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Written by Sam Yadegar on Sep 18 , 2020

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

Here, you’ll find:

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

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

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

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

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

1. Test new keywords

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

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

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

2. Retarget visitors

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

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

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

paid search and seo together

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

3. Cross-analyze data

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

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

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

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

4. Dominate the SERPs

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

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

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

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

5. See faster results

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

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

6. Enhance SEO content through PPC ad copy

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

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

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

rowing teamwork

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

7. Learn more about your target audience

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

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

8. Optimize your budget

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

Leverage both of these in tandem by:

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

The takeaway

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

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

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Aug 31 , 2020

More and more searches are happening on smartphones — and Google is taking note. Here’s how to ensure your site is mobile-friendly so you don’t get left behind. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • Tips for making your website mobile-friendly
  • Why a mobile-friendly site is key
  • Basic SEO best practices for mobile
  • A breakdown of mobile site solutions

Mobile users accounted for more than half of global online traffic in 2019, a trend that’s been steadily climbing the last 5 years. But despite the popularity of mobile search, only about 70% of websites are deemed mobile-friendly. 

A mobile-friendly site used to be a convenient, competitive advantage. Now, it’s a necessity if you want to stay relevant and competitive with others in your industry. 

Google’s been talking about mobile-first indexing, meaning the search engine bots crawl the mobile version of a site first, since 2016. (Many sites are already being indexed mobile-first.) In spring 2020, they announced they’d be launching mobile-first indexing for the entire web starting in September 2020. Due to the pandemic, they’ve since extended this to March 2021

This extra bit of time is a great opportunity to make sure your mobile site is optimized and ready to go by next spring. Below, we break down how to make sure your site is mobile-friendly so you don’t get left behind.

mobile friendly site audit

Once your first audit is complete, it’s wise to plan on performing regular audits at least once a year. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Perform a comprehensive audit

An audit will help identify problems or shortcomings with the current version of your website in terms of mobile-friendliness. You can then use the results to come up with a plan for optimizing your site. An audit will also generate a broad range of important and insightful metrics, including the number of mobile users visiting your site.

You can use Google Analytics to audit your website by the following this command path: Google Analytics > Audience > Mobile > Overview/Devices. Google Search Console will notify you of Mobile Usability errors, and Google has its own Mobile-Friendly Test tool as well.

Additionally, you can opt for premium third-party tools. If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to take on an audit, you could look into partnering with an agency who can recommend customized solutions based on the audit’s results.

The steps for an audit include:

  • Review your mobile experience with a device simulator on your desktop, or just use your actual phone. Start with the homepage then move to top landing pages and follow your website’s hierarchy and structure.
  • Take screenshots and notes of broken items, and consider the user’s experience. Can they find info fast? Is the page too long? What action do you want them to take on this small screen?
  • Prioritize universal fixes, then dig into smaller errors to see what the extent of the work to be done really is.

Once your first audit is complete, it’s wise to plan on performing regular audits at least once a year to ensure everything is still optimized and operating accordingly. Regular audits will also be helpful when it comes to keeping up with Google’s dynamic updates.

Pro tip: In Google Analytics, you can also view data like bounce rate per device category and type, pages per session, and average session duration. These KPIs will let you know if users are engaging well via mobile.

2. Choose an ideal mobile-friendly solution

There are four main solutions to choose from when making your website mobile-friendly. Here’s a brief overview of each solution, including what they have to offer:

Responsive web design 

This is the most popular solution, primarily because of convenience. It entails embedding a code that automatically adjusts the site’s contents to fit individual users’ devices, such as rearranging content and resizing fonts to fit small screens. 

Nothing else changes, including the original URL, and this solution is easy to maintain. However, the site’s response may be somewhat limited compared to other solutions.

Dynamic serving 

Dynamic serving involves detecting a user agent (mobile, tablet, or desktop) and generating a customized page with HTML and CSS optimized for use with that particular device. 

This solution’s main advantage is that you can display heavy content on your mobile pages. However, the solution can be costly to implement. Additionally, accuracy in detecting the user agent depends on your solution provider’s competence and quality.

Mobile version 

This solution entails creating a separate mobile website with separate content independent on the main desktop website. Mobile users are automatically redirected to the mobile version using a separate mobile domain name.

This solution is not recommended much anymore, as a separate mobile site is a no-no for mobile-first indexing. Another shortcoming of a mobile version is its limited content. It’s difficult to incorporate all content from the main desktop website. Plus, these sites are often harder to manage compared to other solutions.

Mobile app

A mobile app offers unparalleled user engagement and has the highest measured success rate. Mobile apps are also excellent for branding, as the design is customized specifically for mobile users. Advanced algorithms also enable customization for individual users.

The downside: A mobile app is generally more expensive than other mobile solutions. It also has a low retention rate due to the increased number of mobile apps and the fact that it requires extra effort from the user compared to browsing a website. To this end, mobile apps are often used as a complementary solution for these other mobile solutions.

mobile friendly website

Making your website mobile-friendly has gone from a nice-to-have to a necessary marketing component. (Image via Unsplash)

3. Adhere to mobile SEO best practices

Your mobile site’s success depends on how well it stands out to crawlers and Google’s ranking algorithms. The most effective way to compete is to adhere to Google’s recommended search engine optimization (SEO) practices. Pay particular attention to the following mobile SEO best practices:

  • Code in HTML5
  • Minimize your site’s loading time
  • Ensure your multimedia content (images, videos, etc.) is compressed to the lowest size possible without sacrificing resolution
  • Enable image files, CSS, and JavaScript
  • Avoid using iframes
  • Highlight navigation buttons and make them easy to access
  • Ensure you use the correct minimum font size (16px)
  • Optimize the page content to fit different screen sizes
  • Ensure your content’s font is easily readable
  • Make links easier to tap by placing them far apart
  • Make jump links available and avoid irrelevant cross-links
  • Use image alt tags
  • Enable automatic login
  • Highlight call-to-action buttons, including a click-to-call tab

These are just some of the basic mobile SEO best practices. Additionally, remember to watch out for Google’s periodic mobile-friendly site updates and adopt all recommended SEO practices.

The takeaway

Making your website mobile-friendly has gone from nice-to-have to a necessary marketing component. Google’s upcoming mobile-first site index launch will penalize websites that are not mobile-friendly.

With so much searching happening via smartphones, those who provide a poor-quality user experience on mobile simply won’t see the success of sites that do. All the more reason to take the time between now and March 2021 to make sure your site is mobile-friendly. 

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

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Written by Caroline Cox on Aug 28 , 2020

Google has announced a new ranking factor slated for 2021: Core Web Vitals. Find out what it means, why you should pay attention, and how it can affect your search engine optimization (SEO).

Here, you’ll find:

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

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

For starters, Google gave us a several-months heads up about these Vitals becoming a ranking factor at some point next year. In our experience, this means it’s going to be extremely important. So, let’s break down what Core Web Vitals are and how you can make sure yours are on the right track. 

What are Core Web Vitals?

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

Core Web Vitals are made up of three specific page speed and user interaction measurements: Largest Contentful Paint (loading), First Input Delay (interactivity), and Cumulative Layout Shift (visual stability), according to Backlinko. Other Web Vitals, also called Page Experience metrics, include mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, and HTTPS.

checking your core web vitals

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

Core Web Vitals will be an official ranking factor in 2021

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

Luckily, this heads up means people have more time to prepare and make sure their websites are up to snuff. As Search Engine Journal reports, the ideal Core Web Vitals are:

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

How Google currently ranks sites

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

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

Ways Core Web Vitals could impact your ranking

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

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

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

How to assess your current Core Web Vitals

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

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

Core Web Vitals health

Got poor Vitals? Don’t worry: There are things you can do to get your site back on track. (Image via Unsplash)

Improving your Core Web Vitals

While page experience is just one of hundreds of factors Google reportedly uses to rank sites, it stands to reason that these Vitals will be the most impactful piece of that particular pie. For that reason, you want to do what you can to improve yours before Google officially makes it a ranking factor.

As Backlinko explains, the Chrome User Experience Report will show you the LCP data across your entire site. From there, you can address pages with poor scores and work to optimize them through things like upgrading your web host or compressing images. For poor FID, you may want to implement a browser cache or remove unnecessary third-party scripts. For CLS issues, you can make sure ads aren’t moving around on your pages and set media size attribute dimensions.

The takeaway

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

But an update rarely, if ever, means having to totally revamp your site. This is especially true if you’ve been following SEO practices, publishing quality content, and keeping user experience in mind. By priming your site for a high Core Web Vitals score, you’ll be ahead of the game when Google formally rolls out the metric.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

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

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Written by Caroline Cox on Aug 21 , 2020

From thin content to improper targeting, these are the common content marketing mistakes you want to prevent.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Mistakes content marketers often make
  • Why creating a content plan is key
  • Tips for promoting your content
  • How to avoid some of the common pitfalls

Creating content is one of the best things you can do for your site’s search engine optimization (SEO). Not only that, but it’s a great way to educate your audience, leverage yourself as an industry leader, and let your brand’s personality shine.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake. On the contrary, high-quality content takes planning, strategizing, time, and more. Read on to find out some of the common content marketing mistakes people make. Plus, we’ll discuss how you can avoid falling into the same traps.

1. Not having a strategy in place

These days, it’s fairly easy to set up a blog on your website and begin posting content. But in order to make the most of the time and effort that it takes to create content, it’s best to go into the process with a solid plan in place. Otherwise, you may look back after a few months of posting and see disjointed, randomly published posts that aren’t as cohesive or beneficial as they could be.

How to avoid: Before your first piece of content goes live, sit down and create a strategy. How often will you post content? Who will be in charge of the content? What is our brand’s voice and tone? Who will write and upload it? What topics do you plan to cover, and how will you promote it? These are just some of the questions you can ask to clarify your content plan.

Pro tip: For organization’s sake, it’s a good idea to create a content calendar. This way, everyone on your team can see what topics have been covered, which ones are planned for the future, deadlines, who has written which posts, and more.

common content marketing mistakes

Even the most well-written content can fall flat if it doesn’t properly speak to your audience. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Aiming for quantity over quality

When you’re just starting to build up your content library, it’s tempting to want to publish as much as you can as quickly as possible. But the truth is, you simply can’t rush good content. Just like proper SEO, it takes time, effort, and intention to do it right.

How to avoid: Even if you have an accelerated timeline or a team of content contributors, there should still be parameters in place to ensure your content is high quality. The best content is created to educate your audience and help them solve problems — not to game search engines. Publish work that’s thorough, accurate, easy to read, up to date, and informative. That way, you can rest assured that what you’re putting out into the digital world is worth standing behind. 

3. Not targeting your audience with your content

Even the most well-written content pieces can become content marketing mistakes if they don’t properly speak to your audience. If someone lands on your blog or website and finds content that doesn’t apply to them in some way, they’re likely to bounce.

How to avoid: If you haven’t already, it’s time to flesh out your ideal client personas. These personas can help you determine the common responsibilities, goals, and pain points of your audience so you can better address them in content. It’ll also help you understand what language and tone to use to best resonate with the people you’re trying to reach. 

4. Publishing thin content

As we’ve mentioned before, there’s no magic number when it comes to your content’s word count. However, it’s generally understood that content under 400 or so words is known as “thin content.” This type of content may not be as impactful or valuable to the reader as content that spans, say, 600 words or more. (We’ve found the sweet spot is closer to 800-1,200 words.)

How to avoid: When tackling a topic, make sure that you do a thorough job of explaining it. This could include insights such as how it can be applied, tips for success, and offering additional resources when it makes sense. Don’t simply write filler sentences to hit a certain word count. Rather, make sure that the piece properly addresses the reader’s question or curiosity.

5. Creating multiple posts on the same subject

In a perfect SEO world, each page on your site has its own keyword it aims to rank for. But once you’ve been publishing content for a while, it can be difficult to come up with new topics to tackle without risking overlap. Creating multiple posts that cover the same topic is known as duplicate content. This is considered a black-hat SEO technique, which could get you penalized by search engines, even though it can happen by accident. 

How to avoid: You can avoid creating duplicate content by checking your archives before starting a new piece. This helps ensure it hasn’t already been covered in the past in the same format. If it has, you can consider updating or lengthening the existing content. If the older content doesn’t provide much value, you can simply write a new piece and post it to redirect from the previous URL. 

Pro tip: Republishing content that’s been posted on another site, such as a guest blog, on your own site is also considered duplicate content. If you do this, Google will likely favor the page that was posted first, or it won’t rank either page. A page is considered duplicate if about 80% of the content is the same, so even trying to change around a few sentences isn’t enough.

content marketing mistakes

If you publish content in a forest and no one reads it, does it make a sound? (Image via Unsplash)

6. Neglecting to follow SEO best practices

Keeping SEO top of mind during the content creation process is one way to ensure that it gets the widest reach possible. That’s because priming your content for SEO makes it more recognizable by search engines. As a result, these pieces are more likely to show up in organic search results when someone searches for a related keyword or phrase. 

How to avoid: We’ve got a whole guide to creating an SEO content strategy (and a free webinar recording, too!). A few of the main ways you can work to make your content SEO-friendly are:

  • including images with alt tags
  • using subheaders
  • leveraging internal and external links
  • having a page title and meta description

7. Keyword stuffing your content

One of the most common content marketing mistakes we see is overly using keywords or location info on your site is defined as keyword stuffing. This used to be a way to try to quickly (and ethically) rise through search engine results page (SERP) rankings for a particular keyword — before Google caught on, that is. According to the search engine, “Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking.” 

How to avoid: Avoid keyword stuffing by only including your keyword and related phrases when it makes sense in your content. Don’t repeat your keyword unnecessarily. Sometimes you can accidentally conduct keyword stuffing in your content. Depending on your site platform, you can prevent this by installing an SEO plug-in (like Yoast for WordPress) that’ll alert you if your content includes stuffing.

8. Failing to promote your content

If you publish content in a forest and no one reads it, does it make a sound? By not promoting your content, you risk not reaching as many readers as you could. Significant effort went into producing your pieces, so it’s paramount that you do what you can to promote them. 

How to avoid: Depending on the type of piece you’re promoting, you can get the word out in a variety of paid and organic ways. For longer, meatier content, you can create ads that go to a landing page offering the content (such as an e-book, template, or guide) in exchange for a form fill-out. You can also organically promote on your social media channels and through your email newsletter

9. Not regularly updating your content

The longer you leave content on your site untouched, the more likely it is to grow stale and outdated. Whether it’s a timely blog about a certain year, a statistic, or a how-to guide for an often-updated platform, as time goes on, these pieces may need a second look — and perhaps a refresh — to stay relevant to your audience. 

How to avoid: Create a plan to conduct regular content audits. This way, you can easily identify which pieces need to be updated, modified, and even consolidated or redirected. This is a great way to keep your library fresh and up to date. 

The takeaway

Once you have a solid plan and the proper steps in place, you can get into a good groove with content creation. Building up a library of pieces that directly speak to your audience, fully explain the topic at hand, and feature original, natural, well-written copy will give you an edge over your competitors and help you avoid content marketing mistakes. 

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Aug 12 , 2020

A content audit helps ensure the information you’re publishing is accurate, up to date, high quality, and relevant to your audience. Here’s how to conduct one for your website.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What a content audit is
  • Why it’s important
  • How to conduct an audit of your own content
  • Why regular content audits are key

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

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

We’ve done content audit exercises with several of our SEO clients and seen impressive results. One client actually saw a 61% bump in blog traffic alone after implementing changes uncovered during the content audit process. Ready to make a content audit plan of your own? Here’s where to start. 

creating a content audit spreadsheet

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

1. Create a spreadsheet 

To start, crack those knuckles and pull up a new spreadsheet. (If you’re a “spreadsheet person,” you’ll love this part, but if not, you’ll get through it!) Then put all of your blog URLs into the spreadsheet. If you have a sitemap, you should be able to easily pull in the URLs from there. (If you don’t have a sitemap, we recommend implementing one for best possible SEO).

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

2. Dig into the data

Now, it’s time to analyze your blog’s performance data. You can start by determining how many sessions each page had over the past six months or longer, depending on how much traffic comes to your site and how much content you have. You can do this using Google Analytics or your preferred analytics tool. Looking at how many sessions each post has will tell you how many people are visiting the page.

Next, see how many backlinks point to each page. You can use Ahrefs, SEMrush or other similar tools to gather that info. Checking out backlinks is important because not all posts are necessarily meant to drive traffic. There may be another reason you published a piece of content, and it may be benefiting you by earning high quality, high authority backlinks, even if it’s not necessarily driving traffic or visits. 

You may also find that there’s a big batch of content with zero or few backlinks and no visits. For these posts, you may want to ask yourself why this content is on your site, since it’s not providing any SEO value. By identifying that batch of pages, you can brainstorm ways to repurpose and make the most out of this content, since it already exists on your site.

Want more content insight? Check out 10 Steps to Creating a Content Strategy for SEO, a webinar recording led by our lead strategist, Justine Rabideau.

3. Identify pages with “thin content”

There’s no magic number when it comes to exactly how many words a quality piece of content should have. Generally, longer content ranks better, but you shouldn’t be writing content just for the sake of hitting a certain word count. After all, it’s about providing value to the user, not beating the search engine algorithm.

Thin content is classified as pieces that don’t satisfy a user’s search intent. Pages with only 200-300 words probably don’t provide a ton of value to the reader (though there are exceptions, of course). Take this opportunity to see how you can make this content more robust. Can you build it out and include related topics, or should it simply be removed for your site with the URL redirected elsewhere?

4. Look for posts with duplicate or similar topics

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

This is especially true if a lot of people have worked on your site over the years. You might find you have posts that aren’t the same word-for-word, but that cover the same topic in a similar scope. For these posts, you can consider removing or combining them into one longform piece. Figure out which one is performing better or is better written, or combine both into one awesome piece that provides more value for your site. 

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

content audit plan

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

5. Identify posts with outdated content or older statistics

As more information becomes available, you want to make sure you’re updating these facts and figures in your content. Particularly in the digital marketing world, things change really fast. Think about it: If you’re searching around online and find a post from 2015 in 2020, you’ll probably think it doesn’t contain the most relevant or up-to-date info. 

See what posts contain data or statistics that have been updated, like results from an annual industry survey. You don’t have to totally rewrite the post, but once you update this info, make sure you mention that the post is updated or revamped. Adding a small note as the bottom of the content and updating the date it was published usually checks off these boxes.

6. Redirect posts as needed

Don’t forget to redirect posts removed from your site to avoid 404 errors. Depending on where you host your site, there should be a plugin that makes this relatively easy. If you find a bunch of pages that need to be removed, make sure you redirect those URLs either to the most relevant post or to the main blog page. 

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

7. Plan to repeat this process regularly

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

The frequency for your company will depend on your bandwidth. This is a time-intensive exercise, depending on your content volume, but one that’s well worth it. It’s also wise to keep a running list of posts that need to be updated on an annual basis (like posts that reference the current year) so you don’t have to dig around to find the post later.

The takeaway

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

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

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 Jul 31 , 2020

On the heels of Google’s sweeping May 2020 update, let’s take a look at how algorithm updates affect search engine optimization (SEO).

Here, you’ll find:

  • What a Google update is
  • How Google updates have evolved
  • How these updates can impact your SEO
  • Tips for preventing updates from hurting your rankings

Trying to figure out exactly how Google’s algorithm works is like trying to solve a giant Rubix cube. Every time you get one side figured out, the other sides have switched up.

We know the algorithm determines organic search rankings, which it pulls from the SEO elements of your content. We also know the algorithm isn’t static. That’s because the Google team is consistently updating it to show users the best results for their perceived queries. 

So, how can you safeguard your SEO against Google’s often-changing standards and updates? Here’s what you need to know.

hawksem - woman on mountaintop

It’s in the best interest of SEO pros to keep an eye on Google’s algorithm updates, as it could have a significant impact on their current SERP rankings. (Image via Unsplash)

What is the Google algorithm?

The Google algorithm is a complex, slightly mysterious system. It essentially gathers data from every corner of the web via its search index to deliver the most accurate, relevant results for a search query. 

As Search Engine Journal explains, the way it determines which content to show is through “a combination of algorithms and numerous ranking signals.” These signals deliver web pages ranked by relevance on the search engine results page (SERP).

SEO is all about making sure your content is primed to be properly recognized and ranked by search engines. This way, you can ensure your message is reaching the widest possible intended audience. 

What are Google updates?

Google’s algorithm updates used to be few and far between. These days, they happen nearly constantly. These updates can be slight and basically undetectable or overarching and drastic. The brand is also fairly secretive about when updates are coming and what they will affect.

It makes sense. If marketers knew exactly how the algorithm operated, they could create or modify content to try to game the system, instead of focusing on content that’s educational, high-quality and helpful to their audience.

Unsurprisingly, it’s in the best interest of SEO pros to keep an eye on Google’s algorithm updates, because it could have an impact (positive or negative) on their current SERP rankings.

What’s the deal with Google’s May 2020 update?

The update Google rolled out in May 2020 was what’s called a “core” update. This means the search engine made big, significant changes to its algorithm. This update ended up impacting businesses across a ton of industries. 

The update was announced via Twitter and immediately began to roll out, a process that would reportedly take a week or two to complete. As the rollout commenced, it appeared to affect elements like:

  • local search businesses
  • sites in a variety of languages and based in a variety of countries
  • health-related sites

(The latter is unsurprising, as the pandemic has made the need for accurate health-related information arguably more important than ever.)

An update that takes weeks to roll out can be an issue for those tracking SEO performance. It can cause fluctuations that affect data being gathered. For example, a page that’s ranked on page 1 of the SERP can suddenly fall to page 2 or 3, giving it significantly less visibility even though the page itself hasn’t changed. 

Why did Google seemingly roll back some of the May 2020 update?

One of the biggest issues that arose from the May 2020 update was the frequency with which big-name brands were ranking for a ton of keywords. Others questioned why Pinterest and other social media sites were showing up in so many first-page search results, often in different languages. Meanwhile, Amazon and Etsy also appeared on multiple SERP results, sometimes with double listings.

A Google rep responded publicly to concerns saying they were looking into the issues people were seeing. (An official rollback hasn’t yet been confirmed.) Often, the rollbacks are never formally announced and can only be detected by monitoring search results and SERP performance. 

Need more insight into Google from an SEO or ad perspective? You’ve come to the right place.

hawksem - google homepage

The algorithm is smart — it knows when sites are trying to trick the system using unethical or “black hat” SEO techniques. (Image via Unsplash)

How do updates and rollbacks affect SERP rankings?

Large-scale updates and subsequent rollbacks make for an unstable SERP. This can result in wildly fluctuating rankings. The May 2020 update seemed to create a lot of volatility in SERP rankings. Many businesses saw large swings in keyword rankings. This, of course, makes it more difficult to assess what’s working and not working from an SEO perspective. 

Another example of this is Google’s BERT update (which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) in fall 2019. This update, which Google called one of their most important updates in years, was significant. It aimed to improve the algorithm’s understanding and interpretation of natural language and conversational formatting.

It made sense, as the use of voice search became more popular, meaning people were speaking their search queries instead of typing them out. The impact of this update meant that it was more crucial than ever for sites to feature content that was well-written, thorough, and accurate. Many sites with outdated, thin, or keyword-stuffed content saw their rankings decrease.

It also improved the algorithm’s understanding of context, like being able to determine the different meanings of “salsa” when used with “recipe” vs. “dancing” and serving up the right search results accordingly. 

How can brands avoid being negatively impacted by updates and rollbacks?

There’s no magic code you can add to your site or its content that’ll ensure it’s immune from Google’s next big rollout. What you can do is work to make sure all of your content, from your website copy to your blog, follows the E-A-T standards of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.

The algorithm is smart. It knows when sites are trying to trick the system using unethical or “black hat” SEO techniques. While these may get you higher rankings in the short term, the potential for your site to get penalized makes it, in our eyes, not worth the risk. 

The takeaway

When it comes to SEO, we are at the mercy of the algorithm. The good news: If you prioritize high-quality writing and regular audits and publishing content that is as updated, thorough, and accurate as possible, then any negative side effects you see from Google updates should be small or even temporary.

By following Google best practices, making sure you’re minimizing technical SEO issues, improving your onsite UX, and creating helpful content, you can rest assured you’re doing everything you can to proactively foster the best SEO possible. 

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 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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