With so much of our day-to-day communication happening online these days, the use of emojis, to add some flavor to typed messages, has gone through the roof. They don’t just express emotions, but depict a range of animals, objects, places and so on, as well. The options to express yourself with them are endless! If you frequently use emojis in your daily communication, you may also feel like using them on your website. But what’s the deal with emojis and SEO? Do they have any impact on your rankings, positive or negative? In this Ask Yoast, I’ll get into that :)

Iris Schöberl emailed us her question:

“Do you as an SEO expert recommend to use emojis? Or is it spam to Google?”

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for my answer!

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Emojis and SEO

“I’m thinking that you probably mean in the meta-description and titles etc., where some emojis will actually show up in the search results. If they do show up in the search results, I would use them because they make you stand out. And standing out in the search results means the more people click on you; more clicks is what you want, so yes, I would use them.

Would I use every emoji? No, I probably would not use the poop emoji for pages that I want to sell something on, unless it’s poop.

So, see if it fits in with your brand. If it fits in with your brand, there’s nothing I have inherently against it or in favor of it. Just see what works for your brand and what works for your audience. And do that. Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from our readers. Have an SEO-related question? Let us help you out! Send an email to ask@yoast.com.

(Note: please check our blog and knowledge base first, the answer to your question may already be out there! For urgent questions, for example about our plugin not working properly, we’d like to refer you to our support page.)

Read more: ‘5 tips on branding’ »

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In this article, I’d like to highlight the snippet preview in our Yoast SEO plugin. What is it, how does it work and what should you pay attention to? First of all, I have to point out that Google makes the final selection of content for your mention in the search result pages. No matter how much effort you put in optimizing your meta description, if Google feels that another snippet of your pages answers their visitor’s search query better, it will use that snippet instead of your meta description. Is that a problem, you think? I think it isn’t. It’s Google helping people understand your page better.

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Let’s look at that snippet preview

You can find the snippet preview in the so-called meta box, right below the edit field in WordPress:

Yoast SEO's snippet preview - How to make your site stand out in search results

As you can see, the meta description needs optimizing and the title is perhaps a bit long. Now, where do we change all these things?

Your site’s title

If you want to make your site stand out in search results, this will always have to be optimized one page at a time. Branding should be consistent on all pages, by the way. Looking at a single search result, the page title is the thing that gets the most attention in the search result pages. It’s in the largest font, the blue color pops. It’s usually also the most consistent thing in there. Your titles look like this by default (due to settings in our plugin): ‘page title’ – ‘site name’. Now if that is something you’d like to change for this specific post, simply click ‘Edit snippet’ and you’ll get this screen:

Edit Yoast SEO snippet preview

As you can see, the template of the title is displayed here. %%page%% will give you the number of the page is you have spread the article over multiple pages, %%sep%% is the separator or divider you can pick in our plugin as well. If you want to adjust the title, you can do that here. For tips on how to set that title up, please read Crafting good titles for SEO.

Read more: ‘Titles and meta variables in Yoast SEO’ »

Meta descriptions

We have written quite a lot about that meta description. It’s the only ‘tool’, besides the title, that Google gives us to optimize our invitation to our website. In the meta description, you highlight what your page is about and why the user should visit it.

Note that the meta description is a suggestion for Google, as I mentioned earlier. If Google doesn’t use the meta description you enter or edit here; some reasons could apply:

  • Your meta description doesn’t match the search query of the user. If you optimize your meta description for a certain keyword, which differs from the query, Google might decide to pick some sentences that fit the query better instead. Again, that might be a good thing.
  • Your meta description is over-optimized for a certain keyword, or considered to be too focused on sales/spam. Sometimes you may manage to squeeze in an emoji or icon of some kind, most of the times Google prefers text. I think most users do, by the way. It allows for more characters if you leave the fluff out, so your sentences are easier to read.

The length of that meta description

Now let’s discuss the length of that meta description. At the moment, we stick to approximately 160 characters, but times they are a-changing. Just recently, Google mentioned longer meta descriptions. This means we can squeeze in a few extra lines of text. However, Google will display this in some cases, not all. It might be just the meta descriptions that Google creates for us.

Longer meta descriptions also means that the first result will get some more attention, which fits Google’s aim of showing you the best result right away. And, think along the lines of voice search as well. MOZ’s example of our meta description post aligns nicely with the voice search example Joost used here. It’s consistent this way. Not sure if that’s the thought behind it, but it came to mind.

At Yoast, we keep a keen eye on what’s going on here and if we find the logic behind this new length, or Google tells us, we will find a way to incorporate this in our plugin. For the time being: results are still perfectly fine in the current length!

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Optimizing your slug

Last but not least, you can also alter your slug. That’s the post-related part of the URL for that post. In our snippet preview editor, you can change that slug. Remove some clutter, make sure there’s focus. If possible, add the preferred focus keyword in there. Google could change that slug into ‘breadcrumbs’ a lot of the times, by the way. But if your URL is in the results, it’s nice to have the focus keyword in bold there as well.

One more thing: site links

Last but not least: site links. Site links are the links that you sometimes find below your main mention:

Site links for Yoast

As you can see, it’s one mention, with multiple extra site links below it. Now, this isn’t in our plugin or snippet preview, since we as site owners can’t control or suggest these. Google even removed the option to demote any links here last year. So it’s out of our reach, to be honest. Just wanted to clarify that :)

In conclusion

That’s it. You can easily optimize your mention in the search result pages if you use the snippet preview, and editor, in our free and premium Yoast SEO plugin. It’s an easy, convenient way to present Google with a ready-to-use, optimized snippet for their search result pages. Now go and optimize :)

Keep reading: ‘The beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO’ »

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Your focus keyword is the keyword you want your post or page to rank for. Some people like to use the same focus keyword over and over again. But, that’s not what a focus keyword is for! You should use a focus keyword only once. But why? And what should you do if you desperately want to rank for that one specific keyword? Don’t despair: I’ll tell you all about it in this post.

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Not competing with your own articles

The main reason why you should not use your focus keyword more than once is that you do not want to compete with your own content for a position in Google. If you optimize two different articles for the same focus keyword, you would like to have both posts to turn up in Google. You’ll be telling Google: these two are both suitable for people searching for my keyword. You would like both of them to turn up. That’s hard to do, not impossible though, but very hard.

You need to have a site with quite a bit of authority to rank with two articles in the top ten search results. If you’re already ranking with one of your articles in the search results, you’ll probably have enough authority to try and rank with a second one. If you’re not yet ranking on a focus keyword, never use it twice! Update and improve your original article and write another post surrounding a slightly different keyword.

Ranking for your most desired keyword

What should you do if you want to rank for that specific keyword you’ve set your mind to? Imagine yourself starting a webshop selling clothes for dogs. You probably want to rank for ‘dog clothes,’ but as you are a starter, that’ll be rather hard. Optimizing all of your posts for ‘dog clothes’ is not the right strategy. So what should you do? Your keyword research has given you some ideas what other terms to target.

Your most precious keyword ‘dog clothes’ is a so-called ‘head’ keyword. It’ll be competitive and rather hard to rank for. You should write an awesome, lengthy cornerstone article about dog clothes and optimize it for the term ‘dog clothes’ using our Yoast SEO plugin. Make sure to indicate in our plugin that this specific article is a cornerstone article.

focus keyword input field Yoast SEO

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Improve your site structure

The next step you’ll need to take to rank for your most desired keyword is to make sure your site structure is flawless. You’ll need to write a lot of posts each surrounding a specific aspect of your ‘head’ keyword. You could write an article and optimize it for focus keywords like ‘clothes for small dogs,’ ‘clothes for big dogs,’ ‘dog clothes for rainy days’ and so on. These focus keywords are called long tail keywords. If you link from these long tail articles to your ‘head term’ article, you’ll be telling Google which one of your articles is the most important one. That’ll help with the ranking of your most precious article. At the same time, you’ll be attracting traffic for those long tail articles as well.

Should I use a keyword more than once?

Unless you’re a high authority site and you’re already ranking for a specific keyword, you should NOT use a focus keyword more than once. Ranking for that one specific focus keyword is possible if you write an awesome cornerstone article about that focus keyword. On top of that, you’ll need a kickass site structure to make sure that article will start ranking!

Read more: ‘The ultimate guide to content SEO’ »

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Site structure is a vital aspect of your SEO strategy. After all, the structure of your website shows Google what articles and pages are most important. You can influence which articles will rank highest in the search engines, with your site’s structure. So, it’s important to get it right! It also is a very actionable part of your SEO strategy. You can all start improving your site structure today! In this SEO basics post, I’ll explain the importance of site structure for your site’s SEO and I’ll give three quick tips on how to start improving your site’s structure.

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As your site grows, it’ll get cluttered

As you’re writing more and more blog posts, or add more product pages, your site will get cluttered. You need to organize it neatly, to make sure you, your visitor AND Google will be able to find what they’re looking for.

Why is that? Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, there was this young woman. Her name is Alice. Alice gets up every morning, sits down at her desk and starts to write a beautiful story. She writes one story every day. Alice types all her stories on this beautiful old-fashioned typewriter. Whenever she’s done writing, she pulls the paper out of the machine and puts her lovely new story on her desk. As you can imagine, her desk will slowly get cluttered with all these sheets of paper. After a year of writing, she’ll have 365 sheets of paper on it. After three years of writing, she’ll have more than a thousand. Alice will not be able to find her favorite story, because of the abundance of stories on her desk.

If you do not structure your stuff neatly, your stories, your blogposts, your product pages will get lost. Your visitors will not be able to find what they are looking for, and, important for your SEO: Google will also get lost.

Why is site structure important for Google?

There are two reasons why site structure is important for Google and, therefore, for your chances to rank in the search engines.

1. Structure is a guide for Google

The way your site is structured will give Google clues about where to find the most important content. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine can understand what your site is about and what you’re selling.

Google crawls websites by following links, internal and external, using a bot called Googlebot. And by following those links, Google determines the relationship between the various pages. The structure of your site is a guide to Google and therefore very crucial.

2. Not competing with your content

The second reason why site structure is essential for Google is because, without a decent structure, you’ll be competing with yourself for a high ranking in the search engines. You probably have blogposts or articles on your site that are on the same topic. At Yoast, for example, we write a lot about SEO. We have multiple posts about site structure, each covering a different aspect. But Google won’t know which of these is most important unless we ‘tell’ Google.

Importance should order your content. Think about Alice’s cluttered desk. Alice could clean up by making piles of her sheets of papers. She could order her stories by topic: stories about bumble bees, stories about flowers, stories about fairies. But, if Alice were to make piles of paper, without ordering them, without putting the most beautiful stories on the top of the pile, no one would ever know which story is the most important to her.

If you don’t tell Google which posts are most important, all of your posts will be competing for attention. You’d be competing with your pages for a high ranking in Google. The solution is rather simple: you let Google know which page you consider most important. You tell Google which story you want on top of your pile. To do this, you need a good internal linking structure.

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Read more: ‘Why is site structure important?’ »

How to get started with site structure?

What are the things you need to do to improve your site’s structure? What can you do to avoid your site structure becoming an issue?  I’ll give three basic tips on how to quickly improve your site structure.

Remove old content

Lots of shops will sell a different collection of products (clothes; shoes) every season. If you don’t expect to sell the same product again, you should remove the page. However, you may have had some links to the page you want to remove. And you know, links to your page are valuable for your SEO!  You want to make sure you benefit from these links, even though the page does not exist anymore. That’s why you should redirect the URL.

Evaluate your categories

You should ensure that categories are about equally large. Think of Alice and her stories. Alice could categorize her stories by making piles of these categories. Imagine one pile becoming huge, while the others remain much smaller. It would be hard to find a specific story in that big pile, while it would be much easier to search through a small pile. At the same time, that big heap is probably very important, because Alice wrote a lot of stories about that specific topic.

Categories become too large when you write a lot about one specific subject and less about others. At one point, you should divide that one category into two categories. A good rule of thumb for the size of categories is to make sure that no category is more than twice the size of any other category. When one category is significantly larger than other ones, your site becomes unbalanced. You’ll have a hard time ranking with blog posts within a huge category. The pile has become too large to search through.

3. Improve your internal linking structure

You should make sure that you’re linking to your most important articles. A great internal linking structure is crucial. We’ve built Yoast Internal Linking to help you achieve such an internal structure. But you should do some reading and research to get the hang of it. Read Meike’s blogpost about Internal linking for SEO to improve your internal linking structure.

Keep reading: ‘Avoid these site structure mistakes!’ »

Conclusion: get started with improving your site structure

It’s important to remember that site structure is part of a bigger, ongoing process. Your site will grow and therefore, the structure will require maintenance. Improving and maintaining the structure of a site should be a core aspect of every SEO strategy. It’s a very actionable part of SEO; it’s something you can control and improve rather quickly. So, let’s get started!

Read on: ‘Site structure: the Ultimate guide’ »

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A couple of years ago, we did about 40 to 60 SEO audits a month. Although consultancy has not been in our product range for some time now, we do occasionally perform these audits, for instance when a friend asks us to have a quick look. An SEO audit like that is not as elaborate as the ones we used to present our clients, but do give a nice overall view of how your SEO is doing. In the coming three articles, I’ll give you a condensed overview of how to go about this yourself.

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Steps in the SEO audit

In this SEO audit, we’ll use our holistic SEO approach. That means we will address some content SEO issues, technical SEO issues and more. The entire website needs to be right for your SEO to be right. In the coming posts, we’ll go over these steps:

Part 1:

Part 2:

  • General SEO –> Tomorrow

Part 3:

  • Site speed –> Thursday
  • Engagement –> Thursday

User experience

The first things I do when reviewing a website is simply looking for low-hanging fruit. What are the obvious improvements? How can we make things easier for our readers?

Colors

Are the colors on the website appealing and do they match the brand? I like my websites to use a certain color scheme that keeps the focus on the content. So, headings should stand out as such, and it needs to be clear what links are. Contrast is an issue I’d check at this point as well.

Use of images and videos

Images and videos are great to present a product, direct visitors to the right spots on your pages or set a mood. In all cases, these should support the written message you have for the visitor. In your SEO audit, you should check if there is a nice balance between textual and visual information. I also have an opinion on sliders and video backgrounds, by the way. Note that a video background isn’t the same as adding a video to your text: the latter can be beneficial.

There is a fold

Yes, there is a fold and I would like to see your primary call-to-action and your central message (what is your added value for the visitor?) above it. If your primary call-to-action is much lower on the page, or just not there, I would fix this asap. Especially on your homepage, where your main goal is to direct people to the different sections of your website, it should be clear immediately where you want them to go.

Reassurance

Social proof, security signs and testimonials all contribute to a pleasant user experience. They will reassure the visitor of how well your products are, and how good your company is. They will tell the potential buyer that your website is safe and they can purchase without having to worry about security, for instance. Of course, this depends mainly on the type of website.

Content SEO

The basis of any SEO strategy is writing good content. You need a killer content SEO strategy. In the end, your content needs to answer any question a user ‘asks’ Google. Good content starts with keyword research, so the content part of your SEO audit starts there as well.

Keyword research

As you are doing this SEO audit yourself, there is a trap you might fall into. If you are renting holiday homes, but tend to call these cottages yourself, please consider what your visitor would be looking for first and check if your site is optimized for that. That’s a quick check that is very valuable. When you have determined the main keyword for your website, check if you have one main page to rank for that keyword. If so, check if you used any related keywords to optimize other pages as well. If you want to deep dive into keyword research, please check our ultimate guide to keyword research.

Site structure

The next thing I would check is site structure. Does it make sense, to begin with? Does the menu include the main pages of the website, and are these perhaps accessible from a footer menu and the homepage? Is there a sitemap that tells me more about the site structure, in XML or HTML?

We like to think of that site structure as a pyramid, in which the main articles are supported by other, pages that target, for instance, long tail keywords. This process, and more, is explained in our guide to site structure. Be sure to read that. After reading this article, it’ll be so much easier to understand and check your own site structure, and find things to improve.

Introductory content

Another quick and valuable check is a check for introductory content. Regardless of the type of site you have, there will be pages that have large collections of other content. Think along the lines of product categories, blog archives, landing pages of some kind. The important thing is to make clear to both your visitor and Google, what it is that this collection has in common. Usually, approximately 200 words will do as an introduction, if you want a guideline for your SEO audit.

Duplicate content

I’m not going to explain here why you don’t want duplicate content. Go read about that here. Bottom line is that you want to prevent it. A fast way to get at least some insight into your duplicate content is CopyScape. It will tell you were (snippets of) your content is found anywhere else on the web. I also like their SiteLiner product, which checks for internal duplicate content. Go try for yourselves.

Internal search

The one thing that annoys me the most on a website, especially on large ones, isn’t when Google directs me to the wrong page (fix that using cornerstone content, for instance), but when a website that’s over, say, 20 pages has no decent internal search option. People add that option, and forget to optimize the internal search result pages. It’s a common thing with WordPress sites, really. It’s improving, but you might need to give it some TLC on your own site. Just do an internal search on your site and see for yourself.

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Related posts and products

On your pages, for instance for blog articles, or product pages, is there an ‘escape’ to the next page available at the end of your main content? Do you direct people to the next page, if they decide not to buy yet, for instance? Just check if it’s there, if for instance your WooCommerce install provides this, or if your theme builder has an option for that. It provides a better user experience, will keep people on your page and creates valuable internal links in the process.

Coming up in part 2: General SEO

This concludes the UX and content SEO part of the SEO audit. Since combining all the parts of an audit in a single post would lead to a behemoth, we’ve split it in three parts. Tomorrow, we’ll publish part two of the SEO audit series in which we’ll dive deeper into the general SEO checks you should perform to determine the SEO quality of a website. See you tomorrow!

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

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Online reviews are important for any local business. They’ve become essential in local search strategies. Having positive reviews and ratings will help in attracting traffic, both to your website as well as to your local business. Should you respond to positive reviews? And what about the negative ones? Here, I’ll give you lots of tips on how to respond to online reviews of your business.

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Importance of online reviews

For customers, online reviews are critical. Every one of us would check out reviews before booking that expensive holiday home in the south of France. Online reviews are also important for your SEO. There’s an overall consensus among SEO experts about reviews being a ranking factor for local search. You should read the article David Mihm wrote for Yoast for more information on the impact of reviews on your local rankings. Or learn how to grow your business with ratings and reviews.

Why should you react to reviews?

Reviews tell what other people, your customers, think of your product. If you respond to reviews, you show your (potential) customers that you care about their opinion. And that’s something your customers will appreciate. Apart from that, responding to reviews will make your business stand out from other companies, as a lot of them do not make an effort to respond to their reviews.

If you write a response to a review, you’ll not be only writing to the person who wrote the review. Your response will be out there for all potential customers. Handling reviews with grace, gratitude and a little bit of wit, can have a huge impact on the way people perceive your brand.

To which reviews should you respond?

Reacting to reviews appears to be a wise thing to do. That does not mean you should respond to every single review. In my opinion, you should react to negative reviews. Responding to negative reviews will show potential customers how you handle problems and solve solutions to dissatisfied customers.

I would also react to very positive reviews, especially if the response it elaborate and detailed. Responding to positive reviews will give the opportunity to promote your brand and to show your passion for your company. Responding to positive reviews is not that hard to do. It’s the negative ones that need a strategy.

How to respond to reviews?

How do you respond to those negative reviews? What should you do and which pitfalls should you avoid? I’ll share seven tips on how to handle those negative reviews!

1. Keep Calm

It’s never easy to get a negative review. In some cases, it can feel unfair. Perhaps the tone of the review is harsh, personal or condescending. Your first reaction will most likely be an emotional one. Perhaps you’ll get angry or very frustrated. In such a case, it’s wise to take a moment before you write your response.

2. Have a plan

Negative comments and reviews will always come up at one point in time. It’s a good thing to prepare yourself for it. You could have some standard replies ready. Be careful never to use the same answer more than once. Always adapt a reply to the specifics the situation requires. Having some nicely drafted sentences ready can help you to formulate the response in the heat of the moment.

3. Own the problem

A negative response means that someone has had a negative experience with your business. Maybe they didn’t like the food you served in your restaurant. Of course, this could be due to their lack of taste, but such a response will not be satisfying to your potential audience. In most cases, start with apologizing for their negative experience, even if it’s not (entirely) your fault. You are sorry that they had a negative experience. You are sorry the food did not taste good.

If something went wrong because of a mistake on your site, tell people that, own up to your mistake and apologize for it. If someone did not get their dessert and is pissed off about that, investigate the specifics of the situation. Did you, in fact, forget about their dessert? Admit to your mistake, apologize and try to fix the problem. In this case, invite them back to have dessert another time.

Everyone makes mistakes and people are really forgiving if you are willing to show your human side. Own up to your mistakes, apologize and try to come up with a solution.

4. Let someone proofread your response

You’re never an objective author of responses to reviews. You’re involved; what might sound reasonable to you, might sound crazy aggressive to someone else. If you’re not sure about your response, letting someone else read it first (someone objective) can be a good idea.

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5. Short and sweet

Don’t write responses that are too lengthy. Make them short and sweet. Nobody wants to read through a reply of thirteen paragraphs. Even if someone personally insults you in a review, you should never get personal. Try to remain professional and polite, at all times.

6. Don’t get trapped in long discussion

Never get trapped in lengthy discussions. Reply once, maybe twice if necessary, but stop replying after that. Nobody wants to read a complete discussion between a dissatisfied customer and a business. Or maybe some people do like to read such a thing, but it does not reflect well on your business.

7. Take the discussion offline

Someone had a bad experience with your business and you can solve it? Try to contact them outside of the review-channel. Ask them to get in touch with your sales department, or invite them over to your restaurant. Did people not get their dessert? Invite them over to your restaurant. People can’t get in touch with your support department? Help them to make a connection.

After the response?

If you have had some negative responses, you’ll probably want to bury them underneath a big pile of positive ones. Maybe you’ll encounter customers that have positive experiences. By all means, invite them to leave a review. Research shows that a lot of people are willing to do that!

If you can solve the problem with a dissatisfied customer, you can also ask if they can edit or remove their review. You should only do that if the air is clear between the customer and your business.

Read more: ‘How to get local reviews’ »

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Does it pay off to write a text that is nice and easy to read? Will readable content lead to higher rankings and more traffic? Is readability a ‘ranking factor’? At Yoast, we are strong believers in writing texts that are nice and easy to read. We’ve developed an entire tool to help people write readable texts. We truly believe that readability ranks. Writing readable texts will lead to higher rankings and more traffic.

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So why is readability becoming more important? I’ll discuss two reasons why we believe readability is of increasing importance for SEO. In our view, it’ll become essential for every copywriter. The first reason why readability will gain importance is because of the growth of and focus on voice search. The second reason is because of the fact the algorithm of Google is getting better and more ‘human-like’.

Voice search becomes more dominant

Although few people use voice search, Google (and other search engines) are focused on voice. They present their results in a voice-like matter; they rank their results in a voice-like matter. The very fact that search engines want voice search to be the next big thing, makes readability so important. To understand the importance for readability in voice search, look at this video:

People searching for information with voice search could end up listening to a rather long piece of information. In the example in the video above, the search result consists of an entire paragraph. Imagine such a paragraph consisting of long sentences and containing lots of difficult words. The voice result will become impossible to understand. Google will never rank such an impossible result. Neither in the voice results, nor in the normal results.

Google will prefer understandable content, because Google is focused on voice search. Google wants voice search to become the next big thing. Whether that will happen or not, doesn’t matter for the importance of understandable, readable content. Google simply dictates the search results and the algorithm. We just have to go with it. And in this case, it’s a good thing. Writing readable content is a blessing for the reader.

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Read more: ‘How to prepare for voice search’ »

Google’s algorithm becomes more human-like

Google has become much better at predicting what people want to read. The algorithm of Google is mimicking a human. It tries to read texts like a human being. As Google becomes more capable of understanding and scanning texts in a human-like way, the demands on the readability of texts also rise.

Google will, increasingly, assess the topic of a text the way humans assess the topic of a text. People scan through texts, read subheadings and the first sentences of paragraphs. People look for transition words in order to quickly abstract what the main conclusion of an article will be. All the things humans do while reading a text, are things Google will do. That means that the structure of your text, the way you write your paragraphs, will become increasingly important. Core sentences (the first sentence of every paragraph) will gain importance. Having a clear and logical structure in your text will be invaluable.

What will be the demands on readable content?

Understandable, readable content contains lots of transition words, as these words help people understand the connection between sentences. Content that’s easy to understand has short sentences and few difficult and long words. The structure of a text is very important. Core sentences will be the most important sentences in assessing the topic of an article or blog post. These will be demands copywriters will have to deal with. It might sound scary, but if you simply write a good text, you’ll please your readers and Google.

Keep reading: ‘The ultimate guide to content SEO’ »

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2018 is coming soon and people are starting to ask: what’s new? What should we do to keep up with changes in search and specifically in SEO in 2018? In this post, I’ll sum up the biggest changes in our world, and what you should be working on.

The search landscape is changing

Over the last decade(s), our computers have become faster and faster, and our phones have been catching up. The iPhone X is faster than many computers people have at home. The power of the small machines we have in our hands is slowly being utilized by apps and search engines alike.

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Building on that growing power of the devices in our hands, the reliability of voice recognition has been steadily increasing. It’s now at the point where, in languages like English, voice commands can be reliably used to instruct our devices to do something. One of those things we can do, is search.

Voice search changes everything

We cannot tell you how many people search with voice. Most people, for now, will not use voice search as their primary mode of searching. But: the search engines are optimizing for voice search results and have been doing that for a while now. Because the search engines are optimizing for voice results, all of search has already changed because of voice search.

The featured snippets that SEOs have been striving to get are a prime example of how voice search has changed SEO. Optimizing for these snippets requires old school SEO tactics combined with something new. You see, a featured snippet is meant to be read out loud. That’s the context in which Google’s Gary Illyes told people to read their copy out loud, early this year.

Listen to this result from Google Home for the search [what is a meta description?]:

If you’ve listened to the above answer, you’ll know why readability is so important. Answers this long become very hard to listen to if they’re not well written. And even then, we still have to solve things like figure out how we can get Google to pronounce SEO as S-E-O instead of “Seeoo”.

Google changes

Besides voice search and Google’s focus on that, more is changing in and for Google. Specifically: a few new technologies and a profound new way of looking at the web.

Mobile first indexing

We’ve written about mobile first indexing before, but the basic idea is simple: Google is changing how it looks at your site. From ‘judging’ your site as though it’s a desktop site, it’ll switch to judging your site as a mobile site. Every bit of content that can’t be reached on your mobile site, will not count for your ranking.

It’s still unclear when this will roll out and how fast this will roll out. Google says they’re already testing it, but they also say that sites that aren’t ready for it shouldn’t be hurt, for now. Regardless of that, your site should be working well and fast on mobile, so if it isn’t, that’s going to be your priority for SEO in 2018.

AMP

If you haven’t heard about AMP, you’ve missed quite a few posts on this site. I’d suggest you start reading here to learn what AMP is and why it’s important.

Google is focusing a lot of time and effort on AMP. So much that one of the projects we’ve got planned at Yoast for 2018 is to see if we can recreate our single post pages entirely in AMP, completely leaving the non-AMP version. Yes, that’s how important we think AMP will become in the long run. I don’t expect normal sites have to do anything that drastic in 2018, but do make sure you keep up to date with the latest news on AMP.

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Structured data: JSON+LD & Schema.org

Alongside AMP, Google is pushing more and more structured data ‘profiles’. By asking webmasters and SEOs to mark up their content in structured data, according to schema.org data structures, Google is trying to understand the web better.

Yoast SEO does a good chunk of work for websites adding structured data to sites already. For most small business websites and blogs, what it does should be enough.

But if you have a site that has a lot of content that fits one of the schema.org data types (think of recipes, reviews, products, etc.), I’d highly suggest following our Structured Data course. After that you’ll know how to set up a properly structured data strategy for your site.

Content is still king

While all of the technical changes above are important to SEO in 2018, and you should definitely keep an eye on them, content is still the thing that’s going to make you rank. Our recent ultimate guide to content SEO should get you started on the right path there. Good luck optimizing your site in 2018!

Read more: ‘Structured data with schema.org: the ultimate guide’ »

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As most of you will agree, the free version of Yoast SEO is already an awesome plugin. So, we understand that many of you frugal site owners and bloggers may be a bit reluctant to ‘splurge’ on Yoast SEO Premium. What more could the premium version have to offer? Well, as a matter of fact, it has a great deal more to offer! It has several features that help you drastically improve your site structure, make it easier to avoid 404s, and give more insight into your content. In this Ask Yoast, I discuss Yoast SEO premium features that are especially interesting for bloggers.

Alexa emailed us this question:

My audience are travel bloggers and I think they all use the free version of Yoast SEO. I don’t think they would pay for Premium unless they really understood the value. Can you share the main differences of the free vs. the paid version?

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for my answer!

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Yoast SEO premium features explained

Well, there’s nothing I like more than an opportunity to tell you why you should give me money. So let me do that. There’s a couple of things in Yoast SEO Premium that I think are awesome for regular bloggers. One of those things is the redirect manager: if you change a URL somewhere you can easily redirect it; if you delete a post we will give you options to do something with that.

Even more important for bloggers is the internal linking feature that we have. We give you options for posts that you could link to from your current post. Based on what you’re writing about, we’ll tell you, “Hey, this looks similar to that post, you should link to that post.” We’ll give you that option. This will hugely increase how many internal links you have in your site. And because of having more internal links, people will stay on your site longer, your site will rank better, there’s lots and lots of benefits.

Yoast SEO Premium comes with a few more options; I’d encourage you to check out the Yoast SEO Premium page and well, go buy Yoast SEO Premium, is not that expensive. Good luck.

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from our readers. Have an SEO-related question? Let us help you out! Send an email to ask@yoast.com.
(note: please check our blog and knowledge base first, the answer to your question may already be out there! For urgent questions, for example about our plugin not working properly, we’d like to refer you to our support page.)

Read more: ‘Why you should buy Yoast SEO premium’ »

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Over the last couple of months, I attended some events, for instance, our own YoastCon, which was awesome! The thing that kept echoing in my head was the vast misunderstanding a lot of people have about websites and Google. One of my firm beliefs is that Google is becoming more and more ‘human,’ and should be treated that way. This means that in all your SEO efforts, you should consider the use for us human visitors first, and then check if that aligns with any SEO recommendations. Make your websites for humans, not Google. Or in other words: stop pleasing Google!

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SEO from the internet stone age

What you see in most ancient websites, is huge white blocks without content at the bottom of every page. If you press CTRL/CMD+A, a pile of words appears. By using the same text color as the background color of the page, words were only available for the search engine that was reading the code instead of the page. Hidden words, that serve no other purpose than luring Google. Or rather Altavista, in that era. I hear you: nobody does that anymore. Oh, how wrong you are:White on white

I took that screenshot last week of a live site. The page actually says “site updated daily” and I think we even purchased our pinball machine there. It just lists a sh*tload of pinball machine names there. This will never work in the US . It’s spammy, it’s not serving anyone, but it solely served Altavista back then. To be honest, I think this has already or will eventually ruin your rankings and traffic due to that. It’s just that there aren’t that many pinball machine vendors in the Netherlands. This one just happened to have the pinball machine we wanted (Indiana Jones, with the revolver-shaped ball shooter).

Indiana Jones

Although GIF images might be back to stay, this same-color-text-on-background practice should vanish from the present-day internet. Again, stop pleasing Google. Write for humans.

Panda and Penguin changed SEO

Most SEO consultants have said goodbye to spammy, shady optimization techniques because Google actively penalized you for it since 2011. Panda, focused on quality content, ruined your rankings for the use of thin content (short copy, usually over-optimized for a keyword, use of too many banners, things like that). Penguin threw you out of the search result pages because your website had so many bad links from casino / p0rn / v1agra sites, blog networks or simply any other sites that were created to deliver links.

Google Panda and Penguin

We never practiced techniques that touched Panda or Penguin, by the way. It’s all short-term win, and we want to help you optimize for the long run. The thing the internet learned from Panda and Penguin shouldn’t be “stop trying to fool Google,” but “focus on your human visitors.” To be the first result, be the best result. Stop pleasing Google with your rubbish optimization.

And now, 2018 is just around the corner, and we’re still not focusing on our primary visitor.

2018: please your visitors, not Google

If you are like me, New Year’s resolutions are set in May next year, so you know what is achievable. But this one is easy. Let’s all start focusing on our non-automated visitors, starting now, continuing in 2018.

Welcome!

That means, among other things:

  • Include the right rich snippets, don’t add schema.org markup just to inform Google about all the other stuff you do.
  • Realize that meta keywords are only used by your competitor to see what you want to rank for. Google still doesn’t use them.
  • Don’t stuff your footer with all kind of irrelevant links. Keep it focused, make sure these links are helping your visitor. Google will find all relevant pages if you focus on a good site structure anyway. We have a course for that.
  • Prevent duplicate content. Don’t confuse Google with almost similar pages. Those serve no one.
  • Again, no white-text-on-white-background nonsense. Google recognizes it quite easily and will penalize you for that shady, ancient technique.
  • Stop buying links in an attempt to fool Google and get more low-quality traffic. Write quality content instead, trust humans to find it and have them link to your pages because you are worth it.
  • The same goes for trying to insert that automated comment on a gazillion blogs. a) most comment links are or should be nofollowed and b) you are not helping other visitors. Google is capable of filtering the main content <div> anyway.
  • Scraping feeds to create automated content for your website is plain stupid. Either for affiliate gain or just to add content to your website, this type of content, to lure Google to your site, doesn’t add any value to the internet, Google or any human. It just slows down Google, as it has to decide on whether this content is of any value to its visitors. It’s not most of the times. The source is.
  • Keyword stuffing: just keep a keen eye on the keyword density. This is something that we are actively working on for our Yoast SEO plugin. With for instance the rise of voice search, longer keyphrases become more and more common. Using a long keyphrase five times in your 300-word-article will look so unnatural, that it’s not a good practice at all, where using a certain keyword five times might fit there.
  • And what about synonyms? Google recognizes these, at least in English. Did you know our premium plugin supports multiple keywords? Use that to balance synonyms, for instance.

So, stop pleasing Google!

Start focusing on your visitors, on the people that want to buy your product or services. All the developments in Google that took place in the last years focus on one thing: quality websites for your users. That goes for Panda, but also for UX, responsiveness, speed optimization, etc. Mobile-first? Yes. And equally important user-first as well. So, please, stop pleasing Google! On behalf of the internet, I thank you.

Read on: ‘Content SEO: How to analyze your audience’ »

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