In Analytics, where I spend much of my time, there’s a constant drive to test – layout, content, images, form fields, pretty much everything on a page. We do this to constantly improve on the experience, with common instances being how a conversion funnel functions, to determine the best way to present an article, find the best length for videos, or even the optimal number of slides in a slideshow before users get bored. Given that Google is always looking to give users the best experience possible, conflicts can occasionally arise between the functions of analytics and CRO and the needs of SEO.
Consider the following example from an SEO’s perspective:
Background: A key page on the site has been driving conversions exceptionally well. The obvious difference between this page and a lesser-performing page is that this page has a lot more content.
Action: Adding more content on the lesser-performing page to a similar long length.
Result: Instead of seeing increased conversions, nothing is happening. The page isn’t improving. It’s not doing anything at all.
Why?: Unbeknownst to the SEO, the Analytics team revamped the page to accommodate the new form layout they are testing, thus stripping out most of the new content.
It’s typically the case that the Analytics and SEO teams are unaware of the impacts that changes in one area may be having on another.
Here’s an example Analytics teams may be familiar with:
Background: A Variation test page has gone live, and is doing well. It’s by far beating the (boring) Control. Everyone is happy about the Variation’s performance and decides to use that page in place of the Control page.
Action: The Control page url (site.com/Control) is pulled down, and the links on the site are updated to go to site.com/Variation.
Result: That great new page lost link equity, dropped in rankings, and increased in 404 errors.
Why?: If the original (Control) page could not be updated to reflect the Variation, a 301 redirect from the Control to the Variation should have been put into place. This would help preserve most of the existing link equity and existing ranking.
So should we accept our fate as two silo’d fields who can never seem to line up our skills and knowledge? Not a chance. Here are some things everyone should be mindful of while testing.
SEO-Minded Tips for Analytics Testers
Maintain the spirit of the page across all the testing variations. Avoid the feeling of a bait-and-switch by preserving the intent of a page – deliver an article, solicit a form completion, elicit a cart add, etc. Remember, even Multivariate testing maintains the same premise of the original page. If Google sees that the variation page(s) are vastly different than the original, it could be considered cloaking. For clarity, we are using Wikipedia’s definition of cloaking: “Cloaking is a search engine optimization (SEO) technique in which the content presented to the search engine spider is different from that presented to the user’s browser.” The typical, standard use of testing tools is not considered cloaking, by Google, but going from multiple very different pages, particularly across different domains, even as part of a legitimate test may give Google pause.
Use the rel-canonical tag
Help Google bots understand priorities by telling them which is the original or main page by using a canonical tag. Similar to cloaking, typical use of testing tools is usually fine in the eyes of Google. However, multiple similar pages, without different urls and/or domains, could cause problems with duplication and deception in the eyes of Google.
Consider load time and page speed
Most testing platforms run asynchronous code anymore. Where a slowdown can happen is in how the code is triggered – front-end versus server side. While it’s typically an inconsequential slowdown, for a site teetering on the line of ‘acceptable time’ in site speed audits, it can be enough to push it over into ‘unacceptable’.
302s are necessary, not 301s
Google needs to know that the test is temporary. Without this, Google may interpret the new page as what should be indexed, perhaps even removing the ‘correct’ page in the process.
Run what’s needed, but don’t run forever
Once a test has concluded, be mindful to update the site with the winning component(s) and remove the test variables. Having tests run for an unnecessarily long time can be viewed as deceptive by Google and other search engines, and they may penalize the site. We know some tests end in a stalemate and no matter how long they run, a statistically significant winner is not going to happen. Eventually, they will just need to be called.
Analytics-Minded Tips for SEO Testers
Test with purpose
You’re capable of changing consumers’ experiences with your website. Make the test worth their while as well as yours. That’s not to say never test a button color, as such tests can be beneficial, but just be cognizant of the experience you’re creating and what you’re trying to learn.
Watch for redirect overwrites
Always QA the implementation both before the test launches as well as when the test has launched. Conditions can change between development and production (ideally not, but it can happen). An example is with Google Analytics – there have been cases where the hostname had been appended as the referring source, overwriting the original source. All test data looked like it came from Direct sessions.
Goal completion is key, but don’t ignore the contextual
Each test should have a purpose and a key metric used to measure success. Common metrics include form completions or checkouts. However, consider follow-ups from the form completers and their lifetime value. For checkouts, what was the average order value? It is really about looking deeper than the surface to understand if an upfront ‘win’ is coming at the expense of diminished performance further down the funnel.
Patience is a virtue
Calling a test too early – either believing a certain variation is going to win, or that another is the loser, without statistically valid results can cause serious flaws in the data and subsequent interpretation. Tests will not always produce a result, and that’s OK. It’s about being patient enough to wait for that conclusion to become valid.
Don’t run overlapping tests
When running test, it is always advised that the audiences of such tests remain separate, or a test be reconfigured to account for multiple variations and experiences. Otherwise, data can become muddied as users may have been exposed to multiple tests at once and one test may have inadvertently influenced the performance of another.
No matter what our primary field is, when we’re testing elements of a page, we should be legitimate, smart, and mindful at every stage. These considerations should help you come up with a testing plan that works towards your site’s goals, a positive experience for your users, and keeps you in good standing with members of your team.
Unfortunately, some of the content in there isn’t clear or specific enough.
It’s not that Google is hiding something from you, it’s that they don’t want to tell you exactly what you need to know to rank higher in their search engines.
They prefer if you discover that on your own.
But fear not, in this article you will learn everything you need to know from the new SEO Starter Guide and how you can implement that information on your site.
What You Will Learn
What Google expects to see from your website
How to really make your site show up on Google
Google’s guidelines on hiring SEO experts
How to optimise your site the right way
And so much more!
Making Your Site Show Up on Google
The first step to rank on Google is having your site in their index. To do so you need to make your site crawlable and indexable.
To help you achieve that, Google suggests you ask yourself a few questions which will help you find out whether your site is being crawled and indexed-
Is my website showing up on Google?
Do I serve high quality content to users?
Is my local business showing up on Google?
Is my content fast and easy to access on all devices?
Is my website secure?
Let me help you answer each of these questions.
Is Your Website Showing Up On Google?
This question is easy to answer. Simply search for your company or website’s name on Google and see if it shows up.
If I ran a pizza place in London called “Pizza Union” (a company that exists), and I searched for it on Google, I’d see it’s ranking in there in the first position-
If you don’t find your site, make sure you check outside page 1.
Also, if your name is similar to a large company or if it represents a broad term (for example, if my pizza place was called “London Pizza,” it’d be hard to rank for that term for obvious reasons), don’t despair.
It’s not an SEO problem so much as a naming one.
Are You Serving High Quality Content?
You probably know that creating high-quality content is a prerequisite to rank these days.
Defining “high-quality content” on the other hand isn’t easy.
Don’t worry if you dont have any links or social shares – it could just be your content promotion wasn’t very effective.
But you should certainly pay close attention to these pages and review them against competing search results for relevant keywords.
Is Your Local Business Showing Up On Google?
Note: If you don’t have a local business, you can skip this part.
Local SEO is extremely important if you run a local business, as it works differently than non-local SEO.
Both local and non-local SEO need on-site optimisation and links to rank high in the search engines. The main difference lies in that local sites also need citations.
A citation is an online reference to your business’s name, address and phone number (also known as NAP).
Citations work like links, because Google uses them to evaluate the online authority of your business. What makes citations different from links is that the former don’t need a link pointing to your business’s website in order for you to be credited for them. Getting a NAP is already enough.
To check your local business, repeat what I showed up before; that is, search your business on Google.
Continuing with the pizza place example, I see they show up in the local results.
You should then check to see if your business comes up in listings for popular keywords, like “Pizza London” for example.
If your local business doesn’t show up for your target keywords you can use the WhiteSpark Citation Service to get a boost in local rankings.
If you don’t find your place anywhere, you need to add your company with Google My Business.
The process is straightforward:
In the Google My Business website, click on the “Start Now” button.
Once you do so, you will have to add your company’s information, including your business name, your location, the kind of business you run, and your company’s phone number and website.
The process won’t take you more than 5 minutes and will help you get your company listed on Google Maps.
Is My Content Fast And Easy To Access On All Devices?
Your websites speed not only affects your rankings but it also has a huge impact on user experience.
To check your page speed, you can use a tool like GTmetrix.
Once you have added your site, GTmetrix will tell you:
The performance score
The load time
The page size
The number of requests (i.e., how many requests did GTmetrix have to make to load all your site’s elements; the fewer requests, the better)
In general, you want a load time under 2 seconds, and a page size under 1 megabyte.
If you find your site to be above those two thresholds, focus on solving the problems GTmetrix shares with you.
Some of the most common problems related to a site’s speed performance are the lack of browser caching, progressive rendering, HTTP compression, among other problems.
If you want to learn more about the most common speed problems you can face, you can read Google’s own PageSpeed Insights rules.
Fortunately, you don’t need to become an expert in speed optimisation to make your website faster.
With the help of W3 Total Cache, a WordPress plugin with over 1 million downloads and 2,700 5-star reviews, you can optimise your site’s page speed in a few minutes.
Once you install it, you will find there are a large number of sections within the plugin you can check.
Before you get overwhelmed, remember you want to optimise for the problems your site has, not for every single possible you may face in the future.
To that end, you want to go back to GTmetrix’ performance review and check the problems they found.
In the case of Pizza Union, you can see they only have one problem: landing page redirects.
In other words, they have a problem with duplicate content, something that can be easily fixed with the help of Yoast SEO.
But if your website has other, more pressing problems, like lack of browser caching (which allows a user’s browser to “save” a page’s version in their “memory”), you want to use W3 Total Cache.
If that was the case, you’d need to go to Browser Cache, which is the seventh element in the menu as shown above.
Generally speaking, W3 Total Cache fixes the most common problems as default, so you may not need to do anything.
As you can see in the image below, W3 Total Cache has already specified the general cache policy:
Once you have installed W3 Total Cache, you should see an immediate improvement in your site’s speed.
If you don’t, and you don’t know what to do, you should talk to a developer who specializes in site speed optimisation to help you out solve the problems GTmetrix indicates.
Another common issue is the lack of a Content Delivery Network (or CDN), which would make the user download your site’s elements from the location of your server.
That means, if your servers are located in Liverpool, and your user is in Los Angeles, Bangkok, or Cape Town, it would take their browser more time to load your page.
But if you used a CDN like MaxCDN, they could download all the elements from the closest server, making the site’s download speed much faster and efficient.
If you click on W3 Total Cache’s General Settings section, you can select the CDN type you want to use, and the plugin will do most of the hard work for you.
Both the use of W3 Total Cache and a CDN will make your site speed much faster, improving your user experience as well as your rankings.]
You could also use a free plugin like WPSmush to optimize all of your images and reduce your overall page size in just a couple of clicks.
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. Basically, having a domain with SSL will certify your site’s security.
Because the use of SSL impacts in your rankings, you want to make sure you are using it in your site, especially if you accept payments on your site.
You can use the Let’s Encrpyt service which allows you to add a encrypted certification for free.
The easiest way to add a free SSL certification to your site, is by using a server that’s already integrated with Let’s Encrypt, which includes WPXHosting, Siteground & Kinsta.
Once you have the SSL certificate installed on a server level you can use a plugin like Really Simple SSL to enable it on the WordPress level.
If you are a busy business owner, or if you prefer to focus on other parts of your business (like sales and operations), you want to hire an SEO expert.
As Google says in the Starter Guide:
Many SEOs and other agencies and consultants provide useful services for website owners, including:
Review of your site content or structure
Management of online business development campaigns
Expertise in specific markets and geographies
Finding a trustworthy SEO company can be hard.
To help you find the right one, you want to check for the following things:
The results they have gotten to their past and current clients. Ask for case studies and references. Make sure they show specific results (e.g., “Our link building campaign attracted 15 high-authority links which helped driving the organic search traffic 20% in 3 months”).
The person in charge of your site. You want to make sure the company doesn’t outsource the work or give it to a junior executive with little experience. Make sure you talk to the person in charge of your site before signing off.
The link building tactics they use. Make sure they don’t use black hat tactics, unless that’s what you need (for example, if you are in the gambling industry). Ask them to show you specific links they’ve gotten and how they got them.
The timeline and deliverables. SEO takes time, but you want them to make progress on a month-per-month basis. At first, they should focus on keyword research, on-site optimisation, and technical SEO. Later, they’ll focus on link building and content creation. Tell them to tell you exactly what steps will be involved and the time each one will take.
Another important thing to take into consideration, is to get started with SEO before you need it.
As Google mentions in the Starter Guide-
If you’re thinking about hiring an SEO, the earlier the better. A great time to hire is when you’re considering a site redesign, or planning to launch a new site. That way, you and your SEO can ensure that your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the bottom up. However, a good SEO can also help improve an existing site.
Optimise Your Title Tags and Meta Description
You can have the best content in the world, but if neither Google knows what your page is about nor people understand the content of it, no one will visit your site.
That’s where title tags and meta descriptions come to the rescue.
As you may know, title tags are one of the most important on-site elements of your site.
Google weights the optimisation of your title tags heavily, so if you use the right keywords in it, Google will likely reward you with better results.
Meta descriptions on the other hand will help people (and Google) understand what your page is about.
If you do your job correctly, your click-through-rate (CTR) will skyrocket, increasing your organic traffic (even if you don’t rank number 1).
Here’s how you optimise your title tag and meta description.
Title Tag Optimisation
First and foremost, your title tags need to have the main keyword of your page. You can use an exact match of the keyword (that is, the exact keyword for which you want to rank), or simply use it within a phrase.
For example, if you wanted to rank for the keyword “Pizza London,” like in the case of the company we’ve been using so far, you’d need to add that keyword within the title tag.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case:
Long are the days where you could stuff your main keywords in your title tags and expect good results.
That’s why you need to get creative and use some SEO copywriting in your title tag.
In the case of the pizza place shown above, you could create a title tag that said something like:
Voted The Best Pizza In London – Pizza Union
If you run a local place or a company with a strong brand, you want to add your brand’s name somewhere in the title tag, especially in the main pages (like the homepage and category pages).
Finally, remember that title tags have a maximum length of 60 characters.
If you exceed that length, it won’t hurt your site. Rather, Google will cut your title tag short in the search results.
Meta Description Optimisation
While title tags matter for improving your page’s rankings, meta descriptions gives them context.
It’s with the meta descriptions where you want to use copywriting to improve your page’s relevancy.
Here’s a good example of a well-written meta description:
You can see that the company mentions what they offer (Neapolitan pizzas), where they offer them (in central London and Oxford), and how they offer them (in their venues, takeaway, or delivery).
For a local business, that’s a great structure. It’s concise and even actionable.
While in the past the meta description maximum characters were around 155 characters, according to Moz, Google has extended their length to around 300 characters.
Blocking Unwanted Pages
Your website likely has many pages you don’t want to show up in Google, either because they generate duplicate content, show sensitive information (like user or personal information) or because your users won’t find it useful.
This may not be the case if your site is small and has less than 50 pages or so.
Either way, if you think there are parts of your website you want to block from Google, here’s what you need to do.
First, use a robots.txt, which is a text file webmasters create to instruct search engine robots how to crawl and index pages on their website.
As the name suggests, this is nothing but a simple .txt file you add in your server’s root folder.
Robots.txt have some limitations in its scope. As Google explains:
Robots.txt is not an appropriate or effective way of blocking sensitive or confidential material. It only instructs well-behaved crawlers that the pages are not for them, but it does not prevent your server from delivering those pages to a browser that requests them.
One reason is that search engines could still reference the URLs you block (showing just the URL, no title or snippet) if there happen to be links to those URLs somewhere on the Internet (like referrer logs).
Also, non-compliant or rogue search engines that don’t acknowledge the Robots Exclusion Standard could disobey the instructions of your robots.txt.
Finally, a curious user could examine the directories or subdirectories in your robots.txt file and guess the URL of the content that you don’t want seen.
What Google is trying to say is that using a robots.txt is only one part of the whole puzzle. If you link internally to a page you want to block, Google may crawl and index it anyway.
If you want to make sure Google doesn’t index a page (even if it crawls it), you want to use a “noindex” tag, which goes in the header of a page.
You can manually add them to every page you want to block, or using a plugin like Yoast SEO.
By using the “noindex” tag, Google will crawl it, but avoid indexing it (and therefore, rank it).
Using Structured Data Markup
The way Google shows up the results has changed dramatically in the past 7 years. One of the biggest changes is the use of structured data markup.
In the words of Google, structured data markup is:
[A] code that you can add to your sites’ pages to describe your content to search engines, so they can better understand what’s on your pages.
Search engines can use this understanding to display your content in useful (and eye-catching!) ways in search results.
That, in turn, can help you attract just the right kind of customers for your business.
In other words, structured data helps users find out more about a site or page without visiting it. This can impact deeply on your CTR and search engine traffic.
Here are some examples to help you see how they look and work:
If you look for a company like Amazon, Google will not only show their site and pages, but also the following:
The information you see on the right represent two different types of structured data markup, the logos and articles ones.
Finally, if you have a local business, Google can show a lot of useful information about it, like in the example below:
If you aren’t sure whether to use structured data markup in your site, check what your direct and indirect competitors are doing.
If you need help getting started, follow Google’s guides, which explain in more detail how they work.
The old saying that “time is money” is especially true in the worlds of SEO and marketing. In order to get the most out of both your time and your clients’ time, you’ll have to find ways to speed things up without sacrificing quality of work. And much like “there’s an app for that,” there’s an extension or tool for almost anything you can think of.
At Greenlane, we all use different tools and extensions to help us deliver valuable, timely and actionable insights to our clients. While everyone has their own preferences, there are a few stand-out tools used by most–if not all–of us daily. We’re sharing them here to make your work-life easier and help you fulfill your resolution to be a more productive marketer this year.
Redirect Path – Redirect Path is a great extension to use when performing site audits. It shows you the HTTP status of the URL you’re on and flags redirects, pages not found, and server errors. You can also click each URL in the path to expand for more information about HTTP headers and server IP address.
Canonical – As the name suggests, this extension shows you the canonical URL of the page you’re on so you don’t have to hunt it down in the source code.
1Password or LastPass – We’re pretty evenly split on which password saving extension is better, but they both do a lot of the same things. Both 1Password and LastPass can save passwords, notes, and more to your account so all you need to remember is one master password to access your account logins across multiple platforms and devices. Both can also autofill information and generate strong passwords for you.
Boomerang – Have you ever sent an email, received no response, and wondered if the recipient even opened it? Boomerang is a Gmail extension which lets you know which emails were opened, and a whole lot more. It’s also great for scheduling emails, setting follow-up email reminders, and reminding you of important messages. You can even control when your inbox receives emails to keep you focused on important tasks at hand.
The Great Suspender – This extension is a personal favorite as it has saved my computer on multiple occasions. The Great Suspender suspends any open tabs while they’re not in use in order to save some of your system’s resources. You can either set the auto-suspend time or manually suspend a tab with a simple right click. The extension also has a whitelist for domains and URLs you never want suspended.
MozBar–Gives you various metrics and information about a page, including: DA and PA, link metrics, metadata, markups, and more.
Keywords Everywhere– Shows you the search volume, CPC, and competition score of keywords in various places across the Internet.
Save to Pocket – Saves articles, videos, and even pages for viewing on any device at a later time, on- or offline.
Awesome Screenshot – Lets you take screenshots (including full-page screenshots), record a screen, screencast, annotate, blur, and share.
User-Agent Switcher– Lets you spoof and switch between different user-agents right in your browser to see how pages render on various platforms.
SEMrush– SEMrush is one of our Holy Grail tools here at Greenlane. It really does a lot: site audits, domain vs. domain comparisons, brand monitoring, and much more. One of the tasks we use it for the most, however, is keyword research. SEMrush gives you keyword data for specific keywords, shows you the keywords that a specific URL is ranking for, and finds related keywords. Additionally, if you have projects within SEMrush, you can track keywords for your site and competitors’ sites across locations, languages, and devices.
Screaming Frog – Another Holy Grail tool within our Tech department, Screaming Frog is useful for crawling a site’s links, images, CSS, scripts, and apps to help you evaluate onsite SEO and discover any issues. It’s great for finding broken links, analyzing page metadata, auditing redirects, and more.
Buzzsumo’s Question Analyzer(formerly Bloomberry) – Bloomberry (we’ll forever call it this) is incomparable for building out meaningful content. This tool searches hundreds of thousands of forums, Reddit, Quora, and other Q&A sites for popular questions based on a keyword. Bloomberry also breaks those questions into more granular topic clusters for you, and sorts by the most frequently asked questions to help you address the most pressing needs of users.
Rank Ranger – Rank Ranger is a daily keyword tracker that tracks rankings for various search engines on desktop and mobile. If you’re tracking Google rankings, you can also see SERP snapshots and features, Featured Snippet information, local rank, and more. It’s great for seeing how your site’s rankings have been impacted by any changes you’ve made.
Ahrefs – Ahrefs is becoming a tool that many of us use almost daily. It’s great for backlink analysis, checking up on your competitors’ link profiles, and seeing what topics get links within your industry. It’s also growing to be more than just a link analysis tool – it can also help with keyword research and finding unlinked mentions.
OmniFocus – Allows you to organize projects, notes, and to-do lists with the option to focus on specific projects to get things done
For non-Apple users, or if you’d rather not pay, try Todoist
The SEO and marketing world is full of useful tools, and of course these are only a handful of them. Are there any other extensions or tools that have been helpful to you that we left out?