If you’re a well-known local business owner, one of your online goals should be getting more local reviews from your (satisfied) customers. These reviews or ratings help Google in determining the value of your company for their users. If you have a nice amount of four-star and five-star ratings, Google considers you a more valuable result on their search result pages, which contributes to better rankings for your site.

Today, we’ll dig a bit deeper into these local reviews and convince you to ask your customers for reviews.

Google and local reviews

First, let’s see what Google has to say about local reviews. On their review datatype page, they clearly state that Google may display information from aggregate ratings markup in the Google Knowledge Cards with your business’ details.

They state that they’re using the following review snippet guidelines:

  • Ratings and reviews must come directly from the users.
  • There is a difference between these user ratings and critic reviews (human editors that curate or compile ratings information for local businesses). That’s a different ball game.
  • Don’t copy reviews from Yelp or whatever other review site, but collect them from your users directly and display these on your site.

There is a clear focus on genuine reviews. Add name, position, photo and any other relevant, public information on the reviewer. That always helps in showing that your reviews are indeed genuine

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Ask your customers for a review in person

It’s really that simple: ask your customers for a review. Yelp may advise against this, Google promotes it (Source: SEL). I agree with Google on this. A friend of mine is in the coaching business and he asks his customers after finishing the coaching process to leave a review on his Google My Business page. This, plus obviously an optimized site, has helped him achieving a local #1 ranking.

It might feel a bit odd, to ask your customers for a positive review. However, I bet most of your customers will be more than happy to do this for you. It’s a small token of appreciation for your great service, product or your friendly staff. If you believe in your business, and you’re taking extra steps to help your customer, your customer will for sure leave that review for you. Especially in local businesses, where you know your customer and perhaps have been serving him or her for decades, just ask.

Ask your customers for local reviews online

Feel free to ask your customer for a review on your website, for example, right after a purchase. If a customer wanted your product so bad he or she made the purchase, they may be willing to leave a review about their shopping experience as well. Even a simple “How would you rate your experience with our company” could give you that local rating you want.

Twitter

And why not leverage Twitter here? I find Twitter to work pretty decently for local purposes. There’s a separate ‘community’ of tweeps talking to each other on Twitter in our hometown. I’m sure most of them visit local stores. Not just that, but they’ll probably also have an opinion on these stores. And they might just be willing to share that opinion.

Facebook

One of our local shops won a national award and a lot of locals congratulated the owners with this ‘very much deserved’ win on Facebook. How’s that for an opportunity to ask for Facebook reviews? Let me elaborate a bit on the Facebook reviews. These are local reviews as well! The Apple store on Fifth Avenue in NY has over 16,000 reviews already. Most good, some bad:

Local reviews on Facebook

Facebook is an awesome opportunity for any local business to get reviews. Don’t underestimate how many people search for your business on Facebook.

As mentioned in the section about Google and local reviews: “Don’t copy reviews from Yelp or whatever other review sites”. The same goes for these Facebook reviews. It’s very nice to get them, but leave them on Facebook (or use them in your offline print campaign) and get separate local reviews for your website.

Even negative reviews matter. Don’t feel bad when you get one, feel motivated!

Asking for reviews, for instance, right from your (support) email inbox, like in the signature of your email, might feel a bit strange at first. However, it will trigger your brand ambassadors to leave a review, after seeing that signature email after email. And yes, you will get some negative reviews as well from people that are not completely satisfied with your product or service. And you want these.

Negative reviews give you a chance to go beyond yourself in showing how customer-driven you are. They allow you to fix the issue this customer has. After fixing it, ask them to share the solution / their experience with your company, so others can see what you have done to turn that disappointed customer into a satisfied customer.

It’s your job to make your customer happy, and good reviews will follow. Speed up that process by asking your customers for their feedback!

Read more: ‘Local ranking factors that help your local business’ SEO’ »

In this post, we’ll go over a number of contact page examples, so you’ll be able to review your own contact page and improve it. For a lot of companies, that contact page is the main reason they have a website in the first place. For others, the contact page filters or manages all incoming contact requests. The right information on these contact pages, combined with for instance a map or images, really improves user experience. And that way you can even use your contact page to improve the overall SEO of your website.

Please understand that there is more than one way to look at a contact page. Some websites use it to direct customers to their customer service, others fill their contact page with call-to-actions and direct visitors to their sales team. Small businesses will use their contact page to direct people to their store or office. What works for others, might not work for your contact page. It highly depends on what kind of business you have. Go read and decide for yourself what improves your contact page!

Essential elements of your contact page

Think about what you are looking for when visiting a contact page on any website. I for one, am not a big fan of phone calls, so I’d rather email a company. Saves time, and it’s less intrusive. Personally, I prefer a contact form on some occasions and an actual email address on others. So I’d advise to provide both. Let’s look at all the essentials:

  • Company name.
  • Company address.
  • General company phone number.
  • General company email address.
  • Contact form.

Multiple departments

If you have more than one department that can be reached by phone or email, list all. Add a clear heading and the details of how that department can be contacted. An example: universities and hospitals usually have separate departments for students, patients, press, business opportunities and more. Youtube has a variety of departments/directions to point you to on their contact page. Obviously, these departments should only be listed if their details should be available for everyone visiting that website.

This article is about great contact page examples, but I came across this one that I really have to mention. EY.com has a great contact page example of how I would not approach this:

Contact page ey.com

Apart from the design of that contact page, the thing I like the least is the fact that I’m not sure what will happen after clicking ‘webmaster’ or ‘global ey.com team’. One would expect a page with more info, but in fact, it opens a pop-up screen with a contact form. It would be so much more convenient to have a contact form right on that page, with an option to choose between technical issues or general inquiries. That can be done by using radio buttons or a select box, for instance. That way, one topic is chosen before sending the form.

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Multiple locations

If you have multiple locations, list all address details (NAP plus email) for every one of those locations. But please make sure to highlight your headquarters one way or the other. Let’s check out a couple of contact page examples that have multiple locations:

  • PwC Australia lists all of their locations on one page but I really have no clue what their main location is.
  • Arcadis does a much better job with a nicely designed contact page, stating the main contact details, personalized details per department and a nice country selector to get you to the nearest location.
  • The US Chamber of Commerce lists one main address and a link to a separate page with all the locations. Makes sense, and provides a focused user experience.

Did you also notice the bottom section of that US Chamber of Commerce page? Even if you can’t find what you are looking for, this section about where to find more information helps you to find what you are looking for. It might even reduce the number of emails in the process.

These are the bare necessities. What else can we do to make that contact page awesome for visitors and Google?

Spice up your contact page

Contact pages that list the bare necessities are dull. And there is so much more you can do to spice up that contact page!

Why and when should I contact you?

It sounds so obvious, but you actually might want to tell your visitors why and when they should or shouldn’t contact you. It pays off to create a safe environment, to assure people you have no annoying holding tunes, that you’ll connect them with a human being from minute one, or simply that you won’t be taking calls after 2PM for whatever reason.

By explaining a bit more about your contact policies, you a) add text to an otherwise dull page and b) are able to manage expectations. Hubspot pointed me to this nice contact page example that does this very well: the contact page of ChoiceScreening.

An awesome call-to-action

Add a great call-to-action to your contact page. That could be a button at the bottom of your contact form, but also a phone number that is displayed in a prominent spot. Just make sure it’s immediately clear what you want your visitor to do on that contact page. Pick your preferred contact method.

There are plenty of contact page examples that have done their call-to-action right. I’d like to mention for instance Jetblue:

Contact page examples: Jetblue

Before showing you their contact details (you can scroll down for these options) they try to answer your question on their website already. It’s very clear that they want you to check for yourself first, hence the large “Select a topic & Get answers”-option. It’s a common practice for a contact page, which undoubtedly saves time for your business.

Macy’s clearly wants you to call them, judging from the box on the right of their contact page. Nestlé gives you a number of options to choose from, being FAQ, Call, and Social Media. I like that as well, although there is no one call-to-action standing out from the rest, so I’m not sure what will work best. But it is definitely better that the lack of a call-to-action on the ABN AMRO contact page.

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Social accounts

For the fifth time in two weeks, my newspaper was late. It has been stormy, which could be the reason for the first four delays. Today is a beautiful day, so the delay makes no sense. I contacted my newspaper via a direct message on Twitter and got an ETA for the newspaper within 5 minutes. Social media is a very common way to stay in touch with (potential) customers and some customer services have made an art out of helping customers that way.

Contact page examples: social at GarminBe sure to list your active social networks on your website. And make sure to respond to any (serious) mention of your company or direct message you receive. I already mentioned Nestlé. Garmin adds a nice little block (see image) to their contact page, and Hootsuite has a nice section on theirs that contains all their social networks. I like how they emphasize the option to use these to get in contact with them.

A map and directions

A map isn’t a necessary element for every contact page, but hey, it looks nice and gives your visitor an idea of where you are situated. If your company has multiple locations, it provides a nice overview of your (global) reach and will tell the visitor if there is a location nearby.

If you have a business where customers come into your office, shop or whatever to do business or purchase products, directions do come in handy. Scribd has this incorporated in Google Maps. Gladstone added a small map in the sidebar and wrote instructions from multiple directions on their contact page, much like Gettysburg Seminary has. You can automate a lot of this if you are on WordPress. Our Local SEO for WordPress plugin allows you to add a directions option right on your contact page. It allows you to add a map with your location and a handy option to show the directions from the address the visitor is right now. If you have customers coming to your store/business, I would add directions that way.

Your staff and your business

Present your friendly staff on your contact page, or at least the ones people will reach when calling, tweeting or emailing your company. Your board of directors is also an option. You don’t have to clutter the page will images like the Tilburg University does (although they do have filter options). And I certainly wouldn’t use crappy photos like RoyalHaskoningDHV, even though I like the rest of that page. But a couple of nice photos like Peninsula Air Conditioning has, is welcoming, right? By the way, how do you like that phone number in the header?

If you frequently have people come into your office or store, add an image of your building. That way people will immediately recognize your business when they drive up to it. DSM has a nice example of that on their contact page. As a cherry on the cake, I recommend adding a nice video presentation of your company to your contact page, like Blackstone has.

A lot to digest, right? And you thought just listing your address and email would suffice. Think again. If you have a business that depends on people contacting you, be sure to pick any of the additions listed above to improve the user / customer experience of your contact page. I hope the contact page examples we mentioned will help you improve your contact page as well!

Read more: ‘Local SEO: setting up landing pages’ »

Literally, metadata is data that says something about other data. You can use particular metadata to send information about a webpage to a search engine or a social media channel, and thereby improve your SEO. In the first two posts of this metadata series, we discussed meta tags in headof your site and link rel metadata. In this last episode, we’ll scrutinize on metadata that can improve the sharing experience on social media. And last, but definitely not least, we’ll describe why metadata likehreflang declarations are a necessity if your business serves multiple languages and/or countries.

Posts in this series

Metadata #1: meta tags in the head

Metadata #2: link rel metadata

Metadata #3: Social and international

Social metadata

We have written about Open Graph and Twitter Cards before. These tags, or this information, is definitely metadata. It will help you tell social networks like Facebook and Twitter what the page at hand is about in an orderly, summarized way. It will allow you to control the way your articles or pages are shared.

OpenGraph

OpenGraph is a standard used by a number of social networks like Facebook and Pinterest. If you’re using our Yoast SEO plugin, these tags are added to your page automatically, and of course, you can control the contents of these OpenGraph tags (in the social section in our meta box below on edit pages).

Twitter Cards

The same goes for Twitter Cards. They add metadata to your pages that are convenient for Twitter to read and understand. Our plugin adds Twitter Card metadata as well. If there is no Twitter Card data, Twitter will fallback to OpenGraph data, but you obviously want to make things as simple as possible for that Twitter.

If you’d like a preview of how your page, shared on either Twitter or Facebook would look like, please check our Yoast SEO premium plugin, as that one adds these social previews right in your WordPress backend.

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But wait, there is more important metadata!

If you thought that all the things previously mentioned are all the SEO related metadata for your website, think again.

hreflang tags to indicate other languages

For those of you that have multilingual sites, this one is really, really important. If you have a site or page that is served in more than one language, be sure to add hreflang tags to your page.

With hreflang tags, you can indicate the language variations of the page at hand. That looks like this:

<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/" 
      hreflang="en" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-gb/" 
      hreflang="en-gb" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/de/" 
      hreflang="de" />

As you can see, these can be used for variations of the ‘same’ language as well, like the British English in the second line. Note that hreflang isn’t a substitute for the rel=canonical we discussed. Be safe, implement both. More information on how to implement hreflang can be found here.

Alt tags

If you think about it, any extra attribute you assign to an image, like the alt or title tag, is metadata. Google uses it to scan the page and see what’s on there, so be sure to add these alt and title tags and optimize ’em.

Microdata for breadcrumbs

For a better understanding of your site’s structure, you should add some kind of microdata to your breadcrumbs. That can be done by adding schema.org data for breadcrumbs, for instance by JSON-LDRDFa is another option to add this type of metadata to your website. Again, install Yoast SEO for WordPress and this is taken care of.

Language declaration for the page at hand

Let’s wrap this long list of metadata up with another language related metadata element. At the very top of your HTML, we find the, indeed, html tag. This one wraps all the code of your <head> and <body> and can contain the language of the page at hand. That is done like this:

<html lang="en">

Makes sense, right. Some might say that adding a meta tag for Content-Language is also an option, but following the W3C guidelines, that meta tag should not be used anymore. Use the lang declaration in the html tag instead.

That concludes this series with a lengthy list of metadata you can use to tweak your SEO. I am confident you can come up with even more metadata, as there is plenty. Feel free to leave your additions in the comments!

Read more: ‘Metadata and SEO part 1: the head section’ »

In the first post of our metadata series, I discussed the meta tags in the <head> of your site. But there’s more metadata in the <head> that can influence the SEO of your site. In this second post, we’ll dive into link rel metadata. You can use link rel metadata to instruct browsers and Google, for example to point them to the AMP version of a page or to prevent duplicate content issues. The link rel tags come in a lot of flavors. I’d like to address the most important ones here.

Use rel=canonical to prevent duplicate content

Every website should use rel=canonical to prevent duplicate content and point Google to the original source of that content. rel=canonical is one of those metadata elements that has an immediate influence on your site’s SEO. If done wrong, it might ruin it. An example: we have seen sites that had the canonical of all pages pointed to the homepage. That is basically telling Google that for all the content on your website, you just want the homepage to rank.
If done right, you could give props to another website for writing an article that you republished.

If you want to read up on rel=canonical, please read this article: Rel=canonical: the ultimate guide.

Add rel=amphtml to point search engines to your AMP pages

In order to link a page to its AMP variant, use the rel=amphtml. AMP is a variation of your desktop page, designed for faster loading and better user experience on a mobile device. It was introduced by Google, and to be honest, we like it. It seriously improves the mobile user experience.

So be sure to set up an AMP site and link the AMP pages in your head section. If you have a WordPress site, adding AMP pages is a piece of cake. You can simply install the AMP plugin by Automattic and you’ll have AMP pages and the rel=amphtml links right after that.

If you’d like to read up about AMP, be sure to check our AMP archive.

dns-prefetch for faster loading

By telling the browser in advance about a number of locations where it can find certain files it needs to render a page, you simply make it easier and faster for the browser to load your page, or (elements from) a page you link to. If implemented right, DNS prefetching will make sure a browser knows the IP address of the site linked and is ready to show the requested page.

An example:
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="https://cdn.yoast.com/">

Please note that if the website you are prefetching has performance issues, the speed gains might be little, or none. This could even depend on the time of day. Monitor your prefetch URLs from time to time.

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What about rel=author?

Rel=author has no effect whatsoever at the moment. It hasn’t had any effect we know of for quite a while actually, as Joost already mentioned this in October of 2015. You never know what use Google might come up with for it, but for now, we’re not pushing it in our plugin. It was used to point to the author of the post, giving the article more or less authority depending on how well-known an author was. At the time, this was reflected in the search results pages as well (it’s not anymore). No need to include it in your template anymore.

Other rel elements include your stylesheets (make sure Google can use these) and you can set icons for a variety of devices. SEO impact of these is rather low or simply not existing.

Is there more?

So we discussed meta tags and link rel metadata in the <head> . Is there even more metadata that affects SEO? Yes there is! In our next metadata post, I’ll explore social metadata, like OpenGraph and Twitter Cards. In addition to that, we’ll go intohreflang, an essential asset for site owners that serve more than one country or language with their website. Stand by for more!

Read more: ‘Metadata and SEO part 1: the head section’ »

If you have a local business, selling products or services, you have to think about the local ranking of your website. Local optimization will help you surface for related search queries in your area. As Google shows local results first in a lot of cases, you need to make sure Google understands where you are located. In this article, we’ll go over all the things you can do to improve Google’s understanding of your location, which obviously improves your chances to rank locally.

Google itself talks about local ranking factors in terms of:

  • Relevance: are you the relevant result for the user? Does your website match what the user is looking for?
  • Distance: how far away are you located? If you are relevant and near, you’ll get a good ranking.
  • Prominence: this is about how well your business is known. More on that at the end of this article.

Let’s start with your address details

If you have a local business and serve mostly local customers, at least add your address in the right way. The right way to do this is using schema.org, either by adding LocalBusiness schema.org tags around your address details or via JSON-LD. Especially when using JSON-LD, you are serving your address details to a search engine in the most convenient way.

Our Local SEO plugin makes adding that LocalBusiness schema to your pages a breeze.

This is very much about what Google calls distance. If you are the closest result for the user, your business will surface sooner.

Google My Business

For your local ranking in Google, you can’t do without a proper Google My Business listing. You need to enlist, add all your locations, verify these and share some photos. Google My Business allows for customer reviews as well, and you should really aim to get some of those for your listing. Positive reviews (simply ask satisfied customers to leave a review) help the way Google and it’s visitors regard your business. This is pretty much like on your local market. If people talk positively about your groceries, more people will be inclined to come to your grocery stand.

Getting reviews is one. You can keep the conversation going by responding to these reviews and, as Google puts it, be a friend, not a salesperson.

Your site’s NAP need to be exactly the same as your Google My Business listing’s NAP

Even if your business has multiple locations, make sure to match the main NAP (name, address, phone number) on your website with the Google My Business NAP. That is the only way to make sure Google makes the right connection between the two. Add the main address on every page (you are a local business so your address is important enough to mention on every page). For all the other locations, set up a page and list all the addresses of your branches.

Facebook listing and reviews

What goes for Google My Business, goes for Facebook as well. Add your company as a page for a local business to Facebook here. People search a lot on Facebook as well, so you’d better make sure your listing on Facebook is in order.

Facebook also allows for reviews, like here for the Apple Store on Fifth Av. Note that this really is a local review, as the Fifth Avenue store scores a 4.6 average rating and the Amsterdam store just scores a 2.9 at the moment…

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City and state in title

The obvious one: for a local ranking, adding city and (in the US) state to your <title> helps. Read this article (2014), as Arjan sheds some more light on other aspects of local SEO as well. And please keep in mind that the effect of adding your city to your titles might be a lot less for your local ranking than adding your business details to Google My Business, but it won’t hurt for sure.

Local directories help your local ranking

Next to your Google My Business listing, Google uses the local Yelps and other local directories to determine just how important and local you are. Where we usually recommend against putting your link on a page with a gazillion unrelated links, the common ground for a local listings page is, indeed, the location. And these links actually do help your local rankings.

So get your web team to work, find the most important local directory pages and get your details up there. I’m specifically writing details and not just link. Citations work in confirming the address to both Google and visitors. If a local, relevant website lists addresses, get yours up there as well. And while you are at it, get some positive reviews on sites like Yelp as well, obviously!

Links from related, local businesses

Following how directories help your local ranking, it also pays off to exchange a link with related local businesses. If you work together in the same supply chain or sell related products, feel free to exchange links. Don’t just exchange links with any business you know, as these, in most cases, will be low-quality links for your website (because they’re usually unrelated).

Social mentions from local tweeps

Again, there’s a local marketplace online as well. People talk about business, new developments, products on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and more. All these social mentions find their way to Google’s sensors as well. The search engine will pick up on positive or negative vibes and use these to help them rank your local business. If a lot of people talk about your business and/or link to your website, you must be relevant. Monitor these mentions and engage.

Some say links, from other websites, directories and social media, are the key factor for local rankings. As always, we believe it’s the sum of all efforts that makes you stand out from the crowd. Not just optimizing one aspect. Take your time and make sure your Google My Business profile is right, schema.org details are on your site and you have the right links to your site, and the right people talking about you on for instance Twitter. And please don’t forget to do proper keyword research and simply make sure the right content is on your website:

Optimize your content for better local rankings

Google won’t rank your site for a keyword if that keyword isn’t on your website. It’s as simple as that. If your business is in city X, you probably have a reason why you are located there. Write about that reason. And note that these may vary:

  • You are born there or just love the locals and local habits
  • There is a river which is needed for transport
  • Your local network makes sure you can deliver just-in-time or provide extra services
  • The city has a regional function and your business thrives by that
  • There are 6 other businesses like yours, you’re obviously the best, and you all serve a certain percentage of people, so your business fits perfectly in that area.

These are just random reasons to help you write about your business in relation to your location. They differ (a lot) per company. Make sure your location/city/area is clearly mentioned on your website and not just in your footer at your address details!

Read more: ‘Tips for your local content strategy’ »

One more thing: Google also uses prominence as a local ranking factor

Prominence means that when Google can serve a result first from a well-known brand or business, they actually will. And despite all your efforts to improve your local ranking, this might get in the way of that number one position. It just means you have to step up your game, keep on doing the great work you do and trust that eventually, Google will notice this as well. And as a result, Google might allow you to rank on that number one position for that local keyword!

Keep reading: ‘Grow your business with ratings and reviews’ »

Metadata is all the information about a page that you send to a search engine that isn’t visible to your visitors. There seems to be some misunderstanding about this, as most of the articles I read about SEO metadata seem to imply that it’s just the title, description, keywords and robots declaration in the <head> of your website. Others feel social media declarations like Open Graph tags should be considered metadata as well. W3C states that “The <meta> element represents various kinds of metadata that cannot be expressed using the title, base, link, style, and script elements.” Literally, that means all these elements from meta to link and script are in fact metadata.

All these elements like link and meta might be metadata, but that does definitely not mean all that metadata is relevant for your SEO. In this article, and two articles about metadata that will follow soon, we’ll go over those metadata elements that do influence your rankings. In this first post we’ll focus on the metadata in the <head> of your website.

The obvious metadata elements

There are a couple of elements that obviously are metadata elements. Even if you know just a tad bit about SEO, you have heard of these.

Meta title

The title element is the main title of a page, represented by the <title> element.

Metadata: the title element

This is probably the most important element for SEO. Adding the right title to your pages can still have a direct influence on your ranking. Make sure to include the main keyword (or: focus keyword) at the beginning, and end your <title> with your company or website name for branding. The preferred length of your <title> might vary based on the most-used device people use to view your website, but a rule of thumb is that we have to keep a viewable limit in mind these days. An example: if you have lots of mobile visitors, go for a shorter title. It’s as simple as that.

Meta description

The meta description used to be the short description or summary of the page at hand.

Metadata: the meta description

In the old days, it helped Google to tell what the page was about in a heart beat. These days, Google simply ‘reads’ the entire page and the meta description has become a suggestion for the text displayed in Google’s search result pages. For this specific page and meta description, Google is for instance showing:

Metadata: search result pages

That example immediately emphasizes that the meta description is just a suggestion. Ours isn’t shown in the search result pages for this specific query. I used [WordPress SEO definitive guide]. That for sure doesn’t mean you should forget about it. It’s the invitation for your page you send to Google. It just might happen that Google prefers another snippet from your page to match a specific search query.

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Meta keywords

Forget about meta keywords now. They’re really just used for tags on some social sites, but meta keywords can easily backfire in Bing, for instance. Bing is said to use meta keywords the other way around: if you’ve heavily optimized your meta keywords, for instance by stuffing it with your focus keyword and a dozen synonyms, Bing will consider this spammy. I can relate to that. If you’re serious about SEO, you’ll by now know that the influence of meta keywords has become close to zero (and zero for Google).

Meta robots

Use the meta robots tag to tell Google how to treat the page. Do you want Google to index the page, or follow links on the page? Is Google allowed to get a summary from DMOZ or do you want it do consider the meta description and never use ‘third-party’ summaries? We have written an awesome ultimate guide to the robots meta tag that you should read to learn more about this particular metadata element.

Treat the meta robots tag with care, as the meta robots tag is respected a lot more than your robots.txt declarations by Google. If you want to learn more about robots.txt and the meta robots tag, you should check out our Technical SEO 1 training. In this training we explain how to assess and improve the crawlability of your site, one of the basic technical requirements for good SEO.

The other meta tags in your <head> section

There are more meta tags that can be included in your <head> section, but not all have an effect on SEO. I’d like to go over a number of the ones that might.

Meta refresh

If you pride yourself for being on the internet since Altavista, you know the meta refresh tag. It allows you to redirect a page after a given time to another page. Unless you have a very good reason to use this tag, I recommend using a HTTP status code, like a 301 redirect (or other redirect code) instead. That also means that if you find one on your website, you should consider changing it. An HTTP status code sends a much clearer signal to a search engine, as the meta refresh returns a 200 OK code. This means the webpage is OK to visit and index.

The meta refresh tag looks like this:

Metadata: refresh

It tells the browser to wait for 30 seconds and then simply go to yoast.com. The only logical reason to use this these days is to show a splash screen (a welcoming page) for your website, for instance with a notice or ad, and go on to your regular homepage after a certain number of seconds. But hey, there are nicer solutions for that.

Meta google

You read that right: Google also accepts some ‘personal metadata’. The ones they mention themselves are these two:

<meta name="google" content="nositelinkssearchbox" />

This one prevents Google from adding a site search box right in their search results like this:

Metadata: Sitesearch

This means people can’t search your site directly from Google. Sites like Amazon use this tag to make sure people actually use the search option on their own website. Among other things, this will make sure people see more and more related products, which might trigger more or higher sales.

The other one has to do with translations. If you don’t want Google Translate to ask a visitor to translate your site in whatever language, you can use this tag:

<meta name="google" content="notranslate" />

It’s named google but really doesn’t influence SEO that much. I wouldn’t use it, but instead, let my visitor decide.

A third Google related meta tag is the google-site-verification tag that is really only used to verify your site for Google Search Console. We recommend adding it to your site and keeping it added, so Google is able to verify whenever they want. For Yoast SEO for WordPress users: you can add it right in our plugin at SEO › Dashboard › Webmaster Tools. Here’s a video explaining how to verify your site to Google using our plugin.

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Meta viewport

The meta viewport is used to determine for instance the zoom of the page. A common use of the viewport tag is:

Metadata: viewport

Makes sense, right? The width of the page should be the width of the device, and the initial scale of the page should be 1 (default). There are reasons to think of why you’d like to change these settings, but I have seen that gone wrong a couple of times, ruining a website’s responsiveness (for instance). That’s the one reason I’m adding this one to the list, as a bad user experience could influence SEO. For more information on meta viewports, check CSSWG.org. There is obviously a lot more to consider if you want to optimize your mobile site. Be sure to read our article on how to improve your mobile site.

Is this all?

These are the meta tags that influence SEO one way or the other. But that’s not all there is when it comes to metadata. There is more hidden under the hood that you’d want to take care of. In next week’s post about metadata, we’ll elaborate on how to use link rel metadata to instruct your browser and Google. So stay tuned!

Read more: ‘The ultimate guide to the meta robots tag’ »

WordPress in itself is a decent system but plugins can really take it to the next level. Adding top WordPress plugins can make WordPress into the Swiss Army Knife of websites: just pull out whatever functionality you need for your specific site!

Top WordPress plugins

Many people have asked us for our list of top WordPress plugins. Of course, we’ve written quite a few WordPress plugins ourselves, but the list of great WordPress plugins is much larger than that. In the article below, we list the top WordPress plugins we use ourselves, on this site or other sites we build, analyze & optimize. This list changes over time; this is probably not the last time we updated it. Note: we listed the plugins in random order.

Let’s go.

WP Rocket

It makes the sites you build perform to your expectations, instead of slowly crawling. And yes, I think every site should be cached to get the maximum performance for each and every user, not just when you start hitting social sites. We recommend using WP Rocket for that.

On a side note: we really like WP Rocket, but if your site is hosted by a great company like SiteGround (like ours is) caching and more speed optimization is taken care of. This eliminates the need for a caching plugin.

Google Analytics by Monster Insights

Since we sold our Google Analytics for WordPress plugin to Monster Insights, they have actively developed and improved what we feel is the best plugin for adding and analyzing Google Analytics data right in your WordPress dashboard. Please check out Google Analytics by Monster Insights for yourself.

Nested Pages

If your site grows larger and larger, you might start to feel the need to move around some pages. A decent site structure helps Google to crawl your site in the most efficient way. Nested Pages uses a nice drag-and-drop interface to maintain that site structure.

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AMP

We predict a vast increase in the number of sites that are built solely in AMP as a replacement for your regular website. It probably takes some years, but bottom line is that AMP makes your website more user-focused and faster. Prepare your website with this plugins: AMP.

BlogVault

Not having a backup isn’t an option if you rely on your website for your business. For Yoast SEO Care, we rely on Blogvault to create backups of every site we address. For your website, BlogVault creates incremental backups, so your site won’t be overloaded.

Sucuri WAF

It’s no secret that we really like Sucuri’s security solutions for WordPress. Awesome security monitoring and great service. At least install their Sucuri Scanner plugin. But I recommend checking Sucuri WAF and other products and decide what works best for you.

WP Google Authenticator

I wouldn’t even overthink adding this plugin to your WordPress site. It’s no hassle and will add an extra layer of security to your website. An alternative could be Rublon, which works in a similar manner, but we usually use WP Google Authenticator.

Login Lockdown

For an extra layer of security, we recommend installing a plugin like Login Lockdown, that prevents automated login requests from firing a gazillion login attempts. If some IP range does a surplus of attempts, the login function is disabled for all requests from that range. For more details, check Login Lockdown in the plugin repo.

Any image compression plugin

Yes, I would like to name just one. But the truth is that it depends on your website what plugin works best. We have used Smush, tried EWWW. Kraken.io has a plugin and ShortPixel has one. And has anyone tried the premium Imagify? I would really like to see a comparison for these plugins from an independent, image-heavy website. For now: pick one and use it.

Ninja Forms or Gravity Forms

Both are great plugins to create drag-and-drop forms. Both provide an option for conditional logic and are really easy to use. If you have a form on your website, and any website that has a contact page should have a form, I recommend using Gravity Forms or Ninja Forms.

Better Search Replace

Sometimes you need to do a search and replace in your database in order to make things work right, like after a domain migration. There are more plugins that can help you do a search and replace in your database, but we have used Better Search Replace and found it very helpful. As database actions shouldn’t be taken lightly, I recommend always performing a so-called dry run before doing the actual replacement. This plugin allows for that dry run.

No, we’re not leaving our own main plugin out here. Simply because you really need it.

Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress

We believe this is the best SEO plugin out there, in our own humble opinion of course. Install it on all your websites, simply because it takes care of all the SEO hassle and guides your editors into better writing.

To date, this is the only SEO plugin that is developed by SEO experts, where all the others are made by friendly people that are first and foremost software developers. We stay on top of any changes in SEO and make sure these changes are implemented in the way we optimize your website. That is why we feel our Yoast SEO for WordPress plugin should definitely be in this list of top WordPress plugins.

Read more: ‘5 handy WordPress plugins for your blog’ »

Every WordPress website owner occasionally stumbles upon a problem that could probably be fixed in a heartbeat with a handy WordPress plugin. That’s what makes WordPress great, right? I recall a friend of mine asking about the possibility of an answering machine on his website. There’s a plugin for that. Need to add testimonials in an orderly way? There’s a plugin for that as well.

Plugins range from large, like our Yoast SEO plugin (which every website needs) to really small, with almost Hello Dolly-like impact. No matter what the size, plugins can come in really handy, especially when you’re not a developer or you lack the capacity. In this post, I’ll go over a number of plugins that really saved my day in the past!

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Auto Post Thumb Pro

Especially webmasters that have had their sites for ages will recognize this issue: a lot of themes you can find in the WordPress theme repo just look a lot better with a post thumbnail, but not all of your posts have that thumbnail. It doesn’t matter if your theme allows for a list of recent posts or if it includes excerpts on your archive pages, chances are that they will include post thumbnails. That just looks so nice, right?

The legacy of your old posts without a thumbnail makes that the alignment of a collection of posts (f.i. in a widget) looks off. It looks messy. In comes Auto Post Thumb Pro. When I wanted to repost Instagram images on a website, this plugin made sure there was a thumbnail for every post. And (re)generated thumbnails for every older post. After installing this plugin, I can use any theme I wanted to use that displayed these thumbnails on (almost) every page.

By the way, if you are looking for a new theme for your blog, I can recommend Anders Noren’s themes. I’ve used a few and really like the clean designs and easy-to-use setup.

Easy Custom Auto Excerpt

One of the things we come across in our SEO consultancy is duplicate content caused by displaying entire posts on taxonomy pages (like category pages). WordPress has plenty of ways to display excerpts instead of full posts. Usually, one of the requirements is using a <!-- more --> tag in your posts. Include that tag by clicking the icon in the Insert More tag | Handy WordPress pluginsimage, located at the styling options on the Edit pages in WordPress. If you feel that that’s too much of a hassle, the Easy Custom Auto Excerpt plugin will help you out. It’s one of those plugins that you install, configure and forget about, simply because it works.

The Easy Custom Auto Excerpt plugin allows you to automate that more tag by, for instance, adding it after a number of characters or after the first (or first two) paragraphs. It allows you to do some basic tweaking of how that excerpt looks like (alignment of the thumbnail for instance). In the premium version, you can also fine tune the Read more button – a feature that convinced me to purchase a license – and disable excerpts for certain post types (like posts that just contain an awesome photo). Of course, this depends on the type of blog/site that you have. Go see for yourself how this handy WordPress plugin can help you out.

Responsive Lightbox

What to say about this handy WordPress plugin? If you’re a bit like me, you installed, removed and re-installed your share of lightbox plugins. The horror! They either don’t work out of the box, add fancy stuff to that pop-up or simply ignore your galleries. And how about those previous/next buttons that are too small to click. Not to start about how crappy things look on a mobile device, right?

Responsive Lightbox | Handy WordPress plugin

I found Responsive Lightbox to be a nice solution. If you are sick and tired of your current lightbox plugin, install this plugin and see for yourself.

Simple Custom CSS

Sometimes you want to do just a little design tweak and not worry about it being overwritten the next time you update your theme. You have two options:

  • Create a child theme, which might be a bit of a hassle for that tiny little tweak, or
  • simply add some lines of CSS code via this little plugin: Simple Custom CSS.

It does just that. I really like it. There are more handy WordPress plugins that do this, but I found this one to be both the less bloated (I just want to add CSS, not learn CSS) and the one that works without the constant need to add !important to my declarations.

Yoast Comment Hacks

Last but not least, I’d like to add this little gem Joost developed: Yoast Comment Hacks. If you have a WordPress blog and receive a lot of comments, use this plugin to add some smart extras to your comment maintenance toolkit. Among others, it allows you to thank first-time commenters by redirecting them to a thank you page. It also allows you to set a minimum comment length, for instance. Go check for yourself how this little handy WordPress plugin can make maintaining your comments just a bit easier!

I’d love to hear about your favorite handy WordPress plugins in the comments!

Fact: if your website is set up the right way, you shouldn’t need an XML sitemap at all. You shouldn’t need to think about your category’s XML sitemaps or about including images in your post’s XML sitemap. But why do we keep talking about them like it’s the most important thing ever for SEO? It’s an almost daily subject in our support. That might be, because it’s a convenient list of all the pages on your website. It makes sense that Google is able to crawl all pages of your website if you list them on a page, right?

Google is almost human

Over the last years, we have been talking a lot about Google becoming more ‘human’, so to say. Google is quite good at mimicking the user’s behavior on a website and uses this knowledge in their ranking methods. If your website is user-friendly and gives users the answers they were looking for in Google, chances are your website will do well in the search result pages.

Structure is a sitemap within your website

In the process of setting up your website, you should look at the keywords you’d like to address and translate that to a proper site structure. Using, for instance, the internal linking tool in our Yoast SEO plugin, you are able to create structured links to all the pages of your website. That simply means that Google is able to follow all links and find all pages. That means you have set up a great infrastructure within your website for search engines.

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But why should I use XML sitemaps in that case?

Sitemaps, both HTML and XML, come in handy when your site structure and internal linking structure really aren’t that good, to be honest. When you’re dealing with a huge, messy inheritance of the previous owner, years of writing (more or less unstructured) content, or if you simply haven’t thought about internal links that much, your XML sitemap is probably a life saver.

In addition to pointing Google to all your content, XML sitemaps can also optimize crawling of your website by a search engine bot. XML sitemaps should include the last modified date. This date will immediately tell a search engine which pages should be crawled and which haven’t changed since the last crawl and can be excluded from this crawl. This is a huge benefit of using XML sitemaps.

Analyzing your XML sitemaps

In Google Search Console’s Sitemap section, you can find errors in your sitemaps. Pages that are linked there, but don’t work. There’s a huge list of possible errors in the Google Search Console Help documentation.

Apart from that, an important thing to analyze is the types of XML sitemaps you have. You can find these in Google Search Console and in the SEO › XML Sitemaps section in our plugin. In WordPress, sitemaps are created for post types and taxonomies, where sometimes you just don’t need an XML sitemap for all of these. In Yoast SEO Care, we find websites that have XML sitemaps for filter types (in eCommerce shops for instance), or for dimensions and things like that. If these ‘pages’ don’t make sense for the user, by all means, disable that XML sitemap in our Yoast SEO plugin. Only serve sitemaps that matter.

There is a reason Google included an XML sitemap section in Google Search Console. Google likes to know every page of your website. They want to see everything, to see if it contains interesting information to answer their user’s search queries. Your XML sitemap is like a roadmap to all the different POI’s on your site, to all the tourist attractions. And yes, some are more interesting than others. Last year, the XML sitemaps served by our plugin contained a priority percentage. Heavy users of our plugin sometimes requested an option to alter that percentage and we never got to that. We decided to remove the percentage altogether as it just did not work as intended – on Google’s side. That emphasizes even more, that it’s just a list of pages. A convenient list, nevertheless.

Should every website have an XML sitemap?

Perhaps I have already answered this question. Yes, I think every website should have an XML sitemap. Or multiple XML sitemaps to provide a lot of links in a better format. It’s a way to make sure search engines find every page on your website, no matter how much of a mess you make of your website. But you should really put your best effort in making that XML sitemap an extra and not a necessity.

If the crawlability of your website depends on your XML sitemap, you have a much larger problem on your hands. I really do think so. Hopefully, you can still go back to the drawing board, invest a bit in a good keyword research training. Restructure the site. Use our internal linking tool when going over your most visited pages again and insert the right links. And then, when most of your pages can be reached via your website itself, rely on that nice, comforting XML sitemap to serve Google any forgotten leftovers and help you to further optimize the crawling of your website.

Read on: ‘WordPress SEO tutorial: definite guide to higher ranking’ »

Once in a while, every company needs to take a closer look at the state of its marketing. Are you still sending the right message to your customer? Do you still target the same customers? And, in what way did these customers change? In this article, we’ll address a number of things every website owner needs to ask him or herself every now and then!

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Do as Amy says

Recently, we visited Conversion Hotel, an excellent event about (yes) conversion. One of the speakers whose story we liked best, was Amy Harrison. Amy talked about conversion copywriting and stated that when you lose customer focus, you’ll end up writing product focused copy or just using best practices from your industry. That won’t make you stand out from your competitors, and even worse: it won’t let you connect to your customers.

Amy talked about distinguishing yourself from your competitors. Don’t use terms like ‘high quality’ or ‘easy to use’. Amy calls these ‘umbrella terms’, as everyone in the industry is using these and it really doesn’t say anything about the product. You should focus on the gap between what you know, what you say and what the customer thinks that it means. Close that gap. Write about that to sell your product.

Closing the gap to your customer

If you want to know what your customer is looking for in your product, there are a number of ways to find out. They all come down to one thing: ask them.

Customer Survey

Especially when you have a larger user base, you can easily send out a survey every now and then. Literally ask the customer what could be improved, what they liked and, for instance, why a product did not meet their expectations.

One of the things we found, when asking our site review customers about expectations and ways to improve our product, is that many customers would really like regular guidance. Instead of just a one time report. After some thinking and shaping, that resulted in our new service: Yoast SEO Care. In Yoast SEO Care, we touch base with customers on a monthly or quarterly basis on what needs to be improved on their website to rank better or get more traffic.

For us, this is an ongoing process. Our products come with support, and our customers like to share their expectations and feature requests. Obviously, you could guide them in this by sending them a survey. That could be done every six months, or, for instance, six weeks after purchasing a product. It all depends on your need for input and the variety of customers you serve.

Questions on your site

Another way to get an idea of what your customers are looking for is, for instance, an exit-intent question. I deliberately say “question” (singular), as I wouldn’t bug the leaving visitor with a lengthy questionnaire. Just ask “did you find what you were looking for, and if not: what were you looking for?” or something similar. If you’re serious about UX, you know/use Hotjar. They actually have something similar baked in their product. The description says it all:

Ask your active users and customers WHAT made them choose you and WHAT made them nearly abandon your site. Discover WHO they really are and HOW to improve your site and Organization.

Note that Hotjar allows you to add a large survey, but why not limit that to one question, right? It’ll give you some nice, personal insights about what people are looking for on your website, just by asking!

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Yoast: Github feature requests

Now if you are a software development agency like we are, working in an open source environment, you probably have your code on (some platform like) Github. On that platform, you collect possible bugs and patches. In addition, it provides an excellent platform to collect feature requests.

We encourage users to use Github and not just send us random tweets with feature requests :) Feature requests on Github equal surveys on your website in the way that these are all things your user wants or expects your product to do. Sometimes feature requests can be handled quickly, when a feature is already there but just not found by your customer. Sometimes they end up on a pile of user/installation specific feature requests – you can’t win ’em all. But if a feature is requested by enough users, you probably are inclined to add it as a future feature to your roadmap.

These feature requests not only show what customers want, they also teach you a lot about how they use your products. And that, in return, will tell you more about their personal motivation to use your product. Which you can use in your product descriptions and marketing. Circle closed.

Read more: ‘Creating loyal customers’ »