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Written by Caroline Cox on Jun 26 , 2020

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

Here, you’ll find:

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

When some people hear the word “elusive,” they may think of Mariah Carey (and rightfully so). But for those stuck on page 20 of search engine results pages (SERPs), that may be how they describe their SEO.

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

1. Make sure you’ve got a firm grasp on SEO

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

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

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

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

2. Prepare for a full site and strategy audit

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

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

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

  • How SEO is currently being implemented
  • What SEO processes are currently in place (if any)
  • How SEO is currently being tracked and measured
  • 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 swiftly get you from page 40 on Google to page 1, run. As Forbes reports, assuming SEO will be an overnight transformation is one of the biggest mistakes people make with search engine optimization.

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

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

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.

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

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

5. Understand their 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 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, create optimized content for you, and 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.

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

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

7. 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.

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

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 May 28 , 2020

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 grocery store, shopping list in hand. Maybe this is your neighborhood market or a brand-new shop 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.

hawksem: website architecture

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. 

Here, Justine Rabideau, one of our expert lead strategists, helps explain how effective website architecture doesn’t just improve your rankings, but your overall 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.

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. What’s worse, they might never return. 

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 have a large amount of products. You may want to use “/products” in all of your product URLs because 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. All related pages can be linked underneath as Tier 2 items. Using the product example, say you have “products” as your Tier 1 and underneath you have product categories on the Tier 2 level. (We recommend using 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. 

Remember: Search bots can’t “see” images. They use anchor text as a signal for the keywords on a page. (Technically, navigation items are considered an internal link.) If you’re using text links, do your navigation items include keywords when possible? As mentioned above, search bots crawl these links and use the anchor text as a clue to the page 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 will allow you to see if users are bumbling around on your pages or find what they’re looking for right away.

How many items are in your navigation? In some cases, 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 — and try to keep it to less than four clicks when possible.

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 changed and tweaks you can make that’ll get your site on the right path.

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 as possible. 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 making it easier for you to 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.

By following these best practices and tips, you can 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.

Need more help with your website design? 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 May 22 , 2020

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 learn:

  • 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 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 deems 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 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.

google knowledge graph - hawksem

A Featured Snippets result in response to an inquiry about WordPress. (via Google)

1. Featured snippets

A Featured Snippet is a box that appears on top of all the other search results. It showcases, according to Google’s algorithm, 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 (more than 99% of 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 Featured Snippet is. If your competition is already hogging the space, go to “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, and use bullet points and short paragraph structure.
The Knowledge Graph results for 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 to structure the data on your website 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 panel.
  • 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
hawksem - local packs

Local Teaser Pack results for a search about vegetarian restaurants in Atlanta. (via Google)

3. Local Packs

Queries that specify a location trigger the appearance of a Local Pack box, which 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 “Other” 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) — review signals make up more than 15% of ranking signals on Google.
HawkSEM SERP features 101 - 1

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

4. Related Questions (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.
  • 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.
HawkSEM: SERP results - Video Snippets

Video Snippets as results for a query about removing a splinter. (via Google)

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.
  • Create 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 ads usually appear at the top and/or bottom of the search, 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. All you need to do to occupy those high spots is to build a high-quality Google Ads campaign. You can pay to place Product Listing Ads so your products (with links, descriptions, and/or prices) appear on the zero ranking spots 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.

Wondering how to make the most out of SERP features? You’ve come to the right 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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Written by Sam Yadegar on May 19 , 2020

In business, competition always gets in the way — in SEO, your competitors are your best friends.  

Here you’ll learn:

  • Who your SEO competition is
  • How to learn from your competitors
  • Ways to capitalize on your competition’s mistakes
  • Which tools to use to conduct a top-notch competitor analysis

While focusing on your own brand’s mission is key, not keeping an eye on your competitors is a risky move. After all, if you can’t see how fast your competition is going, they’re more likely to lap you in the race.

That’s where a competitor analysis comes in. By learning how to analyze what your competition is doing, you can adjust your marketing campaign to beat them.

Let’s dig a little deeper into what competitor analysis for SEO is and how it can help you stay on top of your game.

Who is your SEO competition?

It’s likely that you already have an excellent idea of who your business competitors are. But these are hardly the only companies you need to consider when fighting for the coveted top spots of Google search results. During your SEO campaign, you may be facing competitors who don’t belong in your niche.

For example, if you want to rank high for the “best flowers in LA,” you aren’t just competing with the local florists. You could be fighting against designers and review sites, making your climb to the top spot twice as tough.

The truth about SEO competitors is simple: They’re the companies that rank high for the keywords you’re targeting — even if they aren’t your business competitors.

hawksem: Competitor Analysis for SEO

While analyzing your competition, look for weaknesses or gaps you could fill. (Image via Unsplash)

Luckily, finding your competitors is easy. All you need to do is enter your keywords into the search field and see what pops up on the first few pages.

You want to analyze the competition so you can:

  • Strengthen your keyword search
  • Improve your content
  • Capitalize on your competition’s weaknesses
  • Find out what works and what doesn’t in your industry

All’s fair in love, war, and SEO, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about finding inspiration in your competitors’ campaigns.

While analyzing your competition, look for weaknesses or gaps you could fill. If the competitor ranks high for the same keyword, find out where they make mistakes or seem to come up short. Improve your efforts in those sectors, and you could come out on top. Here’s how to do it.

1. Identify their keywords

To strengthen your keyword search, you need to figure out which keywords your competitors rank for. This can help you find keywords with high search volume that they aren’t using enough. It can also help you understand what works in your specific industry.

Doing all that is fairly easy, thanks to numerous tools that help you analyze another website and see which keywords it ranks for. 

You can use these same tools on your website to see how good your keyword efforts are:

These programs also allow you to see how well your website ranks for some keywords compared to the competition. You could discover money keywords that you’ve overlooked.   

2. Analyze their content

Since content is the pillar of SEO, you need top-notch ideas. An excellent place to get them is to analyze what the competition is doing.

How do you figure out how well their content is working? Find out which content got the competitor the most links. Achieving high-quality backlinks is imperative to ranking high with search engines. 

Some link checker tools to help you include:

Once you find the competitor’s top content, check it for flaws. Maybe the word count is too low, the info is outdated, or their imagery is low-quality. 

Take advantage of the information you’ve gathered to create similar content, only better. Your goal is to come up with the content that offers significantly more value to the target audience.

You don’t always need to go deep into content analysis. By using the above tools, you can simply get inspiration for tweaking your content strategy.

Pro tip: While it’s natural to cover similar topics to your competition through content, don’t simply imitate. You don’t want to look like a mere copycat (or dip into plagiarism territory), so make sure the content you publish follows your brand’s own voice and tone.

3. Find dead pages

Seeking out dead pages is a time-consuming yet highly effective way to take advantage of your competitor’s mistakes. This part of the competitor analysis involves finding dead pages on your competition’s website that other companies have linked to. 

Once you find it, you can reach out to those who have linked to this content, show them the page isn’t working, and provide them with a link to your content instead. (If you already have a relevant article, great! If not, write one up and publish it, then send away.)

Links to dead pages can lower the website’s rankings. That’s why people are more than happy to replace them with live alternatives.

  • Find the 404 pages on the competitor’s website by using Ahref’s Site Explorer or ScreamingFrog.
  • Use Dead Link Checker to verify that the links to this page aren’t working.
  • Recreate content and offer the website owner to link to your article instead of your competitor’s 404 page.
HawkSEM: SEO Competitor Analysis

Analyzing your SEO competition can help you gain valuable insight into what works in your industry. (Image via Unsplash)

4. Analyze their website

If your competition is ranking high for your favorite keywords, see if you can find some flaws in their website design. From there, you can focus on making your website better and nullifying your competition’s efforts. Things to pay attention during a competitor audit include:

  • Site structure — How the content is organized on the website (subdomains, internal links, etc.)
  • Site speed — How fast do pages load? Can you make your website’s loading speed better?
  • Mobile-friendliness — How good does the website look on mobile devices? Are all the necessary features available to mobile users?
  • User interface — Is the site easy to navigate? What about hreflang (which, as SEMrush explains, tells search engines the relationship between pages in different languages on your site)?

You can crawl the entire site to find out how your competitors structure subfolders, use internal links, and take advantage of on-page SEO. These tools can help:

5. Look at their Google My Business page

For local companies, a Google My Business page can be a highly important SEO tool. Ask yourself: What is our competition doing to look appealing on this page?

  • Do they update the page regularly?
  • Do they use images?
  • Are there reviews?
  • How many people are following the page?

If any of these components are lacking, you can capitalize on mistakes and hone your Google My Business page accordingly. If they do a great job maintaining this page, see what you can do to mirror them.

The takeaway

Analyzing your SEO competition through a competitor analysis can help you gain valuable insight into what works in your industry. It’s win-win: You can see what they’re doing right and determine ways to follow suit, and you can also capitalize on their mistakes or areas where they fall short.

Looking at what your competition is doing isn’t just a smart trick: It’s an integral part of a solid search engine optimization strategy.

Want to learn more about analyzing your SEO competition? Let’s talk.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on May 15 , 2020

The way people search is changing. And, to be fair, it’s been evolving since search engines became a thing. (Ask Jeeves, anyone?) 

Here, you’ll find:

  • How online searches are evolving
  • Why natural voice and language trends are growing
  • How marketing teams can optimize for voice search
  • Data-backed predictions about the future of online searching

Over the last few years, virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana have grown in popularity. This meant fewer searches were being typed into search engines and more being conducted by asking virtual assistants questions. 

As a result, the phrasing and structure of searches morphed into a more natural, conversational form, and search engines had to keep up to stay relevant. Technology designed to recognize and understand human speech patterns is developing at a rapid pace. The most optimized marketing teams are pivoting accordingly.

Read on to learn more about how voice search is changing the world of digital marketing — and what you can do to keep your brand ahead of the curve. 

hawksem: voice search blog

65% of people ages 25-49 speak to a voice-enabled device at least once a day. (Image via Unsplash)

Voice search and natural language processing

Smartphones and smart speakers (like Google Home and Amazon Echo) have become thoroughly integrated into our lives. They’ve made it simple to find information quickly and in a way that can be done while we complete other tasks (like cooking or laundry) without having to pick up our phones. 

In fact, 65% of people ages 25-49 speak to a voice-enabled device at least once a day. People love voice search because it’s convenient, easy to use, and delivers the results you need immediately. It’s one way that technology is transforming our lives, and people have generally embraced it. But what happens when we ask Alexa for a cake recipe or Siri to help us install a faucet? How do they take our queries and turn them into the results we need?

Google is working to accommodate natural language trends

In 2019, Google released an updated algorithm called BERT, which strives to better understand the subtle nuances of human speech and the context of words in searches. This can help the search engine better match voice queries with more helpful results.

It’s the job of Google and other search engines to deliver the most helpful results on the first try, so search engines need to not only recognize the individual words in our searches, but also the context surrounding them. This is especially true in terms of voice search, where people often speak to their virtual assistant as if they’re speaking to another human. 

This is where natural language processing, or NLP, comes in. NLP strives to help machines understand human language beyond the simple definitions of words, like how words can change meaning when strung together.

How to optimize your marketing strategy for voice search

SEO is most likely a big part of your digital marketing strategy, so making sure your website is optimized when it comes to voice search will give you an edge. To stay relevant, it’s a good move to focus on your content. It’s likely that you already have a rich resource of informational content on your website, but many marketers are still focusing heavily on keywords. 

Of course, this isn’t to suggest you should ignore keywords. They still serve a purpose and can help search engines determine the meaning of your content. Rather, it’s wise to concentrate on delivering authentic, conversational, easy-to-read content.

Long-tail keywords are crucial here, as is user intent. Think carefully about what words a user might say to their assistant to find your business via a search engine — they might be different from what they might type into a search engine. 

Check out The SEO Content Strategy You Need: A Step-by-Step Guide

Understand how searches will continue to evolve

When users type their queries, they’re more likely to use shorter phrases because it’s faster. On the other hand, when voice searching, keywords and phrases get longer. This is why traditional SEO strategies that focus solely on individual keywords don’t work as well. Instead, use conversational phrases in your content and make sure that the content that you’re offering searchers is hyper-relevant to what they’re looking for. 

One of the biggest challenges that marketers face with voice search is how their results are delivered. If a user isn’t looking at a screen, a virtual assistant will only read a snippet of the top result. When searching on a screen, the top result is important — it’s what the search engine deems most relevant to the user. 

hawksem: voice search blog

It’s predicted that, by the end of 2020, around half of all online searches will be conducted by voice. (Image via Unsplash)

With a search engine results page (SERP), however, the user can choose from a host of other results displayed below the top-ranking results. In voice search, appearing in that top position is imperative. It’s the only information that the user will receive. Vying for that top spot means that competition will get tighter and optimization practices will likely evolve. 

For now, creating knowledgeable web content, social content, and blog posts are key. One good way to structure the content you create is by starting with a question that your users may have, then creating a post to answer it. This is also an effective strategy for integrating long-tail keywords and users’ potential questions into your content. The more relevant context you offer, the more likely a search engine will pair your website with a user’s query. 

The future of voice search 

NLP technology has uses that reach far beyond recognizing the context in voice search. Right now, NLP is booming and is likely to continue growing exponentially. In turn, voice searches will get smarter (Google Assistant gets 93% of questions right already), more efficient, and more useful to searchers. 

Despite this innovation being adopted so widely and so quickly, it’s still early in the life of voice search. After all, Siri was “born” in 2011, so much of this technology is pretty new, in the scheme of marketing. Trends can be watched, but it’s difficult to know exactly how the future will play out. 

It’s predicted that, by the end of 2020, around half of all online searches will be conducted by voice. There’s a big push for search engine technology to keep up with this demand. 

The takeaway

BERT was Google’s biggest update in years, so as a marketer, it’s important to pay attention. We can expect Google and other search engines to continue to implement new NLP technology, and as a result, machines will get better at understanding human language. 

If you want to stay at the forefront of the voice search revolution, work to create helpful, engaging content and keep track of any updates that Google makes to their algorithms.

 

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on May 14 , 2020

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

Here you’ll find:

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

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

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

HawkSEM: seo myths blog

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

Myth #1: SEO guarantees top search engine rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #3: SEO is a cheating tactic

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

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

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

Myth #4: SEO is cheap

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

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

HawkSEM: seo myths article

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

Myth #5: It takes forever to see SEO results

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

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

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

Myth #6: SEO is all about keyword search  

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

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

Myth #7: Buying links boosts your ranking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hawksem blog: seo myths

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

Myth #10: Long content ranks better

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

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

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

The takeaway

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

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

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

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on May 12 , 2020

Launching a new website doesn’t have to mean starting your SEO from scratch 

Here, you’ll find:

  • Why preserving your SEO is important
  • Steps to take to safeguard your SEO
  • Why creating a temporary site is recommended
  • Ways to test website elements before going live

When you’ve spent years strategically constructing your former site’s content and strengthening each keyword, you’ve likely built up decently strong search engine optimization (SEO). Good website SEO takes time, and once you’ve found success with it, guarding that success is a must.

So, what happens to your SEO once you revamp and launch your new site, or move it to a new domain?

Savvy digital marketers know preserving your SEO during the redesign or site migration process is critical. This 7-step website SEO checklist will help you get started.

HawkSEM: new website seo - balloons

Historical data is equally important in the SEO process, so instead of deleting old content, create a plan to improve it. (Image via Unsplash)

Steps to take to safeguard your SEO

Before you launch a new website, you need to protect your current site’s SEO to remain relevant on search engines and appear in organic searches. Here’s how to do it.

1. Audit your current site

A technical audit crawls your old site for errors. By establishing areas of concern on your former site, you can save yourself some headaches when launching your new site.  

Some examples of site errors include:

  • Broken internal or external links
  • Large files causing a slow load process
  • Low text to HTML ratio
  • Invalid sitemap.xml format
  • Non-secure pages
  • Duplicate title tags

2. Benchmark existing metrics

Document and save your old site’s performance progress. Google Analytics is one of the most popular tools to aggregate and assess site data. 

If you don’t have a sitemap for your old website, it’s a good idea to create one, along with a new version for the new site. Comparison metrics will assist you in analyzing and implementing each element of your new site. 

3. Use similar content

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The same can be said about your new site content.

Keep your old content
Comparable content provides uninterrupted optimization, helping you score higher organic search engine results page (SERP) rankings. This is why it’s wise to move old site content over to the new site. Historical data is equally important in the SEO process, so instead of deleting old content, create a plan to improve it.

Keywords
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to keywords for your new or revamped site. Rather, you can create a spreadsheet, organize each keyword, and compare the productivity. List the corresponding search volumes and define the strongest players from there.

One topic per page
Optimizing one keyword per page increases your site relevancy. Because of this, it’s a good idea to try to use only one topic and keyword per page on your site.

4. Create a temporary site

When your site is under construction, consider generating a temporary URL to use as your “staging site” during the design process. Using a temporary site curbs the risk of your new site being indexed while under construction. 

Users will also still have continued access to your former site to avoid any conversion interruption. 

HawkSEM: new website SEO - compass

Test to make sure each icon, button, and form operates and connects to the correct destination. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Test the 301 redirects

Permanent 301 redirects help confirm that each former URL is directed to the new URL. Keep things organized by creating a spreadsheet to map out each redirect. (Broken links are major hiccups and will slow down the SEO process.)

Watch out for deleted pages as well as static content. The technical audit will also effectively mend these possible glitches.

6. Update buttons, logos, and forms 

One misdirected link and you might lose the visitor for good. To develop a seamless site experience, test to make sure each icon, button, and form operates and connects to the correct destination.

Social media buttons
Social media can play a huge part in driving traffic to your site. When adding new social media buttons, make sure each icon is highly visible to the viewer and properly linked. 

If you’re a company that has multiple accounts within one social media platform (such as regular and support-specific Twitter accounts), verify that you’re linking to the proper account consistent with the relevant page content. 

Logos
Make sure each partner brand and logo is updated, since companies and organizations may have redesigned their logos.

Call to action (CTA)
Depending on your site’s CTA, test each link for the proper conversion. For example, if you want the viewer to subscribe to your newsletter, verify that each component of the sign-up form is functioning.

7. Choose the right agency

If you’re not going the DIY route (which can be a big — and potentially risky — undertaking), choosing the right agency for your site’s redesign or migration is critical.

When interviewing each agency, ask questions such as:

  • What are your revamp or migration strategies?
  • Do you have steps in place to preserve SEO?
  • Have you successfully revamped or migrated sites before?
  • What tactics do you use to avoid errors?

The takeaway

With the right strategy in place, you can easily integrate your previous site’s optimized data into your new website SEO strategy. 

Maintaining your SEO performance increases your new site’s relevancy, authenticity, and trustworthiness. By incorporating all of the elements above, your conversion rate will thrive and your new website will be a huge success.

Want more info on performing a site migration? Check out our guide. 

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 Apr 23 , 2020

Make sure your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is primed for success in 2020 and beyond.

Here, you’ll find:

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s dive in.

15 SEO Best Practices for Success in 2020

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

1. Plan for regular “wellness checks”

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

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

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

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

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

2. Conduct a content audit

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

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

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

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

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

Pro tip: A content audit can also help identify topic gaps you can fill via new content. Which topics related to your business have you not covered? Which related topics are your competitors outranking you for? Often, these chosen topics relate to the products or services your business offers. Narrow them down, then use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to determine the popularity and competition for these keywords.

3. Create (or update) your content strategy

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

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

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

  • Goals
  • Key performance indicators
  • Target personas
  • Tactics
  • Creation process
  • Projects

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

Optimized content has elements such as:

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

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

4. Prioritize E-A-T

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

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

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

5. Embrace video content

Video is fast becoming a highly effective content tool, and it’s a great way to increase page time and boost engagement. TechCrunch reports that, by 2021, a whopping 82 percent of all consumer IP traffic will be video. 

But once your video content is good to go, don’t forget to optimize it. You can optimize your videos by following SEO best practices such as:

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

6. Prioritize mobile-first indexing

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

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

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

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

7. Make sure your site is up to speed

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Don’t underestimate good visuals

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

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

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

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

9. Monitor your reviews

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

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

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

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

10. Keep featured snippets in mind

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

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

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

11. Look into structured data

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

Schema is a type of vocabulary with tags you can add to the HTML markup of your web pages and emails. One of the biggest benefits to Schema is that it can enhance the snippets that appear below your page title on the SERP. It allows you to add enriching content like a publish date or rating, rather than simply the meta description.

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

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

12. Own and manage your backlinks

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

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

There’s no secret to getting good quality backlinks, but some ways you can encourage backlinks to your site include:

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

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

13. Stay in the SEO best practices loop

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

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

14. Keep an eye on voice search

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

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

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

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

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

15. Track your progress

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

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

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

The takeaway

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

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

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

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

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Justine Rabideau on Apr 1 , 2020

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 8 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 — especially one designed for maximum SEO impact — is a much more in-depth process than sitting down, typing out a bunch of words, and posting it on your website. Let’s take a step back.

Why does having an effective content strategy even matter? For starters, having a good content strategy can increase your organic traffic from search engines, grow your email subscribers, and help expand your social reach. 

Data from the Content Marketing Institute shows that 65% of the most successful content marketers have a documented strategy. If you’re writing content that engages users and addresses their pain points, it can boost your overall brand authority in the eyes of the consumer 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 maximum 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, more likely, fingers to keyboard). This stage is extremely important, so we advise not skipping it in order 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 is going to actually be reading and digesting this content?  

If you already have audience personas built out, that’s great! You’re one step ahead. If not, you can begin building them by considering  your target audience’s age range, locations, interests, and 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 it to look like — 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 particular product or service. You might be surprised at some of the things that 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 and topic research

Keywords don’t mean as much in the SEO world as they used to. Google updates its algorithm hundreds of times a year. Some updates are bigger than others, but the most recent ones have focused on better understanding human language and how specific terms relate to topics, as it becomes increasingly reliant on AI and machine learning. (Perhaps unsurprising, due to the rise of 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.

Pro tip: Keyword research is still important to your SEO content strategy. You want to make sure you understand the search volume and difficulty of ranking for your key terms. 

When conducting keyword research, you want to check what keywords you’re currently ranking for first. It’s a good idea to start here so you don’t spend time focusing on a keyword you’re already ranking for. This way, 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 out a content calendar

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

These could include:

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

Of course, some pieces of content are going to take a lot longer to build out than others. Planning it out ahead of time and having a solid schedule 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 
SEO content strategy - HawkSEM

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

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, one of the most important things to keep in mind is 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:

  • Come back and 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.

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 are 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’s going to 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 and 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 5 or even 10 years old, there’s probably information in them that’s not accurate or relevant anymore. Having a plan for regularly updating those pieces with the latest information when it becomes 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:

  • Create a spreadsheet list of all content URLs
  • 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
  • Identify pages with “thin content” that may not satisfy a user’s search intent
  • Look for posts with duplicate or similar topics and consider removing or combining them into one long-form piece
  • Identify posts with outdated content or older statistics and update with more recent information
  • Don’t forget to redirect posts removed from the site to avoid 404 errors
  • Repeat this process regularly (once or twice a year) to keep your content fresh and relevant

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

SEO content strategy - social promotion - HawkSEM

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.

Justine Rabideau

Justine Rabideau

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

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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    Written by Justine Rabideau on Feb 6 , 2020

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

    Here, you’ll find:

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

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

    HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

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

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

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

    On-site structure

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

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

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

    Perform a technical audit

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

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

    HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

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

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

    Check indexed pages

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

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

    HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

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

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

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

    Review mobile friendliness

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

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

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

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

    Test page speed

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

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

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

    Analyze on-site user behavior

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

    HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

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

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

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

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

    HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

    Focus your content strategy

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

    Determine your personas & audience

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

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

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

    Conduct keyword research

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

    HawkSEM: SEO Audit 101: What You Need to Know

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

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

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

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

    Audit your content strategy

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

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

    Analyze your link profile

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

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

    Audit your backlink strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Review your internal linking strategy

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

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

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

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

    The takeaway

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

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

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

    Justine Rabideau

    Justine Rabideau

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

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