Variables have become a staple of Yoast SEO. Variables make it possible to automate certain processes on your site. They also make it easy to change large batches of meta descriptions for instance, since you only have to change the structure of the variable – the site fills in the data automatically. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the Titles and Meta variables in Yoast SEO.

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What is a variable?

First things first: a variable is a name or a symbol that stands for a value. For instance, Yoast SEO uses the variable %%sitename%% to get the site name from the site itself. This way, you, as a user, don’t have to type in this information by hand. Now, when the name of the site changes, the variable automatically gets the new name from the site. If you had this hard-coded in your site, you’d have to change everything manually – everywhere. Consider doing this on hundreds of pages and you’ll start to see how powerful variables are.

How does Yoast SEO use variables?

Yoast SEO uses variables to give you the freedom and flexibility you need when working on your SEO. It makes it much easier to find a common ground for your text fields. What’s more, if you ever need to change something, variables let you do this as quickly as possible.

You can only find the relevant options in the Titles and Metas section of the Yoast SEO plugin if you activate the advanced settings. There you’ll find loads of options for setting variables to automate your SEO efforts. The full list of variables is listed on the HELP tab of the plugin. Just go to SEO → Titles & Metas and click the help tab in the top right. You can also check our knowledge base article on Titles and Metas variables.

yoast seo titles metas help center

You are free to change any of the settings as you see fit, but remember, the default settings are almost always a great fit for any site. That being said, you can set variables for:

  • The homepage
  • Site title
  • Posts
  • Pages
  • Media
  • Custom types
  • Categories
  • Tags
  • Archives

How to set variables in Yoast SEO

You can use variables in a multitude of ways. Most site-owners only use the most basic ones, while someone more at home in SEO might use the advanced ones. There are even variables for use with WooCommerce, so you can automatically extract product information from your store to use in the metadata. In this post, we’ll keep it simple and give a small example. Let’s look at the different variables that you can use to determine the title of a post on a site.

* Open the Yoast SEO advanced settings and go to Titles and Metas.
* Go to the Post section and find the Title template field.
* The field is prepopulated, but you can change it to whatever you want.
* If you need the list of supported variables, click on Help Center.

Snippet editor

If you want, you can edit the SEO title per post in the snippet editor of Yoast SEO. There, you’ll find the title according to the variables you’ve chosen. In addition, you also get the option to override that title with a custom-made variant if you think that’ll attract more clicks in the search engines.

seo title variables yoast seo

The default title variable string is:

%%title%% %%page%% %%sep%% %%sitename%%

Which, for the post you are now reading, leads to:

snippet preview titles and meta

These variables combined form the SEO title of the post. In this string, the title takes the title of the post, adds a page number if any (f.i. page 3 of 4), the separator symbol you picked and the site name of the site it’s posted on. You could add lots of other variables in there, but remember, you’re working with limited space for the snippets. If you’d add a %%category%% for instance, the title would become too long and Google would cut it off. Try to find a middle ground between readability, findability and branding. Yes, your branding is important, so don’t omit %%sitename%%.

Using variables for SEO

Yoast SEO supports a wide range of variables and they can be used for almost any situation. You should, however, always ask yourself if the change you want to make improves your metadata. If not, why not let the default settings do their work? Experienced SEOs will enjoy using the advanced variables and online store owners can make use of the extra WooCommerce variables. For the rest of you? Don’t overdo it.

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

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Rian Rietveld and Andrea Fercia are two heavyweights in the WordPress accessibility community. Both legends are joining us at the YoastCon SEO conference on November 2, 2017. For this joint interview, we asked them a couple of questions about the current state of accessibility, common implementation mistakes and how to start with the right mindset. Of course, the duo explains why you should come to YoastCon!

Don’t want to miss Rian and Andrea on stage? Get your ticket now for YoastCon 2017!

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Accessibility is incredibly important. Focusing on accessibility in your work makes sure you won’t leave anyone behind. Could you tell us a bit about the current state of accessibility in general and WordPress in particular?

According to Andrea, accessibility is getting more and more attention in the last couple of years: “Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more, are renewing their focus on accessibility as part of an inclusive design process and delivering products with a good level of built-in accessibility.”

Even WordPress gets better, says Andrea. “In the last 2-3 years, a great number of accessibility fixes entered the codebase. However, there’s still the need to educate many contributors, increase awareness, expertise, and incorporate accessibility in the design process. In WordPress, accessibility is still perceived as something that can be added at a later stage in the development process. That’s an ineffective process. It goes in a different direction compared to what all the other big players are doing.”

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Rian wants to stress the importance of accessibility as well:
 “Accessibility is the next big thing after responsive design. People involved in web development are starting to understand that accessibility is part of the process. There are two reasons for this. In an increasing number of countries, websites need to be accessible by law. Not just sites for government and public services but in some countries company sites as well. The second reason: accessibility is considered good practice in modern web development.”

According to WordPress the accessibility of the CMS improved dramatically in the last four years. Rian says that the community is starting to see that this is an important issue. She shares one ‘but’: “New functionality, however, is still not designed and developed with accessibility in mind. That means we still need to fix issues, also newly created issues. And that’s a point we can definitely improve on.”

It still seems hard to get stakeholders interested in accessibility. What do you guys do to convince people of the importance of accessibility and what do you do to help them get started?

Andrea says business owners and managers should look at the numbers in addition to the ethical considerations: “Accessibility is not just about people with specific disabilities or impairments. It’s about changing abilities that everyone experiences in their life with aging. Demographic trends, especially in Europe and North America, give us impressive numbers that can help us understand who our users and customers will be in the next 10-15 years.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to convince people. Education helps. We still need to debunk many myths about accessibility and make people understand it’s something that benefits everyone, including your future you,” explains Andrea.

Rian supports the notion that stakeholders are primarily interested in profit. She’d like to add her arguments for successfully implementing accessibility from the get-go: “20% of your visitors have a better experience using your site. Google is deaf and blind, so accessibility directly benefits SEO. The site will be more sustainable, as an accessible website will use more robust and meaningful code. If you include it at the beginning it will not cost extra if your team is well-prepared.”

You probably see the same mistakes made again and again. Do you have a list of common mistakes to keep our readers from making the same?

According to Rian you should: “Include accessibility at the beginning of the project, don’t check for it at the end because it will cost a lot more to correct it afterward. Also, keep in mind that you don’t create a website for yourself, but research your user and create a site your visitors understand. Focus on the main purpose of the site and don’t add elements to distract the user from that, only because you like to show off your design/programming skills.”

Andrea likes to emphasize the importance of valid HTML: “Well-structured, valid, semantic, markup is definitely the first thing you should focus on. HTML is the last layer of our communication. It’s great when all our development processes focus only on great abstracted object-oriented programming, modern JavaScript Frameworks and so on, but when our HTML is poorly coded, then our communication fails.”

Today, there is still a lot of very poorly coded HTML around, says Andrea: “People must understand why the HTML output is so important for the software that reads our web pages. Any software, including assistive technologies, or search engine crawlers, read our HTML. Good HTML is good communication that helps everyone, improves accessibility and also SEO.”

When looking at it from a design perspective, the design should start with the information architecture, says Andrea: “After that comes the interaction flow, and then the presentation layer. Instead, I still see today many projects starting with the presentation layer. For instance, missing controls labels are a very common mistake. All user interface controls must have a label.”

Let’s say I’m a site-owner and want to improve the accessibility of my site. What’s the first or most important thing I should do?

Andrea starts off with a great tip: “I’d recommend to disable styles in your browsers (that’s easy with Firefox) and look at your site without the presentation layer. Does your page still make sense? Is the order of the content logical and meaningful? Of course, there are a lot of other things to check. There also are more advanced ways to perform a first accessibility check, including some browsers add-ons. They help to catch some of the most common mistakes, but they require some expertise.”

Rian’s advice supports Andrea’s: “Check if you can navigate your website without a mouse, with keyboard only. Also, please add subtitles to video and transcript audio. And keep the following in mind when you design or write: People don’t read on a website, they skim the page and navigation for what they want to know and then read.”

The WordPress project is increasingly accessible. You both contributed quite a lot to WordPress. How did you get involved with the community and which part of the accessibility project are you proud?

Andrea accidentally got involved: “I must be honest: it was a period when I was partially unemployed and had some free time, so I started following the project and then submitted my first contribution. About my involvement in the WordPress Accessibility Team, I just owe everything to Rian Rietveld!”

Come see Rian and Andrea speak at YoastCon 2017 on November 2 »banner YoastCon

Proud is the right word, says Andrea: “I think it’s not a specific patch or improvement to the codebase. I’m really glad to see that some of the WordPress contributors, especially the younger ones, they just try to implement accessibility by default when they code. They feel it’s part of a coding best-practice and that’s the best thing I’d like to see in any project.”

Rian: “My drive was to help my blind clients using the WordPress Admin. I’m the proudest of the cooperation we now get from almost everyone in the WordPress community. I think we are on the right track with the Accessibility Team now.”

You can read more about Rian’s journey in the WordPress Accessibility team on HeroPress.

Why shouldn’t people miss your talk at YoastCon?

“Come and learn if you want to know why accessibility and SEO are a great match. Not everyone uses and reads a website the same. We’ll teach you how to create content that is understandable for everybody,” says Rian.

Don’t want to miss Rian and Andrea on stage? Get your ticket now for YoastCon 2017!

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Read more: ‘YoastCon 2017: Practical SEO’ »

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WordPress 4.8.2 is now available. This is a security release for all previous versions and we strongly encourage you to update your sites immediately.

WordPress versions 4.8.1 and earlier are affected by these security issues:

  1. $wpdb->prepare() can create unexpected and unsafe queries leading to potential SQL injection (SQLi). WordPress core is not directly vulnerable to this issue, but we’ve added hardening to prevent plugins and themes from accidentally causing a vulnerability. Reported by Slavco
  2. A cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability was discovered in the oEmbed discovery. Reported by xknown of the WordPress Security Team.
  3. A cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability was discovered in the visual editor. Reported by Rodolfo Assis (@brutelogic) of Sucuri Security.
  4. A path traversal vulnerability was discovered in the file unzipping code. Reported by Alex Chapman (noxrnet).
  5. A cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability was discovered in the plugin editor. Reported by 陈瑞琦 (Chen Ruiqi).
  6. An open redirect was discovered on the user and term edit screens. Reported by Yasin Soliman (ysx).
  7. A path traversal vulnerability was discovered in the customizer. Reported by Weston Ruter of the WordPress Security Team.
  8. A cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability was discovered in template names. Reported by Luka (sikic).
  9. A cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability was discovered in the link modal. Reported by Anas Roubi (qasuar).

Thank you to the reporters of these issues for practicing responsible disclosure.

In addition to the security issues above, WordPress 4.8.2 contains 6 maintenance fixes to the 4.8 release series. For more information, see the release notes or consult the list of changes.

Download WordPress 4.8.2 or venture over to Dashboard → Updates and simply click “Update Now.” Sites that support automatic background updates are already beginning to update to WordPress 4.8.2.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to 4.8.2.

False friends are words that seem very similar but have a different meaning in different languages. Take the word sensible. It means reasonable in English but sensitive in French and Spanish. Sometimes, the same term can even refer to something completely different in two varieties of English. In this post, I will tell you why it is important for SEOs to be aware of this. I will also give some practical pointers. 

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Multilingual sites and SEO

As SEOs, it is our job to know what search terms people use. After all, that allows us to optimize our pages for those terms. This is a challenge in our native language as it is. If you have a multilingual site, however, keyword research and SEO copywriting can quickly become a minefield.

You should be aware of the terms people around the world use to find your products. This allows you to optimize your copy for any audience. Doing so will increase your number of potential customers. Moreover, you may just be able to snag an advantage over competitors by targeting audiences more specifically.

Multi-regional sites and SEO

Striking differences also exist between regions. Just because you speak the same language, doesn’t mean you use the same vocabulary. It is important to note that Google is improving at identifying synonyms. There is still a lot of work to be done, though. Less common languages and their variations are still a work in progress. This presents a great opportunity to gain an edge!

Of course, you can’t target every variation. The UK and U.S., however, may be different and sizable enough to target separately. The same goes for some varieties of Spanish and other common languages. Plainly put, not taking variations into account can also lead to missed opportunities.

So, what’s the worst that could happen?

Sure, the theory’s fine and dandy. What are the risks you need take into account, though, when writing multilingual and multi-regional copy? Well, if you use the wrong term, potential customers will not find what they are looking for. Hence, your bounce rate will increase. Obviously, your conversion rates will suffer as a consequence.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. Years ago, Joost helped a company to rank number one in Belgium for the Dutch word koelkast (refrigerator). One of Belgium’s official languages is Flemish, a variation of Dutch. Surprisingly, the company hardly converted. Turns out, the word koelkast is mostly used in the Netherlands. In Belgium, many consumers searched for the word frigo, which Flemish borrows from French!

Multilingual and multi-regional sites: example case

Let’s look at an example case: the word vest. To keep things relatively simple, I’ll stick to Dutch, British English and American English. In this way, I can stress the importance of both multilingual and multi-regional variations.

a vest in dutch uk and us englishAn American vest is a British waistcoat. A British vest is called a tank-top or a-shirt in America. Incidentally, a tank-top is also a piece of clothing in the UK. Americans, however, call that a sweater vest. To top it off, the Dutch vest is either a cardigan or a hoodie with a zipper. Feeling confused? Don’t sweat it, whatever vest you’re wearing. Few examples are as complicated as this. Just know that veste means something different altogether in French and Spanish as well.

SEO copywriting for multilingual sites: What can I do?

Researching your field and the potential risks it presents is crucial. An international clothing company will encounter more difficulties than a book store. Make sure you have a clear strategy. What audiences do you want to target and what vocabulary do they use? Invest time in researching terms you’re unsure about. You can use Google Trends to compare the frequency of search terms. It even gives you an overview of how popular each term is by region.

google trends trainers vs sneakers

Although most of the world prefers the term sneaker for sporty footwear, the UK is an obvious exception, as Google Trends shows.

If you own or manage a bigger organization that has some money to spend, consider hiring a specialist or outsourcing copy translations. If you want to be cost-effective, you can also reach out to native speakers in your network. People may even volunteer to translate parts of your site if they like what you do.

Conclusion

Writing SEO copy for multilingual and multi-regional sites requires a lot of effort, especially for non-native speakers. Make sure you research what keywords particular audiences use for your products. Substitute your original copy for these terms to gain potential customers. By breaking up with false friends, you’re one step closer to realizing the potential of a multilingual site!

Read more: ‘SEO Copywriting: the ultimate guide’ »

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Ranking in the search engines can be hard. Especially if the competition in your niche is high. As you probably know, you should start with doing your keyword research: getting inside the heads of your audience, knowing exactly what words they use and what they are searching for. But then what? How do you choose which keywords to optimize for? Should you focus on long tail keywords, or go straight for the most competitive head terms? In this post, I’ll help you to determine your strategy for deciding which keywords you want to optimize your content for.

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Competition is key

Whether you should go after long tail keywords, which are specific and consist of multiple words, or after head terms largely depends on your competition. If the competition in your niche is high, you’ll have a hard time ranking on competitive head terms. If you have little competition, you’ll even be able to rank for head terms. It sounds so very easy!

In our SEO copywriting course, our students do a bit of keyword research as an assignment. We ask them to estimate their chances to rank in the search engines. People aren’t very good in assessing their chances to rank. Most people largely overestimate their chances and focus on head terms that won’t attract much traffic to their site.

So how do you determine your competition? What should you be looking for? There are two strategies:

  • Google and analyze your competition
  • Try, evaluate and try again.

I will discuss both strategies in more detail below.

Google and analyze your competition

Google the keywords that came out of your keyword research. Start with your most ‘head’ term. The most general one. Check out the search engine result page (SERP). These are the websites you’ll be competing against once you optimize your content for such a keyword. To check whether or not you’ll be able to compete with the websites on that result page, analyze the following things:

  • Are the websites professional websites? Are they company websites? Ask yourself whether or not you are an ‘equal’ to these companies. Does your website belong among these sites? Is your company of similar size and does it have as much influence in your niche?
  • Does the SERP show well-known brands? It’s harder to rank when you’re competing against sites with strong brand-names. If brands are known from TV or radio commercials, your chances to rank will become even smaller.
  • What about the content of these websites? Is the content well written and well optimized? How long are the articles on the sites? If your competition has poor content, you’ll have a larger chance to outrank them!
  • Are there any ads in Google? And how much is the pay-per-click in Google adwords? Search terms that have a high pay-per-click are usually also harder to rank for in the organic results.

Read more: ‘Keyword Research Tools’ »

One simple question

It all boils down to a single question: how does my website hold up, compared to the websites in the SERPs? Are you of equal size and marketing budget: go ahead and focus on those head terms. If not: try a more long tail keyword.

The next step is to do the same analysis with a keyword that’s slightly more long tail. Longer and more specific search terms will generate less traffic, but ranking on those terms will be much easier. Focusing on a whole bunch of long tail keywords combined could very well attract a lot of traffic. Once you’ve managed to rank for those long tail keywords, aiming for more head terms will become a bit easier.

Try, evaluate and try again

Once you’ve done a thorough analysis of your chances to rank on a specific term, the next step is to write an amazing article and optimize it accordingly. And hit publish. Make sure you’ll attract some nice backlinks. And wait a little while. Check out your rankings. Does your article pop up? Did it hit the first page of Google’s SERPs? Or is it hidden away on page 2 or 3? Make sure to evaluate your articles in the SERPs. Google the terms you’ve optimized your articles for. Check whether or not your SEO is paying off!

If you’re not able to rank on the first page, try to write another article, focused on a (even) more long tail keyword. Make it a little bit more specific, more niche. And see how that goes. Evaluate again. Continue this process until you hit that first page of the SERPs!

Conclusion

Figuring out which keywords you should focus on to get the most traffic to your site can be rather daunting. For many people, it’s hard to assess their chances to rank in the search engines. And even with the tips in this article, it’ll remain hard. But if you get it right, it’ll definitely pay off! So, after thoroughly analyzing your competition, start testing. Write an article and see how it ranks. After evaluating your rankings, adapt your strategy. You’ll get there eventually. If you want some help with your keyword research strategy, check out our SEO copywriting course. And if you really want to take your keyword research to the next level, consider doing Roy Huiskes’ keyword research workshop at YoastCon!

Keep reading: ‘Keyword Research: the Ultimate Guide’ »

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Alain Schlesser – aka Schlessera – is a prolific WordPress Core Contributor and he is on a mission: “I want to make WordPress future-proof enough to withstand the next few online revolutions without drowning in technical debt, and as a direct consequence, ensure the longevity of the community that’s surrounding it”. Yoast supports him in reaching those goals. Find out more about Alain and his work in the WordPress community.

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A couple of weeks ago, Yoast hired you as a freelancer to expand the work you do on WordPress core. Can you explain this move and what it enables you to do? And what do you hope to get out of it personally?

For some time now, I have been working on WordPress core in my spare time. I have also invested a lot of time into creating educational material like blog posts and WordCamp talks. I had to do all this besides the client work I am getting paid for. As a freelancer, this causes a constant struggle where you’re trying to balance the work you think is important with the work that pays the bills. It causes a lot of stress, and you even miss many important opportunities because the financial pressure grows too big.

I was always able to produce a lot of open source work as a side-effect of my client work. However, working on the important issues of WordPress core is a different beast. I didn’t find a way to integrate these concerns into any client projects.

Being paid for working on WordPress core means that I can afford to spend the time on critical topics. I can now seize opportunities as they come. It means I can work on the areas of the core that do not provide an immediate ROI, but are necessary for a long-term improvement.

One of my overarching personal goals is to make WordPress future-proof enough to withstand the next few online revolutions without drowning in technical debt, and as a direct consequence, ensure the longevity of the community that’s surrounding it.

You are a very active member of the WordPress community and even a core-contributor to the latest couple of releases. What is it that attracts you to this community and how did you start off?

When I started delving more deeply into WordPress, I quickly noticed that the code did not exactly follow common best practices. Some parts of the code were well-built, but very generally, it all seemed as though people were constantly trying to reinvent the wheel, instead of reading up on accepted solutions for their problems.

That led me to frequently share best practices and tips whenever I found an opportunity to do so. A lot of the jobs and the traction I initially got came directly or indirectly from freely sharing my own knowledge and experience. But I was mostly working in isolation, except for the few Slack teams I was a member of.

This all changed after I attended my first WordCamp. It was WordCamp Europe in Vienna, and it was a wonderful experience. I was already wondering for a few months whether WordPress was the right platform for me. It felt like making several steps backwards as a developer, instead of progressing. But the first WordCamp changed everything for me.

Although I went to Vienna for professional reasons, it enriched my personal life as well. It made me aware of how much I truly appreciate the community that has gathered around the WordPress project. All of a sudden, all the technical drawbacks of the WordPress platform were secondary to the feeling of personal growth in the welcoming and inspiring community.

That’s why I now work hard on helping make WordPress the best platform it can be (… according to my own benchmarks and agenda, of course). I always try to be as positive and constructive as I can manage. There’s more than enough people that are more than willing to tell you all that is bad about the WordPress codebase. However, not many will be able to point you towards a possible path to improvement that will still meet all given requirements of such an old project. I, however, am working on moving from the former to the latter group.

Could you tell us a bit about the work that’s going on in WordPress at the moment? What key issues need to be worked on?

A lot of the effort is currently being focused on Gutenberg. This is the new editing experience that should launch with WordPress 5.0. However, there are many smaller groups still working fervently on other areas of the core that are just as important.

Right now, I am mostly focusing on the PHP/backend side of things. I want to work on the architectural problems that are plaguing WordPress. I also started a feature project to analyze and redesign the bootstrap process. In addition, I am helping prepare a bump of the minimum PHP version and try to fix the major performance issues of a normal request.

More generally, I think that WordPress needs more experienced developers with outside experience, that can help teach and enforce better practices. That’s why I also want to work on eliminating the hurdles that these developers face.

We need helping hands if we want to improve WordPress, right? Basically, anyone working with or on WordPress could make major or minor contributions to improve the CMS. Let’s say someone is interested in taking part in the project, what steps should he/she take?

An obvious first step is to head over to make.wordpress.org and read through the list of teams to see whether something catches your interest. There’s lots of documentation for most teams that take you through the initial steps of contributing for the first time.

Apart from that, just meet other people at the next Meetup or WordCamp in your region. Most WordCamps have a “Contributor Day” that is ideal for getting a feel for the project. There are also team leads present that will help you with the initial onboarding.

Finally, for the people who don’t know you yet, could you give us a little background on yourself and your work?

I started dabbling in software development as a child on a Commodore C-64. I learned to develop in Basic, and mostly tried to build text adventures, which was an early form of natural language processing. Later on, I moved through several other languages, covering C, C++, Assembler, Pascal and a lot of more obscure dialects.

I always saw game development as the most interesting area for myself. In this area, you not only needed to make everything work, it also needed to work as fast as possible. You always try to get around the then very crippling performance limits. This led me down several rabbit holes at once, learning about data structures and algorithms, artificial intelligence, graphics and sound driver development, etc.

When I later thought about what professional path to follow, I always tried to avoid the IT space though, as I associated it with frustrating technical support work, more than anything else. That’s why I ended up working as a government agent in the administration of a prison.

I ended up dealing a lot with IT anyway. Since then, I worked on a very diverse set of projects. I even accumulated some certifications along the way, such as for Oracle PL/SQL or Microsoft Sharepoint development.

As I was never truly satisfied with the work I did for the government (mostly because of the long delays and the nonsensical budget allocations), I read a lot about freelancing, remote work, and lifestyle design.

Then, about three years ago, my wife and I made the jump. We both quit our jobs, moved from Luxembourg to Germany and started a new life. I opted to freelance as a PHP and WordPress developer, as these made up the biggest part of the market. I just assumed it would be easy to find work for that reason.

Read more: ‘Why there’s only one model: the open source model’ »

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This is the final post in an 8-part series on how to rank your business for local searches at Google. Previously, I’ve listed the most important aspects that influence your local ranking, discussed how to get the most out of  Google My Business, covered best practices for on-site optimization. I’ve also given you some ideas for building inbound links and how to build citations, explained the importance of reviews, and the relative unimportance of social signals. Here, I’ll take a look at the most nebulous but potentially most influential component of local rankings: behavioral signals.

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Making local search reflect offline reality

As one of the most pervasive companies on the planet, Google has as much data about our behavior as any company in human history. They’ve been slower to use that data to inform local search rankings than many of us might have guessed, but recent company announcements and algorithmic updates suggest that may be changing.

Experts in the Local Search Ranking Factors survey have pegged these signals at about 11%, but included in this 11% is the overall most-important factor as well as several competitive difference-makers.

Only Google has a full picture of user behavior, so it’s the blackest of Google’s many algorithmic black boxes. Thus, many of the specific behavioral ranking signals I list below are either hypothetical or too new to have been tested by SEO practitioners.

But Google’s longstanding mission in local search has been to reflect the real world as accurately as possible online. A reflection based on data from real-world human beings will be far more accurate than one based on data from digital-world webpages and robots. It stands to reason that as Google can gather more of this real-world behavioral data, it will grow in algorithmic importance for rankings.

Let’s take a look at some of the behavioral data Google is likely using to inform local rankings, from most primitive to most advanced.

Location of searcher

Google has always been very good at detecting location on mobile phones (perhaps obviously). Now, they are scarily good even for desktop searches. And while it’s hard to describe something as sophisticated as detecting a user’s location as “primitive,” the algorithmic outcome of that location is relatively straightforward.

The distance of a business from the location where a search is being performed influences how well it ranks for those searches. All other factors being equal, the closer the business to the point of search, the higher it will rank. (In fact, the experts of the Local Search Ranking Factors rated this criterion #1 in 2017.)

Beyond numeric rankings, the radius of businesses Google considers proximally relevant varies somewhat by category, as the below screenshots illustrate. (Note the zoom level of the map for searches performed from my office in central Portland.)

coffee shops portland

roofing companies portland

golf courses portland

High-frequency brick-and-mortar businesses like coffee shops have a tighter radius of relevance. Low-frequency or service-area businesses like golf courses or roofing companies have a wider radius.

If your business lies outside this relevancy radius from the search locations of large groups of your customers (for instance, a golf course west of Beaverton or east of Gresham in the screenshot above), you’re going to have a tough time attracting those customers via Google.

Branded search volume

In a way, branded searches are a kind of citation: if corroborated by information in Google’s business database, they’re an expression of interest in that business (if not an out-and-out endorsement). While branded searches are an incredibly basic indicator of the awareness or popularity of a business, most Internet users perform these on a regular basis, making them one of the most democratic ranking signals.

Beyond just the number of times a brand name is searched (and searched by people in a given geographic area), the context of those brand names is important as well. Adjacent keywords used in those searches that rank for future unbranded searches for those keywords.

Generally, branded searches favor established businesses over new ones, and businesses that take a holistic approach to marketing (including offline). They’re one of Google’s best heuristics for word-of-mouth as it tries to build its reflection of the offline world.

Click Through Rate

There’s an endless discussion around Click Through Rate (CTR) as a ranking factor in organic search. Evidence from two respected researchers Rand Fishkin and Darren Shaw, however, strongly suggests that it has at least a temporary impact on local results.

belltown

At MozCon 2014, Rand used audience clickthrough participation to move the rankings needle during his presentation for a local Seattle wedding boutique. (He’s also found evidence for the impact of CTR on organic results, too.)

local result shaw

Darren Shaw performed some longer-term studies later in 2014. He demonstrated that in some markets like personal injury law and accounting CTR had at least some effect on improving rankings.

The theory is that the more people that click on your listing or website in a given search result, the more times it will show up for similar searches in the future. CTR is one step up from a branded search. CTR is an indication, if not endorsement, that the searcher thinks the destination listing or website will be relevant to her query.

Google has never shared information about the inner workings of this ranking factor (and in fact has explicitly obfuscated its usage at all). But SEO practitioners suspect there’s a mechanism involving CTR relative to position on page. After all, the top couple of results are always going to get the lion’s share of clicks.

You can improve your organic CTR with more compelling Title Tags and Meta Descriptions on your webpages. Your Google My Business listings have fewer options, but a superior review profile (both star rating and volume) will definitely help you stand out from the competition and earn more than your share of clicks.

Personalization

Since the introduction of Google+, the account infrastructure underlying Google’s products (Search, Gmail, Maps, YouTube, etc.) has been largely unified. As a result, we’re all perpetually logged in to the same account on every device. On some devices, like Android phones and Google Home, require users to log into their Google accounts before using them.

While Google+ may have failed as a social network, as a tracking and data-gathering mechanism it’s been a smashing success. It’s now trivial for Google to track us from desktop to mobile to tablet, from Gmail to Maps to YouTube to Search and back again. Our behavior in each product and on each device informs what we see in different products on different devices.

Examples of Google tracking

Below are just a few examples of how that happens:

  • Websites you’ve visited (and engaged with) in the past are more likely to get a rankings bump in future searches for which that website is relevant.
  • Knowing the location of your logged-in phone may inform desktop search results performed from the same account, as it’s a safe assumption for Google that our phones are always by our sides.
  • Businesses and websites that have sent receipts to your Gmail account may rank better for future keywords in the same category. To see for yourself, search “hotel reservations” for a result similar to the screenshot below.

hotel reservations

From searcher to searcher, and keyword to keyword, every search result is increasingly personalized. At a practical level, this means that it’s increasingly difficult to track keyword rankings, as everyone sees a slightly different result.

At a strategic level, it means you should do everything you can to engage your customers with reasons to return to your website, engage with your email newsletter, and share your business with their friends and family via email and text. Google is probably monitoring all of those visits and shares. It may use them to inform future search results for those customers, friends, and family, even if they don’t convert on their initial visit.

Knowledge Panel interactions

As Google displays more and more Knowledge Panel results, the percentage of clickthroughs to webpages has dropped to under 50%. But that doesn’t mean searchers are no longer clicking at all: increasingly clicks are happening within Knowledge Panels.

These Knowledge Panel click throughs are far stronger endorsements of a business’s relevance for a given query than a website visit. They’re a direct indication of a desire to transact with the business.

Phone calls

Google has offered mobile click to call functionality since January 2010. Even as early as February 2014, 40% of searchers had used it.

Driving directions

Where a phone call indicates a desire to learn more about a business, a request for driving directions is an even stronger indicator that a searcher intends to visit that business. It’s the strongest of all purely digital signals that a business is relevant for a particular query.

Bookings (where available)

Google has long offered users the ability to make bookings with hotels and restaurants directly from the Knowledge Panel through partnerships with Expedia, OpenTable, and others. Jennifer Slegg recently reported Google expanded this feature to wellness and fitness categories through partnerships with booking services like MindBody. I expect we’ll see the pace of these partnerships pick up rapidly in other verticals. Businesses can now even “roll their own” booking buttons with the new Appointment URL feature.

By offering this in-SERP interactivity with a business directly through Knowledge Panels, Google not only reduces the number of clicks to business websites but can collect more data about how searchers view a business.  This data surely influences rankings, though as with most behavioral signals, only Google knows just how much.

In-store visits

It’s a reasonable expectation that Google is tracking our on-SERP and click behavior online. But in the last couple of years, Google has moved from reasonable to downright creepy. Through its perpetual location-tracking of Android users and iOS users with the Google Maps app installed, it has a near-complete picture of our offline behavior as well. We see the outcome of this 360-degree tracking in the Popular Times section of many business’s Knowledge Panels, such as the one for Apex seen here.

Google aggregates location data from any person it can–whether they’ve searched for a business or not–and puts that data front-and-center on that business’s Knowledge Panel. It even tracks how long people stay at a given business, and whether the businesses is busier or less busy than usual.

This complete offline tracking helps Google offer its advertisers a “closed loop” of data as to whether online ads lead to offline visits. To think that Google isn’t using this same closed loop of data for its own local algorithm defies belief.

But even for Google, there are privacy limits (at least for now). In 2015, it decided to scrap a feature that would have allowed advertisers to send push notifications based on a user’s location.

Regardless of your feelings about whether knowing a business’s popularity before you visit is an acceptable tradeoff of your privacy, offline visits are surely the ranking signals which help Google identify local popularity and relevance most accurately — and they can’t be optimized.

Offline transactions

Google has surprisingly struggled to find success in the mobile payment space. Google Wallet was essentially a failure, and Android Pay has continued to lag even Samsung Pay in consumer adoption (both are far behind Apple Pay). Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore data from 24 million consumers. Particularly in industries with frequent purchases like supermarkets, coffee shops, and gas stations, the volume of Android Pay transactions could well be seen as a reasonable indicator of the offline popularity of a business.

But Google is not only looking at mobile payments — it’s now looking at all payments. Earlier in 2017, Google announced a partnership with credit card companies to track some 70% of all consumer purchases. In the United States, this partnership is already the subject of a federal privacy complaint. There seem to be few privacy advocates in any branch of government, though.

Transaction volume will naturally favor big businesses with lots of customers, but historically Google has tended to favor smaller ones in its local search results. But I do expect this high-quality, highly-personalized signal to play at least some role in rankings moving forward.

Summary

Many of the ranking factors above were not available to Google when it launched its local algorithm in 2008, or even as recently as 3-4 years ago. And it may be another 3-4 years before we start to see some of the more sophisticated ones influence rankings dramatically. But together I see them gaining more influence than any other piece of the ranking puzzle.

Collectively most of these metrics, along with customer reviews, portend a much stronger and more sophisticated algorithm based on engagement. The more Google shifts its local algorithm in this direction, the less it has to rely on weak proxies of popularity like backlinks and citations, which are only implemented and controlled by an infinitesimal fraction of the population.

You may be frustrated by the lack of tactical recommendations in this final installment of the series. The reality is, there’s very little you can do to game these signals. A local algorithm based on engagement benefits great businesses doing good marketing–a worthy outcome we should all support.

Series Conclusion

Local search has become a multi-faceted paradox in the last couple of years. While the algorithm has evolved to reward more real-world behavior, the SERP interface is rewarding more technical tactics like Schema markup and rich snippets.

And while the sophistication of Google’s algorithm and the number of local businesses who are paying attention to SEO make it harder than ever to rank, the payoff may be lower as fewer businesses win organic real estate above the fold.

But Google isn’t going away anytime soon. Organic search results will continue to be an important customer acquisition channel far into the future. Regardless of how Google changes over time, the techniques I’ve laid out in this guide should help position your business effectively for whatever the next innovations are!

Thanks to the Yoast team for the opportunity to share my suggestions experience with this community! If you want to keep up with my thoughts moving forward, you can subscribe to my newsletter. While you’re there, I hope you’ll check out my Tidings email newsletter product.

I wish you all success with your businesses!

Read on

Other parts in the Ranking your local business series:

  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

The post Ranking your local business part 8: Behavioral Signals appeared first on Yoast.

It’s a common misconception that the internet is the ultimate learning environment. Yes, you can find everything you need, for free, but the information you end up with is not always trustworthy. It’s scattered, often outdated and sometimes contradictory. So if you want to learn all about a particular subject, you might be better off signing up for an online course. Yoast offers all kinds of SEO courses in its Academy, with great success. Marieke, who is responsible for most of the courses, explains how Yoast Academy came about.

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“We first had the idea for the Academy when Yoast reached its fifth birthday. We had already successfully published an ebook called ‘Optimizing your WordPress site’  – now called SEO for WordPress – and a second one was in the works. But we wanted to combine our knowledge in a new way, something more engaging and hands-on because not everyone wants to read a book or a hundred blog posts to get to the bottom of a subject. That’s when our courses were born,” Marieke explains.

DIY SEO

Yoast Academy is the go-to place if you want to teach yourself SEO. So far, we’ve written eBooks on SEO for WordPress, UX & conversion, content SEO, and shop SEO. On top of that, you can find a selection of in-depth courses on site structure, SEO copywriting, Yoast SEO for WordPress, basic SEO and technical SEO. The latest course added to the academy is Structured data and there are several currently in development, and this is only the beginning.

According to Marieke, the Academy is an excellent addition to Yoast’s line of products: “Yoast Academy fits perfectly within our company mission. At Yoast, we want to make it possible for everyone to build a findable website and by sharing our knowledge we can help people to do that. It’s also one of the reasons we make our content available in different formats. Besides, we are great proponents of open source and give away a good deal of what we know for free. A lot of what we teach is freely available on our site, but also expanded and republished in the form of a course or an eBook.”

Efficient, complete and of great quality

One of the first things people will say when given the option to pay for an eBook or course on SEO or whatever other subject, is that you can find everything you want online, for free. Marieke: “Sure, that’s true. If you have enough time and perseverance, you can indeed find everything you want. But we’ve found that a course package is much more efficient, to the point and complete. If you just read posts on yoast.com, the information is fairly focused. But if you surf the web looking for answers, you’ll quickly get outdated and sometimes contradictory advice. Our courses are exhaustive, up to date and well-thought-out. They offer a great mix of practice and theory. Also, the quizzes let you test your new-found knowledge and make sure it sticks.”

The SEO courses in the Yoast Academy have been well-received. Matt LeClear, one of the first participants in the Structured data training, found that Google rewarded his site with rich snippets within a day after applying the knowledge he gathered from the training:

“As a result of what I learned from the Structured data training, my agency is now running Schema audits on our clients’ sites. We’re finding big time opportunities to increase their traffic levels. Those are opportunities I would have missed without Yoast Structured Data Training. If you run an agency yourself, I recommend you take the course. Period.”

Developing material

A course that takes several hours to complete is a different animal compared to a blog post or even an eBook. A good course is well-structured, in-depth and engaging. It has to be an enjoyable experience, and it shouldn’t be too hard or too easy. This is quite a challenge, acknowledges Marieke: “It’s not hard to come up with subjects and material, but it’s the structure and activities that make it a challenging product to build.”

Marieke draws upon past experience to make sure the courses are top-notch: “In the past, I developed a lot of educational material while working at a university. I created several courses and studied different theories on how to produce quality educational material. At Yoast, Joost and I create every course. It’s a complicated and tough process. Jesse, our Academy lead, helps us find the perfect subjects, structure, tone and supporting materials. That way, we know for certain that the course achieves what we set out to do.”

“That’s not to say we think our courses are perfect. They aren’t and probably never will be. But, we are working on them and using customer feedback to improve them. Jesse has lots of experience developing new courses. Plus, he’s an excellent English teacher. Jesse will dive deeper into the theory behind our courses. He’ll make sure that the foundations of our courses are solid and will improve where necessary,” Marieke says.

Keeping things on track

In general, if there is one thing almost all online courses have to cope with, it’s the high drop-off rate. It’s something Marieke noticed as well: “Yeah, it’s hard to keep students on track in online courses. It’s always disappointing to see that a certain percentage of customers never finish the course.”

The missing link could well be the human touch, says Marieke: “I think it would help if we could give our courses a more personal feeling. Take our SEO copywriting course for example. During the course, our students need to send in two assignments. These assignments are hand-checked by our SEO experts, and students get a tailored reply with valuable feedback. This works great; students love to hear from us. Although expensive to produce, this is something we might expand in the future. Another thing I’m contemplating is an SEO copywriting course with a personal coach for one-on-one support. Another helpful tool to enhance the personal aspect of our Academy would be a place for Yoast Academy students to get together, like a private Facebook group so that people can help each other.”

Want rich snippets for your site? Try our Structured data training »

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Much more to come

Yoast Academy is growing fast; it is the fastest-growing product group in Yoast’s portfolio. Marieke and her team are making progress with new courses and improving and updating current courses. But, it doesn’t stop there, says Marieke: “The current courses touch on a wide range of SEO-related subjects. In the future, we will expand our offerings, but we’re also thinking about a different model. If possible, I’d want to work with a more modular approach. There has to be a way to tailor a course to the specific requirements of a student. Not everyone starts at the same level and with the same knowledge and I’d like a system that adapts where you can pick and choose from suggested subjects.”

Keep an eye on Yoast Academy! Our most recent course on structured data was a big success and we’re actively working on the next one: multi-lingual SEO. Why don’t you try one and see what all the fuss is about!

Read more: ‘Learning didactics Yoast Academy’ »

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In an ideal world, every single page of your website would be accessible from that one, site-wide website menu. But as you, as a web developer or website owner, undoubtedly know, the real world of websites is far from ideal. We struggle with multiple devices, fixed-width websites, themes that can hardly be changed without creating new problems, and so on and so forth. Nevertheless, the website menu is the most common aid for navigation on your website and you want to make the best possible use of it. Here, I’ll address a number of useful best practices that allow you to optimize your website menu for both your users and SEO.

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Website menus

First of all, I think we should forget the assumption that a website can only have one menu. I think we have become used to the small links in the upper bar on a website.

Website menu: greenday.com

Like so many other websites, Greenday.com has a first menu in the black bar, whereas the red bar also contains a number of links to internal or external pages. Social profiles, Apple Music and Spotify links, but also a newsletter subscription.

Website menu: Manhattan College

Manhattan College has a clear second menu leading to internal pages, aimed at specific audiences. It just goes to show that these extra menus are everywhere.

My point here? Don’t put everything in one menu. Doing that clutters your website and makes your main menu a poor reflection of your site structure. Focus on the most important content. For instance: I do like a ‘Contact’ link in a menu. But only add one if your main goal is that your visitors contact you. Otherwise, that link can be placed in a second website menu without a problem.

The downsides of too many links in your website menu

Too many links, anywhere on your page, isn’t recommended. Yes, Google may allow up to 250 links and perhaps even more on a page without any problems. But your website’s goal’s probably not to make sure your visitors can’t see the wood for the trees. We recommend against:

  • Tag clouds (what’s the use, really?)
  • Long lists of monthly links to your blog archive (don’t use date archives!)
  • Infinitely scrollable archive pages with links to articles (at least add excerpts and load more articles on scroll)
  • A hundred categories in a list (why so many!)
  • Menus with submenus and sub-submenus and so on

Why do we recommend against this? Having too many links on a page messes up your link value, for one. With so many links on a page, every link from that page is just a little less valuable for the page it links to. Besides that, it messes up the focus of your visitor. With every link, you add a diversion from the main goal of your website.

In my opinion, you do need to have a solid reason to add more than one submenu. And if you feel you need that extra level in your menu, monitor the number of clicks that menu gets and adjust if needed. I think you are much better off creating good landing pages for your submenu items, in many cases.

Read on: ‘How to clean up your site structure’ »

The perfect menu

Of course, there is no template for ‘the perfect menu’. Much of it depends on your site and on what your goals are. In any case, there are two important questions you should ask yourself when optimizing your menu:

  • What is the best menu structure for my site?
  • What menu items should at least be in my menu?

Two more tips we can give you is to use a drop-down menu for important sub items. And don’t add too many links to your menu, or they will lose their value. Do you have other tips for a good site menu? Let us know in the comments!

Read more: ‘The Ultimate guide to site structure’ »

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Do you want to make sure your site outranks your competition? Then you should learn the ins and outs of SEO and become an SEO expert yourself. Setting up a successful SEO strategy can be quite hard. Investing in your skills will definitely pay off though. After all, you yourself are the very best expert on your brand, your site, and your niche. So, how do you become an SEO expert?

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Dive into SEO

Learn how to optimize on all aspects in our All-in-one training bundle!

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Start reading. A lot. All the information you need is out there. We recommend reading our Yoast.com blog of course ;-). But also check out Moz and Search Engine Land. These are must reads if you want to become an SEO expert. Also, make sure to follow these SEO specialists on Twitter. There are many interesting SEO discussions on Twitter. Try to follow both companies, as well as individual SEOs to gain different perspectives. And join some Facebook groups on SEO. That’ll give you lots of information too.

If you want to know more about what Google is up to, you should read SEO by the Sea. Bill Slawski checks out all the software patents of Google. This is a great tactic to learn more about the mysteries of the Google algorithm. Search Engine Roundtable is another great source if you want to know the ins and outs of what Google is up to. Search Engine Roundtable writes about every single test Google does. You won’t miss a thing!

Too daunting? Check out a training

Learning SEO by reading all these (awesome) SEO blogs can be rather difficult and time-consuming. The information is mostly written for people who already know quite a lot about SEO. At Yoast, we also offer SEO basics, posts written specifically for people who just started out in SEO. Moz and Search Engine Land also have guides for people who just started out.

For those of you who want to learn SEO with a bit more help, Yoast developed several online SEO courses. We have courses that teach you:

We’ll teach you how to tackle different aspects of SEO, step by step with lots of training videos, reading material and many challenging questions.

Two types of SEO experts

There are basically two types of SEO experts. The developers who learned marketing and the marketers that learned code. SEO has both technical aspects and marketing aspects. The technical aspects have to do with the indexing and crawlability of your website. The marketing aspects include content, site structure, and linking structure.

In order to be an all-around SEO expert, you’ll need to know both sides of SEO. And these two sides are rather different. Marketing doesn’t come naturally to most developers. That’s a whole new ball game. And, for some marketers, the technical stuff can be terrifying. But don’t despair: our technical SEO course and our structured data training are great tools to get your technical skills up to scratch.

In short

Becoming an expert at something is never easy. But if you put in the time and effort, you’ll be well on your way to SEO expertise. As we have seen, there are many ways to master SEO, and in the end, it’ll pay off. So, think about the best way for you to learn SEO, and go for it!

Read more: ‘Yoast Must Reads’ »

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