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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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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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 1,000 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.

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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.

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Written by Caroline Cox on Feb 12 , 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.

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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.

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Written by Caroline Cox on Dec 8 , 2020

Make sure your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is primed for success in 2021 and beyond.

Here, you’ll find:

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

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

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

The good news? Putting these SEO best practices into place now can set you up for success months and years down the road. 

These tactics will ensure you’ve got top-notch SEO and add value to your overall brand while showing prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

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

Let’s dive in.

HawkSEM: Best Practices to Boost Your SEO

Think of an SEO audit like a wellness check for your website. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Plan regular SEO audits

Multiple factors go into making sure your site is optimized for the search engine results page (SERP). That’s why it’s a good idea to conduct an SEO audit at least once a year. This process will give you a holistic view of where your SEO currently stands. 

The steps to conducting a thorough SEO audit are:

  • Perform a technical audit using a site-crawler tool
  • See what pages are indexed in search engines
  • Review mobile friendliness
  • Test page speed
  • Analyze on-site user behavior
  • Revisit your personas and audience
  • Conduct keyword research
  • Audit your content strategy
  • Analyze your link profile
  • Review backlink and internal linking strategies

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

A content audit can also help identify topic gaps to fill via new content. Which themes related to your business have you not covered? Which related topics are your competitors outranking you for? 

Often, these chosen topics relate to the products or services your business offers. Narrow them down, then use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to determine the popularity and competition for these keywords.

Pro tip: Want an idea of where you stand before conducting a full SEO audit? You can leverage a website grader tool that’ll instantly tell you how your site’s SEO stacks up.

2. Create (or update) your content strategy

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

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

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

  • Goals
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Target personas
  • Tactics
  • Creation process
  • Projects

Your strategy should also include how often you plan to publish content. It’s also wise to have a content creation checklist to ensure each published piece is optimized and consistent before it goes live. 

Optimized content generally features elements like:

  • Subheadings
  • Title tags
  • Internal and external links
  • Meta descriptions
  • Sentences and paragraphs that are easy to digest
  • Images with alt text

3. Embrace video marketing

There are multiple reasons why video marketing belongs in your 2021 strategy. It’s fast becoming a highly effective content too, while serving as a great way to increase page time and boost engagement. HubSpot reports that 88% of video marketers reported that video gives them a positive ROI.

Once you’ve mapped out a strategy and created your first video, don’t forget to optimize it. You can optimize your videos by following SEO best practices such as:

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

4. Prioritize mobile-first indexing

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

Then, in the summer of 2020, Google announced it would enable mobile-first indexing for all sites in search by April 2021. 

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

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

HawkSEM: Best Practices to Boost Your SEO

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

5. Get your site up to speed

Speed remains a vital part of following SEO best practices. Not only is it a factor in Google’s slated 2021 Core Web Vitals ranking rollout, but “a slow-to-load page can be a huge problem for bounce rate,” according to Search Engine Journal.

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

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

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

6. Don’t underestimate good visuals

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

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

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

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

7. Monitor your reviews

Brand sentiment is part of what the algorithm takes into consideration. Because of this, it’s important to keep a close eye on your reviews across your Google My Business profile, Facebook page, and other various sites. 

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

  • Offering a refund
  • Getting them on the phone with a customer service rep to sort out an issue
  • Appealing to their emotions and making them feel heard
  • Apologizing for a miscommunication, misunderstanding or mixup (which could result in the person deleting their negative review entirely)

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

8. Keep featured snippets in mind

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

Featured snippets are usually found in the space between paid search ads and ranked results, sometimes accompanied by an image or video. In 2020, Google made a few tweaks to featured snippets. These included testing multiple contextual links (which they later said was unintentional) and, in some cases, taking users straight to the blurb being referenced in the snippet when they click the link (sometimes with the featured text highlighted).  

While there’s no “one weird trick” to snagging a featured snippet, there are a few ways to prime your content for this spot on the SERP, such as:

  • Dating your content
  • Avoiding first-person language
  • Thoroughly answering a “why”-based query
  • Following the format of existing featured snippets
voice search - seo 2021

More than 4 billion voice search devices were used in 2020, and the figure is slated to double by 2024. (Image via Unsplash)

9. Examine your structured data

Structured data, also called Schema markup, is one way search engine bots crawling your site can understand your website content. This is an important part of healthy technical SEO: the better bots understand your content, the better your chances are of ranking in search results.

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

In August 2020, Google announced that its rich results test tool would now support article structured data. According to Search Engine Land, this can help you better pinpoint structured data issues and potentially drive more traffic to your pages.

Pro tip: There are hundreds of Schema types. Those unfamiliar can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to add structured data to their sites.

10. Own and manage your backlinks

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

Sites that will link to your competitors are likely to link to you as well — if your content is optimized, high-quality, and relevant (it’s also a good idea to link to relevant, high-authority sites). When reaching out about backlink opportunities, it’s key to prioritize personalization, show the value you’re offering, and focus on building a relationship with this business vs. asking for a favor out of the blue.

Some ways you can encourage backlinks to your site include:

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

While backlinks are important, it’s worth noting that — as SEO experts point out — it’s not necessarily a numbers game. Quality will win over quantity, and backlinks are just one of many ranking factors that search engines take into account.

Pro tip: A study from fall 2020 found that shorter content earns the most backlinks, so keep that in mind when crafting your link-building strategy. 

11. Keep an eye on voice search

The appeal of being able to search without using a screen is understandable — you can get answers and find information while doing other activities like cooking or driving.

The concept isn’t new, but smart-home technology devices have taken the trend to a new level. More than 4 billion voice search devices were used in 2020, and the figure is slated to double by 2024.

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

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

The takeaway

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

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

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

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

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

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

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Oct 30 , 2020

Once you know these common search engine optimization (SEO) mistakes, you can take the proper steps to avoid them.

Here you’ll learn:

  • Some of the top SEO mistakes to avoid
  • Why you shouldn’t ignore technical SEO
  • A solid approach to SEO budget planning
  • Why SMART and OKR goal setting is great for SEO

The power of SEO is undeniable — data shows more than half of all website traffic comes from organic search. That’s why marketers work hard to implement all the available tactics at their disposal. 

But proper, well-rounded SEO is also highly intricate, involving on-page, off-page, and technical aspects. A more generic approach can lead to a variety of SEO mistakes that slow down the optimization process.

Once you know some of the most common SEO mistakes out there, you can be sure not to fall for them.

8 seo mistakes

Simply copying the competition’s strategy, especially with SEO, can be dangerous. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Expecting quick results

One of the most common SEO mistakes we see is the “need for speed.” Focusing on fast results usually undermines the entire SEO strategy, which leads to disappointment and mismanaged expectations. 

Depending on the condition of your website, the quality of content you publish, and the number of backlinks you garner, SEO can take at least four months to produce significant results. 

Pro tip: If you want quick output in the meantime, pay close attention to your paid search ads. They can help with lead generation while improving your SEO efforts.

2. Underestimating the cost

Don’t fall into the “too good to be true” SEO trap. Low-cost, high-quality, and fast-results SEO is the stuff fairy tales are made of. Anything from well-written blog articles and stellar SEO-friendly website design to proper competitor analysis calls for time and money investments. 

While it may not be as straightforward as your paid search budget, it’s worth factoring in funds for things like website updates, longform content designs, a social media manager, and a content agency partnership or content manager. As in most facets of your business, you get out what you put in.

3. Copying the competition

We’ve talked before about the importance of staying on top of what your competition is doing. Knowing which keywords they rank for, which backlinks they use, and which content they favor is the key to staying ahead. 

However, simply copying the competition’s strategy, especially with SEO, can be dangerous. Let’s break down a few reasons why.

Not seeing the full picture

When you’re simply copying what your competitors are doing, you could be missing the bigger picture. For example, some websites block SEO crawlers, so backlink reports you get are incomplete. If some backlinks are invisible to the tool you’re using, you could be copying an incomplete strategy, thus achieving worse results.

Google penalties

The other danger of copying the competition is not knowing how sustainable its strategy is. Your main competitor could have been achieving excellent results for a short time, only to be slapped with a Google penalty next month. The copycat will go down together with the culprit.

4. Using black and gray hat SEO tactics

Speaking of penalties, your competitors may or may not know the basic black-hat SEO techniques to avoid. Black-hat SEO tactics, which can be done purposefully or by accident, include publishing duplicate content, keyword stuffing, and using private link networks.

The thing about these risky SEO techniques is that Google knows all about them, and may ding your site if they catch you using them. After all, even if your intentions are good, search engines have no way of knowing it.

8 seo mistakes - team meeting

While you may be used to optimizing written content, don’t forget about photos, videos, and graphics too. (Image via Unsplash)

Pro tip: Search Engine Journal recently highlighted 8 on-page SEO techniques that Google hates. These include only optimizing for desktop, unnatural internal linking, and spammy website footers. 

5. Neglecting your technical SEO

We’re evangelists of technical SEO around here. That’s because we know it often gets ignored by marketers since it can be tricky to understand. But it’s too important to let fall by the wayside.

Technical SEO generally refers to things on your website like: 

  • URL structures
  • Page speed
  • Internal links
  • Site security
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Your site’s architecture and navigation
  • Meta data

Conducting an SEO audit can give you a good idea of where your technical SEO stands. From there, you can pinpoint areas of weakness and take the necessary steps to address any issues. 

Check out our webinar recording, The Importance of Technical SEO, for even more insight.

6. Focusing on search engines over customers

Even though SEO appears to be all about optimizing for search engines, that doesn’t mean they should be the only focus of your strategy. Google’s goal is to make search results as valuable to the user as possible. To make Google happy, it makes sense to adopt the same goal.

Writing for search engines may help you rise through the ranks temporarily, but it’s not the way to build solid SEO in the long-term. Instead, keep focused on educating your audience, providing a streamlined user experience, and publishing accurate content. 

7. Failing to set clear SEO goals

Aiming to nab the top organic spot on Google’s search engine results page (SERP) sounds like a good goal. But what good is a goal without a clear path to achieving it?

Before you hit the ground running on your SEO strategy, make sure to map out clear goals. Consider using SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed) goals to ensure the proper structure of your campaign. 

You can also take advantage of the OKR (objectives and key results) approach to break down big goals into smaller components.

8. Ignoring video SEO practices

This SEO mistake is common because SEO tactics for things like video are relatively new to the landscape. While you may be used to optimizing written content, don’t forget about photos, videos, and graphics too. (Especially since Google reportedly prioritizes websites with video content.) Videos can increase your clickthrough rate (CTR), reduce bounce rate, and create quality backlinks. 

Here are some ways you can make sure your videos are set up for SEO success:

  • Include an easy way for viewers to share the video
  • Include a target keyword in your video’s file name
  • Add closed captions or subtitles to videos with dialog
  • Choose an eye-catching thumbnail image 

The takeaway

Even the most experienced SEO specialists make mistakes here and there. Learning from them can help you streamline your SEO campaign and remind you to stay in the loop on the latest developments.

Need more assistance with your SEO (or PPC) efforts? We’re here 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.

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Written by Justine Rabideau on Sep 21 , 2020

Here’s why technical SEO is a key component to your brand’s overall digital marketing success.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What technical SEO is
  • How to determine your current technical SEO health
  • Tips for improving your technical SEO
  • How strong technical SEO benefits your brand

If you’re a marketing pro —  and reading this right now — we’re going to guess you’re familiar with the concept of search engine optimization, or SEO. (And if not, you can find a full intro to SEO here.) But there’s a lesser-known part of this process that’s often swept aside: technical SEO. 

Technical SEO is just as important as things like content and on-site SEO. Arguably, it’s even more important, since it can be more difficult to understand and tends to be the piece that’s ignored by companies and marketing teams. However, if your technical SEO is in tip-top shape, you can see huge improvements in some of your most important SEO KPIs. 

In a survey by G2, enterprise brands named technical SEO as their most successful SEO strategy. Let’s dive into the most important steps for improving your website’s technical SEO health.

technical SEO tips

Google and other search engines have their own bots (also called “spiders”) they send out to crawl websites via the source code on your website. (Image via Unsplash)

Audit your current SEO efforts

To make sure your technical SEO is where it should be, you’ve got to take a step back and look at where it currently stands. Conducting an SEO audit is one great way to do just that. A proper SEO audit is a mix of a manual walk-through of your site coupled with the use of trusted tools, such as SEMRush and Screaming Frog, to find common technical issues.

Some issues auditing tools look for when crawling your site include:

  • Duplicate content
  • Broken internal links
  • Invalid robots.txt format
  • Non-secure pages
  • Slow page load speed
  • Multiple canonical URLs

Once you’ve done an audit to identify what needs to be fixed on your site, the next step is to start addressing these technical issues. These audits can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s a good idea to have an SEO expert and a web developer review and help you address the more technical issues that may arise from the audit. 

Pro tip: You should register your site with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools if you haven’t already. These free tools are powerful in understanding technical issues on your website. 


Here’s a short clip from a recent webinar I hosted that delves into how to perform a technical SEO audit.
 

Understand how search bots crawl and index

Currently, Google has billions of pages in its index. Google and other search engines have their own bots (also called “spiders”) they send out to crawl websites via the source code on your website. But these bots don’t “see” web pages the same way humans do. 

Think that if you just produce great content, Google will find it, rank it, and traffic will come? Not quite. If a bot can’t find or understand your pages, even if your content is the best on the internet, it can’t rank in the search results.

Despite how powerful search engines are, their bots crawl a finite number of pages across the internet. Because of this, you want to make sure they’re crawling the most important, high-quality pages on your site — not wasting time on low-quality pages. This is referred to as “crawl budget.” 

Crawl budget is extremely key for larger websites. If you have thousands of pages, but your crawl stats show that Google’s only crawling a portion of them each day, it means they’re missing big parts of your site. You can improve your crawl budget by excluding crawlers from irrelevant pages. These could be: 

  • Admin or login pages
  • “Thank you” or confirmation pages
  • Paginated pages
  • Testing and development pages
  • PPC landing pages

Pro tip: Check which pages are indexed in search engines by doing a simple site:[website URL] search in Google. You can click through all the indexed results to see if a chunk of pages might be missing or if there are pages that shouldn’t be indexed.

Rich Results Test tool

If you already have structured data on your site, you can check if it’s working properly by using the Rich Results Test tool.

Implement structured data

One way to improve how bots understand your website content is through structured data, also called schema markup. This is important for SEO and to prepare for the future of search, as Google and other engines continue to personalize the user experience and answer questions directly on their search engine results pages (SERPs). 

There are hundreds of different schema types, and the best fit for your website depends on your product or service, industry, and the type of content you offer. Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper is a highly useful tool if you’re not familiar with structured data. It walks you through the steps to add structured data to your site, notes which items need to be marked up, and creates the HTML for you. 

Structured data is important because it can help you stand out in the search results and increases the likelihood of your site being shown in SERP features like Featured Snippets or People Also Ask, which can be hugely beneficial for your site. If you already have structured data on your site, you can check if it’s working properly by using the Rich Results Test tool.

Secure your site

The “http” in URLs stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and it allows for information to be passed between web servers and clients. The “S” stands for secure. If a website isn’t secure, any information a user inputs on the page (like their name, address, or credit card details) are not protected and can be stolen. 

On a secure website, the code is encrypted. This means any sensitive information cannot be traced. Having a secure site can give you a small ranking boost. Plus, web browsers like Chrome are getting more aggressive about letting users know if they’re on a non-secure site and could be at risk.

Check if your website is secure by looking in your browser. If your site has a lock next to the URL, it’s secure — if there’s no lock or it says “not secure,” then it’s not. Secure domains will also show “https” in the search bar, vs. just “http.”

Having a secure vs. non-secure site can be the difference between a user converting or not converting. If your website is secure, your audience can feel confident that their personal data is safe and that your brand is trustworthy. On the other hand, arriving to a site with warnings that the page they’re on isn’t secure may make users uneasy and cause them to bounce. 

Pro tip: Page speed is another current ranking factor that you want to stay on top of by making sure your site is fast to load (on desktop and mobile). It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with Core Web Vitals, as these are slated to become ranking signals in 2021.  

mobile-friendly vs. not mobile-friendly sites

Examples of sites that are mobile-friendly (left) and… not so much (right).

Ensure your site is mobile-friendly

Websites that aren’t mobile friendly can have extreme difficulty ranking well in search engines. A good rule of thumb is to have a responsive website instead of a separate mobile site. You can test your mobile friendliness by using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

But it’s not enough for a site to be simply mobile responsive. Your site should also have a positive overall mobile user experience. Mobile users are very fickle and will bounce quickly if they can’t find what they’re looking for fast. 

Making sure your site is optimized for mobile users is a step many marketers forget to take, since we’re so often working from desktops. Google Search Console can also alert you to any mobile usability issues like clickable elements being too small or content being too close to the screen’s edge.

Review your website architecture

We’ve highlighted the importance of website architecture for SEO before. Basically, its goal is to make navigating your website easy, clear, and intuitive while making it easier for search engines to crawl your pages. The main components of website architecture are:

  • Navigation 
  • Internal links
  • URL structures
  • Meta data
tiered navigation on Zappos.com

An example of tiered navigation on Zappos.com.

Navigation

Navigation is important for user experience as well as search engines. Search bots crawl links and your sitemap, but they also use navigation to determine how important certain pages are on your site.

Because of this, you want to make sure your important pages are linked as “tier 1,” or most important. Ideally, you don’t have more than seven tier 1 items unless you have a really large website, and I usually don’t recommend linking tier 4 pages and beyond in the navigation to avoid clutter.

It’s also important to have footer navigation that lives on every page of your site. That way, when bots are crawling, they’re crawling your footer links. It’s common to link your privacy policy, support page, local info, and social media profiles in the footer. 

Internal links

When bots are crawling your content, they’re following both internal and external links. Because of that, you want to use internal links to guide them to the important pages on your site. 

You usually don’t need to link to your homepage internally since it’s going be your highest authority page anyway. You should, however, link to internal content, such as product pages and blogs.

Also, be sure to use keywords in your anchor text instead of generic phrases like “learn more” or “click here.” Bots use anchor text to help determine the topic of the content you’re linking to.

URL structures

If your website host automatically creates URLs for you when you add new pages to your site, you may not think about URL structures much. But these structures are yet another signal that explains what your page is about to search engine bots. Check out these two examples:

  • https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120338/
  • https://hawksem.com/blog/b2b-paid-social-media-marketing-strategies/ 

Not to toot our own horn here, but it’s clear that one URL structure has a much clearer explanation of what a page is going to be about than another. Also, you should use keywords in your URLs when possible, and URL structures should follow your navigation’s structure (like how the above blog title comes after “/blog/” root category). 

Pro tip: Avoid underscores in your URLs. Bots ignore underscores and will think anything separated by an underscore is one long word, so use hyphens instead.

Meta data

Meta data refers to things like your site’s page title and meta description, which summarizes the page’s content. These elements can help your clickthrough rate when you follow best practices like:

  • Including keywords
  • Using pipes or hyphens to separate words
  • Keep titles under 60 characters
  • Keeping meta descriptions under 155 characters

The page title may cut off in search results if it goes too long, especially for mobile. It’s also worth noting that Google outputs the URL above page title now on the SERP. This is another reason URL structure is important and should be easy to read.

The takeaway

The more technical side of SEO can be intimidating. After all, it’s filled with code, jargon, and robots. 

But by getting a handle on your technical SEO, you can be confident that your efforts are more thorough, well-rounded, and poised for maximum search engine visibility.

Check out this webinar recording, “The Importance of Technical SEO” for even more insights. Need help with your technical SEO? Get in touch.

Justine Rabideau

Justine Rabideau

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

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    Written by Sam Yadegar on Aug 31 , 2020

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

    Here, you’ll find:

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

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

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

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

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

    mobile friendly site audit

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

    1. Perform a comprehensive audit

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

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

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

    The steps for an audit include:

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

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

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

    2. Choose an ideal mobile-friendly solution

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

    Responsive web design 

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

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

    Dynamic serving 

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

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

    Mobile version 

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

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

    Mobile app

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

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

    mobile friendly website

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

    3. Adhere to mobile SEO best practices

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

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

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

    The takeaway

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

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

    Sam Yadegar

    Sam Yadegar

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

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Aug 28 , 2020

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

    Here, you’ll find:

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

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

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

    What are Core Web Vitals?

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

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

    checking your core web vitals

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

    Core Web Vitals will be an official ranking factor in 2021

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

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

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

    How Google currently ranks sites

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

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

    Ways Core Web Vitals could impact your ranking

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

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

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

    How to assess your current Core Web Vitals

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

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

    Core Web Vitals health

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

    Improving your Core Web Vitals

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

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

    The takeaway

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

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

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

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

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