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Written by Caroline Cox on May 26 , 2021

Everything you need to know about search engine optimization (SEO)

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to define search engine optimization
  • Why SEO is an important part of digital marketing
  • What makes up a good SEO strategy
  • SEO trends worth keeping an eye on

It’s no secret that, in today’s digital marketing landscape, it’s all about the search engine. Whether you rely on organic reach or leverage paid ads, getting on page 1 of the search engine results page (SERP) is always the goal.

But it doesn’t come easy. The algorithm changes often, and new competitors can crop up anytime. Having a site that’s optimized for search engines can be the game-changing factor that helps your brand stand out.

For the full 411 on SEO, let’s dive in.

What is SEO?

The point of SEO is to rank organically for relevant searches to your website without having to pay for ads. As we’ve mentioned before, following SEO best practices helps ensure your site is set up for success. These strategies also add value to your overall brand while showing prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

One of the most effective SEO methods is to publish well-written, original content that can inform people or answer their questions. Unfortunately, SEO isn’t quite as simple as that. And just having quality content is only scratching the surface. 

What is “the algorithm” and how does it affect SEO?

Google (along with all other search platforms such as Bing) has a search engine algorithm that takes hundreds to thousands of different aspects into consideration when a user enters keywords or a query. 

That’s why, when we say “search engine optimization,” we’re talking about setting up your site to show search engines that your brand is relevant, trustworthy, and legitimate in relation to your industry. 

Paid and organic search results on the SERP for a query about creating a gallery wall

Here’s a look at paid and organic search results on the SERP for a query about creating a gallery wall.

You can learn about the process and guidelines Google adheres to make sure their algorithm “meet high standards of relevance and quality” here. However, search engines keep marketers on their toes by regularly rolling out tweaks and updates without much (or any) advanced notice. 

Since it launched, Google has gone from making only a handful of algorithm updates every now and then to rolling out thousands of changes each year. These updates come with varying levels of impact on the search engine results page, or SERP, according to Search Engine Journal.

Because of this, it’s worth your time to focus on white-hat, long-game SEO techniques rather than trying to game the system through black-hat “quick wins.” The latter may get your site penalized down the line (more on that below). 

Key factors that help determine which results will appear for your query are:

  • Meaning of your query
  • Relevance of web pages
  • Content quality
  • Usability of web pages
  • Context and settings

How Core Web Vitals affect your SEO

In 2021, Google officially rolled out Core Web Vitals. Basically, this is a new set of ranking metrics that take things like speed, responsiveness and visual stability of pages on your site into account. 

As the search engine itself explains, “the Core Web Vitals report shows how your pages perform, based on real world usage data (sometimes called field data).” Core Web Vitals are made up of three specific measurements: Largest Contentful Paint (loading), First Input Delay (interactivity), and Cumulative Layout Shift (visual stability). 

Core Web Vitals are graded on a scale of pass, needs improvement, or fail. The way your site scores can impact how you’ll rank on the SERP.

Pro tip: As Google enhances its machine learning capabilities, Search Engine Journal advises marketers to keep “semantic SEO” in mind in 2021. Basically, this means choosing topics relevant to your audience, discerning searcher intent, and making your resource as rich and in-depth as possible.

How to start your SEO off on a clean slate

Whether your site is brand-now or has been around for a decade or more, it’s never too late to put good SEO practices in place. Even if everything looks fine and dandy, websites can have hidden technical SEO errors. These may not appear or be visible to the end user, but Google’s crawlers can detect it in the website’s code. Depending on the issue, this could cause your site to get penalized. 

Put simply: If too many “red flags” exist on a site, Google will value it less than a competitor’s site. Because of this, your site may not rank well despite having original, informative, and high-quality content.

Other issues Google dings your site for include:

  • 404 error pages (aka broken links)
  • Missing or duplicate meta tags
  • Pagination issues (such as too many indexable URLs)
  • Thin content
A 404 error page from Mailchimp

A 404 error page from Mailchimp.

To avoid Google undervaluing your site, making sure it’s “clean” is an important first step. Once you have a solid base to build off of, you can focus on content strategy and creation, links, schema markup, and other optimizations.

This stage can be time-consuming. You may want to look into having your developer crawl the site and conduct a wellness check or getting an SEO audit from a marketing agency.

Pro tip: Use this SEO-friendly website checklist for a quick-and-easy way to see how well your site is set up for organic search engine success.

Building an SEO-friendly website

A website with good SEO tactics in place often starts with proper site architecture. This refers to the way your site is structured, how users navigate it, and the ways pages are reached. The quicker and more straightforward your site navigation, the easier it’ll be for visitors to get the information they’re looking for. 

Whether you’re launching a new website or redesigning an existing one, here are some SEO best practices to keep in mind:

  • Test out new site elements on a staging site before pushing them live
  • Implement redirects along with meta tags to avoid losing any SEO rankings you’ve already built up
  • Update all buttons, logos, and forms 
  • Make sure there’s no duplicate content

SEO through quality content

Whether your business is e-commerce, financial services, or something in between, having well-written content on your site is beneficial for so many reasons. Not only does it strengthen your SEO, but it can educate your audience, show that you’re a thought leader in your industry, and help attract more visitors to your brand. 

When you’re crafting a quality content marketing strategy, key steps include:

  • Fleshing out your personas
  • Defining your voice and tone
  • Determining the keywords you want to cover through content
  • Deciding the best brainstorming, writing, and editing process
  • Prioritizing promotion
  • Regularly analyzing performance

If you want your content to help boost your SEO, it’s important to pay attention to grammar and spelling. One way to think of it is: If an English teacher were to grade your website like a paper, would they give you an A, C, or an F? Google’s algorithm will read your content like an English teacher, and will also grade it (to a degree).

Tips for creating quality content

Once you’ve determined your relevant keywords and search terms, it’s time to work on creating the content. At the beginning of the writing process, think about how your content can answer questions of:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
A content calendar example from a SaaS company

A content calendar example from a SaaS company.

Pro tip: When creating content, avoid keyword stuffing. This practice of over-inserting the keyword you’re trying to rank for is frowned upon. Plus, Google can recognize when someone is clearly mentioning a search term repeatedly and downgrade your ranking.  

Once you feel confident about your content output and strategy, it’s wise to plan on regular content audits. This will allow you to identify old posts, high-performing pieces, and other content-related factors that will impact SEO. 

Search engines favor new, robust content. By continuing to optimize pages, you can benefit from the long history attached to a URL while making sure the info on your site is timely, accurate, and up to date.

What are some stats on SEO?

  • More than 51% of smartphone users have discovered a new company or product via a search on their smartphone.
  • 72% of consumers say search is their first choice to find information on local merchants.
  • Today, more people use search engines to find products or services than any other marketing channel.
  • On average, B2B buyers conduct up to 12 searches before engaging with a brand.
  • Google has more than 92% of the search engine market share worldwide. 
  • 61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority.
  • 50% of search queries are four words or longer.

Metadata

As Moz explains, meta tags provide information about the webpage in its HTML. This info is dubbed “metadata.” While it’s not visible to your readers, it’s key nonetheless. Meta tags live in a page’s source code, and it’s used to tell search engines what a page is all about.

How meta titles and meta descriptions look when creating content in WordPress with the Yoast SEO plugin

Here’s how meta titles and meta descriptions look when creating content about performing a site migration in WordPress with the Yoast SEO plugin.

Having pages with proper meta tags (which includes a title and description that accurately represent the page’s content) can impact not only the ranking of your page, but your clickthrough rate (CTR) and bounce rates as well. 

When the preview for a page is accurate and lines up with the page’s content, those in search of what you’re offering already have a good idea of what they’re going to get from that particular page.

Pro tip: Make sure your site features an SEO-friendly blog by leveraging internal and external links, posting in an easily readable format, including a descriptive URL, and having designated keywords.

Header tags

No matter how high quality the content or well designed the page, if your site features large blocks of plain text, you’re in danger of having eyes glaze over and people bouncing from your page. Much like the metadata, header tags (the most common being H1, H2, and H3) serve as a kind of outline or table of contents for each page. See that “Header tags” line above? It’s an H3 header tag.

These tags also serve to emphasize what a paragraph or section will be about. This makes it easy for readers to scroll to the parts of your page that particularly interest them. Header tags are also tied to SEO. Search engines can weigh these headings and subheadings more than the paragraph copy in terms of importance. 

If your blog title is H1, your headings are H2, and your subheadings are H3, they’ll be prioritized in that same order when it comes to the search engine. Also worth noting: While header tags extend to H6, most sites stick with H1-H3. 

Pro tip: Another way to get an edge over your competition? Conduct a competitor analysis for SEO. Identify their ranking keywords, analyze their content and website, and check out their Google My Business page. This can help you pinpoint areas of weakness you may be able to capitalize on and more. 

Backlinking

Linking is an incredibly important aspect to cultivating SEO that ranks you well. Having high-quality, highly relevant backlinks (links from another domain to yours) tells search engines that other sites trust yours, so end users probably can as well.

We’ve talked before about how more backlinks (also called inbound links) from credible sites help you rank higher on the SERP. Think of backlinks like endorsements. They’re used to let Google know your site is valuable and legitimate.

You can encourage backlinks to your site by: 

  • Publishing unique statistics, survey data, or other exclusive info
  • Writing guest blogs or being quoted on other credible websites
  • Partnering with influencers in your industry
  • Reaching out directly to sites you want backlinks on

When it comes to reaching out, there’s no magic formula. And, like SEO itself, it takes time. Your best bet, when cold-emailing another brand to request a backlink, is to keep the message short, make it personalized, and highlight the benefit for their site, not yours.

For example, if you find a well-known industry site is using outdated stats or content that you happen to have an up-to-date version of, send it to them and see if they’ll replace the older link.

Disavowing links

Not all backlinks are good, however. Spammy or “toxic” backlinks can lower your site’s domain authority and your rating. In turn, this lowers how trustworthy your site appears. If there are a bunch of spammy sites linking to yours, Google will treat your site as a terrible one as well. Consider it a “guilty by association” mindset.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent low-quality sites from tanking your SEO rep. Disavowing these toxic sites (which tells Google not to associate these links with your website) is key to maintaining a higher standing with Google.

While external linking is important, internal linking shouldn’t be overlooked. Linking from your own pages to other pages on your site is beneficial in Google’s eyes. It can also be helpful to the end user as well (which, really, is a big reason why search engines value internal links).

Pro tip: When it comes to disavowing backlinks, Google warns that this advanced feature should be used with caution. You only want to disavow links that are sure to reflect negatively on your site. “If used incorrectly,” Google explains, “this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results.”

Schema markup, structured data & rich snippets

Schema is a structured data vocabulary created by the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex). Structured data is what helps these search engines better understand and define what a post or page is about. 

This special language can be added to an HTML markup as code to enhance the snippets that appear below your content on the SERP. With schema markup, you can add elements like a publish date, event schedule, or product rating. It can improve your SEO and CTR by adding context to your pages, thus helping you rank better.

Google’s structured data markup helper tool

Google’s structured data markup helper tool.

This additional content is referred to as “rich snippets.” If a normal snippet merely includes the URL, title tag, and meta description, any additional info is considered a rich snippet. 

You can add schema markup to your pages by visiting schema.org, selecting the type of markup that you want to use, and adding the code to your page. If you publish on a site like WordPress, you can add this data via plugins in a snap. Once added, you can test that the structured data was set up properly via Google’s structured data testing tool.

Pro tip: While adding structured data to your pages can boost SEO, adding it doesn’t guarantee that they will show up on the SERP, even if you’ve followed all of the steps correctly. 

What is local SEO?

Local SEO leverages content to answer locally relevant or location-based searches. HubSpot defines local SEO as a way to help businesses “promote their products and services to local prospects and customers. 

To gather information for local search, search engines rely on signals such as local content, social profile pages, links, and citations to provide the most relevant local results to the user.” 

“Near me” searches, or searches based around a local city or region, are extremely popular these days. In fact, 80% of consumers use search for local information. However, location-based searches are treated slightly differently than a standard search. If you own a local business, have a local blog, et cetera, then you’ll want to keep local SEO in mind.

Optimize for Google My Business

One way to do this is by making sure your site is optimized for Google My Business (GMB). This search engine feature aims to show that a business is relevant and authentic. As a bonus, GMB-optimized businesses may show up as a pullout sidebar on the SERP, giving your biz that much more exposure.

How HawkSEM’s Google My Business page looks on the SERP

How HawkSEM’s Google My Business page looks on the SERP.

Optimizing for Google My Business entails:

  • Creating a verified GMB page for your company
  • Garnering authentic online reviews from customers
  • Responding to these reviews using location-based info
  • Using Google Posts in your account (which allow you to share news and messages on your GMB page)

Other ways to optimize for local SEO include publishing location-specific content, adding separate location pages to your site (if your brand has locations in multiple cities), and making sure your NAP (name, address, and phone number) info is consistent and accurate across the web.

Accelerated mobile pages

The majority of searches are now done on mobile devices. In fact, Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2018 to take precedence over its traditional desktop index. Because of this, it’s crucial for your SEO to make sure your entire site is mobile friendly

Created by Google and Twitter, accelerated mobile pages (AMP) are a critical part of Google’s mobile approach. AMPs feature a more minimalist, stripped-down HTML version of a webpage for quick loading and easy access on mobile devices. 

It’s up to you whether or not AMPs are worth it for your business. While they may receive a favorable ranking on the SERP, these pages often don’t have as many elements or designs as regular pages. 

AMPs don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. That’s why it’s worth it to explore your options when it comes to enhancing your AMP content for Google Search and customizing these pages to fit your needs.

Important metrics

We often get asked what types of metrics or KPIs are most important to keep track of when it comes to SEO. In terms of core KPIs, we generally look at:

  • Organic sessions
  • Organic bounce rate
  • Average page views per session
  • Domain authority/rating
  • The number of keywords or search terms ranking in the top 3 results (above the fold, first page)
  • Keywords or search terms ranking on page 1 (in spaces 1-10)
  • Keywords or search terms ranking in spaces 11-50

The metrics you look at and prioritize will depend on factors like your goals and how long you’ve been actively implementing your SEO strategy.

White hat vs. black hat SEO

“White hat” and “black hat” are SEO techniques marketers can leverage when optimizing a site. Basically, white hat SEO techniques are ethical, Google-approved methods that are looked favorably upon by search engines. White-hat techniques include publishing high-quality content that speaks to a human audience, implementing a long-term SEO strategy, and including alt tags with your images.

Black hat, on the other hand, refers to methods that attempt to trick search engines by making a site appear more legitimate than it is. These common SEO mistakes include keyword stuffing, creating blogs for the sole purpose of generating links to other sites, and hiding “invisible text” in the code of your website in an attempt to game the algorithm.

Black hat methods are frowned upon by search engines. While it’s not against the law to use them, they can get your site flagged for violating guidelines or prevented from appearing in search results entirely. Plus, black hat techniques often result in a poor user experience with your website.

Then there’s “grey hat” SEO. These are SEO methods that, while not currently against search engine guidelines, could become viewed as black hat in the future. This includes posting fake reviews, offering incentives for online reviews, and purchasing expired domains for the sole purpose of linking or redirecting to your site.

Pro tip: Looking for strategies to grow your organic traffic? We’ve got 14 right here. 

How visuals enhance SEO

Speaking of alt tags, visuals are another important part of good site SEO. According to TechCrunch, 82% of all consumer IP traffic will be video in 2021. Not only that, but Search Engine Watch reports that video content has a 41% higher click-through rate than plain text.

If you have the bandwidth and budget, experimenting with video content could end up being what sets you apart from your competition on the SERP. Pages with videos are often visited for longer periods of time, and a longer visiting period can only mean good things when it comes to SEO.

In terms of photos, graphics, and other static imagery, Yoast explains that well-chosen images can complement your content and get you a good ranking in image search results.

“Alt tags” are alternative attributes on an image’s img tag. The purpose of this tag is to describe what the image is portraying, which not only helps the search engine understand the image, but it’s used as context for the visually impaired.

Depending on your website platform, it should be easy to add SEO-enhancing alt tags to your images as well as a title and meta description for your videos.

Pro tip: Videos can also be optimized by choosing an eye-catching thumbnail image, investing in paid ads for promotion, and adding captions.

HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Speed doesn’t just matter to users — it also matters to search engines.

Leverage SEO tools

Your search engine optimization maintenance doesn’t have to be a totally do-it-yourself process. Tools like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools help easily monitor how your site is currently performing on the respective search engines. 

Once you set your site up on these platforms, you can view reports that’ll show you how your search performance is trending and more. They can also illuminate any issues that need fixing, like technical errors on your site that you may not be aware of. 

Why is site speed important for SEO?

Site speed, especially on mobile, is another highly important aspect with regards to SEO. That’s partially because a site that takes even a few seconds to load can cause a significant number of visitors to immediately bounce.

But speed doesn’t just matter to users — it also matters to search engines. Google has been upfront for years about how page speed is a ranking factor for them (though, admittedly, not a hugely significant one). You can test out how speedy your pages are with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. 

The takeaway

Search engine optimization is important when it comes to ranking on the SERP and growing your reach. But, at the end of the day, the goal of a search engine is to connect users with the answers they seek.

As long as you (or your chosen SEO agency) follow the above tips — and have a fast website with high-quality content that’s engaging, unique, current, and helpful — you’ll be well on your way to boasting successful, strong SEO. 

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

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Apr 29 , 2021

Here’s what you need to know about this popular search engine optimization (SEO) practice.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How backlinking is defined
  • Why it’s an important part of SEO
  • Best backlinking practices
  • Key mistakes to avoid

Many marketing pros consider high-quality backlinks a key component of a solid SEO strategy. Besides helping to bring your website to the top of the search engine results page (SERP), backlinks can defend your rankings against Google algorithm updates.

It’s possible to create a robust backlinking portfolio by building an effective backlinking strategy and taking advantage of all available opportunities. Not only that, but understanding the importance of backlinks can help you better execute a successful SEO campaign.

chain links

With the right backlinking strategy, it’s possible to obtain significant links from trustworthy websites, and rise through the ranks as a result. (Image via Unsplash)

What is backlinking?

Backlinking is the practice of earning links to your site from other high-quality websites. The more backlinks you have from authoritative, legit websites, the better your site looks to search engines as a result.

Not all backlinks are created equal. Links from popular, high-ranking, and trustworthy websites are valuable. On the other hand, links from low-quality or spammy websites can negatively impact your rankings.

When a high-authority website links back to one of your pages, the authority of your own website goes up. By adding a link to one of your pages, a website essentially vouches for your site. The more high-quality backlinks you can obtain, the better your website is likely to rank.

Here’s the catch: Highly effective backlinks can be tough to earn. However, with the right backlinking strategy, it’s possible to obtain significant links from trustworthy websites, and rise through the ranks as a result.

Backlinking best practices

While implementing backlinking strategies can be time-consuming, they can also pay off in a big way. The earlier you start working on your plan, the faster you can potentially start to see results. 

Focus on high-quality content

Besides being the foundation of your SEO efforts, top-notch content is also a great backlink generator. By coming up with valuable, accurate, and unique content for your website, you encourage other companies to link to it. Search Engine Journal puts it this way: “Without content, there is no reason for a website to be sourcing you (i.e., giving you a backlink).”

Content that attracts links often include things like:

  • Data-driven studies
  • Visual content (infographics, how-to videos)
  • Long-form guides
  • Trend pieces
  • Market research studies

It’s like Kevin Costner’s character says in the 1989 film Field of Dreams: “If you build it, he will come.” If you create good content, you’ll likely get more traffic organically. After all, as Marketing Inside Group explains, “Quality content gives other websites a reason to link to yours and gives visitors a reason to click the links.”

Key elements high-quality link baits often have in common include:

  • An appeal to a wide audience
  • Citation potential (meaning others can link back to your studies, quotes, and stats)
  • The ability to create a strong emotional response
  • Problem-solving and question-answering ability

Besides content created with link generation in mind, high-quality articles, blogs, and other content pieces designed for your audience can generate links as well. As long as the content brings value, it has link-creating potential.

two trusting people holding hands outside

Not all backlinks are created equal. Quality wins over quantity. (Image via Unsplash)

Pro tip: Guest posting on other high-authority websites allows you to offer valuable insight and advice to the authority website’s target audience. These can be hard to score, but if you establish a good relationship with the site’s managers, your target audiences are aligned, and you have something truly valuable to share, it can be a beneficial tactic.

Make sure you’re getting the right backlinks

As mentioned above, not all backlinks are created equal. Quality wins over quantity. Backlinks that work the best often:

  • Come from a trustworthy website with high domain authority
  • Contain your target keyword in the anchor text
  • Come from a website that’s at least somehow related to your products, services, or industry
  • Don’t have a “nofollow” tag (when ranking websites, search engines ignore nofollow links)

Pro tip: Keep tabs on your backlink portfolio. Not-so-good links don’t generate the desired results, and their presence can create a false appearance of a good strategy.

Run a backlink analysis

While you may think you have plenty of backlinks, some of them could be hurting your reputation instead of improving it. That’s why it’s wise to take the time to run a backlink analysis of your website. Depending on what you uncover, you may have to rethink your backlinking strategy.  

Poor links usually come from low-authority sites and link networks. A backlinking analysis can help you identify bad links. Once you find them, you can contact the website’s webmaster and ask them to remove the link. If they don’t respond, you can disavow the link.

Want to learn more about backlinking strategies? Let’s chat!

Find “link roundup” opportunities

Link roundups are lists that bloggers compile to give their readers links to the best content related to a certain subject. These roundups can be published daily, weekly, or monthly. Up your chances of appearing in one of these roundups by:

  • Creating high-quality content
  • Finding a website in your niche that creates roundups
  • Pitching your inclusion to the blogger

Roundups are the easiest type of backlinks to acquire.

Backlinking mistakes to avoid

Consider keeping these practices out of your backlinking strategy:

  • Don’t try to generate backlinks by using “black hat” SEO tactics (such as creating numerous profiles specifically to add links to forum signatures or blog comments). 
  • Never try to buy or sell a link. Authority websites don’t sell links, though some websites may charge you for guest posting.
  • Avoid nofollow links.
  • Don’t spend time trying to acquire backlinks from websites that aren’t relevant to your niche.
  • Avoid site-wide links (like footer links on each page of your website). This could trigger Google’s Penguin algorithm and earn you a penalty.
  • Don’t forget to keep an eye on your backlinks. If you suddenly earn dozens of links, for example, it could look suspicious.

The takeaway  

If you want to create a comprehensive and effective SEO strategy, backlinking deserves your full attention. However, the first step is excellent content, along with off-site optimization opportunities like YouTube, social channels, and local citations

By attracting links from trustworthy websites, you are working towards building your website’s authority and getting closer to the top of the SERPs. 

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Apr 23 , 2021

Want to get more likes, comments and follows? When it comes to your social media, keep SEO tactics in mind. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • How SEO translates to better social media profiles
  • Expert tips for optimizing your brand’s social media
  • How keywords play a part in organic social posts
  • Why analyzing your social content is key

As social media becomes more sophisticated (and popular), new features are added to help improve discoverability. For brands and organizations, these add-ons are particularly beneficial.

Whether you post a few times a month or multiple times a day, you want your social profiles to serve as a way to spread the word about your brand, grow your reach, and connect with your target audience. Employing a few common search engine optimization (SEO) principles can help you do just that.

Read on for a few social media SEO principles worth applying to your accounts to grow your reach and improve engagement.

1. Keep keywords in mind

While reports show that social media rarely impacts brand visibility in search engines directly, it’s still a good idea to leverage keywords when you can. Adding certain keywords to your posts can be a game changer when it comes to your discoverability on these platforms.

Instagram recently added their own keyword search tool which, according to Social Media Today, allows you to search posts that use certain words or phrases even if they’re not hashtagged. You can do this through Twitter’s search function as well.

girl outside smiling at phone

There are no end-all be-all rules for how often you should post on each platform. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Make sure all profiles are consistent

If possible, it’s a good idea to have the exact same handle across all of your profiles. This makes your brand look professional and makes it easy for people to find you. If your business name is a common term or the handle is already taken, you can consider adding your business type or city to the end (like @HawkSEMagency or @HawkSEMLosAngeles). 

From there, try to have your profiles follow a similar look and feel, ideally one that also matches your website. Any logos, URLs, addresses, and contact info should be consistent and up to date as well. 

3. Create a social content plan

Don’t have a full-time social media manager? Fear not! You don’t have to build out a super intense social media plan. However, it’s a good idea to at least create a high-level outline for how you plan to post on a regular basis, whether that’s daily, weekly, or a different frequency. As mentioned above, consistency is key.

This can be especially helpful if you’re running multiple social media accounts, as most brands do. There are no end-all be-all rules for how often you should post on each platform. It’ll likely depend on your industry, audience, and bandwidth. However, experts generally suggest posting the most frequently on Twitter (a few times a day, if you can swing it), followed by Facebook (one or two times a day), and then LinkedIn (once every day or two). 

Again, find what works best for you and your team, then keep an eye on engagement rates to see how your audience responds. The last thing you want is to overdo it by posting too much, which can lead to unfollows.

Need more help with your social media or SEO? Let’s make it happen.

4. Leverage tags on social posts when possible

Just like keywords and tagging your content help people and search engines alike understand what your posts are about before reading them, social media tags serve a similar purpose.

While you don’t want to go overboard on the hashtags, they’re a useful tool when people are searching for a certain topic or phrase on all the major social media platforms. When you add a hashtag, either to the post itself or in the comments, it becomes hyperlinked and searchable, which is an easy way to boost your post’s reach. 

5. Optimize your profiles

As we’ve mentioned before, one of the most important things you can do as a business on social media is to fully fill out your profile. The more information you provide, the more context your followers get about what you offer, and the more likely you’ll be found by the right people. 

Take advantage of options like the ability to add a brief bio, URL, and a cover photo. From there, you may be able to optimize further, depending on the platform. For example, Instagram gives users the option to add alt text to their posts. Not only is this a solid SEO tactic, but it makes your post more inclusive to those who are visually impaired. 

casual guy working on social media SEO on computer

Knowing how you’re tracking will help you reach your social media goals faster. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Analyze your social media performance

Don’t waste your time tweeting and hashtagging into the void. Just like with content and other SEO principles, the best way to make use of your profiles (and your social media manager’s time) is by analyzing your posts’ performance. 

Whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly, take the time to visit the analytics section of your profiles. If you use a third-party posting service like HubSpot, you can see a certain amount of data, but you’ll get the clearest picture by going into each profile directly. From there, you can see how quickly you’re gaining followers, which posts are resonating most, and which platforms are seeing the most engagement.

This is a great opportunity to pivot your strategy. Do you need to pay more attention to your Facebook audience? Interact more in your Twitter replies? Boost a well-performing Instagram photo to get it even more exposure? Knowing how you’re tracking will help you reach your social media goals faster. 

The takeaway

SEO is an integral part of modern digital marketing programs. Social media, it could be argued, is integral as well. 

By being mindful of social media SEO best practices that can translate from your website to your profiles, you can continue to grow your reach, create better posts, keep up with industry trends, and stay ahead of the competition. 

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 Apr 21 , 2021

Here’s how to improve your site and reach more of your target audience with Bing Webmaster Tools.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Why marketers should pay attention to Bing
  • What Bing Webmaster Tools are all about
  • Benefits of using Bing Webmaster Tools
  • How to get started with these tools

Living in Google’s shadow is tough. But while Microsoft’s search engine Bing may not pull quite the numbers that Google does, it’s still worth your attention as a digital marketer.

That’s because Bing attracts almost a billion unique monthly visitors itself. Meaning, it’s possible that a large segment of your target audience uses or has used Bing for searching. 

Bing Webmaster Tools is the search engine’s own version of Google Search Console. Armed with a user-friendly interface, the service allows you to manage your website, improve SEO efforts, and more.

girl in chair on computer

While Bing owns a little over 6% of the search engine market share, it’s still a powerful engine with high potential. (Image via Unsplash)

Why Bing can’t be ignored

In the race to win the top spots on Google’s result pages, many companies overlook the power of Bing. Here are a few points to consider when deciding whether to dig deeper into Bing and its Webmaster Tools:

  • Bing is the default search engine for all Microsoft devices (that’s more than a billion just for Windows 10).
  • Bing is behind voice searches by Cortana and Alexa.
  • They partner with smaller search engines like Yahoo, AOL, and DuckDuckGo.
  • Bing has highly optimized image and video search features that some say are better than Google’s.
  • The majority of Bing’s visitors are in the 45-54 age range, which allows you to reach certain parts of your audience that can be less accessible on Google.
  • Bing has a less expensive (about 30%) CPC than Google Ads.
  • More than 500,000 advertisers work with Bing.

While Bing owns a little over 6% of the search engine market share, it’s still a powerful engine with high potential.

What is Bing Webmaster Tools?

Bing Webmaster Tools is a free service that allows you to add your website to Bing’s crawlers to improve visibility and climb to the search engine’s top result pages. It also helps you manage your website’s presence and monitor its condition.

Webmaster Tools also lets you obtain and analyze important information about your website’s health and optimization. This includes:

  • Conducting keyword research
  • Receiving warnings about the safety of your website (e.g. malware, spam)
  • Figuring out how many webpages are indexed by Bing
  • Monitoring and analyzing your backlinks
  • Checking which keywords your website ranks for on Bing
  • Finding out how Bing crawls and indexes your website
  • Submitting new pages to be crawled
  • Removing content you don’t want to index with the Content Removal tool
  • Submitting sitemaps to Bing
  • Creating a customized crawling pattern (with the Crawl Control option)
  • Notifying Bing about low-quality links pointing to your website
  • Connecting the website to your corresponding social media accounts
  • Connecting your website to your app, if applicable
  • Analyzing your site’s efficiency on the search engine and specific pages to improve SEO performance

When it comes to SEO, it could be argued that Bing Webmaster Tools is more advanced in some ways than Google Search Console. You can perform a variety of SEO-related tasks without leaving the dashboard or relying on external tools.

bing webmaster tools dashboard

A look at the keyword research section of the Bing Webmaster Tools dashboard. (Image via Bing)

Key benefits of using Bing Webmaster Tools

Besides offering a comprehensive set of tools for website analysis and SEO, Bing Webmaster Tools come with a variety of other benefits for digital marketers.

A user-friendly interface

Bing has created a user-friendly all-encompassing dashboard that rivals (if not surpasses) Google’s. You can get a full view of all the necessary settings and parameters with just one glance. While seemingly a small benefit, this feature can save you a lot of time when looking for specific information.

High-quality reporting tools

Another time-saving feature offered by Bing is comprehensive reporting. Here’s a look at the reports offered by Bing.

  • Page traffic report: Page-level search performance metrics for the top pages in organic search
  • Site explorer: Information about the number of URLs discovered by Bing, URLs that appear on search results, and number of clicks received from search results
  • Keyword search report: List of keywords (from organic search) that drive impressions and clicks to your website
  • SEO reports: SEO analysis of your website and recommendations to improve search engine visibility
  • Mobile-friendliness report: A list of areas that need improvement to comply with Bing’s best mobile-friendliness practices
  • Crawl information report: An indication of crawl errors on your website

Bing Business Listings (Bing Places)

Bing Places is the search engine’s version of Google My Business. You can claim and manage your business listings directly from the Webmaster Tools dashboard. This simple shortcut can save you time spent managing listings and improves your local SEO efforts.

Pro tip: You can easily import your Google Search Console and Google My Business listings and profiles to set up Bing Webmaster Tools and Bing Places.

runner at starting line

Getting started with Bing Webmaster Tools is mostly intuitive, especially if you have experience with Google Search Console. (Image via Unsplash)

Getting started with Bing Webmaster Tools

Getting started with this service is easy. Just go to the Bing Webmasters homepage and click “get started.”  You can sign up using your existing Microsoft, Google, or Facebook account.

The first thing to do is submit your website’s URL to Bing. From there, you can verify the ownership of your website through one of the following options:

  • XML file authentication
  • Meta tag authentication
  • CNAME record via hosting provider

The instructions on how to do it will show up on the screen once you choose the method. When the verification is complete, you can upload your sitemaps and start using the service.

Getting started with Bing Webmaster Tools is mostly intuitive, especially if you have experience with Google Search Console.

The takeaway

Bing is the second-largest search engine in the world. Ignoring it could mean failing to reach certain segments of your target audience and falling behind the competition.

Bing Webmaster Tools is similar to Google Search Console and, in some ways, it’s better. Bing did an excellent job creating a comprehensive, user-friendly, report-filled service that allows you to manage your website and improve its visibility.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Mar 25 , 2021

Peanut butter and jelly. Rhythm and blues. Paid search and SEO.

Here, you’ll find:

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

Paid search and SEO (short for search engine optimization) are two sides of the same coin. Paid search targets those searching for keywords related to your business through ads on the search engine results page (SERP). SEO, on the other hand, ensures your website, content, and social profiles are poised to rank well in organic search results.

While each strategy can be effective on its own, we’ve seen that pairing them together is one of the most effective ways to build a strong digital marketing foundation. 

So, how can paid search (also known as pay-per-click or PPC) 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 sure the paid and organic components of your search engine marketing work together, you can speed up your campaign optimization and boost ROI as a result.

Here are 8 ways to pair paid search and SEO together successfully. 

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.

Pro tip: When selecting keywords for paid search and SEO efforts, it’s key to keep intent in mind. As HubSpot explains, you want to avoid keyword traps, or “words and phrases that sound good, but have dual meanings or a mismatched intent.”

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 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

When a user leaves the website, you can inconspicuously attach a piece of code to 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 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 (CTR)
  • 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 determine 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 to 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 an SEO campaign gains 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
  • Optimizing your landing pages with both SEO and paid search in mind

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.

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

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Mar 4 , 2021

Don’t fall for these common misunderstandings surrounding SEO.

Here you’ll find:

  • The most common SEO myths
  • The truth behind these myths
  • How to avoid falling for these misconceptions
  • Expert tips for boosting your SEO

A digital marketing strategy without search engine optimization (SEO) is like trying to kayak with a paddle that only has one fin.

Sure, you may be moving — but you’re probably not going to get where you’re going in a timely, efficient manner.

Experienced marketers know it takes both paid search and strong SEO for your digital marketing plan to function at full capacity. And while there’s plenty of information to be learned about both, there are also plenty of myths, particularly when it comes to SEO. 

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 implementing SEO tactics, everything you’ve achieved so far starts evaporating. (Image via Unsplash)

Myth #1: SEO guarantees top search engine rankings

Truth: While SEO tactics can help you get to the top of organic search engine page results, guarantees simply don’t exist. SEO is only one part of an overall search engine marketing strategy. Without other components like pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, it can be difficult to beat out the competition for the top spots — and even harder to stay there.

On top of that, we know that SEO is an ongoing process. This means it often takes months to show any significant results. Even then, you may not get to the top of the first search engine results page (SERP). However, with the right approach and a well-thought-out strategy, it is certainly possible to achieve high rankings and increase traffic as a result.

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

Truth: The SEO process is a project with no end in sight. What’s more, the moment you stop implementing SEO tactics, everything you’ve achieved so far starts evaporating.

Think of your SEO practice like a muscle you’re exercising. As long as you keep working at it consistently, it stays strong. But once you stop, the muscle mass begins losing strength — often faster than it was gained.

New SEO trends and search engine algorithm updates crop up all the time. Without following them and adjusting your efforts accordingly, it’s nearly 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 and get your website on the first page of Google results.

While the practice of SEO is by no means unethical, there are certain “quick-win” tactics 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.

Search algorithms are becoming increasingly better at identifying black-hat techniques like keyword stuffing, low-quality content, shady link-building practices, and much more. 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. 

Remember, search engine optimization isn’t just about rising through the ranks. It’s more important to make your website a highly valuable resource for your audience through ethical, white hat tactics. These include:

  • Targeting a human audience with content, not search bots
  • Publishing images with alt tags
  • Creating easy navigation through site architecture
  • Following all other suggested search engine guidelines

Myth #4: SEO is cheap

Truth: Scoring big returns with little investment of budget or time is no easy feat in most niches. SEO is no exception. 

Effective search engine optimization requires dedicated, 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 mentioned above, it often takes time to see the true effects of your SEO efforts. But by investing the time and money to ensure your site is optimized, your content is high-quality, and your website 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 — time and consistency are key. (Image via Unsplash)

Myth #5: It takes forever to see SEO results

Truth: The time it takes for SEO to start working depends on how you begin. If you already have a well-designed website, a top-notch content plan, and a smart backlink strategy, the effects may become visible in as little as a few weeks.

If you’re starting from scratch, that’s fine! Just manage expectations and understand results won’t be immediate. Remember the muscle comparison: It’s impossible to get a huge bicep after two workouts. Time and consistency are key.

Pro tip: Leveraging low-competition keywords and optimizing your site’s metadata are just a few tactics that can help you see relatively swift SEO results.

Myth #6: SEO is all about keyword search  

Truth: Some people believe 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 important pillars of SEO, they’re hardly the only components of the strategy. Search engine optimization also factors in things like website speed and design, backlinks, mobile-first indexing, social media, security, and much more.

Myth #7: Link schemes boost your ranking

Truth: Engaging in link schemes is another black hat SEO technique. It’s also a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. The search engine defines this practice as excessive cross-linking or “requiring a link as part of a Terms of Service, contract, or similar arrangement without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of qualifying the outbound link, should they wish.”

Sure, this tactic 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 and can negatively impact other parts of your 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 you’ll be hard-pressed to find a respectable website that will post poor content, so focus on keeping the quality high, whether the content is published on your site or elsewhere.

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

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 to achieve high rankings

Truth: Of course, you want to snag rankings for those high-volume keywords… and so does everyone else in your industry or niche. 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 a solid 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 if it’s valuable. Google doesn’t draw a hard line when it comes to the length of your content — the algorithm cares more about providing search results that are relevant and valuable to searchers.

Aiming for a higher word count just for the sake of it could lead to adding fluff and making your articles downright boring, which may result in a higher bounce rate. 

Pro tip: Though there’s no magic SEO word count you want to hit, it’s wise to avoid publishing thin content. This is defined as “content that has little or no value to the user,” according to Yoast. Google also considers low-quality affiliate pages and those very little or no content as thin content pages.

The takeaway

The practice of search engine optimization is as crucial as it is complex. 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 trends and algorithm news can help put you on the path to achieving the results you seek.

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

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

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Written by Caroline Cox on Feb 25 , 2021

Is your YouTube channel optimized for search engines? Follow these steps to get your video marketing the maximum reach possible.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to build out your YouTube channel
  • Why YouTube SEO matters
  • Ways to improve your videos’ accessibility
  • Tips for growing your YouTube subscribers

Videos can be a highly beneficial component to add to your digital marketing arsenal. Not only is this type of content an effective way to engage your audience, but it allows you to get your brand’s message across in a way that’s widely accessible.

Video marketing has exploded in popularity in the last few years, and it’s a trend that doesn’t appear to be waning anytime soon.

If you’re going to take the time and energy to invest in video creation, it makes sense that you’d want them to get as many views as possible. That’s where having a YouTube channel comes in. 

Because YouTube is a (free) Google product, it tends to perform well in the search engine’s algorithm. This means your videos have a better chance of showing up in search results — if you’ve got the right search engine optimization (SEO) practices in place.

Below, HawkSEM Lead Strategist Maria Smart walks us through a few easy ways to prime your YouTube SEO for search engine results page (SERP) success.

YouTube SEO tips

Create and upload a 30-60 second channel trailer as an added way to make a great first impression when someone lands on your YouTube page. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Customize your URL

Customizing your YouTube URL is a great way to more easily share your page while also adding legitimacy to your channel. Per Google, to be eligible for a custom URL, your channel must have:

  • At least 100 subscribers
  • Been created at least 30 days ago
  • A proper profile picture
  • A banner image

You can create your custom URL when eligible via your basic info setting, an email notification, or a notification in your channel’s dashboard. For best results, make sure the URL accurately reflects your business and is easy to remember. Once created, your URL will render as youtube.com/yourcustomizedname or youtube.com/c/yourcustomizedname.

Pro tip: Create and upload a 30-60 second channel trailer as an added way to make a great first impression when someone lands on your YouTube page.

2. Complete your About section

When it comes to solid YouTube SEO, using every available feature that can provide added context about your page is key. That’s why it’s crucial to complete the About page on your YouTube channel and add in essential info about your business. 

Keep in mind that only the first 48 characters of your About section will show in search results, so describing yourself in concise detail with relevant keywords can increase on-page search visibility. 

Pro tip: Select a thumbnail and main banner for your channel that feels like an extension of your website through elements like the images or color scheme.

3. Give videos keyword-rich titles and descriptions

Once your page is set up, ensure that your uploading process always includes adding in keyword-rich titles and descriptions for each video. It’s also wise to rename your raw video files using a target keyword before uploading to the platform. Keeping your title at 60 characters or less will prevent it from getting cut off in results pages.

While descriptions can be up to 5,000 characters, only about 100 will display under the video before a “Read more…” option is prompted. Because of this, it’s important to get the main points across at the beginning of the description, along with a call to action (CTA) if applicable.

You can also create transcriptions for all of your videos and add them to the description section. 

Pro tip: Tagging videos with relevant keywords is another way to tell YouTube what your content is all about.

4. Customize video thumbnails

Customizing your video thumbnails will help your videos stand out. It’s also a way to make your overall page look professional and well thought-out. You can customize thumbnails with elements such as:

  • Banners
  • Dynamic, on-brand colors
  • Optimized thumbnail text
  • Unique title cards

If you don’t customize thumbnails, the YouTube platform will often randomly select a still from your video, which could potentially make your channel look sloppy or less cohesive.

Need more SEO help? You’ve come to the right place.

mobile video for YouTube

If you do add videos to your website, make sure they’re marked up with Schema tags for video. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Create playlists to enhance watch time

When someone chooses to watch a video from a playlist, the videos in the playlist will auto-play one after the other, rather than the viewer having to select each video individually. Threading together multiple videos on similar subjects into playlists drives up watch time, which is YouTube’s top-ranking factor. 

Depending on your videos and industry, you could create playlists for your webinars, client testimonials, how-tos, or frequently asked questions.

Pro tip: In January 2021, YouTube launched new hashtag search results pages. This means that, when viewers search for a specific hashtag on YouTube via desktop or the mobile app, they’ll see a dedicated page containing videos with that hashtag, according to Search Engine Journal.

6. Grow your subscribers

You can work towards improved YouTube SEO by focusing on growing your channel’s subscriber base. Embedding videos in emails and onto your website (such as on landing pages and your blog) is a great way to start getting your channel more exposure.

You can create a blog post for each video to help promote it, or cross-promote your videos and channel through e-books, webinars, presentations, and lead magnets.

If you do add videos to your website, make sure they’re marked up with Schema tags for video. This can also help videos perform better in search results. Google Search Console reports on video Schema, which can be helpful for gathering insights.

Pro tip: Another way to strengthen your SEO is by encouraging viewers to interact with you. Embed “share” and “like” buttons, incentivize subscriptions, and ask viewers to comment below. The more positive interactions you have, the better.

7. Leverage captions or subtitles

Adding captions or subtitles to your videos opens them up to a whole additional audience. That’s because this makes your videos more ADA compliant, inclusive, and accessible to those who are hearing impaired or deaf.

More than that, you can get your message across to viewers who may not want to turn on sound because they’re in a quiet place or don’t have headphones. 

These days, there are multiple options for creating captions or subtitles. While auto-generated captions might be easier or more cost-effective, they’re prone to errors since the audio isn’t being transcribed by a person.

While it’s important to keep budget in mind, experience tells us it’s worth seeking out an affordable paid service (such as Rev) to ensure clarity, especially for complex subjects. 

The takeaway

Creating a YouTube channel is a great way to increase exposure for your video content and overall business. But creating videos is just half the battle. 

By following the above YouTube SEO best practices, you can better position your content to appear in search engine results and reach as many viewers as 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 Feb 17 , 2021

New website, who dis?

Here, you’ll find:

  • Different types of site migrations
  • Tips for planning a site migration
  • Steps to take during the migration process
  • Common migration missteps to avoid

Whether you’re opting for a more secure site, getting a design refresh, or moving to a new CMS, there are plenty of reasons to take on a site migration. But this project is one that shouldn’t be taken on lightly.

Migrating your site is a technical, multi-step process. A misstep can result in broken links, a poor mobile experience, and loss of significant website SEO you’ve worked hard to build.

But before you break into a cold sweat, don’t worry. Jessica Weber, one of our senior SEO & SEM managers, is here to help break down just a few of the big steps to take for a successful site migration.

Different types of site migrations

First things first: It’s important to know that site migration comes in many different forms. For example, a migration from an “http” to “https” URL is completely different from a redesign, which is different from a domain migration. 

The nature of a site migration is often a complicated and technical process. Because of this, it’s crucial to have a detailed plan for how to tackle this project before, during, and after the migration itself.

Other types of site migrations include:

  • Moving to a new domain
  • Changing URLs
  • Updating navigation or architecture
  • Adding mobile functionality  
  • Migrating part of a website
  • Moving to a new host or server
  • Moving to a new CMS or framework
  • Website redesign or template change
HawkSEM: How to Successfully Perform a Site Migration

When you’re working on a site migration, it’s wise to execute and test everything in a staging environment before it goes live on your actual website. (Image via Unsplash)

Before the site migration

Jessica says the “before” stage is the most important phase of a site migration. That’s why our #1 piece of advice for site migration is to plan ahead

One of the first steps you take should be to create a site mapping document. This includes a list of your URL redirects. It works from the old site to the new site to make sure you’re passing all of your site equity onto the new site so you don’t lose it.

Site equity refers to the fact that your old URLS have been around longer and thus have had more time to drum up page authority and traffic. You don’t want to lose that when you migrate your site. Essentially, you want to make sure your new URLs (if applicable) reroute from your old URLs so no pages are lost or dead-end with a 404 error. 

Pro tip: When you’re working on a site migration, it’s wise to execute and test everything in a staging environment before it goes live on your actual website. Sites like WordPress can walk you through the creation of production, staging and development environments.

During the site migration

As you migrate your site, be sure to implement your comprehensive list of 301 redirects. Moz explains that, when the new site URLs are different from the old site URLs, 301 redirects “tell search engines to index the new URLs as well as forward any ranking signals from the old URLs to the new ones.”

You need to use permanent 301 redirects if your site migration entails:

  • Moving to or from another domain or subdomain
  • Switching from “http” to “https”
  • Parts of the site being restructured in some way

Next, you’ll want to update all of the canonical tags on your new, old, and other sites, if applicable. If your site has a page that can be accessed via multiple URLs, Google will view this as duplicate content — that’s where canonical tags come in. 

According to Google, the search engine’s bots “will choose one URL as the canonical version and crawl that, and all other URLs will be considered duplicate URLs and crawled less often.” So make sure the canonical URL you’re directing to is the one that already has the most site equity.

Pro tip: Google offers a Change of Address Tool for sites migrating from one domain or subdomain to another. However, this isn’t the tool to use for changing from “http” to “https,” redirecting pages on your site, removing “www” from your domain, or moving without making user-visible URL changes.

Additional steps to take during the migration process

Along with the above, don’t forget to complete this site migration checklist:

  • Update all of the internal links on your sites so that they point to the new URLs.
  • Update all of your tracking codes.
  • Set up Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for your new site (if applicable).
  • Update your XML sitemap (if you don’t have a plug-in that will create it automatically) and submit the sitemap to Google and Bing.
  • Reach out to the owners or editors of any high-value backlinks and ask them to update the link.
  • Update outside links you control, such as Google My Business, social profiles, analytics, and anywhere there are citations, NAP (name, address, phone number) listings, or links back to your site, so they point to the new URLs.

Pro tip: Launch your new site during an “off” or slow period of time, if you can. That way, your team can test out all the live links and address any issues quickly before customers and prospects see them.

HawkSEM: How to Successfully Perform a Site Migration

There are endless reasons why site owners may see SEO changes after migrating a site, regardless of the type of migration. (Image via Unsplash)

After the site migration

Finally, the finish line! Once you’ve successfully moved over your site content, tweaked it all in a staging environment, and followed the steps above, it’s time to launch. 

After your new site is up and running, it’s a good idea to continue monitoring 404s and Google Search Console to make sure everything is tracking properly. You also want to monitor your rankings. If you migrated and, after a few weeks, your rankings aren’t where they were (or better), it’s time to conduct an SEO audit and see what might’ve gone awry.

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

How to avoid a drop in SEO after a migration

No matter how thorough you are with your site migration, it’s still possible to see a dip in your SEO performance. Jessica explains that there are endless reasons why site owners may see changes after migrating a site, regardless of the type of migration. 

A big part of this is because the Google algorithm is wary of big site changes, so you’ll almost always see a dip after migrating while Google reassesses. If you’re migrating to new URLs, you may also lose some equity through redirection. 

To ensure your SEO suffers as little as possible, avoid these common site migration mistakes:

  • Waiting too long to start the site migration process
  • Launching before you’re ready
  • Not comprehensively redirecting the proper way
  • Not updating canonical tags
  • Deciding to launch new sites that are not as optimized as the old sites
  • Not making a copy of the old site
  • Failing to transfer your disavow file that tells Google which of your backlinks should be ignored
  • Not completing and saving a crawl for reference (you can crawl your site with a tool like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb)

Website crawler tools allow you to crawl your websites’ URLs to better analyze and audit your technical and onsite SEO.

Don’t be afraid to consult a professional

It’s natural to be overwhelmed by the idea of a site migration. After all, it’s an involved project with a lot of moving parts. While we’ve laid out the main elements of a site migration, much more goes into it along with the above.

If it seems like too much to take on, we suggest consulting an experienced professional who can ensure your migration goes smoothly.

The takeaway

Planning and preparation are the most important phases of a successful site migration. Along with this, it’s key to remember that SEO is part of every page, and it should be one of the first things you consider during a migration. 

Give yourself peace of mind during a site migration by following every step necessary to ensure you don’t lose site equity, and keep a record of everything you do and need to do during the process. (Better yet, consider giving the job to a pro who can work with you to ensure the migration is a success.) Happy launching!

HawkSEM site migration checklist

Want more? Click to download our easy-to-follow site migration checklist.

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

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Feb 15 , 2021

These tactics can help get your philanthropic organization in front of the right people at the right time.

Here you’ll learn:

  • Why nonprofits should prioritize SEO
  • Which tools to use for content ideas
  • How to adjust on-page SEO
  • Which website elements nonprofits should pay attention to

Strong marketing tactics have always been a key part of any nonprofit organization’s success. And now, with online and mobile giving becoming the preferred method for donors, nonprofit organizations are digging deeper into digital marketing. 

With smaller budgets and more modest team sizes, nonprofits often have to get creative and remain agile to stay afloat. Luckily, a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy can help bring awareness and site traffic to these orgs without breaking the bank. 

Nonprofit SEO isn’t drastically different from for-profit SEO. Often, the goal is to attract website visitors with high conversion potential. The only difference is that the nature of conversion involves donating and volunteering rather than buying.

Why do nonprofits need SEO?

SEO involves following a set of tactics to get your website rising to the top organic spots on search engine result pages (SERPs). For nonprofits, this strategy comes with a variety of benefits:

  • Competitive edge – SEO can be a low-budget marketing strategy that helps you compete against bigger organizations.
  • Visibility – These efforts help donors and volunteers find your organization on the internet.
  • Local attentionLocal SEO tactics allow you to reach local audiences that show interest and engagement through search behavior.

Besides attracting donors, high visibility can raise awareness about an issue, thus serving one of your nonprofit’s core goals: promoting social causes or advocating a certain standpoint.

Keeping the objectives in mind, let’s go over key SEO tips for nonprofits.

nonprofit team

The content you create can be repurposed and made into different types of media, thus keeping your marketing costs low. (Image via Rawpixel)

1. Make sure your website is user-friendly

Search engines pay special attention to the user-friendliness of your website. Besides creating an intuitive interface and using a thoughtful, easy-to-navigate design, don’t neglect these technical issues:

  • Page loading speed – Must be under 2.5 seconds.
  • Text readability – A top-notch content structure (smaller paragraphs, headings, sub-headers) can help you win the fight for competitive keywords.
  • Interactivity – Your website should respond to the user’s input in less than 100 milliseconds (according to Google’s Core Web Vitals ranking factors).
  • Mobile optimization – With 25% of donors using smartphones to make donations, mobile optimization is key. And since more than half of all searches are done on mobile these days, Google has adopted a mobile-first indexing strategy.

Pro tip: If your website is user-friendly, visitors tend to stay on it longer. This increases the “session duration,” which, according to some evidence, is a Google ranking factor.

2. Focus on your content

Content is king when it comes to nonprofit SEO efforts. But sharing valuable information doesn’t just bring donors to your website. It also raises awareness for your cause. Here are a few things to consider when writing content for your nonprofit’s website:

  • Check your previously written articles (if you have any) and make sure they include enough organic mentions of your keyword. (By the same token, don’t overdo the keyword inclusion — this is a blackhat SEO technique called keyword stuffing.)
  • Keep readers engaged by pairing your text with visual content, such as graphics, images, or videos. (In 2020, video was the #1 form of media used in content strategies.)
  • Diversify your content — common types include blogs, whitepapers, lists, and case studies. Don’t forget images and infographics for easier sharing on social.
  • Source content ideas from volunteers, donors, and competitors.
  • Aim to provide value and educate your audience with guides, how-tos, and downloadable templates if applicable.

Pro tip: The content you create can be repurposed and made into different types of media, thus keeping your marketing costs low.

3. Take advantage of free tools

An important advantage of nonprofit SEO is its reasonable budget. It’s possible to achieve many initial SEO content-related goals by using free or low-cost tools that are readily available online.

AnswerThePublic can help you learn what your target audience is interested in, with the aim to create high-quality blogs. You can also use BuzzSumo to discover what type of content is currently popular to find potential outreach opportunities.

Even if you have many content ideas for your website, SEO tools can help you figure out what will resonate most with your target audience.

Have more SEO questions? Connect with an expert

4. Work on your backlinks

If content is king when it comes to nonprofit SEO, link building is the queen. That’s because search engines pay special attention to websites that link back to your site. If credible, high-authority websites do this, your site is more likely to end up on the top of the SERPs.

There’s no “one weird trick” to getting quality backlinks, unfortunately. In our experience, the key to getting other websites to link to yours is creating highly valuable in-depth content. You can, however, speed up the process by using the following tactics:

  • Write guest posts for trustworthy, high-authority websites that allow adding a link to the writer’s bio or your website.
  • Share annual reports, hard data, and statistics collected by your organization.
  • Create highly shareable content like infographics.
  • Add social sharing buttons to each content piece.
  • If applicable, ask corporate partners, sponsors, and even other nonprofits to link to your website.

High-quality backlinks can be hard to acquire. But through consistency, they often yield excellent SEO results.

nonprofit volunteering

Besides helping volunteers find you, staying on top of local SEO can lead to additional partnerships and opportunities. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Implement local SEO

Potential volunteers are likely to turn to the web to find nearby nonprofit organizations to work with that align with their values. Your goal is to make sure your website is one of the first that they see on the SERPs.

Ways to increase your local visibility include:

  • Create a Google My Business listing so your website shows up in response to “near me” searches.
  • Register your nonprofit on Google Maps to make it easier for volunteers to discover your local offices.
  • List your organization in local directories to help your target audience find you.
  • Take advantage of local keywords when creating content for your website.
  • Create location-specific pages for each office, if applicable.
  • Try to get backlinks from local businesses, charities, and other nonprofits.

Besides helping volunteers find you, staying on top of local SEO can help you generate awareness in your community, which can lead to additional partnerships and opportunities.

6. Adjust your on-page elements

There are varying types of SEO: on-page, off-page, and technical. On-page mainly deals with the elements of your website. To make your site more appealing and optimized for search engines, make sure to keep these on-page elements in order:

  • Create a unique and relevant title tag for each page.
  • Create a well-written meta description (while it’s not a ranking signal, this description can impact click-through rates).
  • Include keywords in titles and meta descriptions.
  • Add alt text to images.
  • Make sure anchor text is accurate and descriptive.

The takeaway

Search engine optimization is one of the most efficient (and cost-effective) ways to generate traffic to their websites. By practicing top-notch nonprofit SEO, it’s possible to attract donors, find volunteers, and increase awareness for your cause.

Focus on high-quality content, backlinking strategies, and technical page excellence to start seeing the results you want. 

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 Feb 4 , 2021

Think traditional SEO is all you need? Keep reading.

Here you’ll find:

  • What defines local SEO
  • Which businesses benefit from local SEO
  • Positive impacts of this SEO type
  • Steps to implement local SEO properly

Trying to increase traffic and conversion rates without local SEO is like trying to sell parkas during the summer in Florida. Not only is it very unlikely to be effective, but it displays a deep misunderstanding about the audience involved.

Local SEO is often undervalued. People frequently believe that it serves the same purpose as traditional SEO, or they mistakenly believe that it’s irrelevant for their business.  

The truth is that local SEO can do wonders for your brand’s overall SEO health. Let’s discuss basics, debunk some common myths, and determine how to make it work for you.  

Google Maps on iPhone

While many businesses may benefit from global traffic, they’re almost always more relevant in specific areas. (Image via Unsplash)

What is local SEO?

Basically, local SEO optimizes content to accurately answer locally relevant or location-based searches. For example, a California-based store appearing in results for someone searching “groceries” in Europe isn’t very helpful. This type of SEO uses area factors to rank higher in search results to target local audiences.

Which businesses should use local SEO?

All of them! While many businesses may benefit from global traffic, they’re almost always more relevant in specific areas. Many stores mistakenly try to reach the largest audiences instead of those most likely to convert. You could have a million website visitors in a single day, but if they’re overseas and you don’t process international payments, they’re not the right fit.

While service providers like plumbers and painters often don’t have physical locations, they typically operate within a set service area. Their potential customers will likely use local keywords when searching for them. Other service providers, like accountants and writers, may have virtual businesses. However, they may not be looking to take on international clients due to things like time zones, language barriers, and currency differences.

Pro tip: Despite the widespread belief that only physical businesses profit from local SEO, there are usually areas and local keywords that apply for all company types. Think about things like what you sell, where or to whom it’s most useful, who your ideal audience is, and what location has the most of that demographic. 

Local SEO facts and benefits

Many businesses ignore localized SEO because they’re unaware of its advantages. Let’s break down some key stats, findings, and benefits.

Statistics:

Top benefits:

  • Improved overall SEO
  • Higher Google’s results rankings
  • Increased traffic
  • Targets bottom-of-funnel consumers
  • Can result in more in-store sales
local business sign

Optimize your local SEO by maintaining exact address consistency across the web. (Image via Unsplash)

How to implement a successful local SEO strategy

A winning organic localized SEO strategy has two important components: Google My Business and organic search results. Let’s examine both and cover the best practices for each.

Google My Business listing

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

When building your profile, use accurate and detailed information to create a comprehensive listing without information gaps. Proofread carefully and confirm that all info is error-free and displaying properly on Google. Don’t forget to update as needed if things like your hours or location change.

Pro tip: Virtual businesses don’t qualify for a Google My Business listing at this time.

Organic search results

Local SEO is just like traditional SEO with the addition of local keywords. Examples include things like:

  • City/state/country
  • Local landmarks
  • Local lexicon (pop vs. soda or inspector vs. detective)
  • “Near me”
  • “Closest”

While website content is obviously important, blogs aren’t your only option. Use whatever format feels most relevant to your business, website, and SEO goals. Content marketing alternatives include:

  • Local news and updates
  • Case studies
  • Webinars
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • How-to guides

Advanced local SEO insights

Some of our most advanced insights for using localized SEO include:  

  • Reinforce with repetition: Include your location and keywords metadata and geotag local images
  • Use citations to improve rank, visibility, trust, and prominence
  • Include content targeting rich snippet placement 
  • Leverage Google tools like Analytics, Search Console, and Keyword Planner to evaluate effectiveness, understand audience behavior, and identify high-traffic keywords  
  • Create detailed listings similar to GMB on directory sites like Angie’s List and Thumbtack
  • Get relevant local sites, area blogs, and news outlets to link to your site
  • Have an FAQ section on your site with info about your address, locations, or service areas, and include your full address in your site-wide footer

Pro tip: Optimize your localized SEO by maintaining exact address consistency across the web.

The takeaway

Google has made local SEO a powerful tool. Particularly if you have a physical business location, this can be an essential component of your well-rounded search optimization strategy overall.

Not only will leveraging these tips and tactics help improve your SEO profile, but it can do wonders when it comes to beating your local competition as well.

Need more SEO help or insights? We’d love to help.

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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