Last week, I wrote about Google’s decision to shorten the meta descriptions. Now, meta descriptions are about the same size as they were half a year ago. But for a couple of months, they were much longer. We got a lot of questions and quite a few people were pretty annoyed — understandably so. Is the length of your meta descriptions that important? Do you need to follow every little thing that Google changes to do well in the search results? Here, I’ll explain why having a great website is the best long-term SEO strategy.

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Fit Google’s mission

Google’s mission is ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’ While I do not always understand the decisions the lovely people at Google make, I think your best chance to rank well in Google is to make your website fit that mission. You want people to find your website because they’ll find useful information on your site. You want people to have a good experience. And you want people to be satisfied with your site if they click on your snippet. That should always be the aim of your SEO strategy. Build a website that people will want to visit. Create brilliant content that people will want to read. Make products or services that people want to have or experience. We call this holistic SEO.

Tweaking comes second

Making an excellent website comes first, but you can tweak loads of things to make your site stand out. Of course, in some niches, competition for rankings in Google can be hard. So, you’ll need to go that extra mile to get the traffic to your site. And in those cases, tweaks such as writing awesome meta descriptions could pay off.

It is important to realize though that tweaking your website always comes second. A kickass meta description can never make up for a crappy site without relevant, quality content.

Relax. Invest in quality and tweak occasionally

Do not panic if Google rolls out yet another update. If you had a good website and invested in great content, these updates will probably hardly affect your rankings. In all the updates Google does, they are trying to come closer to their mission. They want their users to find the best match to their search query. Making sure your website is that best match, will always be the best SEO strategy. If you’re doing that, you’ll have little worries.

Remember, we’re all in this game together. If Google decides to change the rules, all of your competitors will suffer as well. Take those meta descriptions; if these get shorter, they will get shorter for every website. I do think you should work on them, but please do not panic. The tweaks will not immediately lead to higher rankings and they will not directly lead to lower rankings either.

Still, a lot of little tweaks combined could make your site stand out in the search results just a little bit more. So, work on that. Steady. Calm. Composed. Yoast will keep you posted on all Google’s changes. Plus, we’ll do a lot of tweaking for you.

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

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

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SEO tasks: What to address first

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

What to address first?

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

How’s your speed?

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

Are you focusing on the right keywords?

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

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

Cover your basics: Tell the right story

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

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

Any structured data needed?

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

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

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

Further SEO tasks and maintenance

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

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

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

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Off-page SEO is about everything that doesn’t happen directly on your website. Optimizing your website is called on-page SEO and includes things like site structure, content and speed optimizations. Off-page SEO is about, among other things, link building, social media and local SEO. Or in other words, generating traffic to your site and making your business appear like the real deal it is. In this post, we answer the question: What is off-page SEO?

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Creating exposure, trust and brand awareness

When focusing on on-page SEO, you’re doing everything in your power to make your site awesome. You write great content, have a solid site structure and your mobile site loads in just a couple of seconds. All is well in the world. Off-page SEO on the other hand, helps you to bring in those hordes of visitors and potential customers. Both are important pieces of the puzzle.

By writing quality content you can rank in search engines, but by getting a few great, relevant sites to link to that content, you’re increasing the chance that you’ll end up a couple of spots higher. The same goes for building your brand and creating trust. This doesn’t just happen on your site, but mostly off-site. Take reviews for instance, these can make or break your company. You need them, but they most often appear on external sites. These are all factors that contribute to your rankings.

It’s not only important for you to rank high for your search term, but also to create trust and a sense of authority. You must appear to be the best search result, not just in technical and content sense, but also in reality. Popularity, quality and relevance are everything.

A lot of it comes down to link building

Links are the glue that keeps the web together. Search engines use links to determine how valuable a piece of content or a particular site is. Getting quality links has always been a great tactic if you’re serious about ranking. And who isn’t? Recently, however, some people seem to debate the relevance of links. We firmly believe in the importance of links. Of course, you need the good ones. Don’t buy stuff, and keep a close eye on where and how you’re being linked to. We’ve written several guides on how to get quality links for your site and what you shouldn’t do when link building.

Social media helps to a certain extent

By itself social media is not essential for ranking well in search engines. It does, however, give you a unique opportunity to get in touch with customers and potential visitors.

As David Mhim wrote in his epic Ranking your local business post series: “”Being active” on social media isn’t really going to help with your local search visibility. And even if you’re wildly popular on social media, it’s unlikely that popularity will translate directly into higher local search rankings. You should primarily focus your social media efforts on engaging your customers with interesting content, promotions (if relevant), and polls and conversations that will increase their affinity for your brand. You can promote your website to a degree, but generally speaking, improvements in your local rankings will come from other factors.”

Local SEO is also off-page SEO

Local SEO is essential if you’re business is locally oriented. For local businesses, part of the off-page SEO is really in-person SEO. Word-of-mouth marketing plays a big role in getting people to your business. Not just that, happy customers can leave reviews online that Google – and potential other customers – can use to see how well you are doing.

Off-page SEO is an integral part of your SEO strategy

As we’ve shown, off-page SEO supplements on-page SEO. Both go hand in hand. You need to focus on your link building, branding and appearance efforts to make the most of your SEO. You can optimize your site all you want, but if isn’t perceived as a quality destination for people, you won’t do well.

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

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You might have heard us say it before: the UX of your site is essential for SEO. But what is UX? And why is it important for SEO? In this article, we’ll explain what it is and why you shouldn’t forget working on it if you want to rank high in Google. On top of that, we’ll shortly give you some pointers what to do to keep the users of your website satisfied.

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What is UX?

UX stands for User eXperience. As you might have figured, it’s all about how users experience a product. This can be a website, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be an app, a mobile phone or any other physical product that you can use, even a milk carton. It’s all about how someone feels when using a particular product. Does the product make you feel excited or happy, is it a joy to use it, does it help you effortlessly achieve what you’ve been aiming for? Or does it make you feel angry and frustrated because it doesn’t work or look the way you expected it to?

UX or usability?

UX and usability are sometimes used interchangeably. They’re both used to describe the ease with which a visitor uses your site. However, UX is often considered to be broader than usability. If a website is very usable – or user-friendly – visitors will be able to find or do what they want to do easily. A great user experience involves more, for example, esthetics. A website can be straightforward to use, but boring at the same time. This means the usability is excellent, but the user experience could be improved.

For instance, the illustrations of our blog posts are not necessary to improve usability. However, they do contribute to the experience users have on our site. I’m quite a fan of the drawings our illustrators Erwin and Tim make, and I hope they make you think or smile too. These images contribute to the UX of our site. Without them, you would experience our site differently. This way, UX can be part of a branding strategy, even more than usability.

Why is it important for SEO to improve UX?

So why should improving the usability and UX of your site be part of your SEO strategy? Google, or other search engines, want to provide people with the best result for their query. The best result does not only mean the best answer, but it also means the best experience. For instance, if you’re looking for the answer to “What is keyword research?” Google wants to give you the best answer in a swift, pleasant and secure way. So even if you’ve written an excellent answer in a post, but your site is slow, a mess or unsafe, Google won’t consider your post the best answer.

How does Google know?

Google uses different methods to make an educated guess about how users experience your site. They look at elements like site speed – there’s almost nothing more annoying than a page that takes ages to load -, mobile friendliness, the way you’ve structured your content and the internal and external linking of your pages. Lots of high-quality links to your web page probably indicate people had a pleasant experience with it, right?

In addition to that, Google uses user signals to find out how visitors experience your website. User signals are behavioral patterns that Google sees on your site. If a lot of people leave your website very quickly, they might not have found what they’re looking for. Of course, there are some exceptions to this, read Annelieke’s post on bounce rate to find out which. Some other user signals are the time spent on a page and how often people return to your website. If these are high, visitors most likely enjoy your site or find it useful. You can check these kinds of statistics for your site with Google Analytics and other website analysis tools.

It’s no coincidence that the factors mentioned above are important both for UX and SEO. Google tries to grasp how humans experience a website. That’s why a positive experience on your site can contribute to your rankings. If you want to learn more about this, you should read Michiel’s post on the relation between SEO and UX.

Holistic SEO

So should you work on usability and UX just for search engines? I think you can guess our answer to that… At Yoast, we advocate holistically looking at your website. This means you’re striving to make your website excellent in many ways: great content, easy to use – also on mobile – and secure. You’re making these changes for your visitors. In the end, it’s the user who’s going to buy your products, come to your event or subscribe to your newsletter.

Where to start?

As always, start by thinking about the goal of your website and specific pages. What do you want visitors to do on your site? Buy stuff? Read your articles? Donate money to your charity? The purpose of your website or a specific page on your site should be on the top of your mind when you’re making improvements. Your design and content should support this goal. Having a clear goal in mind will also help you prioritize the improvements for your site.

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If you want to improve the UX on your site also try to look at it from a user’s perspective. Ask yourself some questions – and be honest:

Most people develop blind spots if they work a lot on their site. You should, therefore, take the opportunity to ask people to evaluate your site, whenever you can! Try to get people from your target group to test your site and ask them if it worked as they expected it to. You can also use questionnaires on your site, or, if you don’t want to bother them too much, use an exit intent question and ask them why they’re leaving your site. Another option is to do some A/B testing to find out which design of your page gives the best results.

So, no excuses anymore. Start working on the UX of your site, and you might boost your rankings too!

Read more: ‘How to perform an SEO audit. Part 1: Content SEO & UX’ »

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We’re quickly nearing the end of 2017. These final days of the year are for contemplating, thankfulness and optimism about what’s ahead. While we’re looking back at this past year – which has been incredible for us -, we wanted to present for your reading pleasure: the twelve most read posts of 2017. A super powerful collection of SEO knowledge. Time to start the countdown. Happy reading!

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12: Which redirect should I use?

We often get questions about redirects and the redirects manager. Not many people know the difference between all these codes like a 301 or a 410, so we set out to remedy that. This post gives you an overview of what a redirect is and which one you should use when. We hope this makes it a bit clearer.

Which redirect should I use? »

11: How to use the content & SEO analysis of Yoast SEO

The content and SEO analysis is a core feature of Yoast SEO. Many users will spend most of their time in the post editor, fixing the readability and SEO-scores of their articles. Doing so improves the findability and readability of your articles. This article shows you how to use it to its full potential.

How to use the content & SEO analysis of Yoast SEO »

10: 5 tips to write readable blog posts

Write for your user and use language they can understand. It’s advice you hear all the time; but what does it mean and how do you incorporate it into your work? In this post, Marieke presents five great tips to improve that next blog post you are working on.

5 tips to write readable blog posts »

9: Image SEO: Optimizing images for search engines

Part one of our Image SEO series; part two is even higher on this year’s list. Over the years, we’ve seen how vital site speed has become. One of the first things you should do to make your site faster is to optimize your images. Seems like a no-brainer, but people still seem to forget. This post explains how you so go about that.

Image SEO: Optimizing images for search engines »

8: WordPress robots.txt example for great SEO

Many WordPress users seem to struggle to make sense of the robots.txt file and how it influences SEO. Well, this post explains what the best practices are for your WordPress robots.txt. Also, Joost describes how the robots.txt file was used some years ago and how it works today. A must-read!

WordPress robots.txt example for great SEO »

7: rel=canonical: the ultimate guide

rel=canonical is an important tool in your SEO toolkit. It helps you determine which version of identical or similar url’s Google should index. If you’re not using it, you might be confusing Google with duplicate content and ultimately, competing with yourself. In this ultimate guide, we’ll teach you everything about rel=canonical.

rel=canonical: the ultimate guide »

6: WordPress SEO: The Definitive Guide

This is the one that started it all. Joost’s original WordPress SEO article still draws lots of visitors and rightly so; it’s an impressive piece of work. In it, you’ll find loads of tips and tricks to make your WordPress site awesome, for both visitors and search engines. Haven’t read it yet? What’s stopping you? Read it!

WordPress SEO: The Definitive Guide »

5: Image SEO: alt tag and title tag optimization

Image SEO can have a significant effect, not only on your rankings but accessibility as well. By adding the correct tag content to images, you describe what’s in them so search engines and screen readers can identify it. Find out how you can improve your image SEO.

Image SEO: alt tag and title tag optimization »

4: How to create the right meta description

Together with the page title and structured data, the meta description is one of the few tools you have to make your site stand out from your competitors in the search results. You have to write an enticing text that makes it impossible for potential visitors to resist your site. How? Well, you can read all about it in this article.

How to create the right meta description »

3: How to choose the perfect focus keyword

It’s quite hard to pick a great and fitting focus keyword. Finding the right keyword might be the missing link for your SEO efforts. Joost de Valk wrote an excellent post on how to find the perfect focus keyword. He even gives you tips on how to get a sense of the search volume you can expect for a particular keyword.

How to choose the perfect focus keyword »

2: Practical tips to set up a clear text structure

You guys love practical tips. Most of the posts in this top twelve set out to answer your questions. This post surely delivers those answers since it has been in our most-read lists for some time. In this article, Marieke shows you how to create a structure in your text that makes its message clear and easy to understand.

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Practical tips to set up a clear text structure »

1: What is cornerstone content?

In 2017, we added lots of site structure features to Yoast SEO. One of the focus points was cornerstone content, i.e., the most important content on your site. These articles define who you are and what you offer and should, therefore, receive special attention as these are the magnets that pull in traffic from search engines. This post explains everything about cornerstone content.

Our most-read post of 2017: What is cornerstone content? »

Read more: ‘Our most-read posts of 2016’ »

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This week, we’ve been showing you how to perform an SEO audit on your website. By regularly auditing your – or your client’s – sites, you can get a good feel for what you still need to do to improve SEO. In part 1, I talked about user experience and content SEO and in part 2, I’ve touched on general SEO issues. Here, I’ll round off this series with a look at site speed and engagement.

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Perform an SEO audit: Site speed

Let’s not forget the speed of your site, not just because we all browse the web a lot more on our mobile devices, over not-so-broadband networks, but also because a fast site makes Google and in most cases your conversion rate happier.

Combine and minify CSS and JS files

The first and easiest check would be to open the source of your website in a browser and do a search for “.js” or “.css”. If the amount of results scares you, you know there’s work to do. I can’t give you an exact number for this, but multiple lines of JavaScript files or CSS files, usually indicate there’s a large change that you can speed up your site by minifying JS or CSS files and combine them. Google Page Speed Insights will also tell you if this is an area you can improve in, and guide you a bit in the process:

SEO Audit: PageSpeed Insights

Click the “Show how to fix links” in there for more information. Another Google tool to help you check your site speed is Google Lighthouse.

Browser caching

Browser caching is about how a browser remembers / stores your website for faster visiting the next time you come to that website. There are plenty of plugins like WP Rocket or WP Super Cache that can help you with this. If you’re not sure if you need to optimize your browser caching, simply check how you are doing in the Google PageSpeed Insights we mentioned earlier, or websites like WebpageTest.org. It will tell you among other things how if your browser caching is optimized. These websites will also tell you if there is room for improvement regarding compression.

Enable compression

Compression is making your files as small as possible before sending them to the user’s browser (where they indeed might/will end up in your browser caching). As Google itself puts it:

Enabling gzip compression can reduce the size of the transferred response by up to 90%, which can significantly reduce the amount of time to download the resource, reduce data usage for the client, and improve the time to first render of your pages.

The same tools as mentioned at browser caching work for compression, but as I feel compression should be on for every website, I really liked to mention it separately. Check your compression yourself. In addition, there’s no need to compress files when your site is on a HTTP/2 connection. Read more about performance optimization in an HTTP/2 world.

Engagement

Google will bring people to your website, but engagement can help return visitors and for instance sales promotions.

Social media

The obvious engagement related thing is social media. Check some social platforms, starting with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram to see if your desired audience is present on these platforms. If you haven’t created a profile there, please do so and start building your audience.

If you are doing this, please check if these social profiles are listed on your website, and how they are listed. Would you subscribe yourself, or do you have to go on a search quest to find these buttons? Monitor clicks on these buttons, because a lot of people just look for your company on Facebook instead of clicking those. If nobody uses these buttons, replace them with a footer link or something like that. How to approach this depends on how popular your social profile is / will become.

Newsletter

We changed our newsletter approach for the better a while back when we switched from two to three newsletters a week. That seems like a lot, I know. Our main goal is to deliver something extra in every newsletter. Of course, we want to keep you up-to-date regarding SEO, our newest articles and promotions, and events. But we keep a keen eye on that newsletter and strive not to repeat ourselves.

If you are ready to start sending that newsletter, please add the subscription option for that newsletter on a nice spot on your website, not hidden from your audience, but in plain sight. Don’t ask you, subscribers, a ton of information about themselves, but simply have them fill out their email address and start sending that newsletter.

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You’ve just done your (first) SEO audit

If you have reached the end of this article series, you have intentionally or unintentionally, done your (first) SEO audit. I am sure that during the reading of this article, you have gone over your site, beit in your mind or actually over your site, and you have found something to work on.

If you perform an SEO audit now and then, you make sure your website’s up-to-date. It should be part of your frequent site maintenance cycle, I think. Good job!

Any additions for quick checks of your site’s SEO health? Love to hear from you!

Read more: ‘WordPress SEO: the Definitive Guide’ »

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In my previous article, part 1 of the How to perform an SEO audit series, I showed you the steps you could take to evaluate the SEO of your own – or someone else’s – site. The first steps were all about content SEO and user experience. In part 2, I’ll dive deeper into the general SEO part of the audit. Later, I’ll conclude the series with part 3, where I’ll look at site speed and engagement. Enjoy auditing!

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General SEO

There are several things that you can check quite easily in your SEO audit, without any effort – if you use the right tools. Keep in mind that tools are here to help, not replace your common sense and your product/brand knowledge. One of my go-to tools is Screaming Frog SEO spider. Yes, there are a lot of alternatives, like Ryte, but for a quick check-up, Screaming Frog SEO spider suffices. It’s a handy tool that can do a lot of relevant checks, even its free version.

Page titles

Page titles should focus on a specific topic and be branded at the end. That’s what I would primarily focus on here. In Screaming Frog:

SEO audit - Screaming frog - page titles

Check for duplicates, missing page titles, and if these are indeed constructed as ‘page title – branding’. Walmart does a nice job at this, as you can see. Read up on page titles here.

Meta description

The meta description is your invite to your website. SEO value? Well, a good meta description will attract more people to your website from Google or Bing, for instance. Now, please note that your meta description is a suggestion for that search engine, not something it will copy every time your site is shown in the search result pages. It has to be focused and clear, and align with the search query. More on meta descriptions here.

SEO Audit: meta description

In Screaming Frog, it’s easy to see if meta descriptions are duplicate, like in this screenshot, or missing. Walmart had only a few duplicate meta descriptions, to be honest, in my quick check. Most pages have a unique description.

Canonical URLs

The canonical URL tells you / Google what the source of a page is. If you copy this page to your website, please set the canonical URL of your copy to this page and Google will understand it has to rank my page, while still very much informing your site’s visitor.

SEO audit: canonicals

Again, Screaming Frog comes in handy. Check for missing canonical URLs and see (if your site has a ‘processable’ number of pages) if the canonical URLs align with the regular URL for a page.

Screaming Frog can do so much more, but let’s leave it at that for now.

Quick Panda & Penguin check

Panda and Penguin are algorithm updates by Google, focused on serving more quality websites in their search result pages. Panda focuses on thin content and banners, among other things, where Penguin checks if the links to your website are natural links that make sense.

In your SEO audit, a quick check for Panda would be to step back from your computer screen and look at your website. Is there a surplus of banners? Is your sale filling up all the space all the time, before any interesting content? Make sure there is a good balance. I’d say four banners above the fold is a lot.

For Penguin, use for instance Majestic’s SEO tool to do a quick check of backlinks, and see if you find any shady websites linking to your website. Disavow these websites in your Google Search Console.

More on Panda and Penguin here. Note that Google says these are ongoing updates these days.

Template code

A lot of SEOs will tell you to fix the foundation of your website, meaning the template. I think content is the foundation of the website and your template(s) should serve that content. I read a comment by someone just last week stating that these template code related things are the only things you need for SEO – think again. As mentioned over and over, we believe in a holistic approach, taking a lot more into consideration. But that doesn’t mean that your template can be crap. Far from it.

Schema.org / JSON-LD

Structured data is essential these days. It’s your page summary in re-usable chunks of content that Google loves. Add schema.org data via JSON-LD, we have written about that before. If you want to check schema.org data for a certain page, use a schema validator. Google that, there is a variety of them. If you want to add structured data, please use JSON-LD as Google prefers that. Google will also inform you about structured data in Google Search Console.

Want to know more about structured data? We have a course on structured data as well – go check it out.

Breadcrumbs

I could have mentioned breadcrumbs when discussing site structure as well, but they are part of your template, right? Add breadcrumbs to make sure people know where in your site structure they ended up, and realize these are also valuable internal links for Google. In your SEO audit, check for breadcrumbs, and see if these are also returned when checking for structured data, so you know they are served to Google the best way possible.

The mobile version of your website

Mobile-first. It’s coming. And I still feel that a responsive website, in addition to all the AMP and so, is essential. One site to maintain. To start off, simply reduce your browser screen’s width and see what happens. Then, open your mobile browser on your phone and visit your website. Click to your main product page, click to your contact form. How does your homepage look? Does everything work like it should? Does it load fast? Make sure you get the mobile experience you want.

We have written a lot about mobile websites, feel free to browse these other articles for more information:

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Heading structure

This might be the least of your worries these days, to be honest. HTML5 allows you to add an H1 to every block element and Google will probably figure out your main heading in the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, a good heading structure helps you structure your page’s content and allows Google and your visitors to scan your page and grasp the general storyline. Check if your heading structure makes sense, both visually and in semantics. More on headings here.

Part 3 is next: Site speed & Engagement

This concludes part two of the SEO audit series. In this part, you’ve learned how to analyze the general SEO of your site using several tools as well as your judgement. If you followed along, you’ve probably found several issues on your site that you could improve on. That’s exactly what an audit is meant to uncover, so all is well. Make a to-do list and start working! In part three, we’ll go over site speed and engagement. Stay tuned!

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

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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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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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Some SEO questions are awkward. You want to know the answer to them, but you feel pretty stupid for just having the thought about it in your mind. If you ask your next door SEO neighbor, you’re afraid he or she will laugh. You’re embarrassed. You’re afraid to ask that specific question. But still, there is this undying desire to know the answer. You tried Google, asked your Amazon Echo, but there is a deafening silence reminding you that this is indeed a strange question. Let me answer 5 SEO questions you were probably just too afraid to ask.

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Can SEO agency X really get me to rank #1?

Yes, SEO agency X can get you to rank #1, to be honest. They can. They will use shady techniques, like adding a gazillion keyword focused pages to your website, and add your website to a blog network for links. Your traffic will rise, your rankings will go up, and if you are lucky, you will obtain that number one spot in Google for a particular keyword.

What they don’t tell you, is that they tricked Google into ranking your website number one. After some time, you will see your traffic drop, slowly or all of a sudden. This is the time Google needed to figure out what was going on with your website. This is the time when Google finds that you(r SEO company) was luring it into liking your website so much. And this is also the time that you lose all your traffic and find your site in the gutter of the internet, after page 2 in Google. Money wasted.

What should I have done?

These kinds of SEO questions all have the same answer. You should have invested in quality content. Write about the things your customers and visitors want to read about. Entertain and inform them via great articles. Build a base of regular visitors, either by writing great content or focusing on that niche product range people like so much. If your website is impressive enough, other sites will start liking you. Your rankings will go up. And by Google’s grace, you’ll reach that top spot in Google the right way. Of course, you can get guidance from any SEO agency that is realistic in this! It’s not a trick; it’s Seriously Effortful Optimization.

Do I have to write a unique product description for all my 10,000 product pages?

I had my share of these type of SEO questions: does every page needs to be unique? I have thousands of pages/products! Actually, yes. If you want to rank with every single page of your website, you need to create unique pages, to prevent duplicate content. You need to optimize every single page in that case. It’ll probably leave you wondering if you have chosen the right approach to optimize your website. You probably did not.

What should I have done?

If your website has this many pages, site structure and taxonomies become very important. I usually use a DIY store as an example. You probably have 100 product pages with screws. How to optimize every single product page!? A screw is a screw, right!? In that case, it will pay off much more to optimize your category page. Make sure that page has sufficient and great content, so that you have a shot at ranking for that more generic keyword.

By optimizing the taxonomy page, and placing that in the right position in your site structure, you help every single product page that fits into that very category. If you optimize your filter options and search options along the way, you are saving you a lot of hassle!

Can I use more than one H1 on a page?

Yes, you can use more than one H1 on a page. If you take the HTML5 guidelines as a rule, every block element could or perhaps should have a semantic structure in headings, starting at H1 and working towards H6 if needed. That means multiple H1’s can indeed be added to a page.

SEO questions: why one H1? One captain on a ship, really.

The question that remains is whether that would be the best SEO practice. If we add an H1 to every single block on a page, which heading would be the most important heading of that page? Does it make sense to make every blog title on your site’s blog archive page an H1? Would a search engine be able to digest it like that? It probably can. But every H1 loses a bit of value with the addition of the next one, in my opinion.

What should I have done?

Establish on what (focus) keyword you want to focus on that page, and create one compelling H1 as the main title of that page. If that is an archive page, use the main keyword and create a title around that. Use H2 for all the different article titles that are listed on that page.

One H1 per page isn’t a strict rule, but for SEO it makes all the sense in the world. If you want to read up on headings, please visit this page: Headings and why you should use them.

Do I still need meta keywords?

C’mon, people. No, there are no stupid SEO questions. Really, there are none. But this one is asked so many times, that by now the question should be in an SEO museum. Please understand that there might be variations, like meta news_keywords, but the meta keywords tag isn’t used by Google anymore for rankings – and hasn’t been for a long time.

What should I have done?

Focus on a great title, add a very nice, inviting meta description and write awesome content. And forget about (putting effort into) these meta keywords.

After installing your SEO plugin, can I lean back and wait for traffic to come in?

Ok, let’s finish off with a question related to our SEO plugin. There are still a lot of people that install Yoast SEO and then forget about SEO altogether. In a land of fairytales, there might be such a tool or app that magically get you to the very top of the wizard’s search engine, where long tail strategies refer to Rapunzel’s hair.

In the real world, there are no magic tricks that help you rank better. You should do everything you can to create an attractive website for both users and search engines. Our SEO plugin provides a convenient, easy way to optimize your website. But it needs you to do the optimizing.

What should I have done?

Install our plugin and follow the steps in our beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO. We help you configure the plugin, and will show you where the plugin helps you optimize your pages, your content. Monitor your website in Google Analytics and Google Search Console so that you will know a) if your efforts pay off, and b) if anything out-of-the-ordinary happens to your website. If so, rinse and repeat. Go back to the page at hand, use our analysis en see what you can do to improve a specific page.

Any more SEO questions?

Of course, there are more SEO questions that you’d like to ask. We have a packed SEO knowledge base for you to browse, with loads of information about SEO and our plugins. We have an SEO blog that is updated multiple times a week with fresh and updated content. If you want a deep-dive in SEO, feel free to browse our (paid) SEO courses. There is always something to learn!

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