What’s technical SEO? 8 technical aspects everyone should know

An SEO Basics post about technical SEO might seem like a contradiction in terms. Nevertheless, some basic knowledge about the more technical side of SEO can mean the difference between a high ranking site and a site that doesn’t rank at all. Technical SEO isn’t easy, but here we’ll explain – in layman’s language – which aspects you should (ask your developer to) pay attention to when working on the technical foundation of your website.

What is technical SEO?

Technical SEO refers to improving the technical aspects of a website in order to increase the ranking of its pages in the search engines. Making a website faster, easier to crawl and understandable for search engines are the pillars of technical optimization. Technical SEO is part of on-page SEO, which focuses on improving elements on your website to get higher rankings. It’s the opposite of off-page SEO, which is about generating exposure for a website through other channels.

Why should you optimize your site technically?

Google and other search engines want to present their users with the best possible results for their query. Therefore, Google’s robots crawl and evaluate web pages on a multitude of factors. Some factors are based on the user’s experience, like how fast a page loads. Other factors help search engine robots grasp what your pages are about. This is what, amongst others, structured data does. So, by improving technical aspects you help search engines crawl and understand your site. If you do this well, you might be rewarded with higher rankings or even rich results.

It also works the other way around: if you make serious technical mistakes on your site, they can cost you. You wouldn’t be the first to block search engines entirely from crawling your site by accidentally adding a trailing slash in the wrong place in your robots.txt file.

But it’s a misconception you should focus on technical details of a website just to please search engines. A website should work well – be fast, clear and easy to use – for your users in the first place. Fortunately, creating a strong technical foundation often coincides with a better experience for both users and search engines.

What are the characteristics of a technically optimized website?

A technically sound website is fast for users and easy to crawl for search engine robots. A proper technical setup helps search engines to understand what a site is about and it prevents confusion caused by, for instance, duplicate content. Moreover, it doesn’t send visitors, nor search engines, into dead-end streets by non-working links. Here, we’ll shortly go into some important characteristics of a technically optimized website.

1. It’s fast

Nowadays, web pages need to load fast. People are impatient and don’t want to wait for a page to open. In 2016 already, research showed that 53% of mobile website visitors will leave if a webpage doesn’t open within three seconds. So if your website is slow, people get frustrated and move on to another website, and you’ll miss out on all that traffic.

Google knows slow web pages offer a less than optimal experience. Therefore they prefer web pages that load faster. So, a slow web page also ends up further down the search results than its faster equivalent, resulting in even less traffic.

Wondering if your website is fast enough? Read how to easily test your site speed. Most tests will also give you pointers on what to improve. We’ll guide you through common site speed optimization tips here.

2. It’s crawlable for search engines

Search engines use robots to crawl or spider your website. The robots follow links to discover content on your site. A great internal linking structure will make sure that they’ll understand what the most important content on your site is.

But there are more ways to guide robots. You can, for instance, block them from crawling certain content if you don’t want them to go there. You can also let them crawl a page, but tell them not to show this page in the search results or not to follow the links on that page.

Robots.txt file

You can give robots directions on your site by using the robots.txt file. It’s a powerful tool, which should be handled carefully. As we mentioned in the beginning, a small mistake might prevent robots from crawling (important parts of) your site. Sometimes, people unintentionally block their site’s CSS and JS files in the robot.txt file. These files contain code that tells browsers what your site should look like and how it works. If those files are blocked, search engines can’t find out if your site works properly.

All in all, we recommend to really dive into robots.txt if you want to learn how it works. Or, perhaps even better, let a developer handle it for you!

The meta robots tag

The robots meta tag is a piece of code that you won’t see on the page as a visitor. It’s in the source code in the so-called head section of a page. Robots read this section when finding a page. In it, they’ll find information about what they’ll find on the page or what they need to do with it.

If you want search engine robots to crawl a page, but to keep it out of the search results for some reason, you can tell them with the robots meta tag. With the robots meta tag, you can also instruct them to crawl a page, but not to follow the links on the page. With Yoast SEO it’s easy to noindex or nofollow a post or page. Learn for which pages you’d want to do that.

Read more: https://yoast.com/what-is-crawlability/

3. It doesn’t have (many) dead links

We’ve discussed that slow websites are frustrating. What might be even more annoying for visitors than a slow page, is landing on a page that doesn’t exist at all. If a link leads to a non-existing page on your site, people will encounter a 404 error page. There goes your carefully crafted user experience!

What’s more, search engines don’t like to find these error pages either. And, they tend to find even more dead links than visitors encounter because they follow every link they bump into, even if it’s hidden.

Unfortunately, most sites have (at least) some dead links, because a website is a continuous work in progress: people make things and break things. Fortunately, there are tools that can help you retrieve dead links on your site. Read about those tools and how to solve 404 errors.

To prevent unnecessary dead links, you should always redirect the URL of a page when you delete it or move it. Ideally, you’d redirect it to a page that replaces the old page. With Yoast SEO Premium, you can easily make redirects yourself. No need for a developer!

Read more: https://yoast.com/what-is-a-redirect/

4. It doesn’t confuse search engines with duplicate content

If you have the same content on multiple pages of your site – or even on other sites – search engines might get confused. Because, if these pages show the same content, which one should they rank highest? As a result, they might rank all pages with the same content lower.

Unfortunately, you might have a duplicate content issue without even knowing it. Because of technical reasons, different URLs can show the same content. For a visitor, this doesn’t make any difference, but for a search engine it does; it’ll see the same content on a different URL.

Luckily, there’s a technical solution to this issue. With the so-called, canonical link element you can indicate what the original page – or the page you’d like to rank in the search engines – is. In Yoast SEO you can easily set a canonical URL for a page. And, to make it easy for you, Yoast SEO adds self-referencing canonical links to all your pages. This will help prevent duplicate content issues that you’d might not even be aware of.

5. It’s secure

A technically optimized website is a secure website. Making your website safe for users to guarantee their privacy is a basic requirement nowadays. There are many things you can do to make your (WordPress) website secure, and one of the most crucial things is implementing HTTPS.

HTTPS makes sure that no-one can intercept the data that’s sent over between the browser and the site. So, for instance, if people log in to your site, their credentials are safe. You’ll need a so-called SSL certificate to implement HTTPS on your site. Google acknowledges the importance of security and therefore made HTTPS a ranking signal: secure websites rank higher than unsafe equivalents.

You can easily check if your website is HTTPS in most browsers. On the left hand side of the search bar of your browser, you’ll see a lock if it’s safe. If you see the words “not secure” you (or your developer) have some work to do!

Read more: SEO Basics: What is HTTPS?

6. Plus: it has structured data

Structured data helps search engines understand your website, content or even your business better. With structured data you can tell search engines, what kind of product you sell or which recipes you have on your site. Plus, it will give you the opportunity to provide all kinds of details about those products or recipes.

Because there’s a fixed format (described on Schema.org) in which you should provide this information, search engines can easily find and understand it. It helps them to place your content in a bigger picture. Here, you can read a story about how it works and how Yoast SEO helps you with that.

Implementing structured data can bring you more than just a better understanding by search engines. It also makes your content eligible for rich results; those shiny results with stars or details that stand out in the search results.

7. Plus: It has an XML sitemap

Simply put, an XML sitemap is a list of all pages of your site. It serves as a roadmap for search engines on your site. With it, you’ll make sure search engines won’t miss any important content on your site. The XML sitemap is often categorized in posts, pages, tags or other custom post types and includes the number of images and the last modified date for every page.

Ideally, a website doesn’t need an XML sitemap. If it has an internal linking structure which connects all content nicely, robots won’t need it. However, not all sites have a great structure, and having an XML sitemap won’t do any harm. So we’d always advise having an XML site map on your site.

8. Plus: International websites use hreflang

If your site targets more than one country or countries where the same language is spoken, search engines need a little help to understand which countries or language you’re trying to reach. If you help them, they can show people the right website for their area in the search results.

Hreflang tags help you do just that. You can define for a page which country and language it is meant for. This also solves a possible duplicate content problem: even if your US and UK site show the same content, Google will know it’s written for a different region.

Optimizing international websites is quite a specialism. If you’d like to learn how to make your international sites rank, we’d advise taking a look at our Multilingual SEO training.

Want to learn more about this?

So this is technical SEO in a nutshell. It’s quite a lot already, while we’ve only scratched the surface here. There’s so much more to tell about the technical side of SEO! If you want to take a deep-dive into technical SEO, we’d advise our Technical SEO training or Structured data training. With these courses, you’ll learn how to create a solid technical foundation for your own website.

PS You’re the ambitious type? Get both training courses together and save $59!

Read more: https://yoast.com/wordpress-seo/

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What is the difference between a keyword and a keyphrase?

You’ve probably heard that doing keyword research is an essential, first step in optimizing your website properly. But how about these keywords: can they only be single words or can they also be longer multi-word keyphrases? And what exactly is the difference between the two? In this SEO basics post, we’ll explain the difference between a keyword and a keyphrase.

What is a keyword?

Keyphrase versus long tail keyword
You’ve probably also heard of long tail keywords and that these are more specific than focus keywords. Most of the time – but not necessarily – they consist of more words. You might wonder what the difference is between long tail keywords and keyphrases? Keyphrases by definition exist of more than one word and they can be either general or specific. Long tail keywords may consist of more words, but they do not always. The main difference between the two is that keyphrases can be general or specific, e.g. [puppy training] or [puppy training for deaf dogs] whilst long tail keywords are always more specific [puppy training location in LA].

A (focus) keyword is a word that describes the content of your page or post best. It’s the search term that you want to rank for with a certain page. So when people search for that keyword in Google or other search engines, they should find that page on your website.

E.g. Your website is about dogs, and you’ve just written a blog post all about puppies. The keyword that describes the content of that post best is probably: “puppy”.

What is a keyphrase?

A (focus) keyphrase is the search term that you most want your post or page to rank for, so when people search for that keyphrase, they should find you.

E.g. Your website is all about dogs, and you’ve just written a blog post all about how puppies can become obedient. The keyphrase that describes the content of the post best is something along the lines of: “puppy obedience training”

What are the differences?

Keywords or keyphrases should both describe the essence of what the post is about. The difference between the two is that keywords are single words, while keyphrases are made up of a few words.

Read more: Keyword research: the ultimate guide »

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What is Google Search Console?

Google Search Console (or ‘GSC’ for short) lets webmasters monitor and manage their websites through an official portal, and is crammed full with useful statistics. Having access to tools and data provided directly by the search engines can make optimizing your website much easier!

It’s a communication channel

Search Console accounts are the main, and official way in which Google communicates with individual site owners. By having a registered account, Google can send webmasters information about site issues, errors, or even penalties. It also provides some limited tools to allow you to contact them about site issues and feature requests.

It’s a control center

If you’re actively optimizing your website, you’ll understand that SEO is never ‘finished’. You need to be continually improving your content, refining your site settings, and minimizing your errors.

Search Console provides tools which help with this day-to-day management. It lets you do things like submit and monitor your XML sitemaps, ask Google to (re)evaluate your errors, or see how Google sees particular pages and URLs on your site.

XML Sitemap management in Google Search Console

It’s a performance dashboard

Your GSC account is full of useful information about how your website is shown and performing in search results. From mobile usability reports to visibility and clickthrough tracking, and much more.

If you’re serious about managing and optimizing your website, your GSC account is your nerve center for understanding when, where and how your site is appearing in Google.

Performance overview in Google Search Console

It’s a data source

Most of the data in Google Search Console can be extracted and integrated into other systems, like Google Analytics, and Yoast SEO!

That means that, if you’re running a Yoast SEO plugin, you can integrate some of your GSC data directly into your website. This can make it much easier to manage your errors, analysis, and redirects!

Check out our great guide on how to get that hooked up, and how to take advantage of the integration.

Ready to get started?

Anybody who runs or manages a website should be able to access a Google Search Console account, for free.

There are a few different ways to create and authorize your account, but the easiest is to integrate through Yoast SEO – just follow this quick guide to get things running!

Once you’re all set up, why not take a tour around Google Search Console with our great beginner’s guide?

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The beginner’s guide to Google Search Console

Do you have your own website or maintain the website of the company you work for? Of course, to do this right, you need to keep a keen eye on the performance of your website. Google offers several tools to collect and analyze data of your website. You probably have heard of Google Analytics and Google Search Console before. These tools are free to use for everyone maintaining a website and can give you very valuable insights about your website.

Why everyone with a website should use Google Search Console

Google Search Console has been created to easily track the performance of your website. You can get valuable insights out of your Google Search Console account which means that you can see what part of your website needs work. This can be a technical part of your website, such as an increasing number of crawl errors that need to be fixed. This can also be giving a specific keyword more attention because the rankings or impressions are decreasing.

Besides seeing this kind of data, you’ll get mail notifications when new errors are noticed by Google Search Console. Because of these notifications, you’re quickly aware of issues you need to fix.

Setting up an account

To start using Google Search Console, you’ll need to create an account. Within the new Google Search Console, you can click on ‘add a new property’ in the top bar:

Google search console - add property

Clicking on the ‘Add a property’ button, you can insert the website you want to add. Make sure you add the right URL, so with ‘https’ if you have an https website and with or without ‘www’. For collecting the right data, it’s important to add the right version:

When you’ve added a website, you need to verify that you’re the owner. There are several options to verify your ownership.

For WordPress users who use Yoast SEO we recommend using the ‘HTML tag’ method:

You can easily copy this code and paste it into the ‘Webmaster tools’ tab within the Yoast SEO plugin:

After saving this, you can return to Google Search Console and click on the ‘Verify’ button to confirm. If everything is ok, you’ll get a success message and GSC will start collecting data for your website.

Features in Google Search Console

Now you’ve set up your account what would be the next step? Well, it’s time to look at some of your data! We’ll explore some of the reports and information available in the rest of this article.

Performance

Within the performance tab, you can see what pages and what keywords your website ranks for in Google. In the old version of GSC you could see the data of a maximum of the last 90 days but in the new version, it’s possible to see the data up to 16 months. Keep in mind that the data is available from the moment you set up your account.

If you check the performance tab regularly, you can quickly see what keywords or what pages need some more attention and optimization. So where to begin? Within the performance tab, you see a list of ‘queries’, ‘pages’, ‘countries’ or ‘devices’. Each of those sections can be sorted by the number of ‘clicks’, ‘impressions’, ‘average CTR’ or ‘average position’. We’ll explain each of them below:

Google search console - performance

1. Clicks

The amount of clicks tells you how often people clicked on your website in the search results of Google. This number can tell something about the performance of your page titles and meta descriptions: if just a few people click on your result, your result might not stand out in the search results. It could be helpful to check what other results are displayed around you to see what can be optimized for your snippet.

The position of the search result also has an impact on the number of clicks of course. If your page is in the top 3 of Google’s first result page it will automatically get more clicks than a page that ranks on the second page of the search results.

2. Impressions

The impressions tell you how often your website in general or how often a specific page is shown in the search results. For example, in the GSC account of our own website, Yoast SEO is one of the keywords our website ranks for. The number of impressions shown after this keyword shows how often our website is shown for that keyword in the search results of Google. You don’t know yet what page ranks for that keyword.

To see what pages might rank for the specific keyword, you can click on the line of the keyword. Doing this for the keyword [Yoast SEO], the keyword is added as a filter:

Keyword filter

After that, you could navigate to the ‘Pages’ tab to see what pages exactly rank for this keyword. Are those pages the ones you’d want to rank for that keyword? If not, you might need to optimize the page you’d like to rank. Think of writing better content containing the keyword on that page, adding internal links from relevant pages or posts to the page, making the page load faster, etc.

3. Average CTR

The CTR – Click-through rate – tells you what percentage of the people that have seen your website in the search results also clicked through to your website. You probably understand that higher rankings mostly also lead to higher click-through rates.

However, there are also things you can do yourself to increase the CTR. For example, you could rewrite your meta description and make it more appealing. When the description of your site stands out from the other results, more people will probably click on your result and your CTR will increase. Keep in mind that this will not have a big impact if you’re not ranking on the first page yet. You might need to try other things first to improve your ranking.

4. Average position

The last one in this list is the ‘Average position’. This tells you what the average ranking of a specific keyword or page was in the time period you’ve selected. Of course, this position isn’t always reliable since more and more people seem to get different search results. Google seems to understand better and better which results fit best for which visitor. However, this indicator still gives you an idea if the clicks, impressions and the average CTR are explainable.

Index coverage

A more technical but very valuable tab within Google Search Console is the ‘Index coverage’ tab. This section shows how many pages are in the index of Google since the last update, how many pages aren’t and what errors and warnings caused difficulties for Google indexing your pages properly.

Index coverageWe recommend checking this tab regularly to see what errors and warnings appear on your website. However, you also get notifications when Google has found new errors. When you get such a notification you can check the error in more detail here.

You may find that errors are caused when, e.g., a redirect doesn’t seem to work correctly, or Google is finding broken code or error pages in your theme.

Clicking on the link, you can analyze the error more in depth to see what specific URLs are affected. When you’ve fixed the error you can mark it as fixed to make sure Google will test the URL again:

Submitted URL not found (404)

There are a few things you should always look for when checking out your coverage reports:

  • If you’re writing new content, your indexed pages should be a steadily increasing number. This tells you two things: Google can index your site and you keep your site ‘alive’ by adding content.
  • Watch out for sudden drops! This might mean that Google is having trouble accessing (all of) your website. Something may be blocking Google; whether it’s robots.txt changes or a server that’s down: you need to look into it!
  • Sudden (and unexpected) spikes in the graph might mean an issue with duplicate content (such as both www and non-www, wrong canonicals, etc.), automatically generated pages, or even hacks.

We recommend that you monitor these types of situations closely and resolve errors quickly, as too many errors could send a signal of low quality (bad maintenance) to Google.

AMP

Below the ‘Index coverage,’ you can find the ‘AMP’ tab. AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages: lightning fast mobile pages. If you’ve set up AMP for your website you can check for errors in Google Search Console. Within this section you can see the valid AMP pages, the valid ones with warnings and errors:

AMP errorBelow the chart, the issues are listed. If you click on one of the issues, you can see the affected URLs. Just as in the index section of GSC you can validate your fix if you’ve fixed an issue.

Job Postings

Within this tab, you’ll be able to list your job openings and to track their performance. If there are any errors, you’ll see them in here. It’s not the most important feature of GSC, but it can be valuable for specific companies or websites.

Events

This section provides useful feedback on your structured markup for events. Events can be complex to tag up correctly, so this can be an extremely helpful report for finding out where you need to tweak details like dates and location!

Sitemaps

An XML sitemap is like a roadmap to all important pages and posts on your website. We think every website would benefit from having one. Is our Yoast SEO plugin running on your website? Then you automatically have an XML sitemap. If not, we recommend creating one to make sure Google can find your most important pages and posts easily.

Within the XML sitemap tab of Google Search Console you can tell Google where your XML sitemap is located on your site:

Add a new sitemap

We recommend everyone entering the URL of their XML sitemap into GSC to make Google find it easily. In addition to that, you can quickly see if your sitemap gives errors or if some pages aren’t indexed, for instance. Checking this regularly, you’re sure Google can find and read your XML sitemap correctly.

We recommend regularly checking the XML sitemap section in our plugin to manage which post types or taxonomies you’re including in your sitemaps!

Links

Within the links to your site section, you can see how many links from other sites are pointing to your website. Besides, you can see what websites link, how many links those websites contain to your site and lastly, what anchor texts are used most linking to your website. This can be valuable information because links still are very important for SEO.

Within the internal links section, you can check what pages of your website are most linked from other spots on your site. This list can be valuable to analyze regularly because you want your most important pages and posts to get most internal links. Doing this, you make sure Google understands as well what your cornerstones are.

Mobile usability

The mobile usability tab within this section shows you usability issues with your mobile website or with specific mobile pages. Since mobile traffic is rising all over the world, we recommend checking this regularly. If your mobile site isn’t user-friendly, lots of visitors will leave it quickly.

Manual Actions

The manual actions tab is the one you don’t want to see anything in. If your site is penalized by Google, you’ll get more information in here. If your site is affected by a manual action, you’ll also get messaged via email.

There are a number of scenarios which can lead to these kinds of penalties, including:

  • You have unnatural/bought links
    Make sure from and to your site are valuable, not just for SEO. Preferably your links come from and link to related content that is valuable for your readers.
  • Your site has been hacked
    A message stating your site’s probably hacked by a third party. Google might label your site as compromised or lower your rankings.
  • You’re hiding something from Google
    If you’re ‘cloaking’ (that is, intentionally showing different to content than to users, for the purposes of decieving either of them), or using ‘sneaky’ redirects (e.g., hiding affiliate URLs), then you’re violating of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
  • Plain Spam
    Automatically generated content, scraped content and aggressive cloaking could cause Google to blacklist your site.
  • Spammy structured markup
    If you use rich snippets for too many irrelevant elements on a page, or mark up content that is hidden to the visitor, that might be considered spammy. Mark up what’s necessary, and not everything is necessary.

Missing features in the new version of Google Search Console

As you might have noticed not all features are integrated yet into the new version of Google Search Console. Google explains that this could have two reasons: they may have found a better way of presenting the data or they’re still in the process of migrating the feature to the new version. As said before, we’ll update this post when there’s progress made in the migration.

The old version of GSC is still available for everyone. So, why should you switch back to the old version once in a while? We’ll list the features that are missing in the new version, but that seems valuable to keep an eye on, below.

Search appearance

From the ‘Search appearance’ section of the old Google Search Console, we miss the following features in the new version: ‘Structured data‘, ‘Rich cards‘, ‘Data highlighter‘ and the ‘HTML improvements‘.

If you’ve added structured data to your website we recommend checking the structured data tab of the old version regularly. Here you’ll see if all structured data is recognized by Google and errors will be listed. If you’ve added structured data meant for rich cards, you can check for errors in the rich cards tab. The data highlighter can be used to markup your pages without having to code yourself. You can read more in-depth about Google Search Console and structured data here.

In the last missing feature of the search appearance tab, the HTML improvements, you can easily check, for instance, for duplicate titles or quite short titles which can be improved. These listings can be an easy pick: optimizing your titles and meta descriptions might increase your rankings and CTR.

International targeting

The international targeting tab is important for websites who have pages in different languages and who target people in different countries or regions. When you’ve implemented hreflang to your website, you can check for errors within this section of GSC.

Crawl stats

In the crawl tab, you can find the sections ‘Crawl errors’, ‘Crawl stats’, ‘Fetch as Google’, ‘Robots.txt tester’, ‘Sitemaps’ and ‘URL parameters’.

It seems that you can find some crawl errors in the new index coverage tag but if we look at our account, we don’t see all crawl errors in the new version. This means that it’s important to check your crawl errors still in the old version of GSC. When you’ve fixed a crawl error you can mark it as fixed. The crawl stats aren’t included yet so you can find those stats in the old version.

The crawl stats tell you something about how many pages are crawled per day, how many kilobytes are downloaded per day and how many time was spent downloading a page. If one of the graphs seem to decrease, you know it’s time to do something about it.

The fetch as Google feature gives you the opportunity to see if Google can access a specific page correctly, how it exactly renders the page and if there are blocked resources on the page. You can test your pages both for desktop as for mobile to see the differences between those.

The robots.txt tester is made to add your robots.txt and to test if any errors or warnings seem to appear. You can also add specific URLs to check whether they’re blocked or not.

The sitemaps are already moved to the new version of GSC so it’s time for the last feature of the crawl tab: URL parameters. In the URL Parameters section, you can add parameters for your website and ‘tell’ Google how they should be handled. If you want to use this, we recommend reading the guidelines carefully. Don’t just add some parameters to see what happens. This can cause serious problems with your site’s SEO.

Security issues

Last but not least: within the security issues tab you’ll get a notification when your website seems to have a security issue.

Do you already use Google Search Console for your website? If not, we definitely recommend creating an account so you can start collecting data about your website. Do you think something is missing? Feel free to leave a comment!

Read on: How to make your site stand out in the search results »

 

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SEO basics: What are long tail keywords?

“If you want your posts to rank, you should write about long tail keywords”. You’ve probably seen this common SEO advice before. But what do we mean by long tail keywords? And why should you write about them? Here, we’ll explain what long tail keywords are and how they can help you rank. Including examples!

What are long tail keywords?

In SEO, we distinguish between head keywords and long tail keywords. A long tail keyword is more specific than a head keyword, and most of the times – but not necessarily – it consists of more words. The head keyword is a general term lots of people write about. A long tail keyword is a more specific topic or a subtopic of the head term. Usually, less people create content about this topic.

How do they help you rank?

The idea is quite simple. As mentioned above, there is less content on the web about long tail keywords, because less people have written about them. Less content means less competition! Because the competition isn’t that fierce, it’s easier to beat other web pages with content about long tail keywords in search engines.

In addition, you might find that it’s easier to target a specific search intent with long tail keywords. Search intent is the why behind a search: does someone just want information or is he/she looking to buy something? Or something else entirely?

Long tail graphic

This illustration shows that a more specific topic (or keyphrase) means less competition

Example of a long tail keyword

Let’s look at an example. An example of a head keyword or keyphrase is [educational books for children]. There are many booksellers, publishers and bloggers writing about educational books. If you just start out with your website, it’d be virtually impossible to rank for this term. You’d have to compete with Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and the likes.

What you should try is focusing on a niche for your blog or your shop. Finding a niche means targeting a very specific group of people. You can do so by creating very specific content: content about long tail keywords! An examples of a long tail keyword could be: [educational books for autistic teenagers]. If you write high quality content about a specialized topic like that, you can beat the competition for those long tail terms. Also, if you are targeting searchers who have an intent to buy books, you can include that term and focus your content on answering this search — maybe throw in a local search as well: [where to buy educational books for autistic teenagers in Vancouver].

Learn all about picking the right keywords for your audience with our Keyword research training »

Long term strategy

You might think: “But I want to rank for the head keyword. That one gets loads of traffic!” It does, but if you rank page 10 for that query, you won’t get much out of it. It might drive a lot of traffic, but nothing that’ll convert to sales or inquiries. So we’d advise to start with the less competitive, long tail keywords. When you’ve written several articles about related long tail keywords and you rank for those, you can aim for a term that gets closer to the head term.

Let’s go back to the example of [educational books for autistic teenagers]. You could write about [educational books for autistic preschoolers], [picture books for autistic children] and [reading stories to your autistic child] too. This way Google will find out you have quite a bit of specialized content on this topic.

If you bundle all this knowledge in one cornerstone article, for instance, [educational books for autistic children] and you make sure you link from all your long tail articles to this main article, you’ll increase your chance of ranking for the main article.

If this works, you can start writing high quality content about other types of educational books for children. Slowly but surely, you’ll be getting closer to the head terms. We call this a cornerstone content strategy.

Higher conversions too!

Less competition isn’t the only advantage of writing about long tail keywords. If you focus on a niche, your visitors will more easily convert into customers, newsletter subscribers or whatever you’re aiming for — especially if you cater to their search intent. Let’s say your visitors are looking for a very specific type of book. If they land on your site, specialized in exactly those kind of books, they’ll likely find and buy the books they’re looking for. Just another reason to focus on the long tail!

Read more: All about long tail keywords and why they deserve your focus! »

The post SEO basics: What are long tail keywords? appeared first on Yoast.

SEO basics: What are rich snippets?

Maybe you’ve heard about the concept of rich snippets. SEO experts seem to think everyone knows exactly what rich snippets are. But, for SEO newbies, a rich snippet is a really vague term. What are rich snippets exactly? Time to explain what rich snippets are, why they’re important for SEO and how you can get them for your site.

What are rich snippets?

A snippet is a result Google shows to the user in the search results. An example: I was searching for a good recipe for homemade ice cream and googled it. Google showed me a results list with normal snippets and rich snippets. A normal snippet usually looks like this:

Google shows the title in blue, the URL in green and a description of what the page is about. This is what we call the snippet, the thing Yoast SEO helps you to optimize with our snippet preview.

A rich snippet shows extra information between the URL and the description. A rich snippet looks like this:

In this snippet, a picture of the ice cream is added, you can see the rating of the recipe, the time it takes to prepare this type of ice cream and the number of calories it contains. A rich snippet contains much more information than the normal snippet does. That’s why we call it a rich snippet.

Why are rich snippets important for SEO?

Rich snippets stand out from the other snippets. They look much nicer and you’ll instantly know more, just by looking at them. You’ll know whether other people liked the homemade ice cream and how long it’ll take you to make it. Rich snippets are snippets that have a higher click-through rate. People like to click on rich snippets.

If the click-through rate of a snippet increases, you’ll get more traffic from that search result. Not because your position in the search engine changed, but just because more people click on your result. In the long run, rich snippets will have an effect on your ranking as well. As more people click on your result, Google will notice that people prefer your page above other ones. That’ll definitely improve your rankings in the long run!

How do you get rich snippets?

Google can show rich snippets if you add structured data to your site. Structured data is a piece of code in a specific format, written in such a way that search engines understand it. Search engines read the code and use it to create rich snippets.

Read more: ‘What is structured data’ »

Adding structured data to your website can be quite daunting. But we’re here to help! As of tomorrow, Yoast offers an online training to teach you how to implement structured data so Google can show rich snippets. We’ll show you different strategies (from beginner to more advanced levels), so that everyone will be able to get started with structured data and get those rich snippets!

Keep reading: ‘Structured data with Schema.org: the ultimate guide’ »

What is structured data?

You might have heard about structured data, Schema.org, and JSON-LD. But what do these terms mean exactly? What is structured data? What does structured data do? And what does it have to do with SEO? For all of you who don’t know what structured data is: this post will make it clear to you!

Increase chances of Google showing rich results of your site in the search results: learn how to add structured data with our training on structured data and SEO.

What is structured data?

Structured data is code in a specific format, written in such a way that search engines understand it. Search engines read the code and use it to display search results in a specific and much richer way. You can easily put this piece of code on your website.

Imagine you have a website with a lot of recipes. If you add structured data to a page with a recipe, your result in the search engines might change. It will be much “richer” regarding content that’s shown. That’s the reason we call these results rich results or rich snippets. This is what a rich result looks like:

An example of a rich results powered by structured data
An example of a rich recipe result powered by structured data

Besides the title, the URL and the description of the search result, you can see how long it will take to make the absolute best ever lasagna. And, you’ll see how many calories the lasagne contains. You need to add structured data to your web page to get such a rich snippet.

There are all kinds of structured data. Structured data is always a code format. There’s structured data for books, for reviews, for movies, and for products in your online store, for instance. In all cases, structured data adds more details to your snippet in the search results. Browse Google’s Search Gallery to see which rich results are powered by structured data.

We have to make one side note here. Unfortunately, Google does not always create a rich snippet of your page, even if you’ve added the structured data. There are no guarantees. So all you can do is add it to your page, and hope Google will pick it up!

What do you do with structured data?

With structured data, you can “talk” to the search engines. You can tell the search engines which ingredients there are in your recipe, you can tell them how long the preparation time is, and you can tell them how many calories the dish will contain. Google will be able to grasp all that information instantly and can decide to show it in the search results.

So structured data is a tool you can use to tell Google (in a way it understands what you’re saying) detailed information about a page on your website. Google then will be able to use this information to create informative, rich search results. And audiences love these rich snippets!

What is Schema.org?

The big search engines have developed a project called Schema.org. On Schema.org you can find all the structured data markup supported by the search engines. This makes Schema.org a large collection of pieces of code.

You can use Schema.org to find the markup you need for your particular page. For instance, if you sell t-shirts on your site, you could show what colour t-shirts you sell and what sizes you offer in your snippet. You should investigate Schema.org/Product and find out the possibilities.

On Schema.org, you can copy code examples. After copying it, you’ll have to adapt the code to your specific preferences.

Schema.org is a taxonomy of code formats that the large search engines understand. You’ll find examples of what the code looks like. There are other forms of structured data as well. For instance Open Graph (used by Facebook) and Twitter cards (used by Twitter).

What is JSON-LD?

JSON-LD is one of the markups of Schema.org. It’s just a way to write code. On Schema.org, you’ll also find other markups like Microdata or RDFa. At Yoast, we’ll advise you always to use JSON-LD, because it does not break your site as easily as other markups do. You can — relatively easily — add JSON-LD to your website using Google Tag Manager. That’s not possible with the other markups.

Why is structured data important for SEO?

Structured data is important for SEO because it’ll make it easier for Google to understand what your pages and your website are about. Google needs to find out what a page is about to show it in the search results. Using structured data is like talking to Google, telling Google what your site is about. That’ll help with your rankings.

On top of that, structured data will change the way your snippet (your search results) will look like. It’ll show more information to your customer. More specific information. And this will increase the likelihood a customer will click on your results. More clicks will eventually lead to even higher rankings! We’re seeing more and more structured data powered rich results pop up, so it is important to keep an eye on this.

How to use structured data?

Using structured data sounds hard, but everyone can do it — with the proper training. You have to get the right code, you’ll have to adapt that code and you’ll need to use Google Tag Manager to put it on your site.

We already have written a lot of posts about Schema.org and JSON-LD, which will help you to understand more about this subject.

No code hero? Use a plugin!

A lot of structured data markup can also be added to your website using plugins. Our local SEO plugin, for instance, uses structured data to show the location or multiple locations of your store. You don’t have to write code to get that rich snippet, you’ll just use our plugin, fill out some details and we’ll do it for you. And there are many more plugins that’ll help you to use structured data without the need to struggle with any code!

At Yoast, we’re also working on a better, much easier way to add structured data using WordPress’ new block editor: structured data content blocks.

Read on: Structured data: the ultimate guide »

The post What is structured data? appeared first on Yoast.

How to start a blog

If you’re thinking about starting a blog, the most important thing I have to say to you is: go for it! Start your blog! Just do it! Blogging is a great SEO strategy, it’s a wonderful marketing tool and blogging is lots of fun! A new blog will allow you to make smart and strategic choices. Just take a little time to think about how to set up your blog before you begin, so you’ll have less work later on. Let me share some tips with you on how to start a blog.

Choose your niche

You should always write about what you know. But you should not write about everything you know. Pick a niche. Decide upon a main topic and write posts related to that topic. It’s more likely that your audience will come back and read your other posts if you’re writing about similar topics. People will know what to expect. Starting a mom blog implies that you write about all things concerning your children and family life. Starting a travel blog implies you write about traveling. You can write about something slightly off topic once in a while of course, but try to stick to your niche. An audience of a travel blog doesn’t expect a blog post about gardening. 

Our SEO for WordPress eBook guides you through every aspect of Search Engine Optimization »

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Do your keyword research

Once you’ve chosen your niche, you should do some solid keyword research. Try to find out what people are searching for. What words are they using when they want to read about your niche and your topic? You should really get inside the heads of your potential audience. If you do your keyword research properly, you should end up with a long lists of keywords you would like to be found for. Try to come up with competitive, head keywords as well as with less competitive long-tail keywords.

Read more: ‘How to start your keyword research’ »

Think about site structure

This is the best time to think about site structure. What categories are popular in your niche? What are the most important head keywords you’d like to rank for? You should write a long, kick-ass article about each of these keywords. Those will be your most essential articles, or in other words, your cornerstone content. You should give those articles a prominent place on your site.

After you’ve written those beautiful cornerstone articles, write lots of blog posts on sub topics of that main topic and always link to your cornerstones. That way, you’ll be telling Google exactly what the most important articles on your website are.

Keep reading: ‘What is cornerstone content?’ »

Write that first post

Take some time to do keyword research and to think about site structure. But don’t take too much time. Just write that first post! Put pen to paper and just do it. Your blog starts with the very first post. That post doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be published. Need some help to get started? Check out our 10 tips on how to make your post awesome.

Pictures and videos

Writing blog post is more than writing a nice story; a successful blog has pictures and videos as well. Every post should show at least one image. Taking nice photos yourself is a great way of creating images and making short videos is a really good blogging strategy as well. Especially if you’re blogging about (aspects) of your own life, photos of it are a necessity.

Read on: ‘Images for blogs’ »

Optimize for the search engines

Before publishing your post, optimize it using Yoast SEO (on WordPress of course, but on Magento and TYPO3 now too!). Don’t forget to create an awesome SEO title and a decent snippet. Finetune your text. Make sure your text is both readable as well as SEO-friendly.

Read more: ‘How to use the content & SEO analysis of Yoast SEO’ »

Promote your blog

Using social media is the best way to reach and grow the audience of your blog. That’s why your blog should have a Facebook page. Sharing your posts on Facebook is a good marketing strategy. Don’t forget Instagram and Twitter either!

In addition to the use of social media to promote your blog, we advise you send out a digital newsletter. Let people sign up for it and send out emails with your latest blog posts and some other fun facts.

Keep reading: ‘Marketing your blog’ »

Stick with it!

The most important thing to start a blog – besides setting up your new blog – is to write that very first blog post. Once you’ve written that first post, your blog has started. You should keep on writing blog posts to make it successful, so try to determine a frequency to publish new posts. You don’t have to blog every day, once a week or maybe even once in every two weeks would be a nice frequency to start with. Find a frequency you can stick with! Your audience will know what to expect, if your blogging frequency is stable.

Read on: ‘Blog SEO: make people stay and read your post’ »

Ask Yoast: Create profiles on online platforms?

Nowadays there are a lot of online platforms where you can create your business profile. The idea is that you can be found on those platforms and that the backlinks to your site will benefit your SEO. But is it really worth investing your time and money in those kind of directories? Get the answer in this Ask Yoast!

Marcial Bollinger emailed us asking:

“There are a lot of possibilities nowadays to add an online profile for your site on all sorts of directories, etc. It might give you a lot of backlinks, but are these worth anything for SEO?”

Check out the video or read the answer below!

New to SEO? Learn the Basics of SEO in our Basic SEO course »

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Add an online profile for your business

In the video, we help you decide whether your should invest time in creating profiles on online directories. Do they boost your SEO?

“To be honest, probably not. The only reason to create profiles on sites like that is if those sites actually have traffic. If they have traffic, then having the profile probably has an SEO benefit too. Because, in that case, probably the links are worth something to Google, as they see that that site is a living thing and people really use it as a reference.

So if you can make a profile on one of those sites, by all means do. If you can make a profile on a site that you don’t think anyone would ever get to and you’re just doing it for Google, stop doing it. Stuff like that doesn’t work anymore, so don’t. Focus on sites that people might actually will find you on and if those sites are in your area or in your niche, then use them. If they don’t exist, then focus on something else.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers. Need some advice about SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read more: ‘6 steps to a successful link building strategy’ »

What is on-page SEO?

Every SEO strategy is focused on ranking as high as possible in the search engines. To do this, we all try to design and develop a website that Google’s secret algorithm will love. That’s basically what SEO is about. The factors in Google’s algorithm can be divided into two categories which will determine the ranking of your website: on-page factors and off-page factors. Here, I’ll discuss the differences between the two, explain the importance of on-page SEO and go over the most essential on-page SEO factors.

On-page and off-page SEO

On-page factors all have to do with elements of your own website. On-page factors include technical set-up – the quality of your code – textual and visual content and user-friendliness of your site. On the other side there are off-page factors, like links from other websites, social media attention and other marketing activities outside your own website. If you focus on off-page SEO you mostly aim to get more links to your site. The more relevant links you get, the higher your ranking in Google will be. Want to get more links to your site? Read our series about link building.

Importance of on-page SEO

On-page SEO consists of all the elements of SEO you can control best. If you own a website, you can control the technical issues and the quality of your content. We believe on-page issues should all be tackled as they’re in your own hands. If you create an awesome website, it will definitely start ranking. Focusing on on-page SEO will also increase the probability that your off-page SEO strategy will be successful. Link building with a crappy site is a very tough job. Nobody wants to link to articles that are badly written or boring.

New to SEO? Learn the Basics of SEO in our Basic SEO course »

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Essential on-page SEO factors

In our view, there are three major on-page SEO factors. These three pillars are the ones you should focus on:

Technical excellence

The quality of your code should be high. Check if you’re not unintentionally blocking crawlers from indexing your website (we still see this happening!). WordPress is an SEO-friendly platform and our free Yoast SEO plugin takes care of most remaining technical SEO challenges, without you even noticing it. So if you’re using WordPress and configured Yoast SEO well, you’ll have most technical aspects of your on-page SEO covered.

Want to dive deeper into the technical side of SEO? Read our articles on technical SEO or take the Technical SEO 1 training.

Awesome content

Why do people visit your site? Most likely because it contains information they’re looking for. Therefore you should write excellent content. Search engines like Google read your text. Which site ranks highest is for a large part based on the content of a website. That content should be about the right keywords, informative, and easy to read.

Learn all about writing high-quality content in our Ultimate Guide to SEO copywriting or get our Content SEO eBook.

Flawless UX

The third and final pillar is User eXperience. Users need to easily understand your website. They should be able to find what they want in a heartbeat. They should know where to click and how to navigate through your site. And it should be fast! A beautifully designed website is nice, but you should definitely make it your top priority to create a user-friendly website first!

Read more about usability here. If you want to learn more about combining SEO, UX and conversion we’d advise you to read our eBook ‘UX and Conversion from an holistic point of view

Read more: ‘SEO basics: what does Google do’ »