Local SEO is about how to optimize your website to rank better for a local audience. A website gives you the opportunity to target the entire (online) world. But if the target audience for your business is actually located in or near the city you have your office or shop, you’ll need to practice at least some local SEO as well. You need to optimize for your city name, optimize your address details. In short: you need to optimize so people know where you are located and are able to find you offline (if required). In this post, we will try to explain what local SEO is, so you can optimize your local site as well! 

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What is local SEO?

If you have a local business, like a shop, or have people visiting your office frequently, optimizing your website is also about making sure people are able to find you in real life. But even if your not actively getting visitors in your building, but are targeting an audience that is located in the same geographical area as you are, you need to optimize for that area. This is what we call “local SEO”.

Ground-rule these days is that it’s by far the easiest to optimize if you have a proper address in a region/city. The thing is that if you want to optimize for, for instance, a service area that you are not located in physically, your main tool for optimization is content. You should simply write a lot about that area. We found that oftentimes, this leads to forced articles or pages that have little to do with the business at hand, and are clearly there for SEO reasons.

Mentioning all the areas

Just recently, I heard someone say that he just mentioned a number of neighboring towns and that got him visitors from these towns.

What is Local SEO? Local SEO is about optimizing your site for better rankings for a local audience

Depending on the niche you are in, that might have some effect, to be honest. But I wouldn’t call it proper optimization. For the majority of companies, that strategy won’t work that well. It’s not really an optimization, it’s just that no-one else mentions that area and that product on his website. If there is competition, please use other methods as well.

Local SEO explained in detail

In our series on local SEO, David Mihm mentions a number of things you can do to really optimize your website for a certain geographical area:

  1. An introduction to ranking your local business
  2. The importance of Google My Business
  3. How to optimize your website for local search
  4. Why inbound links are so important and how to get them
  5. Citations for local search
  6. The impact of reviews for local ranking
  7. Social media and local SEO
  8. The impact of behavioral signals

That indeed is quite a lot to digest, but if you are serious about optimizing for your local audience, you should read all 8 articles.

Local SEO isn’t just about search engines

Yes, there is a lot you can do online to optimize your website for a local audience. But if you are running a local business, things like word-of-mouth and a print brochure etc also contribute to local SEO.

If you mention your website and social profiles on your offline communication/promotion as well, your Facebook likes might go up, your Twitter followers could increase and the direct traffic on your website will get higher. One way or another, this will be visible to Google as well, beit indirect perhaps.

So, local SEO consists of a number of factors that help you address your local audience by better rankings in search engines. It’s not just optimizing your address or your social media strategy, it’s all these things combined that we call local SEO. Good luck optimizing!

Read more: ‘Ultimate guide to small business SEO’ »

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Keyword research is your first step in optimizing your website for certain keywords. Without keyword research, you might find yourself lost in your own lingo and battling giants in your industry that can’t be beaten in the search result pages just like that. There is a variety of factors you have to take into account when doing keyword research and setting up your keyword strategy. In this article, we’ll discuss your mission, your audience and your competition. 

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What makes your company unique?

Before you do anything, and this is key, you need to know what makes your company unique. You need to have a clear concept of the mission of your company. You need to determine exactly what you have to offer. Because that’s what’s going to make you rank. It’s that simple. SEO is just like regular business. If you’re doing everything on the same or inferior level as your competition, you’re not going to stand out. If you’re not the best result, why should people want to find you? Why should Google rank you? This seems simple, but this factor is often forgotten.

Meaningful keywords

We often hear people say: we can’t come up with meaningful keywords. If you struggle with that too, take a step back and look at your business at large:

  • What do you have to offer?
  • What is your mission?
  • What are your core values and strengths?
  • How can you branch out from your core selling points to very specific bits of information or service? Use these to stand out from the crowd.

You don’t have to be better than your competition at everything, as long as you identify enough things to build a keyword strategy around. For smaller companies, this means that you probably have to be better at the things bigger fish haven’t thought of. Or at the things, these companies aren’t actively looking to do. If you can’t come up with anything, you have a bigger problem than just coming up with keywords…

The role of your audience in your keyword research

Once you’ve determined what you have to offer, it’s time to consider your audience. In the end, SEO is all about making sure your users are able to find you. So the first thing you have to do is find out what words your potential audience uses to find the information they’re looking for.

Let’s consider an example. At Yoast, we think of our courses platform as “Yoast Academy”. So at first sight, it seems very logical for us to optimize for the keyword “Yoast Academy”. However, when we analyze traffic data, it turns out that our audience uses “Yoast courses” way more. So it makes much more sense to optimize for that term instead. Every company has its own internal vocabulary, which often doesn’t match the vocabulary of its audience. Therefore, you should always choose your keywords from the perspective of your audience. You can use Google Trends to research how often search terms are used compared to other terms.

What about your competition?

Lastly, you simply can’t devise a proper keyword research strategy without taking your competition into account. Too often, websites optimize for terms they have absolutely no chance ranking for. So you need to research your competition.

You can go all overboard and make a thorough analysis of all the competitors in your field, and that can certainly be worthwhile. But let’s stick to the basics for now. It’s actually quite easy to get a general idea of your SEO competition. Just google some search terms you would like to rank for! See what companies show up and where you rank. How big are the companies you are competing with for top three rankings? Would your company fit between these results? This is all quite easy to determine using just the Google search results.

But be wary! You can’t just trust the search results because Google tailors them to your search history. So logically, your site is going to come up higher for you than for others that perform the same search. You can use an incognito screen to circumvent this, although there’s still a local search component even in an incognito screen. If that is a problem for you, you should consider using VPNs to mask your location.

Expanding your strategy step-by-step

Big sites can rank for the most general terms. Smaller sites within a very specific niche can do the same. Of course, it’s also easier if you’re writing in a language that is not spoken all over the world. For most smaller sites that are writing in English, however, the general rule of thumb is this: start with a big set of long tail keywords which have little traffic but you can rank for more easily. Then, work yourself up the rankings step-by-step. Once you’ve gained some SEO authority, start optimizing for more general keywords. And in the end, maybe you will even be able to rank for your head keywords!

Read more: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »

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Crawl errors occur when a search engine tries to reach a page on your website but fails at it. Let’s shed some more light on crawling first. Crawling is the process where a search engine tries to visit every page of your website via a bot. A search engine bot finds a link to your website and starts to find all your public pages from there. The bot crawls the pages and indexes all the contents for use in Google, plus adds all the links on these pages to the pile of pages it still has to crawl. Your main goal as a website owner is to make sure the search engine bot can get to all pages on the site. Failing this process returns what we call crawl errors.

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Your goal is to make sure that every link on your website leads to an actual page. That might be via a 301 redirect, but the page at the very end of that link should always return a 200 OK server response.

Google divides crawl errors into two groups:

  1. Site errors. You don’t want these, as they mean your entire site can’t be crawled.
  2. URL errors. You don’t want these either, but since they only relate to one specific URL per error, they are easier to maintain and fix.

Let’s elaborate on that.

Site errors

Site errors are all the crawl errors that prevent the search engine bot from accessing your website. That can have many reasons,  these being the most common:

  • DNS Errors. This means a search engine isn’t able to communicate with your server. It might be down, for instance, meaning your website can’t be visited. This is usually a temporary issue. Google will come back to your website later and crawl your site anyway. If you see notices of this in your Google Search Console at crawl errors, that probably means Google has tried a couple of times and still wasn’t able to.
  • Server errors. If your search console shows server errors, this means the bot wasn’t able to access your website. The request might have timed out. The search engine (f.i.) tried to visit your site, but it took so long to load that the server served an error message. Server errors also occur when there are flaws in your code that prevent a page from loading. It can also mean that your site has so many visitors that the server just couldn’t handle all the requests. A lot of these errors are returned as 5xx status codes, like the 500 and 503 status codes described here.
  • Robots failure. Before crawling, (f.i.) Googlebot tries to crawl your robots.txt file as well, just to see if there are any areas on your website you’d rather not have indexed. If that bot can’t reach the robots.txt file, Google will postpone the crawl until it can reach the robots.txt file. So always make sure it’s available.

That explains a tad bit about crawl errors related to your entire site. Now let’s see what kind of crawl errors might occur for specific pages.

URL errors

As mentioned, URL errors refer to crawl errors that occur when a search engine bot tries to crawl a specific page of your website. When we discuss URL errors, we tend to discuss crawl errors like (soft) 404 Not Found errors first. You should frequently check for these type of errors (useGoogle Search Console or Bing webmaster tools) and fix ’em. If the page/subject of that page indeed is gone never to return to your website, serve a 410 page. If you have similar content on another page, please use a 301 redirect instead. Make sure your sitemap and internal links are up to date as well, obviously.

We found that a lot of these URL errors are caused by internal links, by the way. So a lot of these errors are your fault. If you remove a page from your site at some point, adjust or remove any inbound links to it as well. These links have no use anymore. If that link remains the same, a bot will find it and follow it, only to find a dead end (404 Not found error). On your website. You need to do some maintenance now and then on your internal links!

Among these common errors might be an occasional DNS error or server error for that specific URL. Re-check that URL later and see if the error has vanished. Be sure to use fetch as Google and mark the error as fixed in Google Search Console if that is your main monitoring tool in this. Our plugin can help you with that.

Very specific URL errors

There are some URL errors that apply to certain sites only. That’s why I’d like to list these separately:

  • Mobile-specific URL errors. This refers to page-specific crawl errors that occur on a modern smartphone. If you have a responsive website, these are unlikely to surface. Perhaps just for that piece of Flash content you wanted to replace already. If you maintain a separate mobile subdomain like m.example.com, you might run into more errors. Thing along the lines of faulty redirects from your desktop site to that mobile site. You might even have blocked some of that mobile site with a line in your robots.txt.
  • Malware errors. If you encounter malware errors in your webmaster tools, this means Bing or Google has found malicious software on that URL. That might mean that software is found that is used, for instance, “to gather guarded information, or to disrupt their operation in general.”(Wikipedia). You need to investigate that page and remove the malware.
  • Google News errors. There are some specific Google News errors. There’s quite a list of these possible errors in Google’s documentation, so if your website is in Google News, you might get these crawl errors. They vary from the lack of a title to errors that tell you that your page doesn’t seem to contain a news article at all. Be sure to check for yourself if this applies to your site.

Fix your crawl errors

The bottom line in this article is definitely: if you encounter crawl errors, fix them. It should be part of your site’s maintenance schedule to check for crawl errors now and then. Besides that, if you have installed our premium plugin, you’ll have a convenient way in WordPress and/or TYPO3 to prevent crawl errors when for instance deleting a page. Be sure to check these features yourselves!

Read more: ‘Google Search Console: Crawl’ »

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Tags and categories help us structure our content. You can often find these in the visual metadata at for instance blog posts, or in a list of clickable links in the sidebar of a website. Tags are sometimes represented as a tag cloud, although most websites refrain from using that element these days. There is a clear difference between tags and categories, but a lot of users mix them up. Now in most cases, that won’t matter for the end user. But for instance, in WordPress, there are some benefits by using categories for certain segmentations and tags for others. Here, I’d like to explain the difference between tags and categories.

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WordPress taxonomies

WordPress uses taxonomies for content grouping. The most common, default taxonomies in WordPress are categories and tags, but it’s also possible to create a custom taxonomy. We have written about these custom taxonomies before, so for background information, please read the post “What are custom taxonomies?

A taxonomy can be defined as “orderly classification” (Source: Merriam Webster). This indicates some hierarchy or structure, which often goes into categories. In WordPress, categories can be parents or children of each other. Often, tags in WordPress don’t have that structure and are often used quite randomly. If you don’t control how you add tags to posts, you will probably end up with a huge number of tags on your website. The downside of this is that a lot of tags are used only once, which makes the tag page the same as the post where you added the tag. This may create duplicate content or at least thin content.

The difference between tags and categories

Back to our original questions: what’s the difference? In an ideal world, we would use categories to group the content on your website into — say — eight to ten global segments. On our blog, these segments are for instance Analytics, Content SEO, eCommerce and Technical SEO. By maintaining a limited set of categories, you can keep your website, and your content focused. Now, of course, you can dissect the content even further, going to more particular groupings. For that, you should use tags.

WordPress describes the difference exactly like that:

  • Categories allowed for a broad grouping of post topics.
  • Tags are used to describe your post in more detail.

The fact that categories can be hierarchical means that there’s a bit more content structure to be made with just categories if that’s what you are looking for. You can have a group of posts about trees, and have a child category or subgroup about elms. Makes sense, right? It also means that you can have URLs like /category/trees/elms, which displays that structure right in the URL already. You can’t do this with tags. The tag in this example could be “Boston”. It’s unrelated to the tree’s characteristics but could indicate where for instance a photo of an elm in that post is located.

At least one category per post is required

There is one more difference between tags and categories in WordPress: you need to add at least one category to a post. If you forget to do so, the post will be added to the default category. That would be “Uncategorized” unless you set a default category in WordPress at Settings > Writing:

tags and categories: set a default post category

Please do so, as you will understand the default “Uncategorized” makes no sense to your readers. It looks like poor maintenance, right? With tags, you don’t have this issue, as tags are not obligated at all. You could even decide to refrain from using tags until you need them and even then perhaps use a custom taxonomy instead. In that case, you will have that second layer of segmentation without the limitation of tags. I hope that clarifies the difference between tags and categories!

Read more: ‘SEO basics: (The importance of) site structure’ »

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One page websites have been popular for some time now. Basically, it’s your entire website on your homepage. It’s fancy, it’s streamlined. By dividing your homepage into multiple sections, and adding a menu that allows visitors to jump to the section they want to visit, you create an entire website experience on that one single page. Having just one single page also means that you probably need to rank that page for multiple keywords. And that’s where one page website SEO differs from regular website SEO: there are just fewer things you can optimize.

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Why use a one page website?

Truth be told: I don’t like one page websites. There are a lot of people that like all their content crammed into one page, but I just can’t see the benefit of it. The page loads slower, there is less focus, I detest loading the JavaScript/CSS scripts that make unnecessary visual movements or automatic scrolling possible. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing against having long pages. I love ’em and write ’em. But I’d like to keep these pages focused on one subject.

One page website SEO tips and tricks

Is there anything you can do to optimize your one page website for SEO? Of course, there is. There always is. I’m just not sure you’ll enjoy that single page website for your company in the long run. One page website SEO is tough. I think the only reason you’d want a website like that, is when you need to set up a quick promotional site. Say for a particular product or a temporary collaboration with another brand. In that case, you’ll be driving traffic from flyers, TV ads and the works, and are less dependent on search engines.

If you insist on using a single page website, you need to pay attention to the way you set things up.

Optimize per section

Before starting to write your content, you need to do some keyword mapping. As you have only one page to tell your story, group related content. Create a <div> or <section> for each keyword and assign a proper ID to it. If a section is about trimming hairy dogs, use trim-hairy-dogs as the ID, as this will be like the slug of that particular section. Your internal links on that page will link to example.com/#trim-hairy-dogs. Choose that slug wisely.

That section needs content and a heading and as we think of all these sections as “pages”, you should add an <h1> tag to these sections. That indeed means multiple H1s per page, but hey, you wanted an unfocused website.

If you use images, optimize image file names and ALT tags per section as well.

Optimize page speed

This one is vital for your one page website SEO: optimize page speed. It’s even more critical if you have a page like that since you are serving all kinds of different sections with possibly all types of different layouts and design elements, so your page doesn’t look like a Word document, right? Most of these elements simply take time to load, and you want to optimize that. Here are some articles that will help you optimize speed.

One page website SEO: Add fresh content

Fresh content for the win

You are probably still not convinced that you’d better create multiple pages on your website. But you will understand single page website SEO is pretty hard and limited. You have one page in search result pages, one canonical link, one page that needs to rank for everything you want to rank for. Fresh content, dynamic content, is always a good idea and it is possible on a one page website. Rewrite your sections now and then to align them with current events, for instance. If your website is set up once, and never changes, you have this one static page that needs to do all the work. Changing its content from time to time will certainly help.

One more thing: Analytics

It is possible to track internal links on that page: track per section. But that’s fairly hard for the average Google Analytics user. And Google would rather track per page as well, judging from this article. This is yet another reason why I don’t like one page website SEO. It’s harder to implement SEO recommendations and harder to analyze your efforts.

Come to think of it; it’s probably your PR agency or sales department that likes that one page website so much. So please, please reconsider setting up a page like this. It’ll make your SEO so much easier.

Read more: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »

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There are multiple ways to implement hreflang. Perhaps your content management system supports it, or you are using a plugin or extension to add hreflang in any way to your pages. No matter how you implement them, it’s obviously good that you do! hreflang is the glue that binds pages that are the same except for language together. In this post, I’ll show you an hreflang example in a website and break that apart to explain what you should check after implementing this meta tag. 

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International websites

If your websites target more than one language or multiple geo locations with the same language, chances are you have heard of the hreflang tag. If not, here’s some reading material for you:

With hreflang, you can indicate in what language the current page is, and in what other languages, or even dialects or local variations, the content is available.

An hreflang example

Let’s dive right in with this example of a website you probably know: Hubspot.com. Hubspot is available in:

  • English
  • German
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Japanese and
  • Brazilian Portuguese (and yes, that is different from Portuguese spoken in Portugal)

I know this because of the language switcher in their header, but also because their source code tells me so:

<!-- INTERNATIONAL -->
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.hubspot.com" hreflang="x-default">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.hubspot.com" hreflang="en">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.hubspot.de" hreflang="de-DE">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.hubspot.es" hreflang="es">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.hubspot.fr" hreflang="fr-FR">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.hubspot.jp" hreflang="ja-JP">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://br.hubspot.com" hreflang="pt-BR">

That’s your hreflang tag right there. By the way, this is one of the multiple ways to implement hreflang on your website. This one goes into your <head>, but another option is to serve it from your XML sitemap or HTTP headers. More on that can be found in the ultimate guide to hreflang I mentioned earlier.

To analyze this example, we break it down into three elements:

  1. Alternates
  2. URLs
  3. Languages

There is a default language, which is probably set in the <html> tag in your template, and we have a couple of alternates. Again, these pages contain the same content as the default page, but in another language. hreflang tells search engines the URL where the alternate content can be found and for what language it is. “de_DE” means German in Germany, “pt_BR” means Portuguese in geolocation (region where the visitor is located) Brazil and another variation in this hreflang example is “es”, which means Spanish in every Spanish speaking region all over the globe. Regions or languages that are not defined, fall back to the default language.

Testing your hreflang

Now that you know what to check in your source code, you might want to use Google to check if the right page is served to a visitor from, for instance, Brazil. Here’s where a bit of knowledge of Google’s URLs comes in. If we look at this URL, two things stand out:

https://www.google.com/search?hl=pt&q=hubspot&gl=BR

And not because I colored them. hl is interface language (or host language) and gl is geolocation. What we are suggesting here, is that Google boosts results from Brazil that are in Portuguese. If you use Google Chrome as your browser, you get this result:
Google Chrome - hreflang example: pt_BR

As you can see, the Brazilian site is shown, judging from the URL of the site https://br.hubspot.com. The hreflang tags seem to work! Test likewise for German, Japanese and French, etcetera, just to be sure :) You could even test a language that’s not included like Italian to see if your fallback works. It does at Hubspot.

I hope this hreflang example gives you a way to test the hreflang implementation on your own multilingual site for yourself. If you want to know more about multilingual, you should consider our Multilingual SEO training!

Read more: ‘hreflang: the ultimate guide’ »

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Some of the pages of your site serve a purpose, but that purpose isn’t ranking in search engines or even getting traffic to your site. These pages need to be there as glue for other pages, or simply because whatever regulations require them to be accessible on your website. As a regular visitor to our website, you know what noindex or nofollow can do to these pages. If you are new to these terms, please read on and let me explain what they are and what pages they might apply to!

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What is noindex or nofollow?

Both are settings you can add to your robots meta tag. We did quite an extensive ultimate guide on the robots meta tag that you should read.

In short:

  • It looks like this in most cases:
    <meta name="robots" content="[VALUE1,VALUE2]">
  • VALUE1 and VALUE2 are set to index, follow by default, meaning the page at hand can be indexed and all links on that page can be followed by search engine spiders to index the pages they link to.
  • VALUE1 and VALUE2 can be set to noindex, nofollow as well. noindex means that the page shouldn’t be indexed by search engines, but doesn’t mean the search engines shouldn’t follow the links on the page. nofollow means that it also shouldn’t follow the links.

Pages that you might want to noindex

Author archives on a one-author blog

If you are the only one writing for your blog, your author pages are probably 90% the same as your blog homepage. That’s of no use to Google and can be considered duplicate content. To keep these out of the search results, you can noindex them.

Certain (custom) post types

Sometimes a plugin or a web developer adds a custom post type that you don’t want to be indexed. At Yoast, we use custom pages for our products, as we are not a regular online shop that sells, for instance, kitchen appliances. We don’t need a product image, filters like dimensions and technical specifications on a tab next to the description. Therefore, we noindex the regular product pages WooCommerce outputs and are using our own pages. Indeed, we noindex the product post type.

By the way, I have seen shop solutions that added things like dimensions and weight as a custom post type as well. These pages are considered to be low-quality content. You will understand that these pages have no use for a visitor or Google, so need to be kept out of the search result pages.

Thank you pages

That page serves no other purpose than to thank your customer/newsletter subscriber. Usually thin content, or upsell and social share options, but no added value content-wise.

Admin and login pages

Of course, your login pages are not in Google. But these are. Keep them out of the index by adding that noindex. Exceptions are the login pages that serve a community, like Dropbox or similar services. Just ask yourself if you would google for one of your login pages if you were not in your company. If not, it’s probably safe to say that Google doesn’t need to index these pages.

Internal search results

Internal search results are like the last pages Google wants to point its visitors to. If you want to ruin a search experience, you link to other search pages. But the links on that search result page are still very valuable for Google, so all links should be followed. The robots meta setting should be:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex, follow">

The same setting goes for all the examples mentioned above, there is no need to nofollow the links on these pages. Now, when should you add a nofollow to your robots meta tag?

Pages that you might want to nofollow

Google roughly indicates that there are three reasons to nofollow links:

  1. Untrusted content
  2. Paid links
  3. Crawl prioritization

For instance, we add a nofollow tag to links in comments. We don’t know what all of you are dropping in there, right. It could be anything from the #1 and #2 above. With regards to number 3, this could, for instance, apply to login links, that we sometimes find on WordPress websites, see image on the right. It’s no use having a Googlebot go over these links, as for search engines, they add no value. These are nofollowed.

All of the above is very much on a link level. But if you have for instance a page that shows SEO books, with a surplus of Amazon affiliate links, these might add value to your site for your users. But I’d nofollow that entire page if there’s nothing else that matters on the page. You might have it indexed, though. Just make sure you cloak your links the right way.

To be honest, on a regular website, I don’t think there are a lot of pages I’d set to nofollow. Check for yourself if you have any content that mainly contains links like the ones Google indicated, and decide if Google should follow them or not.

Changing SEO insights

At Yoast, we always try to keep you on top of your SEO game, without per se bugging you about it. One of the settings in Yoast SEO that we have had for years, the “Noindex subpages of archives” checkbox is one of those. It made all the sense in the world to noindex, follow these, and have Google index just the main page, the first page of your (f.i.) category archive.

We were always aware that Google was getting better and better at understanding rel="next" and rel="prev" on these subpages of archives. Yoast SEO adds these tags as well. At this point, we know that rel="next" and rel="prev" cover the way archives should be indexed and noindex-ing subpages isn’t necessary anymore, so we’ve removed that setting from our plugin altogether to make sure it’s done right on your site!

Read on: ‘Prevent your site from being indexed, the right way’ »

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It can be daunting to start in search engine optimization, I can imagine. There’s so much to do, ranging from the more technical SEO tasks to more general SEO tasks and content optimization. I can create a list for your website, or for your online shop, but you might find it hard to decide where to begin. In this post, I will share some approaches to creating and prioritizing your SEO task list.

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SEO tasks: What to address first

Most website owners want quick wins, but I’ll go into that later. First, we need to address some low hanging SEO fruit.

What to address first?

The first of your SEO tasks is to check if both Google and other search engines can reach all relevant pages. Is there a noindex blocking any of your valuable pages? Use, for instance, Screaming Frog (entire site) or Quix (on a page level).

How’s your speed?

Do a quick check in Google PageSpeed Insights or for instance WebPageTest.org and see if browser caching and compression are used the right way. Compression can really improve your speed. Keep in mind that the rules of this game change slightly if your site is on HTTP/2.

Are you focusing on the right keywords?

Check your internal search logs (more on internal search). If any keywords surface on a regular basis, create a page for these keywords.

That’s three checks for you that can easily be done and certainly impact your SEO. There’s obviously more. Let’s start with the basics.

Cover your basics: Tell the right story

It is absolutely fine to go all out and fix all things related to SEO at once, but as we’ll probably agree, that might not be the best experience for you. It might be better to install our plugin and take our Yoast SEO plugin training and focus on what you want to tell your audience first. Depending on the outcome of that process, you can decide on further optimization.

This means that you need to look at proper keyword research and a good site structure for your website. Plus, content SEO. I linked three very nice ultimate guides for you there :) Please go and read these. With the insights these guides will give you, you can quickly create some related SEO tasks and start working on these.

Any structured data needed?

If you have set up all the right content, you have probably noticed that some of that content is presented, or ordered, in the same way. As the list of schema.org data grows, you might have struck onto something you can serve to search engines in a more structured way as well.

Please read up on how structured data is done the right way, and adjust your templates accordingly. No time to read up? We have a course for that as well: our structured data course.

By the way: Yes, I am linking some products in that post. Our mission, SEO for Everyone, makes that we have a lot of products that help you optimize your website in the most convenient way possible. Just trying to give you shortcuts here.

Further SEO tasks and maintenance

Further (technical) optimization can contain optimizing speed even more, crawl optimization and might even include getting some high-quality backlinks for your site. This is probably where the hard work starts. SEO tasks will surface unstructured from now, and new developments in search engine algorithms might require you to change the way you prioritize your SEO tasks. That’s not always a bad thing, although it can be frustrating, right?

You can find a lot of information about this process on our SEO blog. We will keep you updated, and will give you handy tips and links to further optimize your website. Please feel free to comment below if you have any questions about your current SEO tasks, what to address first or where to start in any other process after dealing with the tasks mentioned above. We’re happy to help you.

Read more: ‘How to do an SEO audit: part 1’ »

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Just recently, a friend of mine asked me to have a quick peek at his website, as he felt some of his keywords didn’t perform as well as before. Some other websites outranked him in Google, and he wondered why. In such a case, it often pays to do a quick competitive analysis. In most cases, it’s not necessarily your site that’s performing worse; it’s other sites doing better. Now I know he’s all about content optimization and uses our plugin. First, I checked the configuration of the Yoast SEO Premium plugin, but all seemed to be in order. What else could have happened?

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If you want to do a competitive analysis to optimize your SEO efforts, there’s actually quite a lot you can do yourself, without having to hire an expensive SEO consultant. Let me take you through the steps!

Step 1: Define your keywords

It’s very important to use the right keywords in a competitive analysis. If you insist on using your, possibly branded, company outing as one of the main keywords, you might not even have any competition, let alone any decent organic traffic to your website. An example: if you are offering ‘holiday homes’, but insist on using the keyword ‘vacation cottage’, you are selling yourself short. Match the words your customers use.

Proper keyword research will be of help, not just for this competitive analysis, but for the entire SEO optimization of your website, so please put some effort in it.

Step 2: Analyze these keywords

Once you have defined the keywords you’d like to check against your competitors, the next step is obvious: do a search for these keywords. See who your competitors are by writing down who ranks higher than you.

Be realistic

If you are on page two in Google and want to do a competitive analysis with the number one, there is probably a lot to gain. But you should probably accept the fact that your rankings will go up step by step, and that the high ranking websites, depending on the keywords, might have a higher marketing budget than you to back their ranking strategies. It could be the main reason they rank so high. Don’t give up; our mission is ‘SEO for everyone‘ for a reason. Climb to higher rankings step by step and try to increase your marketing budget along the way.

Check the keywords and make them long-tail or add local keywords (city name, region name) to them, if needed. Do a thorough analysis. Google Trends will tell you what keywords have more traffic in the target markets for your business, and (free/paid) tools like Ahrefs.com and Searchmetrics.com will give you even more keyword insights.

Climbing up in rankings a (few) step(s) at a time

Sometimes, you can achieve a big improvement in your rankings. But if your website is ranking 6, it’s easier to climb to five or four first and then target the top three. Again, that top three probably has the marketing budget to go all out, where your immediate neighbors in rankings are struggling like you. Beat them first; it’s easier. Having said that: if you have the opportunity to dethrone number 1, 2, or 3, of course, go ahead and do so.

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Step 3: Check technical differences

You’ll need to check a number of things to determine on which aspects your competition is ahead of you. The next step of your competitive analysis, after listing the keywords you’d like to perform this analysis for, is to see if there are any technical differences.

Site speed

There are so many ways to check your site speed, which we have mentioned quite often already, like Pingdom and Google’s speed tools. No need for me to explain all that all over again. But, in a competitive analysis, speed insights will tell you if there is a huge difference between you and your main competitors in terms of serving the website and the user experience difference that goes with that. The faster the site, the happier the visitor, and the happier the search engine.

SSL/https

Https and SLL are about serving a secure website to your visitor. It’s becoming the default and for a good reason. Serving a secure website is about delivering the best user experience and gaining trust from your future customers. It is only logical to rank a secure website over a non-secure one. Again, there are multiple ways to check SLL/https in a competitive analysis. A nice overview is given by Builtwith.com, which gives you a ton of technical information, including SSL certificate, etc. You can obviously check your browser’s address bar for this as well, but Builtwith could give you some more insights while going over all other details. Like what CMS your competitor uses (and if he/she upgraded his/her WordPress install and you didn’t?).

Mobile site

Mobile-first. Mobile parity. Mobile UX. It’s all about mobile these days. It makes sense, as most of today’s website traffic is from mobile devices, exceptions aside.

A good mobile website is about getting your visitor to the right page as soon as possible. This has to do with speed, with deciding about top tasks on your website and with a clear and pleasant, branded design. Go check the websites of your competitors and see where they are clearly outperforming you. Test this, using for instance:

Step 4: Find content opportunities

Although technical optimizations are crucial, the quick wins will probably be in the field of content. What have you written about your company and products, and what did your competitor publish on their website?

Click all menu items

What are the main pages, what is your competitor trying to sell? And how did he/she manage to rank above you? See how focused their menu is and what pages they link to from there. We’ve found that placing ourselves in the mindset of our visitor pays off much more than writing about all the amazing SEO stuff we managed to add to our plugins, or all the SEO knowledge we share in our courses. What’s the end goal of all that SEO? It’s serving your website better to Google, which will lead to better rankings. You might not care about what schema.org does, or what XML sitemaps are, but if they benefit your business goals, you probably want to add them to your website.

See if your competitor tells a better story than you. And improve your story. The main menu of your website should be targeted at your visitor, not as much at explaining all the awesome things you came up with.

Category pages or product pages

If you have a shop, it could be interesting to do a competitive analysis of your competitor’s shop structure. Is he or she trying to persuade the customer on a product page, or already on category pages? In a market where there are a gazillion products, ranking in each and every niche is tough! It’s probably better to optimize most of your category pages. Write appealing, quality content, make these pages cornerstone and try to rank a lot of ’em. Here’s more on optimizing that category page of your online shop.

Your competitive analysis will tell you which of these pages are optimized by your main competitors. Optimize yours accordingly and, obviously, better.

Sitemap

A sitemap can show you the site structure of your competitor, be it via an HTML sitemap or XML sitemap. It can tell you, for instance, if he or she is targeting certain long-tail keywords via the slugs of the pages, and a few clicks to their pages will tell you how their internal linking is done.

You can find that sitemap on most sites at example.com/sitemap.xml or example.com/sitemap_index.xml or at example.com/sitemap. Sometimes a website simply doesn’t have that sitemap, but tools like Screaming Frog and Xenu might help you out. Crawl the site and order by URL.

Blog

The main question here is: do you have a blog? A blog makes for dynamic content, keeps your site current and, if you post regularly, Google will find all kinds of interesting, recent ‘Last Updated’ dates. If you don’t have a blog, and your competitor has and ranks better, get a blog. Your competitor has probably woven that blog into their content strategy.

Step 5: Compare UX

Great UX makes for better time-on-site, more pageviews, and a lower bounce rate. I’m not going into this too much here, as I think in a competitive analysis you should focus on other things first, but I wanted to highlight two things: call-to-action and contact.

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Call-to-action

A great call-to-action helps any page. Regardless of whether it’s to drive sales or engagement, every page needs a proper call-to-action. Simply go over some of your competitor’s pages and see how they went about this. See if you can grab some ideas of this and improve your own call-to-action. Oh, and remove that slider and/or video background. That’s not a call-to-action. That’s a call to no action.

Contact page & address details

Your contact page and your address details could be the end goal of a visit to your page. If so, check how the competition created that page. Did they add structured data, for instance? Is there a contact form? Did they make it easier to find these details than you did? Adjust accordingly, if comparing this sparks some great ideas.

Step 6: Perform a backlink analysis

Last but not least: if all seems reasonably the same, and there is no logical way to explain why your competitor outranks you, it just might be that the other website has a great deal more relevant links than you do. Or simply better ones. You’d have to check Ahrefs.com, Moz’s OpenSiteExplorer or, for instance, Searchmetrics for this.

Follow-up on your competitive analysis!

At this point, you know the main differences between your competitor’s site and your site. This is the moment where you start prioritizing optimizations and get to work. First, take care of low-hanging fruit, and fix things that are easily fixed asap. Next, determine what issues might have the biggest impact on your rankings, and solve these as well. If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you will have no problem with this. I’d go for any speed and content issues first, and try to get some more backlinks in the process.

If you can’t solve any of these issues, feel free to reach out to any of our partners. They can probably help you out, or perform an even more thorough competitive analysis for you!

Read more: ‘3 SEO quick wins to implement right now’ »

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In our plugin, we have a check for outbound links. Is there an outbound link on your post or page? And in case there isn’t one, please add an outbound link to your content! Why do we insist on adding a link like that? Isn’t it true that you should get links to your website, and to your website only? Well… Not per se.

What are outbound links?

There are a gazillion types of links. The most common one are these, I think:

  • Internal links from one page on your website to another page on your website. They can help optimize your site for search engines, we have an internal links tool for that. And with our site structure course you can learn how to do your internal linking well.
  • And then, there are two types of external links:
    • Links from other websites to yours. We call these inbound links or backlinks.
    • Links from your website to another website. Outbound links, indeed.

Outbound links in Yoast SEO

In the meta box below your Edit post screen, you’ll find the section called “Improvements”. If not, please update our plugin as you’re using a very old version. “Very old” is pretty relative in terms of internet years, right? In that section “Improvements”, there’s this one check that says:

outbound links in Yoast SEO

Consider adding some as appropriate. We really feel that every page should have an outbound link. We’re not throwing a red bullet here. We’re not forcing you to add that one to your post. But we would really like you to.

Why we want you to add outbound links to your post

You must wonder by now why we want you to add that link anyway. Our mission is SEO for Everyone. We strongly believe in equal chances for everyone on a connected web. By asking you to add that outbound link, we ask you to connect your website to the next website. And that website to the next website. By doing so, we create a web that expands and expands, from one related website to another. We help Google to connect the dots. We help Bing to get insights on what sites or better what pages relate to each other.

By connecting the web, and structuring the web with your help, we help search engines find interesting websites. We help interesting websites rank in Google. With your help. SEO for Everyone.

So.. do outbound links matter for SEO?

Outbound links most definitely matter for SEO. Not per se for your SEO, but for SEO in the most generic way there is. Your outbound link helps your neighbor, your supplier, your customer and of course, your visitor. So we strongly believe there is a good reason we have a check for them in our Yoast SEO plugin!

Read on: ‘Link building from a holistic SEO perspective’ »

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