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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SEO is a way to get more traffic to your website. By ranking high in Google, you attract more people to your site. Eventually, your goal probably is to sell your stuff, or to attract more regular visitors. A nice tactic to get more traffic to your site is optimizing your content for words people use. However, to really convince people to buy your stuff, subscribe to your newsletter or to come back to your website another time, you should take into account search intent as well. Here, I will tell you what search intent is and how to optimize your articles for search intent.

What is search intent?

Search intent has to do with the reason why people conduct a specific search. Why are they searching? Are they searching because they have a question and want an answer to that question? Are they searching for a specific website? Or, are they searching because they want to buy something?

Over the years, Google has become more and more able to determine the search intent of people. And Google wants to rank pages highest that fit the search term as well as the search intent of a specific search query. That’s why it’s essential to make sure your post or page fits the search intent of your audience. 

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4 types of search intent

There are a few distinct types of search intent:

Informational intent

First, there is informational intent. Lots of searches on the internet are of people looking for information. Information about the weather, information about educating children, information about SEO. In this case people have a specific question or want to know more about a certain topic.

Navigational intent

The second type of search intent is called navigational intent. People with this intent try to get to a specific website. People who search for Facebook are usually on their way to the Facebook website.

Ranking high on a navigational term is only beneficial for your organic traffic if your site is the site people are looking for. A few years ago, Yoast had a Google Analytics plugin and we ranked pretty well for the term Google Analytics. It didn’t drive any traffic to our site though. People searching for Google Analytics were looking for the Google Analytics website and were hardly ever interested in our plugin.

Transactional intent

The third type of search intent is the transactional intent. Lots of people buy stuff on the internet and browse the web to find the best purchase. People who have the intention to buy are searching with a transactional intent.

Commercial investigation

Some people have the intention to buy in the (near) future, but use the web to do their research. What washing machine would be best? Which SEO plugin is the most helpful? These people also have a transactional intent, but will need some more time and convincing. These types of search intents are usually called commercial investigating intents.

Keyword intent

The words people use in their search queries will give information about their user intent. If people use words as buy, deal, discount, they are definitely prone to buy something. Also, if people are searching for specific products, they probably want to buy it. If people are searching and use words like information, how to, best way to, you’ll know they’ll have an informational search intent.

How to optimize your content for search intent

You want to make sure that a landing page fits the search intent of your audience. If people search for information, you don’t want to show them a product page. At least, not immediately. You’d probably scare them away. If people want to buy your product, do not bore them with long articles. Lead them to your shop.

Optimizing your product pages for more commercial driven keywords is a good idea. If you sell dog vitamins, you could for instance optimize a product page for [buy dog vitamins]. Perhaps you also have an article about administering vitamins. You could for example optimize that article for the search term [how to give vitamins do my dog].

It can be rather hard to determine the search intent of a query. And, perhaps different users will have a (slightly) different user intent, but still land on the same page. If you want to know more about the search intent of your audience, the best way is to ask them. You could make a small survey, containing questions about what people were searching for and make that survey pop up if people enter your website. That’ll probably give more insights in the search intent of your audience.

Conclusion

It’s crucial to ensure that the content you’re writing fits both the terms people are searching for, as well as the search intent of your audience. Make sure your post or page is informational, if people are searching for information. But lead people to your sales pages if they are prone to buying one of your products.

Read more: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »

 

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

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As your site grows, it’ll get cluttered

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

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

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

Why is site structure important for Google?

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

1. Structure is a guide for Google

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

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

2. Not competing with your content

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

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

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

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

How to get started with site structure?

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

Remove old content

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

Evaluate your categories

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

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

3. Improve your internal linking structure

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

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

Conclusion: get started with improving your site structure

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

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

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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!

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

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Whenever I think of Googlebot, I see a cute, smart Wall-E like robot speeding off on a quest to find and index knowledge in all corners of yet unknown worlds. It’s always slightly disappointing to be reminded that Googlebot is ‘only’ a computer program written by Google that crawls the web and adds pages to its index. Here, I’ll introduce you to the crawler and show you what it does.

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Googlebot? Web crawler? Spider? Huh?

All those terms mean the same thing: it’s a bot that crawls the web. Googlebot crawls web pages via links. It finds and reads new and updated content and suggests what should be added to the index. The index, of course, is Google’s brain. This is where all the knowledge resides. Google uses a ton of computers to send their crawlers to every nook and cranny of the web to find these pages and to see what’s on them. Googlebot is Google’s web crawler or robot and other search engines have their own.

How does Googlebot work?

Googlebot uses sitemaps and databases of links discovered during previous crawls to determine where to go next. Whenever the crawler finds new links on a site, it adds them to the list of pages to visit next. If Googlebot finds changes in the links or broken links, it will make a note of that so the index can be updated. The program determines how often it will crawl pages. To make sure Googlebot can correctly index your site, you need to check its crawlability. If your site is available to crawlers they come around often.

Different robots

There are several different robots. For instance, the AdSense and AdsBot check ad quality, while Mobile Apps Android checks Android apps. For us, these are most important ones:

Name User-agent
Googlebot (desktop) Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)
Googlebot (mobile) Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 6.0.1; Nexus 5X Build/MMB29P) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2272.96 Mobile Safari/537.36 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)
Googlebot Video Googlebot-Video/1.0
Googlebot Images Googlebot-Image/1.0
Googlebot News Googlebot-News

How Googlebot visits your site

To find out how often Googlebot visits your site and what it does there, you can dive into your log files or open the Crawl section of Google Search Console. If you want to do really advanced stuff to optimize the crawl performance of your site, you can use tools like Kibana or the SEO Log File Analyser by Screaming Frog.

Google does not share lists of IP addresses that the various Googlebots use, since these addresses change often. To find out if a real Googlebot visits your site, you can do a reverse IP lookup. Spammer or fakers can easily spoof a user-agent name, but not an IP address. Here’s Google’s example of verifying the validity of a Googlebot.

You can use the robots.txt to determine how Googlebot visits – parts of – your site. Watch out though, if you do this the wrong way, you might stop Googlebot from coming altogether. This will take your site out of the index. There are better ways to prevent your site from being indexed.

Google Search Console

Search Console is one of the most important tools to check the crawlability of your site. There, you can verify how Googlebot sees your site. You’ll also get a list of crawl errors for your to fix. In Search Console, you can also ask Googlebot to recrawl your site. Another way to fix these crawl errors is by connecting Yoast SEO to Search Console. You can import your errors and fix them straight from the backend of your site. Yoast SEO Premium can do even more to make your SEO easier.

Optimize for Googlebot

Getting Googlebot to crawl your site faster is a fairly technical process that boils down to bringing down the technical barriers that prohibit the crawler from accessing your site properly. It is a fairly technical process, but you should make yourself familiar with that. If Google can’t crawl your site perfectly well, it can never make it rank for you. Find those errors and fix them!

Conclusion

Googlebot is the little robot that visits your site. If you’ve made technically sound choices for your site, it’ll come often. If you regularly add fresh content it’ll come around more often. Sometimes, whenever you’ve made large-scale changes to your site, you might have to call that cute little crawler to come at once, so the changes can be reflected in the search results as soon as possible.

Read more: ‘SEO basics: What does Google do?’ »

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First things first. Conversion isn’t SEO. Conversion is an end of the customer’s journey on your website. It’s not the end, as that customer could come back and start a new part of the journey. Conversion can be improved by good SEO, that much is true if you:

By making sure your visitor is served to his or her best needs, you will provide a warm welcome. You will establish a kind of trust, which will make it easier for that visitor to convert.

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But what is conversion?

The question remains: what is conversion? Conversion is often associated with a sale, but in online marketing, defining conversion just by that is too narrow-minded. Conversion, the way we define it, happens every time a visitor completes a desired action on your website. That could be a click-through to the next page, if that is your main goal on a certain page. It could be the subscription to a newsletter. And it could be a visitor buying your product. In short: conversion happens when someone completes the action you want them to complete.

And what is conversion rate?

If 100 persons visit your page, and 10 of them subscribe to your newsletter, your conversion rate is 10%. The conversion rate is also a number you’ll find in Google Analytics, for instance:

Conversion rate is used to monitor the conversion on a web page, depending on the thing you want to monitor. So, for instance, if you hire our conversion friends at AG Consult, they will (among other things) perform A/B tests on your website and tell you which variant has the highest conversion rate (test winner). You’d better implement that test winner asap, as you will understand :)

How about CRO?

You might even have heard of something called CRO when talking or reading about conversion. CRO is Conversion Rate Optimization. This is the process of optimizing the number of conversions compared to the number of visitors. There are a lot of ways to do this, but again, we’d rather refer you to the conversion experts instead of sharing our basic CRO knowledge. There is just so much to it.

CRO versus SEO

They clash. CRO and SEO clash sometimes. In SEO, we will always tell you to keep the visitor in mind. If you serve the visitor the best way you can, you are optimizing for a brand, for brand loyalty, for recognition in Google, for more and quality traffic. And although the next step might indeed be converting that visitor, there’s no need to shove your products down their throat, really. There is a fine line between serving the visitor and annoying him.

CRO at Yoast

You might think that we, at Yoast, are pretty focused on optimizing that conversion to the max. You see our banners in the plugin, on our website, and indeed, conversion is very important for us. More newsletter subscriptions lead to a larger reach, which leads to more attention for our products, which leads to more reviews, more downloads, more sales. And with the money made, we develop the free plugin and sponsor for instance WordCamps.

Conversion, in any possible way, helps to create a sustainable business growth. But trust me, if we wouldn’t keep that SEO, our core business, and our mission (SEO for everyone) in mind, our articles could have six buy buttons. And we could annoy you with a surplus of exit-intent popups and so on. It would upset you, increase bounce rate, trigger you to never come back, and ruin the SEO you so carefully worked on.

So, what is conversion again?

A successful conversion is every instance when a visitor completes a desired action on your website. And still feels good about your brand, your website, and your products, and is likely to come back to your site!

Read more: ‘eCommerce usability: the ultimate guide’ »

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HTTPS secures the connection to the website you are visiting. I’m sure you have seen this in action; look at the address bar in the browser and find the lock icon on the left-hand side. Is the lock closed? Then the connection is secure. Is it open or is there another type of icon or message? Then it’s not secure and vulnerable to attack. Using a site over a non-secure connection means hackers/criminals could intercept the data you send to the site, like your password and email address. Here, I’ll explain what HTTPS is and why it plays a role in SEO.

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HTTP vs HTTPS

When you type in a URL in the search bar, your browser asks the site for its IP address – for instance 123.456.7.89. This number is the actual address that a site gets online. The browser connects to this number in the hopes this is the correct site. This is all done in plain sight and there is no encryption to be seen, so everyone can intercept this traffic. So when you want to log in to a site that you connect to via an HTTP connection, the data you enter – username and password – is sent in plain text. Trust me, that’s really bad. Think about what would happen if you’d connect to your bank this way.

HTTPS secures this process. HTTPS encrypts the connection between the browser and the site, therefore making sure that no one can intercept the data sent between those two. Every site that wants to secure itself needs a so-called SSL certificate.  The browser checks the certificate of the site and verifies its legitimacy with the company that issued it. If you want to see who issued the certificate, please click on the lock icon. By using HTTPS, sites not only secure your login procedure and personal data but also what you do on a site and which sites you visit.

Besides securing the web, HTTPS is necessary for sites that want to upgrade to a new, safer and much faster internet protocol called HTTP/2. HTTP/2 includes different new technologies that make sites a lot faster to load.

yoast ssl certificate

Value of HTTPS for the user

Everyone has the right to privacy on the web. We are doing so many mission-critical things on the web these days that we can use any kind of security we can get. An ever-increasing number of websites is making the move to HTTPS. In the screenshot below, you can see that at the moment, 61% of the sites that Firefox loads are being sent over HTTPS (stats by Let’s Encrypt). HTTPS is a must for any type of site, even if you own the bakery around the corner and don’t send or request sensitive data via your website.

lets encrypt https usage

Value of HTTPS for SEO

In 2014, Google announced that HTTPS would become a ranking signal. Today, your rankings will hardly change when you activate HTTPS. But it’s not just about rankings as much as it is about user experience and gaining trust with your future customers. It’s inevitable that we are moving to an all-HTTPS web. It is, therefore, incredibly important that your site makes the switch to HTTPS in the coming year.

Several browsers now show ‘not secure’ messages when your site doesn’t have an HTTPS connection or when you try to send data via HTTP on your HTTPS site. Don’t forget, it’s easy to scare off visitors! Wouldn’t you switch over to the site of a competitor when you’d see something like the ‘not secure’ message in the screenshot below?

https not secure message

Make the switch to HTTPS

A few years ago, switching to HTTPS was a major undertaking. Some big sites waited years to do it because it came with several challenges, like speed issues and the cost/benefit issue. These days, while still not easy, it’s manageable. If you’re planning to make the switch to HTTPS, be sure to make a checklist so you don’t forget anything during the process.

Joost shared some advice in a recent Ask Yoast video on moving to HTTPS:

Forcing HTTPS is something that you need to test really well. There are all sorts of things in your site that probably aren’t HTTPS ready that you should know of upfront. I know it was a lot of hard work to get yoast.com to HTTPS and we don’t even have ads. Especially ad services can be really tough to get working on HTTPS.

The Let’s Encrypt project issues free certificates to anyone wanting to secure their site. Several web hosts even offer free Let’s Encrypt services that make the installation of a certificate as easy as pie. That is, however, only one piece of the puzzle. On Google’s Secure your site with HTTPS site you can find more information on best practices. We’ve written a guide on moving your site from HTTP to HTTPS. If this stuff scares you it is best to hire an expert!

Read more: ‘Moving your website to HTTPS: tips & tricks’ »

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If you’re an SEO-newbie you’ll probably hear lots of new and complicated terms. In our SEO basics-series, we’ll explain all these terms and concepts to you. In this post, I’ll go into user signals. What exactly are user signals? And what do user signals have to do with SEO? What do you need to know about them?

What are user signals?

User signals are behavioral patterns of users which Google uses to establish the rankings of your website in the search results. For instance: users click on a result in the search engines and after that, they immediately bounce back to Google. This is a signal that the website does not fit the search query of the user. Google uses this type of information to estimate what results are useful to show to people searching with a specific search query.

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The most important user signals

The most important user signals are the bounce rate and the click-through rate (CTR). These are important for your SEO, as Google takes these seriously. But besides that, these user signals are also important for your user experience. Let’s look at these two user signals in more detail.

Bounce rate

Your bounce rate is determined by the amount of people that click on the link to your website in the search engine result pages (SERPs) and consequently click back again to Google. A high bounce rate indicates that people did not find what they were looking for on your website.

It’s hard to pin down at what point a bounce rate is high. First of all, it depends on how you measure the bounce rate. Google Analytics indicates a bounce when a user does not click to other pages and only stays on one page on your site. But, is it still bouncing if someone stays on one page for minutes to read a page? Other analytics packages have different definitions of a bounce rate. Secondly, whether or not a bounce rate is high also depends on the type of website you have. If you have a blog, you’ll probably have a high bounce rate, as people often read only one post and go back to Google to find other blogposts on the same subject. If you sell a specific type of product, say, ballet shoes, your bounce rate is probably much lower.

Although bounce rate is hard to measure you should definitely monitor the trend of your bounce rate and the differences in bounce rate between your pages. If a specific page has a very high bounce rate, you should try to figure out what’s the cause. You could add links to other useful pages or call to actions to keep people on your site.

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

Click Through Rate (CTR)

The click through rate (CTR) of a page is determined by the number of people that click on your result in the SERPs. If your snippet is very appealing to a user, or appears in a higher position, people are more inclined to click on it. The more people click on your result (and not on the other snippets in the SERPs), the more Google will think your result does indeed fit the search query of the user best. A high CTR will therefore result in higher rankings, as Google wants to show the best result first.

For SEO purposes, you should definitely monitor the click through rates of different pages. You should be able to see the rates of specific pages on your website in Google Search Console. Take a look at pages that have a relatively low CTR. Maybe the meta description of that page is not written that well. Making your snippets more appealing is a great way of generating more clicks from Google.

Other user signals

Other examples of user signals are the time spent on a website or the percentage of users that return to your website. You can monitor those with tools like Google Analytics as well.

Conclusion

Google’s mission is to organize the worlds’ information and make it universally accessible and useful. Therefore, Google wants to show a user the best result possible, the result that best fits their search query. It’s totally understandable that Google takes user behavior into account in their assessment of which result to rank highest. Every SEO strategy focusing on making the best website possible, will make a website more usable and user-friendly. Looking at user signals is a good way to start optimizing your website for a better user experience and better rankings. It’s a win-win SEO strategy!

Keep reading: ‘SEO basics: What are ranking signals?’ »

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A few weeks ago, I gave a lightning talk at WordCamp Nijmegen (my hometown in the Netherlands) on how to avoid common SEO mistakes. And this seemed a great topic to write a post about as well, so here it is! I’ll describe the most pressing SEO problems I find on sites I work on as an SEO consultant. Of course, I’ll also explain how to avoid them!

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It’s important to start with Yoast’s vision on SEO, namely holistic SEO. This means that we don’t just focus on the technical aspects of your site, but also see content and User eXperience (UX) as an important part of SEO. Therefore, the tips outlined in the article below will not only cover the strict definition of SEO, but also include a wide range of other aspects that site owners should pay attention to as well.

#1: Forgetting that faster is better

The first thing I’d like to touch on is site speed. The faster your site, the more Google will favor it. There’s a very useful tool from Google itself to check your site speed: Google PageSpeed Insights. This tool gives you an overview of what aspects need improvement to boost the speed of a particular page.

One of the recommendations I frequently give as an SEO consultant is to optimize your images. A lot of websites have images that are relatively large, which take a lot of time to load. Resizing your images can speed up the loading time. If you have a WordPress site, this can easily be done by installing a plugin that does that for you.

Read more: ‘Image SEO’ »

Another tip that I frequently give people is to enable browser caching and gzip compression. Both of them will speed up your entire site. The first makes your site faster to load for returning visitors and the latter compresses static files, which makes them faster to load into your browser.

In case of a WordPress install, I also recommend taking a good look at the plugins that are activated. Are you actually using all of them? Perhaps some of them can be replaced by another plugin that combines those functions? The best advice I can give you on this topic is that less is more. The fewer plugins that are activated, the faster your WordPress installment can be loaded.

#2: Trying to rank for the wrong keywords

If you want to rank in Google you have to make sure that you’re using the right keywords for every page. One of the biggest mistakes I frequently encounter is that site owners are optimizing for too generic keywords. If you are a relatively small business that wants to rank for ‘rental car’, you’re aiming too high. You should try to come up with something more specific than that. Otherwise, you’re competing with all the car rental companies all over the world, which is impossible to do! So at least make sure you add the area in which your company is located to the keyword. This will make the keyword more long tail, as we call it.

The longer and more specific the keywords are, the higher your chances of ranking for this keyword. Of course, this also means that the search volume for this keyword decreases, but you can compensate for this by optimizing a lot of pages on your site for different long tail keywords. Your site will eventually gain more traffic for all of these keywords combined, than it ever would if you optimized for one main keyword, for which you could never rank page 1 in Google.

#3:  Failing to invite people to visit your site

Metadata is what appears on search engine result pages (SERPs) when a website comes up for certain queries. It includes the title of the page and its meta description. The page title is still one of the most important ranking factors for Google, so you have to make sure it’s optimized correctly for every page. This means adding the relevant keyword to each particular page and making sure that your page title isn’t too long. If your page title is too long (currently 400 to 600 pixels), it will get cut off in Google. You don’t want potential visitors to be unable to read the full title in the SERPs.

The meta description is not a ranking factor, but it does play an important part in optimizing your Click Through Rate (CTR). CTR gives some insight into how likely potential visitors are to actually click on your site in the SERPs. If you optimize your meta descriptions with clear and attractive extracts on what potential visitors can find on your site, it becomes easier for them to see if the information they’re looking for is on that page. The more likely potential visitors are to think your site will provide an answer to their search query, the more traffic a page will gain.

#4: Neglecting to write awesome content

A lot is already written on this blog about writing awesome content, but I still frequently come across sites that do a poor job in writing content. It’s important to make sure every page of your site has decent content, at least 300 words. You can’t expect Google to see you as an expert on a certain topic when you have only written two sentences about it. This indicates to Google that your page probably isn’t the best result to match the search query.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to think of Google as your audience. You write for your visitors and not for Google. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and provide the best answers possible. Therefore, writing quality content for your audience is also something that will immediately lead to Google’s approval.

Writing quality content means writing original content. This is also important to avoid duplicate content with other sites. And it means that sites have to stop stuffing keywords into their texts. Your text has to be easy to read for your visitor. Obviously, your visitor doesn’t benefit from a keyword stuffed text, because this decreases the readability.

#5: No call to action for your visitors

Once visitors are on your site, an important goal is to keep them on your site. You don’t want your visitors immediately bouncing back to Google once they have read something on your site. This is why you need to encourage visitors to click through your site. The best way to do this is to create a call-to-action (CTA), which usually is a button that offers an action to your visitor. This can be, for instance, a ‘buy’ button on a product page, or a ‘sign up’ button for the newsletters.

Make sure that every page has one call-to-action, so the goal of the page is clear. If you add multiple buttons, you lose the focus of the page and your visitors won’t get where you want them to go. So think about what the right goal is for every page. Also, make sure that the CTA stands out from your design, so it’s clearly visible and cannot be missed. If the button blends into the design of your page too much, it will attract fewer clicks than when it stands out. So don’t be afraid to use a distinct color!

Keep reading: ‘Calling to the next action’ »

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#6: Not thinking ahead: The future is mobile

Since Google has announced that next year they will switch to mobile indexing first, you should be busy preparing your site for this change. ‘Mobile indexing first’ means that Google will look at the mobile version of your site to decide how high you should rank. So if the desktop version of your site is set up brilliantly, but your mobile site isn’t responsive at all, you have a lot of work to do if you don’t want to suffer a rank drop over next year.

A great way to test if your site is at least mobile friendly is to use Google’s mobile-friendly test. This gives you an indication if Google thinks your site is fit for displaying on mobile devices. But don’t stop after checking this. The best advice I can give you is to visit your site on your mobile phone. Browse your own site for a while and try to click on every button, image and link to see what happens. Is everything working as expected? Can you actually purchase something on your site while using your mobile phone? Are all pages displayed correctly? You will see that most sites have some work to do this fall.

Read on: ‘Mobile SEO: the Ultimate Guide’ »

In short

As SEO consultant I’ve seen many sites making the same mistakes. Learn from the ones I listed in this post: focus on site speed, write great content and optimize for the right keywords. If you make sure people want to visit your site, have great calls-to-action and prepare for mobile, you’re already on your way to a well-optimized website, the holistic way!

Read more: ‘Holistic SEO’ »

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