Does social media influence your SEO?

Handling your social media is a necessary part of any marketing strategy, but it’s also a vital part of any good SEO strategy. The popularity of social media has risen and probably will keep doing so. That means Google and other search engines can’t ignore them, and you probably shouldn’t either. You even see recent tweets popping up in search results now! So let’s discuss: how does social media influence SEO?

Customers are looking for you

SEO is about being found, so let’s start with the basics. If people are looking for you, make sure they find you! Customers that have heard about your brand might look for you on social media, or even through Google. As a professional company or brand, they expect you to be there. You don’t want them to come up empty, or worse: stumble on another business with a similar name while thinking it’s you. For that reason, it’s a good idea to claim your profiles. Even if you’re not planning on using the platform right now, you might want to in the future.

If you do register on a social platform and are not planning to actively maintain the profile, let your visitors know. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook have the option to pin a tweet or post right at the top of your profile. In that post, explain that while you are not actively present there, they did find the right brand and yes, they can reach you. Point them to other means of communication, like email, make it easy for them! Another plus of claiming profiles: If in the future you do decide to start using a platform, you’re ready to go. Social media is ever-changing, so you never know if you might.

Setting up your social media accounts

When you register with social media platforms, do so seriously. Use a high-quality logo and fill out all the fields offered. If you have physical stores: add them, and their opening hours. A Google My Business account is especially valuable for this! In general, make sure your profiles look professional and up to date. And: be consistent. Use the same brand name across platforms, so people (and search engines!) know it’s you.

Social accounts showing in search results

Did you know that your social accounts can show up when people search for your brand name in search engines? For example, in Google’s Knowledge Panel. Here’s an example of what that looks like:

That looks professional, right? It adds trust as well because users have no doubt that if they click the profile buttons there, they’ll end up on your social account. Learn more: How to add social profiles to Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Latest tweets in search results

What we think is really cool is how Google regularly show an account’s latest tweets, right up there between other search results. Here’s an example of a so-called tweet carousel that shows when you search Google for [yoast].

This is a great way to showcase your business and what you’re all about, while enticing people to visit your profile and follow you for more. 

Claim your space in the search results

What’s also important: content like tweet carousels take up (way) more place in the search results! The same goes for your actual social accounts: they show up too. The more space you claim in the top search results, the more you push down other results. It definitely increases the chances of people clicking through to any of your places on the web!

More traffic to your website

Now you understand the actual benefits of claiming (and preferably regularly updating, but more on that in a later blog post) your social media accounts, how does that tie into your SEO strategy? The idea is quite simple: if people are talking about you, online or offline, you’re relevant. As you might know by now, that is what search engines are looking for: Google wants to present users with the most relevant results. They love serving up search results that they know others find interesting.

So if you offer awesome content on your website, why not spread it even further by referring to it in other places, like on Facebook? It’s your content so it’s yours to share. Help people discover you! By convincing people to click to find out more, read on, etc., your social media posts could seriously increase traffic to your website. 

Brand awareness through social media

Having success in social media also increases brand awareness. If you’re sharing great content, people will connect that positive experience to your brand name and experience. They might share your content or even just ‘like’ it. Either way, they’re helping you reach a new audience. Social media algorithms like content that other people like, they’ll help spread it further. Now, if these new people see and enjoy your content, they might start following you! They’ll get to know you and your products, services, or whatever it is you want them to know about. 

Social media and SEO

Wrapping up: we wouldn’t say that just the fact that you are on social media has a direct impact on rankings. But, as with many ranking factors, it can help indirectly. An increased brand awareness, more traffic, people enjoying your content, all of those could help your website’s success.

So you know that it can pay off to use social media for your brand. But one of the hardest, if not the hardest, things of social media is: what do you ‘do’ on them? What kind of content are you supposed to share? How do you make a social media plan for your business or blog? How much time will it take? Is it worth it? We’ll cover setting up a social media strategy in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned!

Read more: Social media optimization with Yoast SEO »

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What is a permalink?

The permalink is the full URL you see – and use – for any given post, page or other pieces of content on your site. It’s a permanent link, hence the name permalink. A permalink could include your domain name (www.yoast.com) plus what’s called a slug, the piece of the URL that comes after the domain name. This might include a date or a category or anything you please. A simple permalink makes a URL easy to understand and share. In this SEO basics article, we’ll take a closer look at the permalink.

Permalinks should be SEO-friendly

Permalinks are an important part of your site as both search engines and visitors use these URLs to index and visit your site. The type of permalink you pick influences the way these two parties see and value your site. A URL with a load of incomprehensible gibberish at the end is a lot less shareable and enticing than a short and simple SEO-friendly URL. An example permalink could be:

https://www.yoast.com/category/post-name

It could also be something like:

https://www.yoast.com/10/10/2017/post-name

or

https://yoast.com/post-name

By default, WordPress uses a permalink structure that’s not SEO-friendly. These look something like this:

https://yoast.com/?p=101

The number you see is the ID WordPress had in mind for this particular article. It’s article number 101 in the database of your site. While Google still understands the content on that page, a URL like this does nothing for your SEO. It does not describe what kind of content the page offers and it’s not something that users are inclined to share. And did we mention that it’s not very professional looking? If your URL contains relevant words, this provides users and search engines with more information about the page than any ID or parameter would.

permalink common settings
Common permalink settings in WordPress

Considerations for your permalinks

Make sure you pick a permalink structure that fits your goals. If you have a news site, it might make sense to add the publication date of the article to the URL. If, however, you are planning to write killer cornerstone content that has to stand the test of time, it’s not recommended to use a date in the URL as this could make the content look ‘old’.

We recommend using a simple and clear permalink structure. For most sites, it makes sense to append the post name to the domain name. So in WordPress that would be the /postname/ option. In some cases, a category will help create a hierarchy in the URLs. Keep in mind that this could also result in too long URLs.

Yoast SEO and permalinks

Yoast SEO is a must-have tool that makes SEO available to everyone. It’s an easy to use tool that helps you make a perfect website. For instance, if you install WordPress and don’t change the default permalink settings, Yoast SEO will urge you to change it. Yoast SEO has several other options that can help you clean up those permalinks, like stripping the category base (usually category).

If you’re changing a permalink or deleting a page, we prevent users from landing on a 404 error page. Yoast SEO Premium has a brilliant redirect manager that helps you do that. It will create a 301 redirect automatically if you change the permalink of a page. In addition to that, it asks if you’d like to create a 301 redirect if you delete a page. Just enter the URL you want your visitors to go to and you’re done!

Finally, a word of warning

Pick your permalink structure wisely. Don’t change your permalink structure for the sake of it. Incorrectly redirecting your old URLs to the new URLs might lead to problems and could get you dropped from the rankings. Please think about your permalink structure before launching your site. Should you need to change your permalinks you can find more information on how to change your permalink structure or visit Google’s page on moving your site.

Read more: Why every website needs Yoast SEO »

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5 reasons why your site isn’t showing up on Google

You’ve done all the hard work — got a hosting package, installed WordPress, picked a nice theme and wrote some content. You hit publish on your first post. Time to rake in that traffic, right? But, when looking for your own site in Google you can’t seem to find it anywhere. You throw your hands in the air: “My website isn’t showing up on Google, what’s going on!?” Well, here are five reasons that might explain why you can’t find your site.

1: It’s too fresh, Google doesn’t know about it yet

First, don’t panic! If your site is new, it might simply be a matter chilling out and checking back in a little while. There’s a lot of moving parts in getting your site crawled, indexed and ranked. Sometimes, it takes days or maybe even weeks for Google to discover your site.

You can look up your site with the site: search operator in Google. Type site:yoast.com and you’ll see a list of pages found on that domain. If you type in the full URL of a specific article, you should see only one search result return. If you see your pages, this means that Google does know about your site and has put — at least some of it — in its index. Once you discover that your page is in the index, but you think it is not performing well, you might want to dig deeper.

The site: search operator helps you find your site in Google’s index

Do install Yoast SEO and submit the generated XML sitemap to Google Search Console to help speed up Google’s discovery process. In Search Console, you can also use the URL Inspection tool to find out how specific pages are doing. It tells you exactly how Google crawls and views your site.

As you wait, please read up on how Google works and how to start with SEO. You can also run a quick SEO audit to see if you’ve missed something.

2: You’ve noindexed your site or the piece of content

One of the most common reasons for Google not indexing your site or a specific page is because it has — inadvertently — got noindexed. Adding the noindex meta robots tags to a page tells Googlebot that it can crawl a page, but that the results can’t be added to the index.

How to check if your page is noindexed? That’s easy, simply open the page and view the source code. Somewhere in the head of the page, you’ll find the code below. This tells search engines crawlers that the content of the page shouldn’t be added to the index and, thus, keep it from ranking.

<meta name="robots" content="noindex">

It happens! Even we occasionally make a mistake and inadvertently noindex a post. Luckily, it’s an easy fix. Willemien describes how to set a piece of content back on the right track with Yoast SEO.

3: Google can’t crawl your site

You might have told Google not to index your content, but it’s also possible you’ve told Google not to crawl your site at all! Blocking crawlers in a so-called robots.txt file is a sure-fire way to never get any traffic. Blocking robots is easier than you might think. For instance, WordPress has a Search Engine Visibility setting that — once set to Discourage search engines from indexing this site — does its utmost best to keep crawlers out. Uncheck this to make your site available again.

Uncheck this if you ever want your WordPress so end up in Google

From WordPress 5.3 on, WordPress uses the noindex approach described in point 2 to handle indexing of sites via the Search Engine Visibility setting. This change was necessary because Google sometimes still indexed pages it encountered.

Besides telling WordPress to block search engines, it might be that other technical issues generate crawl errors preventing Google from properly crawling your site. Your site’s web server could be acting up and presenting server errors or buggy bits of JavaScript in your code trip up the crawler. Make sure Google can easily crawl your site.

4: Your content is not up to par and/or doesn’t match users intent

There could be number of technical reasons why your site doesn’t show in Google. That’s not the whole story, though. It can also be your content. Your content might simply not be good or authoritative enough for Google to pick for that specific keyphrase. Think about how you as a human being would find your site. Don’t focus on Google.

Content not showing up in Google might “simply” be the case of not matching with what the searcher is expecting. Your content might not fit the search intent of the user. In this case, you have to do keyword research and take a good look at search intent as well. What do people search for, in what terms and what do they mean to do? Once you know that, you can use Yoast SEO the help you write awesome content.

Keep in mind that maybe, just maybe, your site operates in a highly competitive industry. Without focusing on the long tail, it’ll probably be impossible to end up with good rankings.

5: Your content lacks high-quality backlinks

Way back when Google was just a fledging start-up, rankings were determined in part by popularity. The thinking was that the more links a site or page got, the more people view this site as a valuable source and Google should put it at the top of the results page. While a lot has changed in over two decades, links still play a part in the discoverability and ranking of content. You can rank without links, but it’s just damn hard.

Creating incredible content is a good way to get links to your pages. High-quality content tends to attract clicks from readers who might also share the content far and wide via social media as well. All this helps to get those links. Of course, there’s more you can do to get links in a natural, non-spammy way: here are fifteen ways of getting high-quality backlinks.

Ps: Fixing your internal links also helps Google and searchers discover your content!

Bonus: Have you been hit by a manual action?

A quick one to cap off this article: if your site isn’t showing up on Google, it might be because of a manual action — a penalty. There are a lot of reasons why you could get a manual action, but the most common ones are because of spammy links or violations of the Google rules. Sites that get a manual action tend to try to operate in a shady way to misguide search engines into giving them a high ranking.

Normally, site owners get an email from Google telling them that their site has received a manual action. You can also simply check the Manual Actions page in Google Search Console.

There are more reasons

This is not an all-encompassing post as there are numerous reason for a site or post not showing up in Google. This post gives you a quick idea where to look when not seeing your post in a search engine. If you want to improve your rankings, there are ways to write high-quality and SEO-friendly blog posts.

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When is your blog post ready for publication?

There is a subtle line between a crappy post and a perfect one. If you want to, you can endlessly tweak and improve upon your writing. So, how do you decide if your blog post is ready? When is a post good to go? In this blog post, I’ll share a checklist you can use to help you decide when to hit the ‘publish’ button!

1. Is your blog post long enough?

A post should contain at least 300 words. If you write posts that are shorter, you’ll have a hard time ranking with it in the search engines. In general, long posts will rank a bit more easily than short posts. However, long posts also require strong writing skills. Your article will need to have a kick-ass structure if you write something really lengthy. If you’re wondering how long a blog post should be, please read our article on text length.

☑ Is your post longer than 300 words? You are good to go!

2. Is your post free of grammar and spelling mistakes?

Before hitting publish, always check for grammar and spelling mistakes. Use a tool like Grammarly to make sure you’re writing in proper English (or in proper Dutch, German or Portuguese). Let someone else check your writing if grammar isn’t your strongest suit. Of course, you can alter mistakes after publishing an article and you will be forgiven for a small error. But, an article filled with typos and errors just isn’t a good read.

☑ Is your spell checker satisfied? Go ahead!

3. Is your blog post readable?

Reading from a screen can be difficult, so if you want people to read and understand your blog post it must be easy to read. This will get you more returning visitors and a higher conversion rate. Easy to read means that you use rather short sentences, clear paragraphs, and transition words. In Yoast SEO we offer a readability analysis. If the overall check in the readability analysis is green, your blog post is readable enough to hit publish!

☑ Is the bullet in the Yoast SEO readability analysis green? You have the green light!

4. Is your blog post SEO-friendly?

Before you publish your blog post, you should always make sure it is SEO-friendly. A green bullet in our SEO analysis is good enough. Before optimizing your post, make sure to put some effort into choosing the right focus keyword. Optimizing your blog post for a keyword nobody is searching for will not result in much traffic.

☑ Is the bullet in the Yoast SEO analysis green! Publish that post!

5. Is your message clear?

Why did you write this blog post? What do you want your readers to know or do after they’ve read your text? The purpose of your blog post needs to be clear. The message of your blog post, the thing you want to tell your readers needs to be clear. Think about the purpose, think about your message and read your blog post once again. Is your message clear? Will readers understand that message? If your not sure, let someone else read your blog post. Ask them!

☑ Is your message clear? You’re good to go!

6. Did you add internal links?

If people like your post, they should have enough opportunity to navigate to similar awesome posts. Make sure to link to posts that are of interest. Perhaps you’re selling some fantastic products on your website. Make sure to add links to those product pages!

☑ Did you add some amazing internal links? You’re all set!

So, when is your blog post ready?

If you’re a perfectionist, your blog post will never be ready. You can always improve and tweak to make it a little bit better. And, even after publication, you can make corrections and small (or bigger) tweaks. The question ‘ when is it good enough’ can be a hard one to answer. Check the 6 things I talked about in this blog post. Did you do all these things? Can you answer all these questions? If so, go ahead and hit publish! Good luck!

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Help, I’ve accidentally noindexed a post. What to do?

It can happen to anyone: You’re working on your site, fiddling on some posts here and there, and hit update when you’re done. After a while, you check back on how a post is doing and, to your dismay, it disappeared completely from the search engines! It turns out you’ve accidentally set a post or page to noindex on your site. Here, we’ll share a – pretty funny – story about how it happened to us, and what to do if you’ve made a similar mistake.

How to unintentionally noindex a post

Let’s start with a short story. We have a post called Noindex a post in WordPress, the easy way on yoast.com. In this post, we – surprise, surprise – explain how to noindex a post with Yoast SEO in WordPress. To show how easy that is, we added some screenshots of setting a post to noindex. A picture says more than a thousand words, right?

setting a post to noindex with Yoast SEO
Some of the copy and the screenshot in the ‘How to noindex a post’ post

Now, we’ll reveal a little secret. Oftentimes, when we want to illustrate a certain feature of Yoast SEO, we’ll just take a screenshot of that feature in the post we’re working on. So, in this case, we went to the Advanced tab in the Yoast SEO meta box, clicked No in the dropdown, took a screenshot, and added the screenshot to our post. We checked the copy we’ve written, added images, checked the SEO and readability scores and previewed our post. All looked fine, so we hit publish, shared it on social and in our newsletter and went on with other tasks.

Sometime later, we were checking how our content performed on the query [how to noindex a post] in Google. Surprisingly, we didn’t encounter this article, while we were pretty sure we already had a post like this. We started looking for it in our post overview, and there it was! Waiting in vain for visitors to learn more about this handy feature of Yoast SEO.

So, while we were happily typing away, making sure people understand what this feature is about, we forgot one thing… removing the noindex from this post. Therefore, accidentally and ironically, we’ve set our post about setting posts to noindex to… noindex.

How to reverse noindexing a post

In our case, reverting the noindex on that post wasn’t very difficult. The post, although it describes a nifty feature of Yoast SEO, wasn’t crucial for our business. Therefore, we decided to just remove the noindex and republish and share it again. But there’s more you can do; the options to get your article back in the search engines are listed here below. Depending on the severity of the issue you can choose to follow all steps or select some of them.

1. Remove the noindex tag

This is an essential step. You can easily remove the noindex tag by Google and other search engines in the Advanced tab of the Yoast SEO meta box. Just click on Yes here and you’ve removed the noindex tag:

Remove the noindex tag in the Yoast SEO meta box

In the search appearance section, you can set multiple posts or pages on your site to noindex. If you did that by accident or forgot to reverse that after temporarily setting it to noindex, you can set it to index again there too:

Remove the noindex tag on a post type in the Search appearance section of Yoast SEO

If you’ve added a meta robots tag in the code to noindex your post, please remove it from the code. There’s no need to set it to index though since that is the default value when nothing is set.

2. Google Search Console is your friend

If you’ve accidentally noindexed a valuable post or maybe even an important part of your website, there are some things you can do to make Google retrieve your content faster. Google Search Console can help you do this. So if you didn’t sign up for Google Search Console yet, now’s the time to do it. Yoast SEO will help you to verify your site, as you can read in this guide on how to add your site to Google Search Console.

Request for reindexing of a URL

In the URL Inspection Tool of Google Search Console there’s an option to ask Google to crawl or recrawl a URL. This might speed up the process and allows you to follow the progress. There is a quota for submitting individual URLs with this tool. So, if you’ve noindexed (a part of) your site it might be wise to select the posts or pages that are most crucial for your business and request to index those again.

Resubmit your XML sitemap

Another option is to resubmit your XML sitemap in Google Search Console. If you’re using Yoast SEO you don’t have to worry about this though. In that case, when you publish or update content on your site, Yoast SEO automatically pings Google with your sitemap.

If you didn’t submit your XML sitemap to Google Search Console yet, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to submitting your XML sitemap to GSC here.

3. Republish and share it again

Lastly, you can share the reindexed content in your newsletter, on social and other marketing channels. This way, you’ll generate some traffic and exposure, especially if other people start sharing it too. In case of a blog post, you can republish it on your blog. If it considers important pages of your site quickly thinking up a campaign and publishing new blog posts that link to the reindexed content could also help to get the initial traffic and rankings back.

It’s not the end of the world

Finding out you’ve accidentally set a post or even (parts of) your site might give you a big scare. But, fortunately, it’s not the end of the world and there are various things you can do to get it back in the search engines again. Depending on the size of the issue and the frequency your site gets crawled, it will take some time to recover, but eventually, it probably will.

Now, let’s hope I haven’t accidentally set anything to noindex when creating this post…

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

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Yoast SEO 12.8: Fixes and enhancements

Welcome to another year of helping you achieve your goals with your site! Today, it’s time for the first in a long line of releases planned for 2020: Yoast SEO 12.8. In this release, you’ll find a number of bug fixes and performance enhancements. Let’s get to it!

Enhancements

A while ago, a developer called Alex Bouma reached out to us on GitHub with an interesting performance-enhancing improvement. He suggested a better way of retrieving the options inside Yoast SEO. We tended to call these a lot — which led to a less than optimal performance. After careful testing and slightly adjusting the methodology, we came up with a good solution that works. This is one of many performance-enhancing improvements we’re rolling out this year.

Schema identifiers

We offer a lot of flexibility for developers who want to integrate with our Schema structured data implementation. In our Schema documentation, you’ll find everything you need to get going. In Yoast SEO 12.8, we’ve made the implementation a bit more flexible by making it possible to look for a public class property named identifier. This makes it possible to integrate in a situation where the class isn’t named WPSEO_Schema_* or is using a namespace.

Paging comments in Health Check

In Yoast SEO 12.8, we moved the notice from paginated comments from the dashboard to WordPress’ Health Check. Should you paginate comments — not needed for most sites, due to SEO and UX concerns —, you can find a new notice on your Health Check dashboard.

Activating paging comments used to trigger a dashboard notification, but we’ve moved this to Site Health

Bug fixes

As always, this release features a number of bug fixes and other improvements. We’ve also improved the documentation for the Schema structured data HowTo block (thanks to Tim van Iersel) and the Breadcrumbs file, thanks to Alfio Salanitri.

Some of the bugs we fixed concerned incorrect icon placements, styling issues, incorrectly generated Schema for breadcrumbs and one where the images alt attribute SEO assessment in the Classic Editor didn’t work properly. We’ve also fixed a bug where author archives for authors without posts would show up in the search results, even though the “Show archives for authors without posts in search results?” option was enabled. See the full changelog for a detailed overview of all the fixes and enhancements.

Update to Yoast SEO 12.8

And there you have it: the first release of 2020! In this release, we made a number of improvements to enhance the performance of the plugin. Please review the changes and update to Yoast SEO 12.8 whenever you’re ready.

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Find and fix keyword cannibalization in 4 steps

As your site grows, you’ll have more and more posts. Some of these posts are going to be about a similar topic. Even when you’ve always categorized it well, your content might be competing with itself: You’re suffering from keyword cannibalization. At the same time, some of your articles might get out of date. To prevent all of this, finding and fixing keyword cannibalization issues should be part of your content maintenance work.

Table of contents

Keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization – or content cannibalism – arises when your website has multiple articles with similar content about the same keyword. This issue mainly affects growing websites: More content means a higher chance of the creation of posts and pages that are very alike. For search engines, it’s difficult to distinguish between these similar articles. As a result, they might rank all articles on that topic lower.

Read more: What is keyword cannibalization »

How to identify and solve content cannibalism

In a lot of cases, solving keyword cannibalization is going to mean deleting and merging content. I’m going to run you through some of that maintenance work as we did it at Yoast, to show you how to do this. In particular, I’m going to show you my thinking around a cluster of keywords around keyword research.

Step 1: Audit your content

The first step in my process was finding all the content we had around keyword research. Now, most of that was simple: we have a keyword research tag, and most of the content was nicely tagged. This was also slightly shocking: we had quite a few posts about the topic.

A site:search in Google gave me the missing articles that Google considered to be about keyword research. I simply searched for site:yoast.com "keyword research" and Google gave me all the posts and pages on the site that mentioned the topic.

I had found a total of 18 articles that were either entirely devoted to keyword research or had large sections that mentioned it. Another 20 or so mentioned it in passing and linked to some of the other articles.

The reason I started auditing the content for this particular group of keywords is simple: I wanted to improve our rankings around the cluster of keywords around keyword research. So I needed to analyze which of these pages were ranking, and which weren’t. This content maintenance turned out to be badly needed. It surely was time to find and fix possible cannibalization issues!

Step 2: Analyze the content performance

I went into Google Search Console and went to the Performance section. In that section I clicked the filter bar:

I clicked Query and then typed “keyword research” into the box like this:

performance filter: keyword research queries

This makes Google Search Console match all queries that contain the words keyword and research. This gives you two very important pieces of data:

  1. A list of the keywords your site had been shown in the search results for and the clicks and click-through rate (CTR) for those keywords;
  2. A list of the pages that were receiving all that traffic and how much traffic each of those pages received.

I started by looking at the total number of clicks we had received for all those queries and then looked at the individual pages. Something was immediately clear: three pages were getting 99% of the traffic. But I knew we had 18 articles that covered this topic. Obviously, it was time to clean up. Of course, we didn’t want to throw away any posts that were getting traffic that was not included in this bucket of traffic. So I had to check each post individually.

I removed the Query filter and used another option that’s in there: the Page filter. This allows you to filter by a group of URLs or a specific URL. On larger sites, you might be able to filter by groups of URLs. In this case, I looked at the data for each of those posts individually, which is best if you truly want to find and fix keyword cannibalization on your website.

Step 3: Decision time

As I went through each post in this content maintenance process, I decided what we were going to do: keep it, or delete it. If I decided we should delete it (which I did for the majority of the posts), I decided to which post we should redirect it. The more basic posts I decided to redirected to our SEO for Beginners post: what is keyword research?. The posts about keyword research tools were redirected to our article that helps you select (and understand the value of) a keyword research tool. Most of the other ones I decided to redirect to our ultimate guide to keyword research.

For each of those posts, I evaluated whether they had sections that we needed to merge into another article. Some of those posts had paragraphs or even entire sections that could just be merged into another post.

I found one post that, while it didn’t rank for keyword research, still needed to be kept: it talked about long-tail keywords specifically. It had such a clear reach for those terms that deleting it would be a waste, so I decided to redirect the other articles about the topic to that specific article.

Step 4: Take action

Now it was time to take action! I had a list of action items: content to add to specific articles after which each of the articles that piece of content came from could be deleted. Using Yoast SEO Premium, it’s easy to 301 redirect a post or page when you delete it, so that process was fairly painless.

With that, we’d taken care of the 18 specific articles about the topic, and retained only 4. We still had a list of ~20 articles that mentioned the topic and linked to one of the other articles. We went through all of them and made sure each linked to one or more of the 4 remaining articles in the appropriate section.

Fixing keyword cannibalization is hard work

If you’re thinking: “That’s a lot of work”. Yes, finding and fixing keyword cannibalization requires some serious effort. And we don’t write about just keyword research, so this is a process we have to do for quite a few terms, multiple times a year. This is a very repeatable content maintenance strategy though:

  1. Audit, so you know which content you have;
  2. Analyze, so you know how the content performs;
  3. Decide which content to keep and what to throw away;
  4. Act.

Now “all” you have to do is go through that process at least once a year for every important cluster of keywords you want your site to rank for.

Keep reading: Use your focus keyword only once »

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Looking back at (almost) a decade of Yoast

It’s almost 2020 and a brand-new decade is right around the corner! A decade ago, Yoast didn’t even exist yet. A lot has changed in the past 10 years. In this blog post, I would like to look back at (almost) 10 years of Yoast. And, I’ll look at our plans for next year! 2020 is going to be a great year!

The very beginning

Yoast was founded by Joost de Valk. Until 2010, Joost had been working as an SEO consultant. He was doing consultancy at major companies like eBay and KLM. In 2010, Joost decided to give up his job as an SEO consultant. He took a leap of faith and began a company. Back then, he was pretty sure he would never hire any employees. So, he named his one-man-company after himself and his blog: Yoast.

Joost was mainly doing consultancy and website reviews at the very beginning of Yoast. In his free time and basically as a hobby, he was developing lots of little WordPress-plugins that improved the SEO of a site. He never thought he could make money with these plugins though. In October 2010, Joost finally made one plugin of all these little ones: WordPress SEO (now Yoast SEO) was born.

The evolving logo's of Yoast SEO over time.

The evolving logo of Yoast SEO over time.

If you want to read more about the growth of Yoast, please check out our history of Yoast page!

Premium plugins

Up until 2012, Yoast did not make any money with WordPress-plugins. But, WordPress SEO had over a million active installs. In the early days, Joost did all of the support on these plugins himself. That became a bit too much. In September 2012, Yoast launched Video SEO, the first premium add-on.

In the mean-time, Joost had hired some people. It became clear that this wasn’t going to remain a one-man-company after all. In 2012, Michiel became the first Yoast employee. That year, Erwin (our illustrator) and Mijke (our designer) also joined our team. Branding and design have been at the heart of the company throughout our entire journey. 

After Video SEO, Yoast released more premium add-ons: News SEO, Local SEO.  In 2014, we released a premium variant of the free version of our plugin. Nowadays, this is the most popular of all our plugins. By that time, Yoast was still doing site reviews as well. 

Growth, changes & failed projects 

Since Yoast started, a lot of things have changed. Nowadays, we’re not doing site reviews anymore, while that was our main source of income in the very early years. The growth of our company was mainly driven by our plugins. At one point, it makes sense to focus all your energy on that, which made us decide to stop doing site reviews.  And of course, we have tried some projects that just did not work as we planned. Did you know we have once tried to build and sell WordPress themes? Let’s just say that that wasn’t the success we hoped it to be :-). 

After 5 years of Yoast: Major rebranding

In 2015 – after 5 years of Yoast – the company underwent a major redesign. Up until then, our design team made a lot of avatars of Joost de Valk. His face featured on every page on our site. Our design team replaced the many avatars featuring Joost with new colorful illustrations. The logo was no longer orange but became green and purple. The change in design reflected the shift in the business. Yoast was no longer a synonym for Joost de Valk. 

Joost's avatars as they were on the site before the redesign.

Joost’s avatars as they were on the site before the redesign.

Yoast SEO academy

Also in 2015, we launched Yoast SEO academy. In the years before that, I (Marieke) was getting more and more involved in the company. Yoast SEO academy was my personal Yoast-baby (FYI: I also have four real babies with the person Joost).  We had written some eBooks before that helped people to do SEO themselves. The next step was the development of an online course. The first online SEO course – Basic SEO – appeared in 2015. Since then, we have made many online courses about SEO. Yoast SEO academy grew to be an online course platform with courses on every aspect of SEO. This year, we also released a free course about WordPress. 

Growth of Yoast – the company

Yoast SEO started out as a hobby. Although we still love it, It is not a hobby anymore. When software is running on 10 million sites, you need a professional company. And we’ve grown into a professional company (albeit a bit crazy).

In 2011, Yoast was Joost. At the end of 2012, Yoast consisted of Joost and another four employees. At the end of 2013, Yoast consisted of ten employees. And at the end of 2015, Yoast employed a total of 25 people. At the end of 2017, there were more than 50 people and now, at the end of 2019, there are more than 90 people working in the Wijchen offices. Also, more than a dozen people are working for Yoast in countries around the world.

Nowadays, product ideas still mainly come from Joost de Valk. Next to Joost, we have a big team of developers and a kick-ass testing team. Our software has to work on so many sites, with so many different configurations of plugins. That’s a lot of work and needs extensive testing. 

Besides that, we keep close relationships with both Google and Bing. At the same time, WordPress and open-source remain very important to us. Giving back to the community that got Yoast to where it is today is crucial to the company.

Features in Yoast SEO (Premium)

Since the birth of Yoast SEO, we’ve added and improved upon many features. Most of our features are available for both our free and premium users. Some features were only rolled out in premium though. 

We’ve added a redirect manager with which people can easily manage their redirects. In 2016,  we added our readability analysis, which helps people to write texts that are understandable for both their audience and Google. We’ve also created an internal linking tool, which helps people to manage their site’s structure. In 2018, we did a recalibration of our SEO analysis, which also lead to the introduction of Word forms. Our Premium SEO analysis is now able to recognize plurals, past tense and synonyms. 

In 2019: Schema! 

In 2019, with Yoast SEO 11.0, we released a major Schema update. Yoast SEO 11.0 featured a completely rewritten Schema.org implementation — one that is destined to give search engines all your connections on a silver platter. This is a great development, not only for you and for search engines, but, more importantly, for the web in general. 

Also in 2019, I (Marieke) took over the role of CEO from Joost, which was kind of a big deal for me personally. Joost now is our Chief Product Officer. We both enjoy our new roles!

What to expect from Yoast SEO in 2020?

You can expect great things for Yoast SEO in 2020! We have a lot of awesome features that’ll be rolled out in 2020. We’re very excited about our ‘indexables’ update. Indexables is a pretty awesome rebuild of how we store and generate our metadata. Instead of re-generating robots, canonical and other tags on every page load, we’ll store them in our own table. This makes loads of our processes much much faster.

On top of that data, we’ll add an enhancement to our premium internal linking suggestions functionality, which we’re dramatically improving the quality of. Some real nice applied computer science stuff there in how we’ve applied information retrieval algorithms within WordPress without external storage.

We’re finishing up a brand new update for our internal linking tool. Also, you can expect some cool new schema-blocks! And that’s only half of it! We’re very excited: we decided that 2020 is going to be the ‘new features in Yoast SEO-year’. 

YoastCon 2020

In 2020, Yoast will celebrate its 10th birthday! And we’re going to host a huge birthday party: YoastCon 2020 It’s going to be a very special edition. YoastCon 2020 will take place on 24 April 2020 and tickets are completely free. If you want to find out more about YoastCon (and how to apply for tickets) check out the YoastCon page

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The creation of our first digital story using the Block Editor

We write a lot of blog posts. Like, a LOT. And, not only about SEO topics, but also about our mission, company culture, and our broader vision. We hope that by writing those kinds of posts we can give you a glimpse into who we are as a company, and who we are as people.

But, blog posts are transient. We post them, and we might update them from time to time, but they’re part of an ongoing blog feed. You may miss them sometimes. And, that’s why we wanted to start documenting these values and ideals that power our company culture in a more permanent way. That’s where the idea for digital storytelling came in.

In this post, we’ll talk about how we came to this idea, how we built our first storytelling page about diversity and prejudice, and how you could apply these principles to tell your own stories.

Why storytelling

Like I mentioned before, storytelling felt like a good fit to talk about our values because it gives context to what we do. It’s a different way of presenting information that is not meant for quick consumption or optimized for catching attention. It’s not just focused on the information, it also takes into consideration the experience of reading it.

We chose the subject of diversity first because this subject touches one of our core values. When Marieke became CEO of Yoast at the beginning of 2019, there weren’t that many women in our upper management. So, Marieke started a project to coach and empower women at Yoast to reach those positions if they wanted to.

In this process she also created a presentation about diversity and feminism that she could give in other places outside the company, such as WordCamps, to inspire others into action as well. Turning this presentation into a digital story then made sense to us as a way to reach an even bigger audience. It would become a more permanent location where people could go to learn more by themselves.

The process of telling a digital story

Concept

Once the idea for this first storytelling project was born, Marieke wrote a draft based on her presentation script, and our design team got to work.

The design team has designed tons of pages across all our products already, and these follow a style guide (or at least they should!). But, we could not achieve the way we wanted to visually present this story with only the elements we already had in our toolkit. It called for a bold, playful design that guides the reader through this experience.

A central part of this experience would have to be our illustrations. Our illustrators have been experimenting with animation in Adobe After Effects recently, and we figured it would be great if we could use these animations in our digital stories.

Based on the draft of the text, they started sketching and storyboarding. They wanted each section to have its own character, and our visual style tries to be pretty inclusive already so that matched well with this subject.

Animation

In addition to that, this time they wanted to add subtle animations too. But having good quality AND fast performant animations on the web is still sometimes a challenge. We considered GIF, of course, and MP4 with autoplay, but it turns out you can animate SVG images as well, with a little help from AirBnB’s JavaScript library Lottie.js.

To do this, you create a vector-based animation in After Effects, then export as JSON. If you want to give this a try too, you can read how to create and export a Lottie-compatible animation from After Effects, and/or learn more about how we implemented Lottie-powered SVG animations in the WordPress block editor.

Video

We felt like the story would come alive more if some parts were video, and it would break up the layout of the page a bit, so the design team selected three sections to make an animation for. Together with EyesxEars, our in-house video production partner, we recorded Marieke presenting these short stories, then drew some supporting animations to explain the concepts visually.

By now developers were also getting involved, setting up the page structure in code. They built the different elements of the page using WordPress blocks, so we can reuse them in future projects. You can read our (more technical) breakdown of how we built our digital storytelling framework in the WordPress Block Editor.

Project management

Managing all this work across multiple teams under a short timespan was no easy challenge. We wanted to launch by the time Marieke gave this talk at WordCamp Nijmegen. To get it done in time, everyone was working simultaneously, which isn’t ideal, you don’t want anyone getting bottlenecked. For instance, development was waiting on the final copy while it was still being tweaked to fit the flow of the animations, etc. So next time we’ll definitely set up a planning for each involved department separately. That way everyone will have enough time to iterate.

This time it was our internal deadline – which was set well in advance of the launch – and great communication that saved the day. Having the team come together and work on a fun out-of-the-ordinary project like this was worth it. And Marieke was able to present it with pride during her presentation!

Takeaways

You may have already spotted a few learnings peppered throughout this article. This was our first substantial foray into digital storytelling, so there certainly were some areas we can improve in. And by reading this article, you can already benefit from those tips if you were planning to make your own digital story.

1. Write about why you do what you do

First of all, if you are thinking of making a digital story for you or your brand, consider this: don’t write about what your product is, or even how you make it. That’s marketing. Storytelling should be about why you do what you do. What motivates you to dedicate time to creating whatever it is that you create? Which values inspire you to pursue this career? This is what informs what you make and how you do that. Talking about that comes after the Why.

2. Think about how you want to frame your story

Secondly, take your time to write the story. A story has an arc to it. It should take the reader on a bit of a journey. Think about the best way to present what you want to talk about.

One way could be to frame the story in a problem: is there something you felt personally held back by or saw an opportunity to solve something that other people struggle with? Describe why that problem exists, and how you felt compelled to do something about it, and see if you can inspire others to do something too. If you’re not entirely sure yet/anymore why you do what you do, thinking about this is also a good way to find out!

Our first digital story is a variation of this. We talk about one of the values that underpin our company mission, “SEO for everyone”. We believe in equality for everyone, and diversity is, of course, one aspect of that.

Another way could be to write is as more of a historical account. You can share when you got the idea for this company or product, and how you went about getting to where you are now. You’ll probably notice while writing though that you’ll automatically come across the ‘problem’ that sparked your idea, but here it will be part of a larger story.

3. Make your story compelling

Next, think about ways to make the story compelling and/or interactive. People are less likely to read a massive wall of text than they are to view some videos or play a little quiz. Stimulate their brains a little, reward them for taking the time to read something that’s important to you by making it fun for them.

4. Involve your team in the entire process

And lastly, if you’re making a digital story with a team, try to involve them in the entire process. You may be telling a personal story, but if you are writing about your company values, you’ll want to know that your team feels the same way about them. Plus, involving creatives in the planning stages can spark a lot more ideas. Just make sure to then plan out a good schedule for when everyone involved has to do their thing. It’s not super useful to have designers make animations or developers building page elements already for a story that is still being written.

So, we hope you enjoyed this deep dive into our digital storytelling efforts! In the future we plan to use this framework more often to create unique and compelling experiences on our site that explain more about a certain subject, so keep an eye out!

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What’s powering conversational search? Featured snippets, structured data and actions

Voice search is still hot, but it might be a little slower on the uptake than many predicted. Google and friends continue to bombard the consumer with new devices, with new possibilities and new ways of controlling them via voice. The results for these voice searches comes from a mix of actions, knowledge graph data and featured snippets. But, there’s a new data layer forming, slowly powering more and more parts of the voice experience. It’s a technology we’ve talked a bit quite often here at Yoast: structured data.

Voice is still coming, but maybe not as fast as expected

When the rise of virtual assistants started, many welcomed it as a new world order. Some predicted that by 2020, more than half of the searches would be voice activated. That was probably a bit optimistic. While adoption is still growing and big tech is pushing voice technology like there’s no tomorrow, it still feels like critical mass is off some ways.

Almost every new product announced by Google, Facebook, Amazon etc has an assistant on board. Take Bluetooth headphones for instance, almost every new one that hits the market these days has a voice assistant built in. The industry really wants everyone to talk to their devices. But, Google doesn’t think the future will be purely voice-driven. For many things, people will need a screen. A recent study by Google revealed that 50% of interactions combine voice and touch. 

Voice is two-pronged

It’s good to keep in mind that so-called voice search consists of two main parts:

  • Searching the web with your voice
  • Performing actions with your voice

Working on your voice search strategy, means you have to make a distinction between these parts. For many companies, building an action — “Ok Google, turn on the lights” — doesn’t make much sense. Searching the web, answering questions and guiding people with your content, does make sense. You’re looking to go into a conversation with your audience.

Searching the web with your voice

As mentioned before, for most site owners, the search part of conversational search is where it’s at. This is about using your voice to get search results and answers to your questions. This is also where you can work with your regular content, without having to invest loads of money into an unproven voice strategy based on building a conversational interface. Let’s take a look.

Search results get its data from:

Where do those search results come from once you ask your assistant to look something up for you? That depends on the question you’re asking and which assistant you are using. If we take Google as an example, we can break it down into three pieces:

  • Factual data: answer boxes powered by knowledge graph
  • More complex, general searches: Featured snippets
  • From Google’s own properties (local pack, maps, flights, shopping etc.)

If you ask: “Ok Google, how tall is the Eiffel Tower” you’ll get a nice voice result telling you “the Eiffel Tower is 324 meters tall”. This is all coming from the knowledge graph — the network of facts that Google has formed over the years. This is information Google can rely on for direct answers.

For more complex questions, Google often looks at the results it shows in featured snippets. A piece of content that appears as a featured snippet is proven to be a good result by Google. Of course, it is not infallible and sometimes you can find better results. But in general, if you have a featured snippet for a term/question/problem your content is the number one candidate for being spoken by a voice assistant. 

Ask Google: “Ok Google, what is a meta description” and it’ll speak out loud the featured snippets that Yoast has earned for that question. Try it! Of course, these results do change from time to time, but we’ve had this featured snippet for quite a while.

Here’s a recording Joost made of that query a while back

The third one encompasses all the answers to questions or queries that Google can fill from their own properties, like the local pack for local results, or Google Flights. Things tend to blur here quickly, as many Google-owned queries are turned into actions. So if you want to book a flight, that will trigger an action and not a search.

For most sites and types of content, the best chance of getting your content in voice assistants is via featured snippets. To get featured snippets, you need authority, a good reputation and awesome content. If you are already ranking on page one for your queries or phrases, you have a good chance at getting that coveted featured snippet! 

Since the launch of the BERT update, Google has a much better understanding language and can figure out complex, long-tail searches. This means that the search engine will come up with results that better match the search query. Google explicitly states that it uses BERT for featured snippets, so you have to keep that in mind. 

Of course, BERT is not infallible. It is a very sophisticated language model, but still only a model. It helps computers improve their understanding of language, but it won’t turn a computer into a human so to say. So everything comes down to readability! 

To maximise your chance at getting featured snippets, think of this: 

  • Do keyword research
  • Look at what’s ranking now and improve on that
  • Prioritize! Don’t try to get them all — only the ones where you can help your users with better content than your competitors
  • Check the user intent of the searches and match it to answers 
  • Use Answer the Public or Also Asked to find questions to answer 
  • Use easy to digest, simple to understand language
  • Keep your answers short and snappy
  • Speak your content out loud — or let your computer do it
  • Mark up your content with structured data (although not needed for featured snippets)
  • In general: make better content!

It’s a great sport to hunt for featured snippet opportunities and they can bring in awesome results, even with voice search.

Doesn’t Schema power featured snippets?

In the list above, you see I’ve mentioned structured data in relation to featured snippets. There’s a question that pops up regularly: does Google use structured data for ranking featured snippets? Your favorite Googlers have debunked this a number of times. 

At the moment, structured data is used for a lot of things, but not for featured snippets. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add it to your pages — you should, because structured data makes your page a lot easier to understand for search engines —, but it’s not essential in getting those features snippets. Getting on page one with brilliant content is.

Performing actions with your voice

While getting featured snippets helps to get your content spoken out loud by voice assistants, having Schema is not. But this is not the end of the story. We see Schema popping up in ever more places, and one of those places is your smart assistant. Schema does power some voice-based actions — at least on Google. Google now lets you build actions based on your news, how-tos, FAQs, recipes and podcasts. 

Your structured data can be the starting point for voice actions

Google lets you build actions for assistants

Google uses so-called actions to find and present content that users can interact with on smart devices with the Assistant. You can build your own actions, so assistants can respond with your specific content. Building those, however, can require a lot of custom work and, therefore, probably not a viable option for many site owners. 

Luckily, Google also provides a much easier way to get particular pieces of web content ready for smart devices: the structured data found on your site. Yet another sign that Schema structured data is here to stay. 

Actions let you get something done using the Assistant

By adding structured data to your site, you’ll not only get a chance at rich results, but this enables Google to automatically generate actions for their Assistant. Talk about two birds with one stone. At the moment, of the dozens of supported Schema properties, Google can generate actions for five datatypes: FAQs, how-tos, news, podcasts and recipes. The first two were only recently announced.

Smart displays combine voice and screen to guide people — in this case a visual how-to

Of course, there are some caveats. For news content, for instance, Google only admits content built by publishers who already participate in Google News. FAQs and how-tos only work on smart displays, with the latter being in a developer preview and, therefore, not yet available for the general public. If you want, you can always sign up to register your interest if you want to start building right now.

Structured data needs minimal adjustments

Adding the necessary code isn’t too hard if you’ve already invested in Schema markup. There is a distinction between required and recommended properties. Sometimes, Google will nag you into adding more to make errors go away. Fully formed structured data might enhance your chance at getting rich results — or having the Assistant pull up your actions.

For some data types, you must add specific pieces of structured data to get a chance to appear on smart displays. If we look at recipes, for instance, you’ll notice recipeIngredient and recipeInstructions are recommended for rich results, but required for getting guidance on smart displays. But, if you’re looking to build a full recipe structured data implementation, you would add this anyway, right?

Adding valid How-to and FAQ Schema is easy with the structured data content blocks in Yoast SEO. Simply open a post in the WordPress block editor and add the block. Fill it with relevant content and you’re good to go!

Simply fill in the fields to build a how-to with valid structured data

Keep a close eye at the example code and the necessary properties. Google tends to change these regularly. And keep in mind that documentation and testing tools might not always be on the same page. Last thing you have to remember: you have no guarantee that your structured data leads to rich results, as the search engines decide on that.

Speakable Schema

Another relatively new addition to Schema is the speakable property. This is not an action built to let people interact with your content, but a way to tell Google which part of the page is fit for audio-playback. This currently work for news content only. If set up right, you’ll notice Google Assistant reads your content aloud, attributes it and sends the complete URL to your device. It is currently in beta, but should turn out to be a great way to help machines find out what they can read or not.

The value of voice for site owners

There’s a lot happening at the moment. The technologies powering voice search are giving search engines a better understanding of how humans communicate. They can use those insights to improve their search results to provide you with better answers to your questions. Plus, it allows them to develop new applications that help you do your job. That’s great, but how valuable is voice for a ‘regular’ type site? 

For most sites, having an elaborate voice strategy is not viable. It isn’t very cost effective to build actions for every type of assistant and hope for the best. Having a strategy for getting and keeping featured snippets is important. This is based on content you have — or can produce — and has the added bonus of working in two locations at one: search and voice.

In addition, there’s a new focus on structured data providing data for voice assistants — at least on Google. With Google pushing structured data so hard, it won’t come as a surprise if we see a lot more of this happening in the next year. For Google, Schema structured data provides a context layer of the web. Bringing the knowledge graph, language processing and computer vision into the mix, Google is well on its way to understand the world.

Conclusion

In this article, I showed a number of ways search engines like Google provide answers for their voice assistants. Now, you have a better understanding of the value of voice and the things you have to keep in mind when you want to set up a voice search strategy.

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