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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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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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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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jul 28 , 2021

Digital marketing can get you in front of potential customers — the right strategy can get them to convert.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How search results affect customer acquisition
  • Organic ways to acquire new leads
  • Effective paid marketing strategies
  • How to set your website up for optimal acquisition

Marketing pros who aren’t new to the game likely know all about the customer journey. It comprises the stages we base our content, campaigns, and plans on: awareness, consideration, and decision. (With delight as the bonus step.) And the customer journey is a crucial element when it comes to acquisition.

Customer acquisition is the process of converting a generated lead into a customer. It’s basically the whole funnel (or journey) combined. At the end of the day, marketing is about attracting new customers, and keeping customer acquisition top of mind is how marketers can make that happen.

While there’s no one way to pinpoint and acquire qualified leads that are sure to become customers, there are a handful of digital marketing strategies you can implement with customer acquisition in mind. Here, we’ve mapped out six of our favorites.

line of people outside from aerial view

Companies that use paid search for successful customer acquisition know it’s not only about the ad. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Paid search

Also known as pay per click (PPC), paid search is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies when it comes to customer acquisition. That’s because it allows companies to target their specific audience with the right keywords at the right time.

Paid search ads appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) on sites like Google and Bing. If someone’s searching for “women’s black cycling shoes,” for example, and you’re an e-commerce brand selling cycling products (including women’s black cycling shoes), you want your targeted ad to be the one they see. The same goes for brands selling other products and services.

The companies that use paid search for successful customer acquisition know it’s not only about the ad, though. Rather, it’s crucial to pair eye-catching, appealing ad copy with an optimized landing page that boasts consistent verbiage, clean design, and a clear call to action (CTA).

2. Search engine optimization (SEO)

Along with a paid search strategy, having a solid SEO strategy helps search engines more easily recognize your website. This helps improve your rankings and, ideally, grow your reach for better customer acquisition.

Proper SEO on your site means having elements including:

  • Unique title tags on your pages
  • High-quality content 
  • Internal links and external links (to authoritative sites)
  • A sitemap
  • Meta descriptions
  • Images with alt tags

Ensuring your site is optimized for search engines won’t guarantee that you’ll get in the first position (or even on the first page) of the SERPs. The search algorithm that determines the best content for each search query is constantly changing, and the details about how search engines determine the best content to show searchers isn’t always clear.

However, by keeping your site up to date, easy to navigate, and educational for prospects and clients, you can position your brand as a thought leader and your site as a valuable source of information.

3. Social media

When it comes to social media, you’ve got the option to leverage both organic and paid avenues. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that each path can be leveraged in the same way or achieve the same results.

Let’s start with organic social media. The practice of regularly creating social media posts can help spread the word about new business offerings or updates, increase your exposure, and even help you go viral (in a good way, ideally).

While organic social posts likely won’t directly result in customer acquisition, they can aid in brand awareness, content sharing, and allow you to highlight the fun side of your brand.

Paid social, on the other hand, can be a powerful tool if wielded properly. When choosing which platforms to advertise on, you should first consider your target audience and the platforms they use most.

From there, you can take advantage of the audience targeting tools most of these platforms have in place to get your content delivered straight to those who need to see it most. 

group of millennials on their laptops laughing

When done right, remarketing one of the best and most cost-effective ways to get past visitors back to your site. (Image via Unsplash)

4. Remarketing

As we’ve touched on before, remarketing can benefit your business in numerous ways. Not only does it keep you top of mind when someone takes an action like visiting your site, or requesting a consultation or demo, but it allows you to hyper-focus your ads and ups your chances of turning a lead into a conversion.

Remarketing (also called retargeting) works by leveraging display ads to connect your business with people who have already visited your site or mobile app. When done right, it’s one of the best and most cost-effective ways to get past visitors back to your site. 

Of course, the most successful retargeting campaigns aren’t one size fits all. A brand-new site visitor shouldn’t be remarketed the same way as a returning visitor. 

Data transparency changes and the eventual demise of third-party cookies are going to force some changes in digital marketing, particularly for remarketing ads. But there’s no need to panic: Marketers have adapted to massive changes for decades. And while more solutions will become apparent as the process unfolds, focusing on attracting new prospects is one way to keep your lead pipeline flowing.

Looking for more ways to increase your customer acquisition? Let’s talk.

5. Content marketing

When people hear the phrase “content marketing,” they may automatically think of blogs. And while blogging is a great medium for businesses when it comes to customer acquisition, content can encompass much more.

Examples of valuable content include:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos and webinars
  • Guides and e-books
  • Infographics
  • Checklists
  • Downloadable templates
  • Product descriptions
  • Case studies

No matter the content you create, you want to make sure it’s accurate, helpful, and targeted. The more deliverables you create, the more industry topics you can cover, and the more likely you are to be found in organic search results by those seeking what you have to offer.

Pro tip: You can take things a step further by partnering with another brand (with a similar audience but not a competitor) on something like an infographic, webinar, or guest blog. This expands your reach, helps build your professional network, and boosts your brand’s credibility.

two people meeting at a coffeeshop

Include social share links as well as forwarding options in your email newsletter to make sharing a breeze. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Email newsletters

Email newsletters can be a powerful acquisition channel if you follow a few key strategies. As Campaign Monitor reports, you’re six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than from a tweet. 

The most successful newsletters:

  • Include one main CTA
  • Offer a tactical takeaway (like a pro tip, discount, or statistic)
  • Feature an attention-grabbing subject line
  • Have an easy-to-read template
  • Are optimized for mobile

When you’re looking to build your non-client subscriber list, get creative! You can add exit-intent pop-ups to your site, or include a subscription box in your site’s footer. Offline, you can give people the option to sign up if your brand is posted up in a booth at an industry conference or networking event — a particularly effective strategy if it’s part of a giveaway or contest.

Pro tip: Let your readers help you spread the word! Include social share links as well as forwarding options in your email newsletter to make sharing a breeze. Due to the psychology of social proof, peer-recommended content is more likely to be trusted.

The takeaway

Customers are the bread and butter of any business, and digital marketing is one of the most direct ways to connect with your desired prospects.

By knowing your audience, meeting them where they are, and analyzing the data behind your campaigns, you’ll have the tools you need to not only attract more customers, but keep them loyal and happy as well.

This post has been updated and was originally published in December 2019.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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By optimizing your messaging to appear in search engine results page (SERP) features, you can whip past the competition and grow brand awareness while you’re at it.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What SERP features are
  • The benefits of appearing in SERP features
  • The most useful SERP elements
  • How to optimize your site for feature placement

Bringing your website to the top of organic search results is tricky. Following top-notch SEO tactics gives you a strong foundation, but there’s more you can do — like priming your site and its content for a SERP feature.

What are SERP features?

Google designed SERP features to enhance the user’s search experience. When someone enters a query, these elements allow them to get an answer as quickly as possible (without the extra clicking) by pulling out and highlighting what the algorithm considers a relevant answer.

While some research shows that placement on certain SERP features can potentially reduce clicks, they’re still worth striving for. These placements show searchers that Google sees your site as an authority, and it puts your content above your competitors’.

The type of feature a user sees on their results page depends on the type of query they entered. If the question is “Who is Shakespeare?”, they’ll see a Knowledge Graph. For the “best dentist in LA” query, they’ll see a Local Pack (we’ll break down what these features are below). After all, a search engine’s key goal is to give the user an accurate answer as quickly as possible.

Luckily, you can work to optimize your website in ways that’ll make it more likely to appear in one of these SERP features. Let’s dive in.

serp feature - shakespeare

A Featured Snippet result in response to an inquiry about Shakespeare. (via Google)

 

1. Featured Snippets

A Featured Snippet is a box that appears on top of all the other search results. It showcases what Google’s algorithm deems the most helpful answer to the user’s query, along with the link to the website that provides it.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Featured Snippets:

  • Beef up your content marketing efforts (almost all Featured Snippets are extracted from content that ranks in the top 10 positions).
  • Use SEMrush to study your competition and learn what they’ve done to obtain snippet space.
  • Enter the query your audience might use into Google and see what the current Featured Snippet is. If your competition is already hogging the space, go to the “People also ask” section and optimize your content for those queries.
  • Rewrite your content to answer two or more questions instead of just one. This can get your website into Featured Snippets for related queries.
  • Keep your content short and sweet. Use bullet points and a short paragraph structure for easy readability.
serp - CSUN

The Knowledge Graph results for CSUN. (via Google)

2. Knowledge Graphs

The Knowledge Graph is an information box that appears on the top right side of the search results. It generally features an extensive answer to a specific question. Google uses its algorithm to pull the information from its database of reliable sources.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Knowledge Graphs:

  • Use Schema Markup (a type of structured data) to ensure your website can be crawled properly (Google uses only well-structured websites for its database).
  • Create a Wikipedia and Wikidata page for your brand — Google often uses it for the information to feature in the Knowledge Graph.
  • Work on your backlink strategy to garner links from authority websites. 
  • Optimize your website for local search.
  • Try to get your social media accounts verified.
  • Verify and optimize your Google My Business profile.
serp - vegetarian restaurants in atlanta

Local Teaser Pack results for a search about vegetarian restaurants in Atlanta — the Teaser Pack is similar to Local Packs but without directions or hyperlinks to the website. (via Google)

Pro tip: In 2020, a Google rep confirmed that if a web page listing is included in a Featured Snippet position, the listing will no longer be repeated in the search results. 

3. Local Packs

Queries that specify a certain location often trigger the appearance of a Local Pack box. It features local results along with business information, maps, and reviews. 

This SERP feature is for local companies and establishments. The box features three top locations, called a Local Teaser Pack. The rest is hidden under the “View all” button.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Local Packs:

  • Boost your on-page SEO efforts and work on mobile-friendliness.
  • Create a high-quality contact page with a clickable phone number and email address as well as a map.
  • Add Schema Markup.
  • Use client testimonials on your website.
  • Optimize and verify your Google My Business page.
  • Create profiles on major review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Foursquare.
  • Make sure your contact information is consistent throughout all of your online platforms.
  • Get as many reviews on different websites as possible (these are also featured in the Local Packs). According to 2020 findings from Search Engine Land, GMB and reviews are the variables that have grown the most in their perceived impact.
HawkSEM SERP features 101 - 1

The “People also ask” results section regarding a search about scrambled eggs. (via Google)

4. Related Questions or “People also ask”

The Related Questions section usually appears under the Featured Snippet or Top Result in an accordion-style dropdown. However, they can emerge in other parts of the search page as well, under the header “People also ask.”

Different keywords can trigger the same related questions, helping you rank even higher. Meanwhile, all the related questions can sometimes feature the same page as the answer, boosting your clickthrough rate (CTR).

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Related Questions:

  • Extract People Also Ask (PAA) questions using ScreamingFrog’s Web Scraper Tool.
  • Check what PAA results appear in response to your competition’s branded queries.
  • Add these questions to your content and address them.
  • In your content, copy the format of the results, which currently appear in the related question sections.
  • Create on-page FAQ sections.
serp - how to grow sunflowers

Video Snippets as results for a query about planting a sunflower. (via Google)

Wondering how to make the most out of SERP features for your brand? You’ve come to the right place.

5. Video Snippets

Featured videos can appear in place of Featured Snippets with the goal of providing the best answer to the user’s question. Usually, they emerge in response to “how-to” queries. These Video Snippets can start running automatically and stop at a point where Google believes the question is answered.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Video Snippets:

  • Use the main keyword in your video title.
  • Add a video description that contains the keyword.
  • Include a video transcription.
  • Optimize your video content to get as close to the top as possible (Google generally uses high-ranked clips for the featured section).
HawkSEM: SERP features - ads

Google Ads in search results about internet companies. (via Google)

6. Google Ads (top and bottom)

These paid search ads usually appear at the top and/or bottom of the SERP, above or below the organic results. They’re distinguished from the rest of the results by an “Ad” label.

Such ads usually dominate the first positions of Google Search. To occupy those coveted top spots, you can start by building a high-quality Google Ads campaign. You can also pay to place Product Listing Ads so your products (with links, descriptions, and/or prices) appear in the “zero” ranking spots, which are above the top organic listing.

The takeaway

SERP features are an integral part of working toward high rankings and top-notch conversions. Think about them as a big cherry on top of your SEM campaign. 

While it’s possible to appear in the SERP elements without making a concerted effort, the above tips can help you speed the process to see the results you want more quickly.

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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You want your business to have the best possible reputation online — here’s how to make sure yours is in good standing.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What brand reputation management is
  • Why managing your online rep is important
  • How reputation management factors into SEO
  • Expert tips for managing your reputation online

What people say about your business directly affects its success. From online reviews and word of mouth to social media comments, having your business discussed in a positive light is key for maximum lead generation, conversions, and retention.

When people look into your company online for whatever reason, what they find can impact their perception of your business. But while it’s impossible to retain full control over your brand reputation, you can take a consistent approach to managing it.  

Let’s take a closer look at brand reputation management and its importance for search engine optimization (SEO).

businesswomen discussing reputation management

Managing the perception of your company as it appears on SERPs should be part of your overall SEO efforts. (Image via Unsplash)

What is brand reputation management?

Brand reputation management involves monitoring users’ reactions to your business activity online and taking action whenever your brand image needs improvement.

As mentioned above, it’s important to understand that brand reputation is never fully under your control. However, it’s possible to work out a maintenance strategy that keeps your reputation in the best shape possible.

In the digital realm, brand image maintenance revolves around your brand’s reputation on search engines, on social media, and in online reviews. After all, 89% percent of consumers worldwide make the effort to read reviews before buying products. Since online reputation is highly volatile, this strategy requires your consistent attention. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a huge undertaking or take up a significant amount of time.

Reputation management and SEO

Managing the perception of your company as it appears on search engine results pages (SERPs) should be part of your overall SEO efforts.

More than 50% of shoppers go online before making a purchase. The first thing they see when skimming search results can affect their decision. (As a side note, this also goes for potential hires.)

That’s why reviews, links, and content that appear on SERPs or on social media need regular maintenance. Otherwise, no matter how well you design and implement your SEO tactics, you may still get negative results, such as:  

  • Lost organic traffic – Negative reviews often have a direct effect on your organic search traffic. If a poor review comes up when someone searches for your brand or products, they’re bound to keep looking elsewhere.
  • Lost paid search traffic – Even if your ads appear on top of the SERPs, negative reviews can offset their effect. No matter how much time and money you spend on ad design, you won’t get the number of clicks you otherwise would.

Even the most excellent SEO strategy can falter if it constantly has to fight against poor online brand reputation. Focusing on reputation management first can allow you to maximize the efficiency of your SEO campaign.

Reputation management for SEO: Best practices

Here are a few practices you can include in your reputation management strategy for SEO purposes.

1. Respond to reviews and comments

Reputation management involves responding to both positive and negative reviews and comments.

For positive reviews, you thank the customer and express your desire to work with them again. Consider using data you’ve collected while interacting with the consumer to add something personal to the review.

Standard reply: “Thank you! We are so happy to hear from you. Can’t wait to see you again.”

Personalized reply: “Dear Leslie, we are so happy you found the time to leave a review. We hope your dog is enjoying her new leash. Thank you!”

Negative reviews are more complicated, but are just as deserving of a response, if not more so. The key is acknowledging the problem, apologizing professionally, and expressing your willingness to solve the issue.

Ideally, you continue the conversation offline. Once it’s successfully resolved, you can always ask the customer to change or update their review.

Pro tip: When responding to comments or reviews, try to use keywords in your replies when it makes sense.

2. Claim and maintain social media profiles

When a customer looks for a brand, social media profiles often show up in search results. Since social media pages have high domain authority, they’re likely to pop up in top 10 results.

If you still haven’t claimed your social media profiles, now’s the time to do it. Social media profile maintenance is the key to online reputation management. If you don’t monitor them regularly, you could miss the opportunity to address negative feedback. Not only that, but you could lose access to valuable information about your target audience.

pointing to a printed out marketing strategy

The more valuable content you post, the more likely you are to improve your brand reputation online while gaining benefits for your SEO strategy. (Image via Rawpixel)

3. Use Google Alerts

Knowing when your brand is discussed on the web can be highly useful for your reputation management efforts.

Google Alerts notify you every time your brand is mentioned somewhere online. You can also use this tool to track mentions of your competition for competitor analysis.

4. Audit your content

Content marketing stimulates consumer interest in your brand. You need to audit your content to see if any of it is generating negative discussions, comments, or reviews. By analyzing this information, you can make changes to your content marketing plan.

The more valuable content you post, the more likely you are to improve your brand reputation online while gaining benefits for your SEO strategy.

Client testimonials on the HawkSEM homepage

Client testimonials featured on the HawkSEM homepage.

5. Put reviews on your website

Once you’ve shared a glowing review with your team via email or Slack, don’t just let it languish. Use the review to your advantage by including it somewhere on your company website (with permission from the reviewer if you use their name or company). 

Consumers who interact with reviews are 115% more likely to convert, and the more reviews you have, the higher your conversion rates, according to Power Reviews.

The takeaway

Brand reputation management allows you to monitor your company’s online reputation regularly and make appropriate changes in a timely manner. As a result, you could see boosted sales, an improved brand image, client trust, and more.

Your SEO efforts are dependent on your online reputation. By implementing the right management tactics, you can know that your SEO strategy is well-rounded and thorough to boot.

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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Google’s new ranking factor, Core Web Vitals, has begun its rollout. Find out what it means, why you should pay attention, and how it can affect your search engine optimization (SEO).

Here, you’ll find:

  • What Core Web Vitals are
  • How to assess your current Web Vitals
  • Tips for improving your Core Web Vitals
  • Other ways Google grades your site

Core Web Vitals are a relatively new concept in the SEO world. They’re a set of metrics related to the speed, responsiveness and visual stability of pages on your site. So, why are they a big deal?

For starters, Google announced them ahead of time last year, giving us a several-month heads up about these Vitals becoming a ranking factor at some point this year. In our experience, this means it’s going to be extremely important. Since they’ve already begun rolling out these new metrics, let’s break down what Core Web Vitals are and how you can make sure yours are on the right track. 

What are Core Web Vitals?

Google defines Core Web Vitals as a metric that shows how your pages perform based on real-world usage data. Basically, they’re a set of factors that Google refers to when scoring a page experience and overall user experience, from page loading to how quickly it becomes interactive. 

Core Web Vitals are made up of three specific page speed and user interaction measurements:

  • Largest Contentful Paint or LCP (loading)
  • First Input Delay or FID (interactivity)
  • Cumulative Layout Shift or CLS (visual stability)

Other Web Vitals, also called Page Experience metrics, include mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, and HTTPS.

person getting their vitals checked

Just like it’s important for your health to check your body’s vitals, the same goes for the health of your website. (Image via Unsplash)

Core Web Vitals are an official ranking factor in 2021

In late May 2020, Google announced that these Vitals would become an important ranking signal in 2021. This piqued the interest of digital marketers and SEO pros, since Google doesn’t always announce updates. When they do, it usually means they’re rather significant.

Luckily, this heads-up meant people had more time to prepare and make sure their websites are up to snuff. While Core Web Vitals were slated to take effect in May 2021, they decided to push the date back and give people even more time to prep their sites. 

They chose to start a gradual rollout in June 2021 which is set to be complete by the end of August. It appears this was for the best, considering that nearly half of websites still weren’t meeting Google’s Core Web Vitals standards.

As Search Engine Journal reports, the ideal Core Web Vitals are:

  • An ideal Largest Contentful Paint measurement of 2.5 seconds or faster
  • A First Input Delay of less than 100 ms
  • A Cumulative Layout Shift of less than 0.1

How Google currently ranks sites

These new Vitals are another ranking factor to go along with the existing SEO ranking factors Google has in place. Unfortunately, there’s no guidebook or cheat sheet that tells us exactly what Google looks for when ranking sites. 

However, things like SEO experiments and Google patents have helped marketers deduce that factors like relevant content, overall page speed, domain history, keywords, and a good sitemap can all help your ranking improve.

Ways Core Web Vitals could impact your ranking

Web Vitals are graded on a scale of pass, needs improvement, or fail. If it takes a while for your page to fully render or respond to clicks, or if your layout shifts around drastically, your score is bound to drop.

Not only will your grade impact your rankings in search results on mobile and desktop, but Moz reports that “Core Web Vitals are going to become a criteria to appear in Google Top Stories” as well. All the more reason to make sure yours are in tip-top shape.

Need help getting your Vitals on track? Let’s chat. 

How to assess your Core Web Vitals

There are a few ways you can test your web pages’ Vitals. These include the Chrome User Experience Report, the Core Web Vitals report through Google Search Console, and PageSpeed Insights. There’s even a Chrome extension that will show you the Web Vitals results for a current page. 

The tricky part here is that your score can change as you scroll through a page and whether you’re accessing it via mobile or desktop. You also want to determine whether you’re looking at Web Vitals “lab” data or “field” data. The former is collected and approximated through a browser’s API, while the latter is collected from actual user experiences on your site. 

Core Web Vitals health

You can address pages with poor scores and work to optimize them through things like upgrading your web host or compressing images. (Image via Unsplash)

Improving your Core Web Vitals

Page experience is just one of hundreds of factors Google reportedly uses to rank sites. However, considering the growing importance of user experience in digital marketing, along with Google co-founder Larry Page’s belief that user experience is the most important thing, it stands to reason that these Vitals will be the most impactful piece of that particular pie. For that reason, you want to do what you can to improve yours before Google officially finishes making it a ranking factor.

As Backlinko explains, the Chrome User Experience Report will show you the LCP data across your entire site. From there, you can address pages with poor scores and work to optimize them through things like upgrading your web host or compressing images.

For poor FID, you may want to implement a browser cache or remove unnecessary third-party scripts. For CLS issues, you can make sure ads aren’t moving around on your pages and set media size attribute dimensions. Search Engine Journal has some great advice on identifying and fixing issues that should help as well.  

Pro tip: After making adjustments to your website, it may take time for your Core Web Vitals score to improve. Google is still figuring out exactly how often they’ll be assessed and updated. It likely won’t be immediate. so don’t panic if you don’t see changes reflected right away. It could take as much as 28 days to see measurable improvements.   

The takeaway

For better or worse, making sure your site is primed for search engines is a never-ending process. With Google making algorithm updates near-constantly, the measurement of what makes a website optimized is always changing.

But an update rarely, if ever, means having to totally revamp your site. This is especially true if you’ve been following SEO practices, publishing quality content, and keeping user experience in mind. By priming your site for a high Core Web Vitals score, you’ll be ensuring that your site stays in Google’s good graces as they finish implementing their gradual rollout over the next several weeks.

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

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 Jul 16 , 2021

When paired with strong on-site SEO, off-site SEO can help strengthen your brand’s authority and credibility online. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to define off-site SEO
  • What elements fall under this SEO umbrella
  • Red flags to look out for
  • Expert tips on maintaining healthy off-site SEO

There are three main pieces that make up a complete search engine optimization (SEO) strategy: on-site, technical, and off-site. On-site SEO includes things like content. Technical SEO includes alt text, meta descriptions, and site architecture. Then there’s off-site SEO.

Below, HawkSEM Director of Marketing Strategy Maria Smart helps explain everything you need to know about this vital SEO pillar.

What off-site SEO is

Also called off-page SEO, off-site SEO covers all the SEO tactics that take place outside of your own website. (Tactics on your own site are considered on-site SEO, for obvious reasons.) 

As Moz explains, optimizing for off-site ranking factors involves improving search engine and user perception of a site’s popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority.

woman at computer with coffee

There are strategic steps you can take to maintain healthy off-site search engine optimization that shouldn’t consume too much of your time. (Image via Rawpixel)

What elements factor into off-site SEO

Some elements of off-site SEO are things you have a degree of control over. Others may be out of your hands, though you can attempt to influence them. 

As HubSpot explains, this includes but is not limited to things such as:

  • Backlinks
  • Brand building
  • Citation building
  • Content marketing
  • Video marketing (YouTube)
  • Forums
  • Local SEO
  • Review management

How can you help influence good off-site SEO? Maria says that optimizing your citations is a great start. You can’t exactly control reviews published about your company, other than trying to offer the best customer experience possible. But what you can do, particularly with negative reviews, is mitigate, respond, and try to take the conversation offline.

The same goes for social profiles like YouTube and Google My Business pages. It’ll benefit your off-site SEO to clean up any duplicate efforts and know how your profiles look on the search engine results page (SERP).

Pro tip: Consider creating a recurring reminder or calendar alert to stay on top of profiles and check in on them at regular intervals if possible. This way, you can be sure all of your pages have the most up-to-date images, contact info, operating hours, and more.

How off-site SEO benefits your brand

Off-site SEO is an important component of a well-rounded SEO plan. It addresses a host of important ranking factors that Google considers when evaluating your website’s trustworthiness beyond authoritative content and having a technically healthy site. 

Social media signals such as likes and followers can also be considered off-site SEO, as well as guest posting, link building, press releases and the like, Maria adds. Basically, all of these elements come together to help paint a picture of your business in online spaces outside of your website.

Effective ways to maintain good off-site SEO

Luckily, there are strategic steps you can take to maintain healthy off-site search engine optimization that shouldn’t consume too much of your time. 

Here are some ways to keep yours in good standing:

  • Monitor your social presence – Respond to reviews, update profiles, and add new photos when applicable.
  • Join and participate in forums and relevant communities – Find out where consumers in your field are gathering online and having discussions so you can add your own thoughts and connect with potential new customers.
  • Guest post on relevant websites and attempt to garner backlinks in the process – While some experts argue that simply guest-blogging to get a link isn’t efficient, we say it can be worth it in certain circumstances. Just make sure you’re creating highly relevant content that provides actual value for the reader.
  • Link building – Reach out as often as you can to relevant sources to get the placement you want in their articles or on their website.
  • Create and syndicate press releases – Press releases help you promote new solutions, business changes, and industry insights. (They also include a backlink when possible.)
  • Local presence – Be sure to maintain related citations in places like Google My Business and Bing Places.
  • Consider creating infographics – This type of content can be a source of engagement that can be easily shared on social media. To get good links, you need good engaging content, including graphics.

Pro tip: According to Ahrefs, “Google takes into account many off-page factors when deciding if and where to rank web pages. Links are one of those factors, but there are many others. For that reason, it’s challenging to rank on the merit of your content alone.”

woman searching with binoculars in the woods

Off-site SEO is just as important as its on-site and technical counterparts. (Image via Unsplash)

Red flags to keep an eye on

When you’re assessing the current health of your SEO, Maria says there are a few things in particular to look out for. 

These include:

  • Not ranking well for branded terms 
  • A backlink profile that is small and not authoritative or relevant
  • No local presence online
  • Poor social engagement
  • A website with low domain authority
  • Online reviews that are poor, non-existent, or even just unanswered

Off-site SEO is affected by all of these things. Working to take care of these issues can make your business look more authoritative to search engines, since all of these “signals” get calculated into your overall domain authority, whether your company is new or established.

The takeaway

It’s clear that off-site SEO is just as important as its on-site and technical counterparts. The tricky thing is that off-site elements are a bit harder to control. 

However, when you know the best practices and what common missteps to look out for, you can include off-site SEO maintenance in your overall SEO plan and know that you’re being intentional about keeping yours in a good place.

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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