for example, those are good high-authority external links. 

Have a content revitalization strategy

Writing new, exciting content is key to a successful SEO strategy. But if you publish a piece of content and never touch it again, you’re doing your business a major disservice. 

If you have blogs that are a few (or even several) years old, it’s likely that some of the information isn’t accurate or relevant anymore. Regularly updating those pieces with the latest links and stats when they become available can have a huge impact on your site traffic and rankings. 

That’s where conducting a content audit comes in. The 7 steps to conducting a content audit are:

  1. Create a spreadsheet list of all content URLs
  2. Determine how many sessions each page had over the past 6 months (or longer depending on how much traffic comes to your site) and how many backlinks point to each page
  3. Identify pages with “thin content” that may not satisfy a user’s search intent
  4. Look for posts with duplicate or similar topics and consider removing or combining them into one long-form piece
  5. Identify posts with outdated content or older statistics and update with more recent information
  6. Don’t forget to redirect posts removed from the site to avoid 404 errors
  7. Repeat this process regularly (once or twice a year) to keep your content fresh and relevant

This can be a time-intensive exercise, depending on how much content you post, but the results are worth it. 

linkedin hawksem post

Amplifying your content on social channels and through email also keeps your brand top-of-mind for your audience.

Amplify your content 

A piece of content you don’t share via social media or email channels is unlikely to get much traction. Although social shares and likes aren’t direct organic ranking factors, if Google sees a lot of engagement on a page or post, it’s a signal of high-quality content.

Amplifying your content on social channels and through email also keeps your brand top-of-mind for your audience. 

The takeaway

High-quality content can be a game-changer when it comes to your site’s SEO. Not only that, but it helps illustrate to users that you’re a trustworthy thought leader. 

By following the above steps and having a solid, doable plan in place, you’ll have a robust, thorough content library worth bragging about. 

For more on this topic, check out our webinar, 10 Steps to Creating a Content Strategy for SEO.

This article has been updated and was originally published in April 2020.

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 Sep 13 , 2021

There’s no shortcut to good search engine optimization (SEO) — but the right agency can help create a strategy that will have a lasting positive impact on your brand.

Here, you’ll find:

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

Rubik’s Cubes. The Saturday New York Times crossword. Creating a viral TikTok when you’re over 30 years old. These are all things that can be hard to master. 

If you’re stuck on page 20 of search engine results pages (SERPs), maybe the same can be said for your company’s SEO.

The good news: Partnering with an SEO agency can change all that by helping increase your visibility in search results, boost your credibility, and more. But before you sign on the (virtual) dotted line, keep these success secrets in mind.

1. Know your SEO goals

First things first: before you go through the process of connecting and vetting SEO agencies, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re up to speed on where SEO practices stand today. 

The industry is evolving rapidly, so even if you’re familiar with the concept of SEO, there could be a development or two you’ve missed.

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

person writing and working at laptop

Multiple factors determine good SEO, and search engine algorithms constantly change with little to no warning.  (Image via Unsplash)

2. Prepare for a full site and strategy audit

Before a consultation, many agencies will perform a brief SEO audit of your website. This gives them a clearer idea of where your company currently stands. A typical SEO audit will pinpoint things like:

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

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

This way, you can determine things like:

  • How SEO is currently being implemented
  • What SEO processes are currently in place (if any)
  • How SEO is currently being tracked and measured
  • If an SEO audit has ever been conducted in the past

3. Set realistic expectations

Alright: this success secret is a big one:

If an agency tells you they can get you from page 42 of Google to page 1 quickly, run

Sure, best practices can be implemented relatively swiftly, but to see real results? That takes time. The reasons mainly boil down to the fact that multiple factors determine good SEO, and search engine algorithms constantly change with little to no warning. 

As SEMrush reports, SEO often takes anywhere from 6-12 months or so to start showing real results.

There’s no shortcut to building an authoritative brand with high-quality content. You can set measurable goals, but it’s a consistent practice, not a one-and-done task. A good agency will be upfront about that.

Pro tip: While building up SEO takes time, a seasoned SEO agency should be able to offer you a few quick wins right off the bat unless you’re doing everything absolutely right. (In which case, pat yourself on the back!)

4. Ask to see case studies, stats, or testimonials

A good agency will tell you how amazing they are. A great agency will show you, with stats and testimonials to back them up. 

During the vetting process, don’t be afraid to ask about references, case studies, or stats garnered through past SEO work. You can also do your own independent research and check out any public reviews the company has on review sites or its social media pages, for added context.

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

open sign

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

5. Understand their values and process

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

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

But just because SEO takes time doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a clear, actionable plan in place. Don’t be afraid to ask for details when it comes to their SEO process. They should have a good roster of specific steps they take. 

Looking to up your SEO game? Check out our guide: 10 Quick Tips to Improve Your SEO Today.

6. Make sure pricing is clear

When partnering with an SEO agency, as in most other business cases, you get what you pay for. That means that if a company promises the moon and stars for a rock-bottom price, it may be too good to be true. 

These agencies often employ “black hat” or shady tactics, which can actually end up hurting your SEO rankings.

When looking at pricing, you want to be clear on what’s included in the SEO agency’s rate. Some may simply optimize your site and content or provide recommendations for your developer and marketing team to carry out. 

Others will take the time to understand your goals, help you create a targeted keyword list, and write optimized content for you. Ideally, they’ll also work closely with you to implement their recommendations.

Pro tip: Communication style is another key thing on which both of your teams should be aligned. Make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to how you’ll be communicating (via emails, video calls, Slack, etc.) and how often you’ll be doing check-ins or status updates.

7. Remember: It’s a partnership

Sure, you’re partnering with SEO experts because you want them to take the reins and ensure your business is performing the best it can in search engine rankings. But it’s still a partnership.

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

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

The takeaway

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

This article has been updated and was originally published in October 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 Caroline Cox on Aug 27 , 2021

Not only does proper website architecture help your users, but it can be a game-changer for your SEO.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What site architecture means
  • How this structure affects your SEO
  • Ways to make your architecture SEO friendly
  • How to build a website structure with SEO in mind

Imagine you’re in a home improvement store, shopping list in hand. Maybe this is your neighborhood shop or a brand-new spot you’re visiting for the first time. Either way, there are plenty of design decisions that were made to make your experience as streamlined and efficient as possible.

Think: similar product categories being grouped together, organized shelves, and signage telling you what’s on each aisle. 

This is how website architecture works. Its aim is to make navigating a website clear and intuitive. It also makes it easier for search engines to crawl your pages — a big factor when it comes to your SEO.

The best time to create an ideal site structure is when you’re building or revamping your website. But even a well-established site can be tweaked and modified to be more organized, user-friendly, and appealing to search engines. 

aerial view of an aisle at a home improvement store

Your site structure can help users easily navigate through your offerings to find what they’re looking for. (Image via Unsplash)

Let’s dig into how effective site architecture doesn’t just improve your rankings, but your overall website user experience (UX) as well.

What is website architecture?

As HubSpot explains, website architecture is the way your site is structured. Your structure can help users easily navigate through your offerings to find what they’re looking for. The quicker they can do that, the higher your chances are to drive conversions. 

In simple terms, website architecture refers to navigation elements on your website. This includes headers and footers (plus other internal links), as well as your URL structure.

Pro tip: Site architecture can also help you avoid keyword cannibalization, which is when two or more pages have the same intent and compete with one another. As SEMrush explains, “The right website structure can make it easier to stop this issue from occurring due to a clearly defined place on your site for a particular topic or piece of content.”

How does site architecture benefit SEO?

If someone lands on your website through an online search query but can’t find the information they’re looking for, they’re likely to bounce from your site and look elsewhere.

Having a clean, intuitive navigation allows people to find the pages relevant to them quickly, which keeps them on your site. For that reason, it’s best to always put the user first when considering how to set up your site navigation.

How does site architecture affect search bots? 

Good site architecture also helps search bots (which determine what to include on the search engine results page, or SERP) crawl and understand your site better. Generally, pages at the root of your map are given higher priority. 

Say you’re an e-commerce brand with a large amount of products. You may want to use “/products” in all of your product URLs. This signals to search bots that all pages under that parent category are related in some way. 

If all your pages are at the root, for example “site-name.com/name-of-product,” bots don’t recognize that these are related. This makes it more difficult to know which pages are the highest priority.  

The same can be said for site hierarchy. Tier 1 items should be top priority pages. Related pages can be linked underneath as Tier 2 items. Say you have “products” as your Tier 1 and underneath you have product categories on the Tier 2 level. (Use Tier 3 items sparingly. They tend to clutter up your navigation and can overwhelm users.)

hawksem: website architecture blog

In this example from Columbia Virtual Academy, “Program” is the Tier 1 item, while “Home” and the items below it are all Tier 2. (Image via cva.org)

Pro tip: Having a page linked in the navigation signals to search bots that it’s an important page. Google tends to give more credit to pages in the header navigation than footer. However, if you try to link every single page, it’ll ignore these signals and assume you’re trying to trick the algorithm.

How do you determine if your site structure is SEO-friendly?

There are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine if your current site architecture is set up for SEO success:

  • Do you use clean, easy-to-understand URL structures with parent items to categorize content? If not, you should. 
  • Do you use images in your navigation? If so, be sure you’re also using text links. Search bots can’t “see” images. They use anchor text as a signal for a page’s keywords. (Technically, navigation items are considered an internal link.) 
  • If you’re using text links, do your navigation items include keywords when possible? Again, search bots crawl these links and use the anchor text as a clue to the page’s content.
  • Is your navigation easy for a user to understand? You can dig deeper into this question with heat-mapping or other services that let you do user testing or screen recordings. This way, you can see if users are bumbling around on your pages or find what they’re looking for quickly.
  • How many items are in your navigation? There may need to be a lot. A generally good rule is to keep things as concise as possible. You (almost) never need to link every single page on your site in your navigation. Also, consider how many clicks it takes to get to a page from the homepage. Try to keep it to less than four clicks when possible.

Need more help with your website design or marketing? Let’s chat.

hawksem: site architecture article

At its core, site architecture is about improving a visitor’s experience on your site. (Image via Unsplash)

How do you create a site structure with SEO in mind?

Don’t panic if you’re realizing that your site architecture isn’t where it needs to be. There are changes and tweaks you can make that’ll get your site on the right path in a flash.

First off, use keywords in your URLs when possible (without keyword stuffing). If your site’s not already set up this way, work with a developer to see if you can redirect and update your URLs so they have parent items. They should also be clean and easy to read. This means no random scramble of letters, numbers, and symbols.

You also want to make sure there aren’t too many elements in your navigation. Having no more than seven Tier 1 items is a good basic rule to follow, if you can. And using internal links can help search bots and users get to relevant pages quicker

Humans read left to right, so think about how you can prioritize navigation based on what visitors most likely want to see. While it may make sense to you to put your “About” info as your first navigation link, put yourself in the user’s shoes. Most likely, they’re more interested in what you have to offer first.

Lastly, make sure you have an XML sitemap (and potentially an HTML sitemap). Submit these to Google Search Console so Google can see a full list of the pages you want indexed and can go crawl them accordingly.

Pro tip: The growing trend of mobile search is yet another reason to make your navigation as easy to use. When building or updating your navigation, you always want to make sure it looks clean and works properly on both mobile and desktop.

The takeaway

At its core, website architecture is about improving a visitor’s experience on your site and helping you rise in organic search result rankings. It’s also a way to keep your site clean and organized, even as you expand and build it out as time goes on.

Follow these tips to ensure your site is set up in a way that’s easy to follow and designed to help visitors find what they’re looking for.

This post has been updated and was originally published in May 2020.

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 Aug 18 , 2021

Because the most effective marketing videos keep search engine optimization in mind.

Here you’ll learn:

  • How to SEO factors into video marketing
  • Ways to prime your videos for search engine optimization
  • What technical elements to pay attention to
  • The importance of schema markup and sitemaps for videos

The results are in: Video is one of the top forms of media used in effective content strategies these days.

The rising popularity of videos makes them an integral tool for your search engine optimization (SEO) campaign. 

It may seem harder to apply standard SEO tactics to video content. In reality, the approach is simply different. Let’s take a closer look at actionable ways to inject SEO into your video marketing strategy to take full advantage of its benefits.  

women videotaping a group of women

YouTube has an advantage for video SEO since videos uploaded to YouTube are automatically, and almost instantly, indexed in Google search. (Image via Unplash)

1. Add a video transcript

A video transcript is the text version of the words spoken in your video. Adding a transcript to your video allows you to implement standard SEO tactics like keyword placement.

Since search engines can’t crawl videos, transcripts give them an opportunity to index and rank this type of content. Additionally, a video transcript improves user experience (UX), thus keeping visitors on your website longer.

Transcripts also improve accessibility. Even though Google says that accessibility isn’t a ranking factor yet, it may become one in the future (and it’s just good to keep accessibility in mind in the name of equality). 

While creating transcripts, you can break them up and add captions to your video. This way you create extra text for the search engines to crawl.

Pro tip: Don’t have time to type up transcripts yourself? There are softwares and services that can do it for you. Just make sure to double-check the results to make sure everything was transcribed properly.

2. Choose the right hosting option

As a platform, YouTube has an advantage since videos uploaded to YouTube are automatically, and almost instantly, indexed in Google search. However, it’s worth noting that YouTube videos often rank for their instance on YouTube.com instead of the location on your website.

If you decide to host videos on paid platforms (Vimeo, Wistia), you gain more control of your videos like inserting links or CTAs.

Generally, YouTube is the most popular hosting option for SEO efforts. However, if the budget allows, it could also be worth it to at least explore other platforms with potentially higher video quality and more customization options.

Pro tip: If you decide to use different hosting platforms, don’t copy-paste all the metadata. Rather, take this opportunity to diversify the text to improve your chances of ranking for different keywords.

3. Optimize titles and descriptions

Similar to a blog post, videos need title and meta description optimization. If you want the video to rank higher, pay attention to these two elements. They should include keywords that your target audience is searching for. Oh, and as with any content you publish, avoid the black-hat tactic of keyword stuffing.

After all, SEO shouldn’t be your only goal when creating titles and descriptions. While you should aim to put keywords as close to the beginning as possible, focus on how engaging and clickable the text is — that’s going to be what gets you the results you want.  

4. Create a video sitemap

A video sitemap includes information about the video hosted on your webpage. Creating such a sitemap helps Google find, understand, and index video content on your website. It’s especially useful for new video content Google hasn’t had the chance to crawl yet.

Creating a video sitemap allows you to provide a variety of details and create an additional presence on a video.google.com search. You can submit a video sitemap through the Google Search Console the same way you would for any other XML sitemap.

Confused about sitemaps, videos, or digital marketing in general? Let us help.

video editing software on desktop computer

When a thumbnail appears in search results, it’s your best chance to catch the attention of your target audience. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Explore rich snippet SEO for videos

When your website is marked up in such a way that it lets Google know you want to promote a video, the search result appears with a thumbnail of a video. Thumbnails can increase your clickthrough rate (CTR).

To increase the chances of a rich snippet video appearing next to the search results, you need to add the schema markup to the HTML code of your video page. The schema markup is an additional map that helps search engines crawl your page and display it in search results with a video rich snippet.

6. Be strategic about thumbnail quality

When a thumbnail appears in search results, it’s your best chance to catch the attention of your target audience. The best ones are eye-catching, high-quality, and informative. Think of the thumbnail as an ad for your video. 

As a reminder, the thumbnail doesn’t need to be a frame from the video. It can be a separate image designed to attract the searcher.

7. Focus on video quality

While the video quality isn’t necessarily a ranking factor, it does affect the way users interact with your website. If visitors leave after a few seconds of watching your low-quality video, your bounce rate goes up. 

Creating a high-quality video doesn’t mean you have to invest thousands into professional equipment and a production team. It’s more about ensuring the video is easy to watch, carries value, and speaks to your audience.

Pro tip: If you want the search engine to see your video, keep it closer to the top of the page, or “above the fold.”

8. Keep it short

If you want videos to contribute to your SEO efforts, consider keeping them on the shorter side. If your potential audience is pressed for time, they may not be able to watch a long video.

Many people look at the video length before starting to watch it. If they see something longer than 5-10 minutes, they may be more likely to abandon it before clicking the play button.

Of course, if your video is truly valuable, it’s likely to rank high anyway.  However, you may want to consider breaking it down into several short videos. This will also give you an opportunity to use more keywords in titles and descriptions.

The takeaway

Videos continue to rise in popularity for businesses trying to target their audience and grow their reach. It’s easy to see why: They help companies achieve marketing goals from lead generation and conversion to brand awareness. 

Optimizing your video marketing with SEO can boost your marketing efforts and bring more people to your website. As long as you keep rankings in mind when creating videos, implementing SEO into your video marketing strategy shouldn’t be complicated.

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 Aug 10 , 2021

Because a good user experience and a successful website go hand in hand. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • How website UX is defined
  • Tips for making your site user-friendly
  • What to keep in mind for mobile UX
  • Expert insights to boost your user experience

Recently, I started shopping at a new grocery store. 

When it came to food shopping, I used to default to the store closest to my house. But after a while, I grew weary of weaving through the too-small aisles, too-long lines with too-few cashiers, and a limited selection that often left me with items uncrossed on my shopping list. 

Now, I go to one that’s a bit further away, but the experience is so much better that it’s worth the extra minutes of my drive. 

This idea can also be applied to your business website. Especially if you find yourself in a competitive industry, the experience you provide your potential and current customers can be a game changer (both for site visitors and your SEO). And that experience often begins with your website. 

Whether you’re launching a new site or revamping an existing one, this checklist will help ensure that your website UX doesn’t fall to the wayside in the process.

woman working on computer

It’s crucial to think about the “why” behind your site’s design and offerings. (Image via Unsplash)

What is website UX design?

User experience (or UX) “focuses on having a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations,” according to Usability.gov.

With businesses, website UX design basically means creating a website with elements that make it easy for the visitor to navigate, read, and find what they’re looking for. 

Here are 6 ways you can set your site up for the best possible user experience.

1. Conduct a site audit

Before you start making plans and changes, take the time to examine where your site’s user experience currently stands. Ask questions like:

  • Do you have any dead links or 404 errors? 
  • Are there pages that are outdated or no longer relevant to your audience? 
  • Is there a pop-up or call to action (CTA) that gets no love and needs reworking? 
  • Does the About page still accurately reflect your company’s mission and team?

Once you have the answers to these and other similar questions, you’ll be able to properly plan for any changes. You may even be able to identify a few quick wins and fixes in the process.

2. Think about your user

Marketers talk a lot about intent. That’s because it’s crucial to think about the “why” behind your site’s design and offerings. Why are people coming to your site? What are they hoping to accomplish or find? What questions do they want answered?

For example, if your site has a login option, you’ll want that to be easily found on your homepage for the best user experience. You also don’t want to bombard visitors right from the get-go with a slew of pop-ups, CTAs, and offers.

Rather, information should be well-organized without too many visual distractions, so people don’t have trouble navigating to where they want to go. (We’ll get more into the UX design aspects below.)

3. Check your site navigation

Simple site navigation is one of the most important aspects of website architecture, AKA the structure of your site. You want it to be as clean, easy to understand, and functional as possible.

Some tips for creating site navigation with UX in mind include:

  • Clear page labels in the drop-down menu
  • Making sure navigation and labels are easy to access and use via mobile
  • Minimal header (and footer, if applicable) navigation links
  • No tier-two drop-down menus unless they’re absolutely necessary

You can also consider breadcrumb navigation. HubSpot explains this as “a design tool often used by UI designers to visually increase the usability of a website.” 

Similarly to a URL that might be structured as homepage.com/blog/blog-post-title, it helps users visually see the path they took to get to the current page they’re on. UX Planet adds that this is helpful because it answers the questions, “Where am I?” and “Where can I go?”

Pro tip: A speedy site enhances your visitors’ experience and helps them find what they’re looking for in a flash. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool will help you determine if yours is where it should be.

4. Avoid excessive pop-ups

First off, we’re not against pop-ups in theory. When done right, they can be effective and helpful tools to get users to take actions from subscribing to a newsletter to downloading a whitepaper. But when done wrong, they can annoy your site visitor and cause them to bounce in frustration.

The trick is using them sparingly and thoughtfully. If someone reads three blog posts about a certain product or service, you could employ a pop-up that offers a discount code or free consultation. 

But beware of leveraging pop-ups on your mobile site: this is almost always a poor user experience and doesn’t end with the visitor taking the desired action. 

Pro tip: Conduct regular A/B tests for elements on your site to see which ones people respond to best. This could be anything from the headline on your homepage to the color or verbiage of a button. Just make sure to only test one element at a time to get proper data.

man designing a website on a tablet

You can use visuals as guides to direct attention where you want it to go, such as having arrows or a photo of a person looking in the direction of an onsite CTA. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Be strategic about visuals

You may think whitespace (or the absence of images and text) is a waste when it comes to your website. After all, you could be using that space to attract and engage your visitor, right? Well, not exactly.

As the Interaction Design Foundation reports, marginal white space surrounding paragraphs affects the user’s reading speed and comprehension. It allows the reader to fully take in your content without feeling overwhelmed. 

Other strategic UX design elements include being thoughtful about the images and graphics you do use. Make sure any icons are designed with your target audience in mind and mesh well with your overall brand aesthetic. You also want any images to reflect your audience. 

Moreover, you can use visuals as guides to direct attention where you want it to go, such as having arrows or a photo of a person looking in the direction of an onsite CTA. 

Pro tip: No matter how much text your pages feature, you want it to be easy to digest. Opt for elements like headings, bullet points, and hyperlinks over big blocks of text. This can improve your site UX and ensure you get your message across properly.

6. Analyze the data

You can learn a lot about how people use and navigate your site through data. For example, heat map tools like Hotjar can tell you what areas people are clicking and gravitating to most on certain pages.

Analytics reports can show you which pages people bounce most often and most quickly from. (Though a high bounce rate doesn’t necessarily mean a page is unsuccessful.)

If you’re relaunching or revamping your site, or just want to get a pulse check on usability, have team members or stakeholders click around then fill out a short survey to get their thoughts on any snags or challenges they run into. 

The takeaway

You may or may not have a lot of the main tenets of UX baked into your site already.

Either way, it’s wise to be conscious about the aspects that go into a strong user experience so you can make sure to keep them prioritized as your company grows and iterates. 

If you want visitors to have a positive, seamless experience when landing on your site, prioritizing website UX is a great way to do just that. 

Need more insight into creating a positive user experience through digital marketing? Let’s chat.

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 Caroline Cox on Aug 2 , 2021

Learn what these terms mean, what actions fall under each category, and how they can affect your site.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Definitions for white hat and black hat SEO
  • How to spot each type of method
  • What “grey hat SEO” means
  • How to implement the right white-hat methods

Let’s talk about something that doesn’t come up in a ton of digital marketing conversations: Accessories.

Hats, specifically.

OK, so we’re not talking about literal hats you wear — but these hats are important nonetheless.

The terms “white hat” and “black hat” are search engine optimization (SEO) techniques that marketers can use when optimizing a website. They have to do with search engine guidelines, ethical considerations, and, ultimately, your ranking on the search engine results page (SERP).

Want to make sure you’re doing everything right when it comes to SEO — and nothing that Google or another search engine can penalize you for? Keep reading.

men in a crowd with white hats on

White hat SEO is all about putting in the work and taking the time to slowly but surely build up your brand’s credibility. (Image via Unsplash)

What is white hat SEO?

White hat SEO is basically made up of the Google-approved techniques you can use to optimize your site and online presence. As Crazy Egg explains, this means your site meets ethical criteria such as:

White hat SEO is all about putting in the work and taking the time to slowly but surely build up your brand’s credibility so you can continue to rank higher in search results. It’s like running a marathon: if you want to win the race, you’ve got to invest in all that it takes (eating right, consistently exercising, stretching, and resting) to get you there.

girl on bridge wearing a black hat

Black hat techniques attempt to trick search engines into thinking a site is more reputable or valuable than it actually is. (Image via Unsplash)

What is black hat SEO?

Black hat SEO falls under the same category as a “get rich quick” scheme: it involves skirting ethical boundaries and trying to game the system.

Black hat techniques often attempt to trick search engines into thinking a site is more reputable or valuable than it actually is. According to HubSpot, black hat methods include:

  • Keyword stuffing (overly using keywords or location info on your site)
  • Cloaking (presenting different content or URLs to users and search engines)
  • Using private link networks (blogs created solely to generate links to other sites)
  • Misleading URL redirects 
  • Low-quality content
  • Spammy blog comments
  • “Invisible text” hidden in the code of your website

What are the effects of using black hat SEO?

Since black hat techniques are for the benefit of the algorithm and not users, it’s common for people to have a bad user experience when dealing with these sites or links.

Not only that, but those who leverage black hat SEO are at risk of getting dinged by Google in the form of “manual actions” and algorithm updates. Manual actions are a one-to-one situation where a person reviewing on behalf of Google flags your site for violating its guidelines. At worst, this can cause your site to be prevented from appearing in any Google search results whatsoever.

As far as updates go, seasoned marketing pros know that the algorithm is changing and evolving almost constantly. These changes are usually implemented to help searchers get the most accurate results for their searches. These updates are also implemented to combat various black hat techniques, which is why leveraging them could cause your ranking to tank during the next surprise update.

Note: While black hat techniques are found to be unethical, they’re generally not against any law from a legal standpoint.

man in a grey hat

Put simply, there’s no “one weird trick” that’ll magically shoot your company to the top of the SERP. (Image via Unsplash)

Looking to up your SEO game? Check out our guide: 10 Quick Tips to Improve Your SEO Today.

What is grey hat SEO?

The term “grey hat” means your SEO includes methods that may be ethically questionable but aren’t currently penalized by Google. It’s important to note, however, that these methods could be banned in the future, which is why it’s critical to keep a close eye on algorithm changes and penalty updates.

Posting fake reviews (whether positive or negative) or paying for reviews could be considered grey hat. While not technically black hat, these tactics are extremely frowned upon. And it’s relatively common for people to purchase expired domains and link or redirect their sites from it — this also falls under the grey hat category.

All domains carry some sort of link equity, so those who buy one and redirect it to their main domain will absorb all of the site’s old links. While this may earn your site a bunch of links quickly, it’s a risky move that you could end up being penalized for, especially if the purchased domain had nothing to do with your current business.

How can white hat SEO be implemented effectively?

Now that you know the ins and outs of white, black, and grey hat SEO, you can be more proactive about ensuring that you’re taking advantage of all the white hat (and possibly some grey hat) techniques at your disposal.

These techniques are not only search engine-approved, but they’ll make for a better user experience for those visiting your website. They’ll also offer a more accurate, professional look at who you are as a brand, which will allow you to stand out.

Some of the most effective white hat SEO methods include:

  • Being transparent about your company and its offerings
  • Creating well-written content that speaks to your target audience — not just search engines
  • Not over-promising, inflating statistics, or misquoting clients
  • Making sure your site is speedy, educational, easy to navigate, and optimized
  • Not falling for quick SEO wins that sound too good to be true (they probably are!)

Need more help with your SEO efforts? That’s why we’re here.

The takeaway

Put simply, there’s no “one weird trick” that’ll magically shoot your company to the top of the SERP. Quality SEO takes time to cultivate. And that’s OK! Even if you’re feeling impatient about your SEO results, know that you’re not alone.

With time, effort, creativity, and some white hat techniques at your disposal, you can rest assured that you’re doing everything you can to garner more traffic — the right way.

This post has been updated and was originally published in December 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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