How to generate links that drive traffic, not just ranking

Many people see link building as a way to drive rankings. But, when done correctly, it can (and should) also drive traffic.

Driving traffic has a lot of benefits beyond the obvious potential increase in leads and sales. More website traffic can provide valuable analytics data about what users are looking for and what confuses them. It can also help grow engagement and potentially referral links on social media as others begin to share our content.

In this column, I’ll explain how to identify sources of links that drive actual traffic and how to evaluate your progress so that you can focus your efforts where they will have the greatest impact.

Identifying link partners

In order to find good sources for traffic-driving links, there are a few ways you can go: competitor research, rankings and influencers.

First, find the publications driving traffic to your competitors by using tools like SimilarWeb to find their top referral sources. Not only do these tools tell you who is linking to your competitors, but some can also show how much traffic your competitors are getting from those links.

Any site driving traffic/referrals to your competitors should be investigated and evaluated as a potential linking partner. Check each one for quality, verifying that they aren’t content scraper sites and are actually valuable resources for your target audience. If they pass the test, then consider approaching them for a link.

Of course, you shouldn’t just pursue links from sites that are driving traffic to your competitors. Review the top-ranking websites in Google for the terms you want to rank for and see if any of them can serve as good linking partners. For example, many industries have vertical-specific directories that provide both free and sponsored listings.

As always, do your research when approaching sites like this. Do the directories seem spammy, designed only to generate links for SEO purposes? Or are they legitimate sites that consumers actually use, like Yelp, TripAdvisor or Avvo? (Note that links from legitimate sites will often be nofollowed, but they are still valuable because they drive real traffic.)

If you want to do more of the heavy lifting when it comes to content, try approaching major and niche industry outlets that you can contribute content to. In addition to the above sites you found during your research, use a tool like BuzzSumo to find social influencers and reach out to them on their social channels or via email to see if they accept guest posts. These posts need to be highly relevant to the website’s audience, and be careful to follow any editorial guidelines and respect their rules for submitted content.

In addition to smaller industry publications, you can also find guest posting opportunities on major sites like Inc.com through their guest posting forms. The byline link or the author page can be a great source of traffic and referrals. Often, I’ve gotten leads from these links just because the prospect was impressed with seeing the byline in major outlets. However, you must be diligent and careful here: Submit your best work, as inclusion is often competitive, and editors can therefore be extremely choosy.

Other great outlet options to consider are community forums, like industry-specific subreddits or sites like Inbound.org if you are in marketing. Just remember to be a good community member — never spam other users with your own content, and be sure to participate regularly by answering questions and commenting thoughtfully on others’ content.

One last angle to try is to find industry influencers and sponsor or partner with them. Many influencers are willing to enter into partnerships with brands, where they will review or work with a company on content and social media posts to get the brand’s name out to their audience. Cost usually varies with audience size and the scope of the campaign.

Since the aim here is to drive traffic and branding, you shouldn’t run into any issues regarding Google’s linking guidelines. However, it’s important to ensure that all financial relationships are disclosed according to FTC guidelines and that you aren’t attempting to hide or sneak links into any content that you are sending to these outlets for publication.

Evaluating success

Once you’ve approached your chosen link partners and successfully obtained links, it’s time to review your work. After each month, check Google Analytics for referral traffic to see which new sites you’ve worked with are actually bringing you traffic. After three to six months, you’ll have a clear picture of which sites are worth your time and which aren’t. For instance, if Inc.com is bringing you more traffic than three industry sites combined, it might be better to pare down your industry sites to be able to submit more content to Inc.com.

Additionally, you can also see if there is an increase in overall brand search for your name using Google trends or Google Keyword Planner. Often, branding campaigns can result in more direct traffic, as well as organic traffic due to an increase in branded searches. By carefully tracking increases in direct and branded organic referrals, you can see the impact your branding campaigns are having. This can help you see the long-term benefits of your link-building efforts in growing your website traffic.

While tracking the data, be sure to also track your success building relationships with the influencers and websites you’ve singled out as potential link-building partners. This can show your progress to management and help you hone your pitch and messaging style.

Final thoughts

Link building, no matter the goal, is hard work if you want it to be done ethically and with enduring value. Building a healthy link portfolio can help you generate traffic from a wide variety of referral sources, while also increasing your overall online presence and making sure you own more of your branded search terms. Be sure to cast a wide net by working with many different sites and platforms.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Four brand-building activities that lay the foundation for SEO

At Google’s inception, one innovation differentiated it as a search engine: It used information gained from off-site sources to inform its estimation of the relevance, importance and quality of pages in its index. Originally, this source of off-site information was the network of links found by crawling the web.

Nearly two decades later, in 2017, with countless other rich data sources at its disposal, Google uses a more diverse and sophisticated set of data to determine just how big a deal you really are in the marketplace. In my experience over the past 10 years working in SEO, Google has always been pretty good at making this determination, and the signals have become harder and harder to fake over time.

At this point, the most efficient and sustainable path to making your company look like it is a significant player in the marketplace is to become a significant player in the marketplace. What does that mean for SEO folks? It means it’s time to stop thinking about how to build links and instead focus on how to build your brand online.

Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive — but if you’re doing any kind of activity with link-building as a primary objective, I would be skeptical of that activity if you don’t believe it also has the ability to boost the strength of your brand in some way, independent of the SEO impact of the links you’re getting.

With that in mind, I present the four major pillars of digital brand growth. If you can achieve wins in each of these four areas, you will be making rapid progress toward the kind of brand growth that creates positive SEO signals, while boosting the perception of your brand in the hearts and minds of your prospective audience:

1. Improving the product

Have you done user testing on your website? Have you watched people try to perform a specific action on all devices and media available? Have you tested all the major elements of the conversion funnel? Do you know how well people like using your website versus your biggest competitor’s? Do your pages load in under two seconds?

Not many companies can answer “yes” to all these questions. Testing needs to be a standard part of the development process. The more you believe you don’t have time or resources to test, the more badly you probably need it — especially if your site architecture is a mishmash of “urgent” mandates from upper management. The bottom line is that if your site design is based on hunches and intuition, your success is being left to chance.

Make time to test, improve and repeat. If you make a fast site that people love using, your chances of success go way up.

2. Creating valuable resources

What topic can you make your site the best resource for? Ideally, it would be something that is unique in some way and at least somewhat challenging for others to replicate. Here are some starter ideas:

A tool/calculator/selection guide that solves a common problem.A searchable archive of a unique data source you have access to.An educational resource that makes a complex topic easy to understand.An interview with an expert or influencer in your field.A tutorial that teaches people how to do something for themselves.

The more evergreen staying power your resource has, the more it can pay dividends for years to come!

3. Increasing repeat visitors

If I had to identify one defining characteristic of successful online brands, it would be the ability to convert first-time visitors into repeat users. If you have that, then you can build a brand. Without repeat visitors, you may be able to find a niche that produces positive ROI, but you can forget about being an online powerhouse.

Some ideas for encouraging repeat visitors include:

Giving people really good reasons (value) to sign up for regular emails from you.Offering a loyalty plan or discounts for repeat customers.Personalization/being able to give good recommendations.Building on-site community features where users can interact with you and each other.Finding ways to reward especially active members of the community.Adding high-value content on a regular basis and creating channels where people can be notified when new offerings are available.

The bottom line is, you need to find a way to create value on an ongoing basis — and make sure people know about it.

4. Being newsworthy

I’ve never heard anyone claim that you should have low-level employees write half-hearted blogs and then post them to your social media in order to build your brand. Yet that might be the most common content marketing “plan” being used today. There’s too much content out there to waste time creating stuff you don’t care about. And if you don’t care about it, why on earth should anyone else?

Start your thought process with “What can we do that would be truly valuable and remarkable?” instead of “How can we get some links?” You just might get a different result — including more and better links.

It’s okay and often even helpful to be controversial, but if you do so without a purpose that is in alignment with your brand and core audience, the attention you get may not be worth what you end up paying for it.

Here are some positive ways of being newsworthy:

Solve a challenge no one else has been able to solve.Run an original study that brings real insight to a common question in your field.Create something that inspires strong emotion in people.Create something that is massively funny or entertaining. (Be careful here, as you want to make sure that this still adds value to your brand.)Create something that shatters people’s expectations — surprise them in a good way.Make a significant contribution to your community.Create a valuable resource (see section 2) that has mass appeal.

The stronger the alignment between your brand and your newsworthy activities, the more it will benefit you.

Final thoughts

If you continuously improve your site, create valuable resources, get people to come back and do newsworthy things, your online brand will grow and thrive. It’s easy to say, but not as easy to do.

Being mediocre is easy. Being outstanding requires planned action, disciplined follow-through and the willingness to test and try different things until you get it right.

Am I saying SEO is dead? No! Structuring your campaigns for maximum SEO impact is still a hugely important part of the campaign planning process and can dramatically improve the results you get. Organic search is a major traffic channel, and it needs to have people who are looking out for it. That’s not going to change. But if you’re going to be a market leader in 2017, SEO has to be the cart and not the horse. Your brand is the horse, and the stronger it gets, the bigger you can build your cart.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

The changing SERP: Understanding and adapting to dynamic search results

Consumer search behaviors are changing rapidly. According to a recent report from BrightEdge (disclaimer: my employer), 57 percent of searches now begin with a mobile device, and last year Google revealed that voice search has increased to about 20 percent of all Google mobile search queries.

And of course, Google is constantly adjusting their SERP layout in order to better align with a searcher’s context and expectations. Consumers now expect to see rich content in SERPs that includes not just standard text listings, but video, images, local map results, featured snippets and more. The standard organic listings themselves also sometimes feature rich snippets, which enhance the listing by presenting information in a way that is easy to scan and often visually appealing.

Paid search ads have changed as well — in 2015, Google doubled the size of its highly visual product listing ads (PLAs), and last year they announced that up to four search ads could appear for “highly commercial queries,” whereas previously the maximum had been three. Even if you aren’t involved in paid search, it’s important to keep track of any changes that impact the overall SERP layout and design, as these changes may affect the way users engage with organic listings.

These seismic shifts in the industry have a profound impact on SEO. Although my company has observed that the overall share of organic traffic for websites remains the same as it was in 2014 (51 percent of all incoming traffic, on average), this stability didn’t come easily — and it will become harder to defend this level of organic traffic contribution. Marketers now need to consider how content is evaluated and displayed on a variety of devices so they can attract more clicks from the right search user at the right time.

How have these shifts impacted SEO?

The shift from the classic “10 blue links” SERP of the old days to the more dynamic and visually appealing SERPs of today has had a huge impact on how SEO practitioners do their jobs. In the old days, you would create text content for a webpage with the aim of having it rank well in the SERP for your chosen keyword. Now, you must take into account how different content types will rank in different sections of the SERP on different devices and for users in different locations. Ideally, you will also consider how to present or mark up this content so that you can make the most of your listings with visual enhancements like rich snippets.

For example, let’s say that you manage a website for a business that sells cameras, and on that site is a page about SLR cameras. Many years ago, when the SERP showed just 10 blue links, you would seek to maximize organic search performance by creating high-quality, authoritative text content about SLR cameras. If you were really advanced, you would optimize this one piece of content across three devices (desktop, mobile and tablet) — three permutations in total.

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Fast forward to today. You still have your camera website and your webpage about SLR cameras. However, terms related to SLR cameras now bring up a variety of different result types, depending on the keyword variation. You decide that in addition to your existing text content about SLR cameras, you want to create other types of content to capture different areas of the SERP: high-quality product images (for image results), a video about SLR cameras (for video results), information on your local storefront (for the local 3-pack), and a question-and-answer section (for a featured snippet).

Each of these four content elements, in addition to your standard text content, could win a spot on SERP for the same keywords you were targeting and ranking for years ago. Suddenly, you need to deal with five content types across three devices — 15 permutations in total. That’s a lot more content to produce, optimize and track in order to maximize organic search performance.

Add to this the fact that ads are getting larger and more numerous — thereby reducing above-the-fold visibility for organic listings — and you can see how SEO has become an increasingly challenging endeavor over the years.

How can SEOs better focus their efforts?

Unless you work at a large company with unlimited resources, you’re going to have to make some tough choices about where to focus your SEO and content marketing efforts.

One way to inform this decision is to examine what content type is most likely to win the top spot on the SERP for your most important target keywords. For instance, “sports apparel” will likely to have local 3-pack above organic web listings, while “hawaii vacation” has more PPC results occupying top SERP positions.

This type of visual parsing is going to be a key way for search marketers to sustain and improve their organic search performance because Google is never going to show a one-size-fits-all SERP anymore. Marketers will need to analyze the ranking position of every content element on SERPs for their target keywords. They will also need to understand intent signals to see if a keyword produces SERPs with local results — or with any organic listings above the fold at all.

Conclusion

Search engine optimization has grown more challenging and complex over the years, and marketers must now look beyond pure ranking position on the SERP if they want to succeed. By closely examining SERPs to discover the types of content present, where each content type is displayed/positioned, and how much real estate each content piece occupies on the SERP for the keywords they want to be known for, marketers can better manage their SEO and content development efforts by focusing on areas that will have the greatest impact on organic search visibility.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

SEO + UX = Success

In the good old days, SEO was simple. You stuffed a page full of keywords, and you ranked number one. Oh, if only it were that simple today! Now, Google (and the other search engines) literally take hundreds of factors into account when determining which pages rank high in search engine results pages (SERPs).

This new reality means that elements of user experience (UX) have been rolled into SEO best practices. How easy is your site to navigate? Do you have quality content that makes visitors want to stay and engage? Is your site secure, fast and mobile-friendly?

Think of the partnership of SEO and UX this way: SEO targets search engines, and UX targets your website’s visitors. Both share a common goal of giving users the best experience.

Here are some common website elements that impact both SEO and user experience.

Headings

Just as the headings of a printed work make it easier to find information, the headings of a web page make it easier for both visitors and search engine crawlers to understand and parse your content.

Headings (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, <h5> and <h6>) should tell the readers and search engines what the paragraphs/sections are about and show a logical hierarchy of the content. Headings also help users if they get lost on a page.

Only use one h1 tag on a page — that lets search engines and users know the page’s primary focus. H1s are normally the first piece of content on a page, placed near the top. (Think of h1s as the chapter title of a book.) Adding keywords toward the front of a heading can also help with rankings.

Other headers (h2 through h6) should follow h1s to structure and organize the rest of the page appropriately. The other headings can be used several times on a page, as long as it makes sense. You do not need to use all of them, either — sometimes your content may only need an h1 and some h2s.

Easy navigation and site structure

It may seem crazy that we’re still talking about easy site navigation… but we are. There are way too many sites out there that simply don’t get it. Your site structure is not only important for your users, but it’s your site’s roadmap for the search engines, too.

Remember that many of your visitors will not enter your site through your home page. This means that your site needs to be easy to navigate — no matter which page a searcher (or search engine crawler) lands on.

Your site’s navigation is not the place for fancy popups, a long list of options, hide-and-seek games or a place of dead ends where the user doesn’t know how to get back to another section of your site or get back to your home page.

Take a look at how healthcare giant Anthem’s menu overtakes the screen — on both desktop and mobile — when the menu is clicked:

With the menu literally filling the entire screen, a user can’t read the content that’s underneath the navigation. This creates a very poor user experience. When people are on mobile devices, chances are they won’t have the patience to deal with menus like this.

Additionally, a clean site navigation and structure can also lead to sitelinks appearing in Google search results. Sitelinks can help you take over more real estate on search engine result pages — which means less room for your competitors (and, hopefully, more clicks for you).

Google’s algorithm decides which sites get sitelinks (and which ones don’t). They base this decision largely on a site’s structure:

We only show sitelinks for results when we think they’ll be useful to the user. If the structure of your site doesn’t allow our algorithms to find good sitelinks, or we don’t think that the sitelinks for your site are relevant for the user’s query, we won’t show them.

User signals

I believe that user signals will increasingly become a more prominent factor in search engine rankings. Do you have Posts on Google My Business that visitors are clicking on? Are visitors on mobile devices using the click-to-call feature to dial your business? Are happy customers leaving five-star reviews for you — and are you responding to those reviews?

Although Google has denied that user signals such as time on site or bounce rate are direct ranking factors, studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between these signals and top rankings. Let’s put it this way: Google sees and knows everything. Every touch point and interaction your visitors have with you (and you have with them) shows Google that users are interested in and engaging with your content.

Site speed

Site speed has long been a ranking factor for Google search, and the company has even announced that mobile page speed (rather than desktop) will soon be used to determine this ranking factor. So not only is it important to have a website that loads quickly, but your mobile experience needs to be fast as well.

Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool allows you to enter your URL to see the issues your site might be having with mobile responsiveness. PageSpeed Insights measures how the page can improve its performance on both time to above-the-fold load and time to full page load and provides concrete suggestions for reducing page load time.

Amazingly, even the big sites with presumably large development and IT budgets have speed issues. See the poor results for the Harvard Business Review site:

Content-heavy and news sites should especially pay attention to site speed issues, since these sites are often viewed on mobile devices for the sake of convenience.

Mobile experience

When you think of “mobile experiences,” speed is definitely one consideration, but so is your mobile website as a whole — the look, feel, navigation, text, images and so forth.

Ever since Google released its mobile-friendly update in 2015, webmasters and SEOs have had to take “mobile-friendliness” into account as a ranking factor. And now, with the mobile-first index said to be coming in 2018, your mobile site will be considered your “main” website when Google’s algorithm is calculating rankings — thus making a good mobile experience all the more crucial.

Navigation is one of the most important components of a mobile experience — users and Google need to be able to find what they’re looking for quickly. Even button sizes and designs can impact user interaction on your mobile website. Every element on your mobile website impacts a user’s experience and directly (or indirectly) affects SEO as well.

In searching for an example of a local business’s mobile website, I found the one shown below. For this company’s mobile site, more than half of the above-the-fold real estate is taken up with meaningless information like huge logos and social media buttons. Plus, their menu is teeny-tiny and doesn’t even say “Menu” — it says “Go To…” and has the actual link to the menu to the far right-hand side. This does not make for a very user-friendly experience.

This company would be better off taking the clutter away from the top of the screen and making their menu, products and services more prominent for their mobile users.

Simple and smart design decisions like this will go a long way to making not only your visitors happy, but Google, too!

SEO and UX: A winning combination

Hopefully, you can see how SEO and UX go hand-in-hand in creating a successful website experience for both your human visitors and the search engines.

But what do you think? Do you think of your site’s users when you are creating content? How do you work with your design team to ensure that your site makes for a great mobile experience for your users? What is your balance between SEO factors and UX factors? We’d love to know!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

3 reasons SEO is the account-based marketer’s secret weapon

Account-based marketing best practices have come into their own in recent years. Audiences expect more personalized, targeted brand interactions, and account-based strategies deliver, aligning marketing and sales to close bigger accounts with better outbound communications.

But what happens when your proposal gets passed from its intended audience to another decision-maker? What happens as it hops from one desk to another, and each touch has new and different questions or needs? Do they reach out to the name on the back page, or do the reach out to Google?

Consider that many B2B purchasers won’t speak to a salesperson until they’ve done their own research first. Outbound campaigns deliver social posts, marketing emails and targeted ads — each with the goal of driving decision-makers deeper into the funnel — but they may not be enough.

B2B decision-makers conduct an average of 12 searches before visiting a specific brand’s site, according to a Google/Millward Brown study conducted in 2014. If your digital marketing efforts are so focused on ABM that SEO gets shelved, outbound campaigns could drive decision-makers directly to your competitors by inspiring a search-based research cycle that delivers few brand results. To stay top-of-mind throughout the research process — and everywhere information is sought — marketers must learn to use SEO and ABM together.

1. SEO expands ABM outreach

Multiple decision-makers are involved in most B2B purchase decisions. Those decision-makers include both executives and individual contributors. While a good ABM campaign targets individuals at many levels of an organization, the individual contributors are often tasked with researching solutions — and that’s when outbound strategies are no longer enough.

Unlike executives, individual contributors will use whatever system, software or service is purchased, so they’re invested in doing the necessary research to find the best option. Thought leadership pieces and content that’s focused on high-level benefits will only scratch the surface for these decision-makers. They want to know how the purchase will satisfy specific needs and resolve specific pain points.

When conducting research, individual contributors turn to search to seek detailed product information: how-to guides, reviews from their peers and implementation documentation. If your brand doesn’t show up in search results for relevant queries, it may never land on their list of recommended solutions.

To expand outreach and connect with these decision-makers, brands must conduct keyword and user intent research, create content that speaks to the needs and pain points of the individuals who will be using the product and optimize that content for search — the medium where detailed research is being conducted.

2. SEO keyword research provides a map of buyer journeys

An effective ABM campaign delivers the right content at the right time to key contacts at target accounts. But how do you actually know what information each persona is looking for at every stage of his/her journey?

Google has been asking similar questions for years, which is why SEO keyword + user intent research can provide a map that details what content decision-makers are looking for at different stages of the buying journey.

SEOs and marketers can compile a list of relevant keywords, search for those keywords, and reverse-engineer organic search results to determine audience, user intent and position in the buyer’s journey:

Results for introductory content that’s focused on high-level benefits suggest that the people searching for that term have a learn-know intent, are executives and are in the “awareness” stage of their journey.Results for tutorials and how-to guides suggest that people searching for that term have a learn-do intent, are individual contributors and are in the “exploring solutions” stage of the journey.User review and product comparison results suggest that users still have learn intent but are trending toward purchase intent. Users searching for relevant keywords are likely individual contributors, and they’re in the “comparing vendors” stage.Results that populate sales pages or pricing tables suggest that the intent is purchase, the audience is the C-suite, and users are in the final stage of the purchase journey and ready to convert.

This research can be used to form a map of the types of information different decision-makers are searching for during different stages of the buying journey.

The outcome isn’t just useful for SEO and inbound campaigns — it’s highly effective in planning outbound campaigns as well. It details what content key contacts should receive, in what order, based on historical interactions. If a key contact is interacting with content that falls in the awareness stage, the next communication from your brand shouldn’t be a demo offer. The user isn’t yet ready to make that decision.

SEO insights help brands guide users through the buying journey by delivering the right content to the right audience at the right time, keeping key contacts engaged throughout the journey.

3. SEO analytics provide invaluable data on outbound ABM campaigns

SEO analytics provide detailed insights about site visitors and their actions that are useful for more than just inbound marketing. Analytics data is invaluable for outbound ABM campaigns as well.

Google Analytics goals allow marketers to build a personalized landing page for a specific target account, deliver the URL for that page to key contacts through ads, emails and social media, and track visits to that page. Marketers can then mine Google Analytics for data about those visits:

Determine which channel drove the most visits. Focus future efforts for that account on the highest-performing channel.Discover how long visitors stayed on the site. If only seconds, revise content — it’s not engaging key contacts.Track what other pages visitors viewed. Identify what questions decision-makers still have to determine what content/offers they might like to receive next.A/B test campaigns. Before releasing a campaign to all targeted accounts, send it to a single account and track its success or failure. Replicate successful campaigns for other accounts, and eliminate the waste of sending unengaging communications.

SEO analytics allow marketers to learn from data, engage in constant improvement and refine campaigns and initiatives to find the best approach for every client in a target account list.

With Google Analytics, all campaign data — both inbound and outbound — is housed in a central system, so there’s no need for marketers and SEOs to mine data from multiple systems to develop valuable insights.

ABM and SEO: The perfect pairing

The best practices of ABM are primarily focused on outbound marketing, but marketers can increase engagement, expand outreach and develop proven strategies by partnering SEO and ABM efforts. SEO allows ABM marketers to identify the right audience, its needs and its position in the buying journey — and make sure brand content is visible everywhere audiences are conducting research.

A simple place to start is with SEO analytics. Create goals in Google Analytics to track which campaigns and content are the most and least effective. Expand on effective campaigns, and analyze why ineffective campaigns are failing, by conducting keyword and user intent research and revising initiatives based on new SEO insights.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

The psychology of search: Unleashing the power of connection

Why do companies large and small invest billions of dollars each year in search engine optimization (SEO) and other search marketing tactics? There is more to the answer than, “Because it just works.”

The truth is that there are a number of psychological principles that can explain why search is such an effective form of marketing. Understanding why users interact with some search listings and not others can help you craft a better user experience, from the initial click all the way through to the conversion.

Every decision we make based off one of two motivations: We are either looking to avoid or remove pain, or we are looking to gain pleasure. Pain and pleasure drive us to look for ways to make our lives better. Now, before you stop reading because you think I am getting a little too “unscientific,” let me give you an example.

At 2:00 AM, you wake up to a flood of water in your home. The water heater has broken, and now you are experiencing a ton of pain. What do you do?  You search for an emergency plumber in your area and give them a call. Why did you do that? You were experiencing the pain of your water heater bursting. If it didn’t cause you pain, you would have just said, “I’ll deal with this in the morning,” and headed back to bed.

Here is another example. You get a raise, and you want to “reward” yourself. There is this car that you’ve always wanted, and now you have the means to purchase it. This car has been the reason you’ve worked so hard in the first place. You know that getting this car, sitting in the driver seat, and cruising down the highway will make your life better. So you search for a dealership, haggle for the best price, and drive away in your dream car. Again, why did you do that? Because it created pleasure.

Pain and pleasure are key driving forces behind every person’s action. As search marketers, we can use this understanding to help us better align our products, services, website pages and search strategy to connect with people on a deeper level. As entrepreneur and digital marketing expert Neil Patel notes:

[U]nderstanding the psychology behind why people behave the way they do plays a crucial role in establishing an effective online marketing strategy.

Getting to know your users

You don’t have to have a psychology degree to better understand what motivates your users — you just need to be willing to do the work.

It starts with creating a detailed persona. A persona is a semi-fictional character that represents your ideal customer. When developing personas, many stop at demographic information. But the real power is uncovering the psychographics. One exercise we use when creating personas is empathy mapping.

Empathy mapping helps you step outside yourself and into the world of your persona. It forces you to experience the world from a new perspective. Often times when creating marketing material or planning a search strategy, we get wrapped up in the metrics and forget about the actual human on the other side of our strategy. Empathy mapping will help you detach from the technical for a bit and help you focus on the practical.

Why are they searching?

Before ever doing keyword research, you must understand why people are searching in the first place. User intent will help you define terms and phrases that lead to action. Here are a few questions you can use to identify user intent and uncover the “why” behind the search:

What are you promoting, selling, delivering?What problem does your company solve?What actions do we want a site visitor to take?Why should a user visit your site?What are users expecting from your site?

These questions will help you take your product or solution and discover why it’s valuable to your end users. Now, typically your business will have multiple personas, but there are usually a few key pain points that all you users share. If you can find, uncover and leverage these pain points, you’ll be able to create a search strategy that delivers results.

Creating connections in the SERPs

People trust Google. They trust that the results they receive after submitting a query are ordered that way because those sites deserve to be there. While the search engine results pages (SERPs) aren’t perfect, they are typically very relevant. This is how Google has built trust over time, by continually providing relevant results to its users.

Now, sites that earn these higher rankings also earn trust. But, if you abuse that trust, you will lose in the long run. This is why having a human-centric search strategy is important. Many try to take shortcuts with black-hat tactics that may drive them traffic for a short amount of time. But, if your site does not meet the needs (pain or pleasure) of the user that clicked your link, your site will not maintain that position or viability in the long run.

While we often obsess over the hundreds of different ranking factors (which are important), we often overlook the most important part of the equation: the end user. Because the user trusts the search results, we need to learn the real motivations behind their searches and build a strategy that speaks to them.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

How to track conversions like a pro

How do you know if what you are doing is actually working? Sure, traffic may be going up, but what about after that? Are your new visitors taking actions that lead to real business results?

The goal of SEO is not to just drive more traffic — it’s to drive better traffic. And the only way to know if we have hit our goal is to measure how our users are interacting with our site after they’ve arrived.

Conversions are usually associated with e-commerce and business transactions. But in truth, there are a number of different types of conversions. Today’s websites have multiple conversion points, from subscribe widgets and phone numbers to pop-ups and chatbots. But the conversion elements are only powerful if you have the right audience interacting with them.

Tracking conversions will give you a better understanding of your website’s traffic. By learning what your users are doing after they land on your site, you will be able to know whether you are driving the right type of traffic. The great news is that you don’t need fancy software to pull this off. You can use the Google Analytics goals to help you track conversions on your site. Below are three simple conversion goals you can track that will give you powerful insights into how your users are interacting with your website.

1. URL destination

In this type of conversion, you are tracking when a user lands on a specific page URL, link www.yoursite.com/thank-you. This is usually used to track if a user has completed a form submission. To set this up, you’ll need to go to your admin section, and under “view,” click goals. From there, you can create a new goal.

Setting up a URL destination goal is pretty simple. Just fill in the input boxes that Google gives you.

On thing to note: In the goal URL you don’t need to add the full URL, just what comes after the domain. For match type, you can specify how strict you want Google Analytics to track. If you want just one specific URL, choose “Exact Match.” If you have a number of user-generated URLs that all start with a specific string, you can use the “starts with” option.

This type of goal will let you know if users are converting on key pages of your website. The data you collect here is extremely valuable when you are trying to determine if you are driving the right type of user to your site.

2. Duration goals

Do you know how long your average user is staying on your site? Is there a correlation between a user’s time on your site and their becoming a customer? Instead of wondering, you can set up a duration goal inside Google Analytics to find out. Unlike a conversion that is tracking a destination, this type of conversion is focused on your users’ behavior.

To create this goal, you’ll need to go back to the admin section of your website property in Google Analytics. Create a custom goal type and click “duration.” Instead of tracking a destination, you’ll be tracking time on the site.

Give your goal a name to help you you keep track of the conversions you’re measuring. The condition is where you will decide how you want to track. For engagement, we’ll want to choose “greater than.” Next, you’ll add the goal time. As you can see, you can get pretty specific here. This will help you understand if your users are finding your site engaging. If you notice that they are leaving quickly, you know that either you are driving the wrong traffic or your site is not meeting users’ needs.

3. Pages per visit

Similar to the duration goal, pages per visit is about understanding user engagement. The hypothesis is that if you are driving the right type of traffic, they will engage at a higher rate. So let’s talk quickly about how to set this up.

Once again, this will be done in the admin section of Google Analytics. You’ll choose a custom goal, and this time, select Pages/Screens per session. For the condition, you can choose “greater than,” “equal to” or “less than.” For the purpose of tracking user engagement, we’ll choose “greater than.” Then add the number of pages you want to see trigger a conversion.

Final thoughts

Knowing whether your users are engaging with your site will help you better qualify your SEO efforts. Reporting is often one of the hardest parts of any SEO or digital marketer’s job. Since there is so much data, it’s often difficult to know what to track. While showing increased traffic and rankings can be nice, showing how your users are interacting will help you verify if you’re driving the right type of traffic to your site.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

The complete guide to optimizing content for SEO (with checklist)

Effective content marketing is a vehicle for modern SEO.

Just as wheels without an engine leaves you pedaling, content without an SEO strategy can’t keep up in a digital marketplace. And just like an engine with no wheels, SEO without content is a shiny machine that goes nowhere.

Content needs SEO to stand out in the din of mediocre blog posts clogging up the internet these days, and Google has said that one of the top three ranking factors for organic search is “content.”

But what does that mean? Not any content, surely. Unfortunately, search engines are not handing out checklists for “high-quality content,” and they probably never will. That means it’s up to those of us who geek out on this kind of thing to study search results, mine Google Analytics and create massive spreadsheets that we pretend to be bored by but secretly love — all to bring you (and ourselves, who are we kidding?) a comprehensive guide to creating “high-quality” SEO content.

Step 1: SEO your content strategy

Too many marketers are still waiting until the end of content creation to bring in SEO as a promotional tool. They try to figure out what they’ve just created, so they can plug in a few keywords and links.

But an effective content marketing strategy should start with keyword and user intent research. Once you know what queries your audience is using, and what kind of content they are looking for, you can design a content strategy that answers their specific questions and helps move them through the funnel.

High-quality content:

     is based on an understanding of your audience, as well as keyword and user intent research. Use your audience’s language, and provide the information they’re actually looking for. helps the reader complete one specific task. Long content (1,000+ words) tends to rank better in organic results, in part because it is thorough. That said, stay on task and don’t let the content lose focus. features an enticing call to action or a clear next step. When you know your readers and their buyer journeys, your content can point them to more of what they want.

    Step 2: Design good content

    Good UX is good SEO. When users are engaged, they consume more content, interact with it and share it. From the overarching structure to the details of the layout, make sure you are designing good content.

    There are plenty of philosophies about which characteristics make content “good” — or “sticky” or “thought leadership.” They are all worthy considerations, and every piece of content should cover at least a few:

    Simple/Clear/CoherentUnexpectedConcreteCredible/Valid/ExperiencedEmotionalEntertainingInspiringEducationalRelevantDeep/ThoroughPracticalNovel/Unique (in value, not just in content)Trustworthy

    And as you continue to design content, keep your audience in mind: you are writing for people, so search engines can also understand — not vice versa.

    High-quality content:

       is written to its audience, not your peers. Make sure the language is neither too simple nor full of industry jargon. is shareable. Take a step back and ask yourself if you would share it — and, if so, could you? (i.e., are social sharing buttons readily available?) can be scanned quickly. Use short paragraphs, callouts, bold text, bullet points, numbered lists, quotes and so on to make the text easy on the eyes and easy to digest quickly. uses strong titles and H1s. Create enticing, actionable titles that use keywords strategically and naturally. CoSchedule has a nice headliner analyzer tool if you need help here. features ideal results, common objections and/or time frames in subheaders. Anticipate the audience’s hopes, fears and concerns. is better than current SERP winners. Spy out the competition. Review the pages that are currently ranking well for target keywords and ask yourself if your content is better. Make sure it’s better.

      Step 3: Create correct content

      Is there anything as unsettling as a typo in an otherwise great piece of content? No. There isn’t. While there is no evidence, at this time, that grammar is a ranking signal, it’s a UX/credibility concern.

      Additionally, citing sources and linking to other authorities is good technique, but it’s also good SEO — those outbound links demonstrate to search engines that you know your stuff, and that you’re associating with the right crowd.

      High-quality content:

         is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Proofread. And then have someone else proofread. (No joke, my mother sent me a screen shot of a grammatical error in a Propecta Facebook post recently. Those are the people you need in your life.) links to good, reputable sources. Wikipedia counts as a good source to Google, no matter what your high school social studies teacher said. has been fact-checked. Just because everyone else quotes that statistic, it doesn’t mean you should, unless you can find the source.

        Step 4: Check your keyword usage

        You started with keywords and user intent research, of course, so this is not about figuring out which keywords apply to the piece of content in question. This is about examining how that keyword is being used in said content.

        It’s true that keyword stuffing is very, very out. It was never cool in the first place, but now — thanks to Google — it’s also ineffective (if not dangerous). It’s also true that Google is very savvy about keywords. None of that, however, means that keywords are “dead.” It just means SEO needs to use them better.

        (It is also worth noting that users look for keywords. Google is smart enough to recognize common synonyms, but when a user types in a keyword, he/she is looking for that bolded keyword on the SERP.)

        High-quality content:

           is not stuffed full of the primary keyword. There’s no real math for this. A good way to visualize is to use the “Find” feature in your document and search the keyword. If it looks oversaturated, start plugging in some synonyms. organizes thematic subsections by primary related keywords. Google is getting better and better at understanding related terms. Don’t be afraid of it. makes natural use of keywords and variants in content. Don’t overthink it. Use synonyms, abbreviations, plurals and so on like a normal human being. makes natural use of keywords in image text. Image titles, alt text and captions are strategic places for descriptive language. Don’t force keywords, but do use them as applicable. makes natural use of keywords in titles. Write for people first, but if you can keep that target keyword toward the front of your title and/or H1, do so. makes natural use of keywords in the URL. This shouldn’t be too hard if you’ve used it in the title. makes natural use of keywords and variants in the first 100 words. Don’t be awkward, but do, as much as possible, lay all your cards on the table as quickly as possible.

          Bonus round: Some technical SEO content issues

          Technical SEO is, mostly, an entirely different conversation. Most technical SEO factors are sitewide issues that need to be audited, and the important ones cleaned up, before you start trying to optimize content.

          There are, however, a few technical considerations relating specifically to individual content, and I would be remiss to ignore them:

             Content loads quickly. Three seconds or less is what you’re working with. Make sure the images and other media files aren’t slowing down the content’s performance. Content plays well on mobile. This will not likely be an issue if the site uses responsive design, which most do, but make sure forms and CTAs are tappable in the content, images are center-aligned and so on. Page is included on the site’s XML sitemap. Help Google find and understand the content! Internal links point to the content. Make sure they are relevant and they use keyword-based anchor text as possible/appropriate. URLs are short. Top-ranking pages have shorter URLs. Position 1 URLs average 59 characters long.

            Go forth and create ‘high-quality content’

            They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but they have never tried to rank content in organic search. The truth is, for our purposes, beauty is in the eye of the target audience — as interpreted by a machine learning program at Google.

            Fortunately, RankBrain, although still fairly vague and nebulous, is at least pretty consistent. That means we can Google thousands of terms, study tens of thousands of results, A/B test our own hypotheses, and come up with a list of characteristics that are very likely beautiful to Google — 77 characteristics, to be exact.

            Start your SEO content journey by bringing the two together from the beginning. If you are working with a content marketing strategy that did not start with SEO research, start again. When the wheels and the engine start together, you set out on a much smoother ride.

            Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

In the age of RankBrain, these foundational SEO issues still matter

There are at least 200 ranking factors in Google’s algorithm (not to mention RankBrain), which means a thorough SEO audit could lead to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of SEO tasks. Few companies have the budget or resources to complete every potential SEO to-do item — and doing so would be an incredible waste of time and resources anyway. Some SEO tasks are critical and cannot be ignored; others just aren’t worth your time.

Prioritizing an SEO task list is crucial. Focus your resources on SEO work that is actually going to improve rankings, increase clicks and drive revenue. Most companies should focus on engagement SEO work, but technical tasks can’t be ignored completely — especially if you have major problems.

Critical technical SEO problems

Audit any website for technical SEO issues — even the world’s top-performing sites — and I promise you will find dozens, if not hundreds of things that “should” be done. The list of technical SEO work can go on endlessly, if you let it.

But what technical work will move the needle on organic rankings?

Recently, my team conducted 15 audits of different web properties for a large tech company. The client was concerned that some unknown technical change or issue was severely limiting their organic search growth. Though we found dozens of technical SEO issues, most of our recommendations were for engagement SEO tasks. None of the technical issues we discovered were critical, and resolving them wouldn’t have provided noteworthy results. However, this thorough audit was still meaningful for the company — they were able to move past their unfounded concerns to focus on expanding content and improving user experience (UX) to drive higher rankings.

Critical technical SEO issues are rare, but not nonexistent. No amount of engagement SEO work will be effective if a site has major technical issues, so it’s crucial to prioritize red-flag technical SEO issues above any engagement SEO tasks. Critical technical SEO issues include:

Site speed. Google has said that site speed is a ranking factor, and study after study continues to show that faster sites rank better, get more engagement and close more business. Google’s own research shows that most mobile users abandon a site that takes longer than three seconds to load.Mobile performance. In addition to site speed, every other aspect of a site’s mobile performance is an important technical consideration as well. With mobile-first indexing right around the corner, mobile deserves its own discussion (see below).Blocked resources. If search engines can’t index or crawl your site, resolving this issue should be your first priority. Allowing site content to be indexed is one of the quickest ways to improve incoming organic traffic. Crawl issues may be caused by a few factors: an error in your robots.txt file, unintentional noindex tags in site meta data, or server issues that limit Googlebot’s crawl rate.Google penalties. Hacked sites, spam content and unnatural backlink profiles can all lead to severe ranking penalties. Sites with manual actions can be demoted in search results or removed altogether. If Google Search Console lists a manual action on your site, take steps immediately to resolve the issue — disavow low-quality links and delete hacked or spam pages — and submit your site for reconsideration.Significant URL and/or redirect problems. Did you launch a new site and forget to implement redirects? Perhaps that was two or three launches past, and those problems were never fully resolved? Is your site generating thousands of meaningless unique URLs? When URL and redirect problems reach a critical mass, they can pose a significant risk to your organic traffic.Other issues. Additional technical SEO issues — like fixing every single broken link and setting up redirects for every possible 404 imaginable — can also be critical at times, but these tasks fall into more of a gray area. If the issue is severe, fixing it is critical. If you have a handful (or even hundreds) of minor errors on a large site, and fixing them isn’t straightforward, you might be able to hold off.

Always ask your SEO and technical teams to summarize the effort required for, and the anticipated impact of, SEO work. If the effort is quite large, and/or the anticipated impact is low — or it “may or may not actually help us” — then move on.

Critical mobile SEO issues

Mobile SEO is part technical and part engagement, and 100 percent critical. As Google prepares to roll out mobile-first indexing, optimizing your site for mobile is more important than ever. After resolving technical SEO issues, audit your site for major mobile red flags:

Your site isn’t optimized for mobile. Mobile-friendliness is already a ranking factor for mobile search, and mobile-first indexing is about to make it important all around. Your site has to fit on a mobile screen, load fast enough for a mobile audience, and be free of mobile errors.Your content isn’t optimized for mobile. Transitioning your site to a mobile-friendly format is only the first step in improving mobile usability. The content itself needs to be designed for the mobile user. Make sure that buttons and links that are large enough for thumbs to tap, write content in shorter paragraphs, center-align images, and maybe even vertically align media.You use intrusive, annoying pop-ups. In January, 2017, Google enacted a penalty on sites that display intrusive interstitials over content. If you are among the many sites that display pop-ups or lightboxes over content on page load, it’s time to either remove that code or adjust it to display when users leave a page — not when they arrive.

With critical technical and mobile tasks complete, your site’s framework will be set up for the tasks that will make the most meaningful impact over time: engagement SEO.

Critical engagement SEO issues

The most commonly recommended engagement SEO task is creating new, high-quality content. Adding quality content to your site is an important task, but when it comes to fixing a site’s SEO, optimizing existing content comes first.

Red flags to look for when auditing a site’s current engagement SEO include:

Lack of conversions. If content on your site doesn’t cater to your visitors’ intent, conversions will suffer. So the most critical engagement SEO task on your list should be reviewing existing content against keyword/user intent research. It’s possible that customers at the top of the purchasing funnel are finding content that caters to the bottom. They’re not converting because your content didn’t satisfy their needs.Low click-through rate (CTR) in spite of high rankings. If your CTR is low on pages with high rankings, it’s possible your competitors are stealing traffic with featured snippets. Featured snippets offer an opportunity to drive organic traffic by ranking in position “zero.” Perform a depersonalized search of your keywords and see if competitors appear in position zero. If so, prioritize optimizing existing content for featured snippets.Few organic social shares. If you’re struggling to earn shares of your content on social media, it’s likely that you have a content quality problem. Review your site’s existing content: is it unique and comprehensive? Are your headlines enticing? Take time to A/B test headlines, make sure that your content caters to users’ intents, rewrite fluff content, expand shallow content and experiment with different content formats.Lack of earned links. If other sites aren’t linking to yours, it’s another sign that you have either a content quality problem (refer to the advice above) or a PR problem. Sites can’t link to yours if they don’t know you exist. Take time to expand your efforts on social channels, guest blog for publications in your industry and build relationships with industry influencers.

There are many important engagement SEO issues that should be high priority but are not necessarily critical. As an example, cleaning up duplicate content through redirects or the use of canonical tags should certainly be high priority, but it’s not necessarily critical, since there’s no ranking penalty associated with duplicate content.

Critical reporting issues

One commonly overlooked, yet critical, SEO task is ensuring analytics data is clean — and that it demonstrates impact on your company’s bottom line. Clean and meaningful analytics data allows you to gather crucial insights about your site’s performance in search, and to provide evidence of the ROI of your SEO efforts. In addition to rectifying critical engagement and technical SEO issues, take on the task of cleaning up your analytics reports:

Ensure all site pages are tagged for analytics reporting.Filter known referral spammers from your reports.Set up custom views and goals.Align goals with bottom-line business metrics.

Clean analytics data allows you to effectively track search results pages (SERPs), monitor bounce rates and measure click-through rates on important calls to action. Additionally, as you begin expanding your marketing initiatives to different channels, analytics will play an important role in highlighting what’s working, and what should be abandoned.

The future of the buyer’s digital experience

Technology is advancing rapidly, and buyer expectations and demands are evolving alongside these innovations. Today’s critical SEO priorities will be tomorrow’s outdated practices, because search engines are designed to cater to people, and people change.

To that end, the most critical task for any SEO is to pay attention.

Pay attention to your audience and their needs. Provide the information they’re looking for. Simplify their lives, and chase the monthly active user — repeat, loyal visitors — not just increased organic traffic.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

3 steps to overcoming site issues that impact performance

Over the past two decades, as the online world has experienced exponential growth, websites have become increasingly complex. Web pages have evolved from simple HTML pages with a few graphics to responsive, personalized pages that focus on the user experience. In tandem with the growing sophistication of websites, customers’ quality standards have also matured.

For example, customers have come to expect that websites load quickly, regardless of the device they are using. In 2009, a mere 5 percent of people expected load times of one second or less on e-commerce sites. Six years later, in 2015, a survey found that this number had increased to nearly a third of all customers, with 30 percent expecting pages to load in one second or less.

As web pages have evolved, however, the potential for problemshas increased. Even seemingly small issues can drastically impact site performance, hinderingvisitors’ abilityto find the content and information they want.Such site issues can quickly damage the reputation of brands in the eyes of customers — not to mention damage web traffic and hurt search engine rankings.

Given the competitive nature of the digital ecosystem, no organization can afford unchecked issues that will hurt their ability to engage their audience. Avoiding such problems comes down to a thorough site and content audit, allowing brands to correct issues and errors before they hurt site growth. Ideally, problems can be uncovered in content and web pages before they go live. Audits also empower brands to continue to manage what the customer sees and ensure organizational departments are working in tandem on site projects.

The devastating impact of site issues

Website issues have the potential to be devastating for brands. A great example, as mentioned above, is poor pagespeed. Akamai’s recent Consumer Web Performance Expectations Survey found that nearly half of all consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less. Worth noting among the insights gleaned from that survey:

As consumers’ expectations for page load-speed increases, their patience for slow-loading websites decreases. Currently, only 51% of consumers “wait patiently” for a website to load, compared to 63% who would “wait patiently” five years ago.

In other words, if your site isn’t loading quickly enough, chances are that you’re losing more customers with each passing second.

Site speed is also not the only issue that will adversely impact success. For example, when customers land on a website from a referral site, half will proceed to the navigation menu to orient themselves. Brands that have unclear, dysfunctional navigation systems that do not function as users would expect stand to lose these visitors.

Additionally, 38 percent of people will stop engaging with a website if they do not find the content and the layout attractive. The design of the site matters, and failing to account for this can result in higher bounce rates and poor engagement.

Source: Adobe, The State of Content Report 2015

Discussion of common site problems would not be complete without mention of the various errors that can be penalized directly by Google. Site issuesthat result in duplicate content or poor-quality, thin content will not only create a negative user experience but will also risk hits from the Google algorithm, further lowering your rankings and thus reducing your visibility on the SERPs. This reduced visibility can result in fewer clicks and lost revenue.

A poor user experience will also hurt the brand reputation, hindering the organization’s efforts to build rapport with their users and discouraging visitors from engaging with the site in the future. Given that there are billions of websites on the internet, customers have plenty of options when it comes to having their needs met, and competitive brands cannot afford this loss.

The site audit three-step solution

To avoid these common pitfalls, brands need to run a thorough site audit to identify errors and correct them, while also implementing a system that empowers them to prevent potential problems in the future.

Here is a three-step process you can use to ensure that your site audit uncovers all potential problems and protects your site rankings and the engagement of your visitors:

Step 1: Identify errors and spot anomalies

The first stage will be to run a complete site audit to look for any problematic pages or page anomalies that could be hindering the success of your site. This audit should include checking site speed, finding page errors, looking for incorrect page redirects and faulty links, and anything else that might sabotage a positive user experience.

Matt Cutts, formerly of Google, has remarked in the past that a top error among marketers is failing to make a page fully crawlable. However, this should be the first priority of any site audit. He also said that people often do not consider keyword phrases and how people search.

For example, if your customers often ask questions such as, “How do I make a pizza?,” then including that exact phrase in your content will provide you with more of a boost than just starting an article listing the ingredients. This attention to wording and phrasing that match consumer intent should also carry over to the descriptions and titles, particularly on the most prominent and important pages.

Step 2: Prioritize by severity

Not all issues and errors will have the same level of impact on site performance and users. It is important to first fix the errors that will make the most difference.

Focus first on any errors that directly impact the visibility or navigation of your site. For example, if a page has been accidentally blocked from Google, that should be the first item on the list. Also look at redirects, error pages and broken links.Next, move on to content issues, including page titles and meta descriptions. Ensure that appropriate keyword phrases are used, that there is no duplicate content and that thin material is either rewritten or removed.

At the end, you will be looking more at schema markups, missing alt tags on images and similar issues that may have arisen.

Step 3: Fix the errors throughout your site

    Set up 301 redirects to ensure people arrive at the page they intended to. If you have removed a piece of content, then remove the link or redirect people to the content’s new home rather than allowing them to go to an error page. Check all robots.txt on your site to ensure Google can find what it should. After running your initial audit, make sure those managing the website understand best practices for redirecting users to minimize these errors moving forward.Include a content audit to check for duplicate or thin content. Remove any content that is duplicated, and rewrite any material that is thin and offers little to no value to the reader. Focus on including information that customers want to read rather than just producing material to fill space.Communicate SEO best practices to your site contributors. Make sure they understand the value of using various SEO elements, including meta descriptions, identifying keywords and topics and structuring text in a reader-friendly manner, which includes headings and short paragraphs.Check your page load speed with the Google Developer tool, and use suggestions to improve the efficiency of your site.Mark up all pages with structured data (where appropriate) to help Google recognize their place and value. This is particularly true for local marketing pages and pages that can receive Google’s rich displays, such as Quick Answers.Comb through pages to find missing alt text, tags and related markup errors to help boost performance.

Site problemscan tremendously reduce website engagement, which will ultimately lead toloss of revenue. In today’s competitive digital landscape, brands simply cannot neglect the structure of their websites. A successful site audit run at regular intervals, in tandem with major site events such as migrations, can help brands avoid mistakes and keep a site, and its revenue, running smoothly.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.