Last Friday, May 29th, Yoast celebrated its 10th anniversary, and we invited everyone to join us! And what better way to celebrate than with an awesome, interactive webinar? We had multiple talks, Q&As, live site reviews, all with loads of SEO tips, insights and practical advice. Of course, we understand that not everyone could join the live webinar. So, here’s a quick recap of the sessions, plus the links to all the videos, so you don’t have to miss out!
Wondering what you’ll learn from the talks in this webinar? Here’s an example of someone’s takeaway from one of the sessions:
Pretty cool, right? Here are all the videos, so let’s dive right in!
Joost on 10 years of SEO for everyone
Remember what your world looked like in 2010? Joost takes you on a trip down memory lane and shows you some highlights of the past 10 years. What did Google (literally) look like back then? And how did this search engine evolve? But also: what didn’t change? Lots of advice we gave 10 years ago, still stands today. How’s that possible? Joost walks you through 10 years of Google and Yoast! Plus, if you want to have a peek at Joost’s first official Yoast desk in his attic 10 years ago, you need to watch this video:
Marieke on the importance of readability
In this talk, Marieke explains why we feel readability is important for both your users and your SEO. She gives a few useful tips to improve the readability of your text and gives an insight into the readability analysis of our plugin. So, are you curious about why we would not recommend our plugin to literary heroes such as Dickens and Shakespeare? And what we site owners can all learn from children’s books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Watch the video to find out:
Three parallel live site reviews
Live site review – Technical SEO
Ever wanted to see how experts pick apart websites to offer advice on technical SEO? Here’s your chance! Joost de Valk and Jono Alderson tackle three websites — a horse ranch in the US, a shop making artisan leather bags and a self-help site —, and come up with a boatload of tips to improve these sites. You’ll get insights into international SEO, crawling, site structure, taxonomies, schema improvements and a lot more. Go check it out!
Live site review – User experience (UX)
What do clear call-to-actions, readable fonts, an intuitive design, useful videos, and high-quality copy all have in common? They’re essential for an excellent user experience on your site. In this webinar, Michiel, Thijs, Annelieke, and Judith walk you through a couple of websites and point out some common UX issues that happen on many sites and which you’d want to prevent on yours. Of course, they’ll highlight the great things about these websites too! In need of some examples of what (not) to do when it comes to the usability of your site? Check this out:
Live site review – SEO copywriting
During this review, Marieke, Willemien, Edwin and Fleur, discuss the content of a few different sites. And although the feedback they give is specific to these sites, these can be very helpful for any site owner out there. So watch their review if you want to know why it’s so important to keep a goal in mind while you write, how site structure can help your visitors and what our opinion is on stock photos:
Jono on how to use schema to build your brand and boost authority
Our resident SEO wizard Jono Alderson has been advocating the use of schema structured data for over 10 years. Over the years, structured data has been getting more and more important, but not really easier to implement — although the results of implementing it can get you great rewards. But why is Google pushing this so hard? And how does the Yoast SEO schema structured data framework fit into this story? Listen to Jono explain why this next frontier is now within reach for everyone. You can also learn how Yoast SEO makes implementing structured data a whole lot easier.
That’s it for this webinar – stay tuned!
That’s it for this recap! We hope you enjoyed it and got some great takeaways for your site; we really had an awesome time with all of you! This definitely won’t be our last webinar, so keep an eye on Yoast.com, social media, or just sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know!
If you optimize your articles for similar terms, your rankings might suffer from keyword cannibalization: you’ll be ‘devouring’ your own chances to rank in Google! Especially when your site is growing, chances are your content will start competing with itself. Here, I’ll explain why keyword cannibalism can be detrimental to SEO, how you can recognize it and what to do about it.
What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization means that you have various blog posts or articles on your site that can rank for the same search query in Google. Either because the topic they cover is too similar or because you optimized them for the same keyphrase. If you optimize posts or articles for similar search queries, they’re eating away at each other’s chances to rank. Usually, Google will only show 1 or 2 results from the same domain in the search results for a specific query. If you’re a high authority domain, you might get 3.
Why is keyword cannibalism bad for SEO?
If you cannibalize your own keywords, you’re competing with yourself for ranking in Google. Let’s say you have two posts on the exact same topic. In that case, Google can’t distinguish which article should rank highest for a certain query. In addition, important factors like backlinks and CTR get diluted over several posts instead of one. As a result, they’ll all probably both rank lower. Therefore our SEO analysis will give a red bullet whenever you optimize a post for a focus keyword you’ve used before.
But, keyword cannibalism can also occur if you optimize posts for focus keywords that are not exactly, but almost the same. For instance, I wrote two posts about whether or not readability is a ranking factor. The post ‘Does readability rank?‘ was optimized for [does readability rank], while the post ‘Readability ranks!‘ was optimized for the focus keyword [readability ranking factor]. The posts had a slightly different angle but were still very similar. For Google, it is hard to figure out which of the two articles is the most important.
Update: Did you see the same article? That’s correct, by now we’ve fixed this cannibalization issue, but we’ve kept this example for the sake of illustration.
How to recognize it?
Checking whether or not your site suffers from keyword cannibalism is easy. You simply do a search for your site, for any specific keyword you suspect might have multiple results. In my case, I’ll google site:yoast.com readability ranks. The first two results are the articles I suspected to suffer from cannibalization.
Googling ‘site:domain.com “keyword” will give you an easy answer to the question of whether you’re suffering from keyword cannibalism. You can check your findings by typing the same keyword into Google (using a private browser or local search result checker like https://valentin.app/). Which of your pages do you see in the search results, and what position do they rank? Of course, if two of your pages for the same keyword are ranking #1 and #2, that’s not a problem. But do you see your articles, for example on positions 7 and 8? Then it’s time to sort things out!
The first two steps will help you to decide which articles to keep and which ones to merge or delete. In many cases, the acting part will consist of combining and deleting articles, but also to improve internal linking on your site:
Merge/ combine articles
If two articles both attract the same audience and basically tell the same story, you should combine them. Rewrite the two posts into one amazing, kickass article. That’ll help your rankings (Google loves lengthy and well-written content) and solve your keyword cannibalization problem.
In fact, that’s exactly what we did with our two posts on readability being a ranking factor. In the end, you’ll delete one of the two articles and adapt the other one. And don’t forget: don’t just press the delete button; always make sure to redirect the post you delete to the one you keep! If that’s something you’re struggling with, Yoast SEO Premium can help: It makes creating redirects easy as pie!
Improve internal linking
You can help Google to figure out which article is most important, by setting up a decent internal linking structure. You should link from posts that are less important, to posts that are the most important to you. That way, Google can figure out (by following links) which ones you want to pop up highest in the search engines.
Your internal linking structure could solve a part of your keyword cannibalism problems. You should think about which article is most important to you and link from the less important long-tail articles, to your most important article. Read more about how to do this in my article about ranking with cornerstone content.
Keyword cannibalization and online shops
Now, if you have an online shop, you might be worried about all those product pages targeting similar keywords. For online shops, it makes sense that there are multiple pages for products that are alike. It’s very important to give site structure some thought in this case. A good strategy is to link back from every product page to your category page – the page you should optimize to rank. And keep an eye on old product pages that could potentially cannibalize more important pages, and delete and redirect those – Yoast SEO Premium could help make that easier with its handy redirect manager!
Keyword cannibalism will affect growing websites
If your site gets bigger, your chances increase to face keyword cannibalism on your own website. You’ll be writing about your favorite subjects and without even knowing it, you’ll write articles that end up rather similar. That’s what happened to me too. Once in a while, you should check the keywords you want to rank for the most. Make sure to check whether you’re suffering from keyword cannibalism. You’ll probably need to make some changes in your site structure or to rewrite some articles every now and then.
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. To get more traffic to your site, you optimize your content for words people use. However, to increase your chances to rank and to really convince people to buy your stuff, subscribe to your newsletter or to come back to your website another time, you should take search intent into account. Here, I will tell you what search intent is and how to optimize your articles for search intent.
What is search intent?
Search intent (or user intent, audience intent) is the term used to describe the purpose of an online search. It’s the reason why someone conducts a specific search. After all, everyone who does an online search is hoping to find something. Is someone searching because they have a question and want an answer to that question? Are they looking to visit a specific website? Or, are they searching because they want to buy something? Many of these different types of searches form parts of the user journey.
There are a few distinct types of search intent, these four are most commonly used:
First, there is informational intent. Lots of searches on the internet are done by people looking for information. That could be information about the weather, information about educating children, information about SEO, you name it. People with informational intent have a specific question or want to know more about a certain topic.
You should be aware that Google’s understanding of intent goes much further than simply showing results that give information about a specific term. It knows, for instance, that people looking for [tomato sauce] are looking for recipes, not for the sauce’s culinary history. It understands that most people typing in [Mercury] are looking for the planet, not the element. Google even understands that for some terms, like [how to build a bird feeder], it’s handy to include videos and images.
The second type of search intent is called navigational intent. People with this intent want to visit a specific website. For example, people who search for [Facebook] are usually on their way to the Facebook website.
Keep in mind that ranking high for a navigational term is only beneficial for your organic traffic if your site is the site people are looking for. For example, a few years ago, Yoast had a Google Analytics plugin, and we ranked pretty well for the term [Google Analytics]. But that didn’t drive any traffic to our site. People searching for [Google Analytics] were looking for the Google Analytics website and were hardly ever interested in our plugin.
The third type of search intent is transactional intent. Lots of people buy stuff on the internet and browse the web to find the best purchase. People are searching with transactional intent when their purpose is to buy something.
Some people have the intention to buy in the (near) future, and use the web to do their research. What washing machine would be best? Which SEO plugin is the most helpful? These people also have transactional intent but need some more time and convincing. These types of search intents are usually called commercial investigating intents.
The words people use in their search queries will give insight into user intent. This works the other way around, too, when you formulate keywords with intent-specific words.
Keywords with transactional intent will often contain words like:
Informational searches can (but don’t necessarily have to) contain words like:
best way to
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 (category) 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 to my dog].
It can be quite 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. Luckily, there is a direct source to look at if you want to know which intent fits your keywords: the search results pages. Find out how you can use the results pages to create intent-based content.
If you want to know more about the search intent of your audience, another 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 you many valuable insights into your audience.
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, when people are searching for information. But lead people to your sales pages if they are looking to buy one of your products.
We don’t have to remind you of the drastic changes that are happening in the world. There’s a good chance that these changes impact how you do business. But they also bring opportunities. While people are stuck at home, they spend a lot of time online. And they behave differently — they search differently and have different needs. If you have a content strategy for your site, now might be a good time to go back and see how you can adopt these new insights. And with it, find new ways to get your message across in a way that is not considered out of place or tone-deaf. Here are a couple of pointers to help you with adapting your content strategy to changing times.
It’s a bit hard to write a piece about dealing with a crisis without falling into the trap of terribly cliched language. “Unprecedented, never seen anything like it, bizarre, unreal, et cetera, et cetera.” Everyone knows we are “living in difficult times” and that “we’re doing our utmost best to overcome this crisis.” Yes, we are. You are. We all are. Language plays an important part in the way you handle this crisis and the way your — potential — customer sees you.
Continuing your regular hard-hitting campaigns might backfire. It’s not business as usual, so to say. You do have to show compassion, and you do have to be mindful of what you want to say and how you want to say this.
During this Coronavirus pandemic, many things have changed. There are probably more changes around the corner. And if we look at the future, things might not be the same as they were. The world has changed — and we all have to go along with it.
People change during a crisis
People change during uncertain times, that’s a fact. How people change is most likely to accelerate during a crisis. Today, a lot of people are uncertain about their future and health. Keeping this in mind, it is not strange to see that people’s needs also change. Food and healthcare jump to the top, while other wants and needs like traveling or going to a restaurant are out of the question.
This behavior translates to the online world. While you see people lining up to get their groceries in stores, they also line up online to get a delivery time slot for their local supermarket. Traffic to online stores selling essential items and food has surged, while other markets and industries plummeted. For instance, while the travel industry tanked, the home improvement and home fitness markets exploded.
As the behavior of people changes, it doesn’t change for everyone and every industry in the same way. Some win, some lose. While everyone is adapting to this new reality, there might be new opportunities for your business to be found.
Concerns, needs and search behavior
While we’re trying to keep occupied by Netflix, Facebook, and YouTube, it’s also pretty obvious that many people have concerns. Just go to Google Coronavirus Search Trends dashboard and see what people are looking for:
How to make a face mask?
Where’s my stimulus money?
When will everything go back to normal?
How long until 2020 ends?
Yes, that last one was a trending search in the US at the time of writing this article. But seriously, as a content creator, you need to be aware of these changes and adapt your content if needed.
With everyone at home, internet usage is up as well. For many people, life has moved online. Not only do social media platforms report surges in usage, but many sites and apps as well. New tools to work from home pop up quickly, while existing ones reach huge audiences overnight.
Changes in human online behavior lead to new online habits. It might be that traffic to your site has changed — it may not simply have gone up or down, but perhaps it comes from different devices, keyphrases or at different times. It might also mean your audience is less or more focused and maybe more eager to get your products or services. This all influences how you previously thought everything worked.
For instance, when we look at traffic for yoast.com our total traffic has gone up. We never had a huge amount of mobile users, but in the past couple of weeks, their number grew as well. In addition, we have more traffic coming in on the weekends. Our audience is used to visiting our site during ‘office hours’, but we see a pretty big move towards the weekends. It could be that our audience is getting some extra work done on the weekends, or it might simply be a result of the overall boost in traffic we had. Something we have to dive into. With enough insights, we can make adjustments to our content strategy.
What can you do to adapt your content strategy?
Would you like to simply drop everything, hide under a table and wait for these months to end? I understand, I really do. But that doesn’t help. It is ok for you to keep your regular content going, but be sure to think about the message and tone. Other carefully crafted campaigns might have gone down the toilet and you need to accept that. It might also be that you’re not tanking but soaring, which brings a whole new set of challenges. There are, however, things you can do right now to re-align your content with the times.
So, don’t blindly drop everything, but make educated guesses on what content works and what doesn’t. Dive into the research to find out where you can double down and where you should change the focus. Try to find a way to look over the horizon and get a sense of where your business or market is going. And keep a close eye on your campaigns and make adjustments accordingly.
Today, it’s a good idea to ask yourself: who am I and who do I want to be? Can I hold this course or do I need to pivot? How do I add value and does this value align with what people truly want right now? If you’re not comfortable with what you’re doing, you should change it up.
In general, these are the times that SEO can prove its worth. Don’t just focus on content, but invest in all-round SEO. Improve your site. Get those technical issues fixed, work on the site speed and build a solid site structure. All this can help you get back on top when — if — the world gets back to normal. Our temporarily free All-around SEO training can help you get started! We’ve waived the cost of this interactive course during this pandemic.
Do your research
It is very important to open Google Analytics, Search Console and maybe some third-party SEO tools and dive into the data. There are important clues to be had about the direction you should take your content strategy. What do the numbers say? Is your recent content doing awful or better than ever? Are there new search terms popping up in Google Search Console? What does your Google Trends look like?
Keyword research is one of the key ingredients in a successful content strategy. Now that you know that people’s online behavior is changing during these times, it’s a good idea to redo that keyword research. In fact, it’s always important to redo this research on a regular basis. But when you’re changing or adapting your content strategy, this is essential.
The same goes for search intent research. You can even ask your customers how they’d like to keep in touch and what kind of content they’d like to see. It might be that your customer is no longer in a buying mood or it takes them longer to get there. This might mean you need to change the content to match an updated user journey. In this regard, you should also keep a close eye on the SERPs. Check up on your terms, notice the changes and jump on any realistic chance you see.
Also, read up on the research other organizations are doing. Keep tabs on the larger trends to see if you can find new ways of adapting your content to changes in behavior.
Adapt your tone
Finding the right tone is not always easy. It’s hard enough to develop your own tone of voice without having a crisis weighing down on you. People will look more critically at what you are doing and what you are saying. That’s not always a bad thing, of course, but it can be hard to please everyone. Not everyone reads a message the same way. Some think you shouldn’t put out anything at all, because they think you’re exploiting the situation. Others value what you do or welcome your content to help take their mind off things.
If you can, keep your content going. Don’t throw everything overboard, but be mindful. Listen to your customers and care for them. Make sure that what you do is real and fitting of you and your company.
Adapt your message
Adapting your tone inevitably also means adapting your message. You have to think carefully about what you want to communicate. Ask yourself, does your service or product still align with what people want? Priorities shift and it might be that your customers need something different from you. Also, ask yourself if you’re really adding something to the world if you’re thinking about publishing COVID-19 content.
The world used to revolve around getting conversions. Getting that newsletter sign up, making people buy your product or try your course. Now, it is probably more important to get noticed in the first place. Become top of mind because of the social work your brand does or how you try to make this world a better place.
Use social media to reach out to your customer with caring messages, without being too cliched — remember the intro of this article? Find out which type of content people are looking for. We, for one, have noticed a lot of interest in how-to content, so it could be a good idea to invest in video explainers. Or maybe you could try and answer more questions, with an FAQ for instance. Of course, your research will give you an idea of what to focus on.
These days, you should live in Google Trends. Exciting things are happening almost in realtime. Of course, Google Analytics will show you everything you need to know about people who visited your site, while Search Console also gives you insights about people who searched but didn’t end up on your site. SEO tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs and Ryte also give you a ton of information about what’s going on and off your site. Use Q&A tools like Answer the Public and AlsoAsked.com to find new questions to answer.
It’s hard to predict when everything is getting back to normal. It might take some time and the world is bound to change in the meantime. So, when looking at your content strategy it’s important to align this with the current situation. Find out if you can help your customers or if you can reach them in other ways. Make sure your message is on point and caring. Don’t scream BUY BUY BUY. It’s okay to sell stuff, but try to keep it genuine.
Search engines love entities. Entities can be people, places, things, concepts, or ideas and they will often appear in the Knowledge Graph. Lots of search terms can be an entity, but specific search terms can also have different meanings and thus, be different entities. Take [Mars] for example; are you talking about the planet entity or the candy bar entity? The context you give these entities in your content determines how search engines see and file your content. Find out how to link entities to your content using Yoast SEO.
Let’s talk semantics
Semantics is the search for meaning in words. In theory, you could write an article about Mars without ever mentioning it directly. People would understand it if you provide enough context in the form of commonly used terms and phrases. To illustrate this, we’ll take the keyword [Mars]. Mars is a so-called entity, and search engines use these to determine the semantics of a search. You can use structured data to support the discovery of entities on your page.
“a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable. For example, an entity may be a person, place, item, idea, abstract concept, concrete element, other suitable thing, or any combination thereof. Generally, entities include things or concepts represented linguistically by nouns.”
If you search for Mars on Google, you’ll most likely get results about the planet Mars. But why? Why isn’t the Mars candy bar in the top listings? Or Mars the chocolate company? Or the discovery district MaRS in Toronto? Maybe the Japanese movie called Mars? Or one of the many Mars-related movies made over the years? This is because Google makes an educated guess using search intent and your search history. Also, it uses co-occurring synonyms, keywords, and phrases to determine which page is about one of these specific search variations and which ones to show.
Co-occurring terms and phrases
Co-occurring terms and phrases are those that are commonly used to describe an entity. These are the terms that are most likely to pop up in content about that entity. Content about the planet Mars will probably contain mentions of the following terms:
‘low atmospheric pressure’
‘second-smallest planet in the Solar System’
Pages with Mars candy bar content might feature phrases like:
‘chocolate candy bar’
‘nougat and caramel covered in milk chocolate’
While content about the 2016 Mars movie will probably mention its main protagonists Rei Kashino and Makio Kirishima.
All these words are co-occurring keywords and phrases. It’s a type of content that is semantically related to the main keyword, but that doesn’t contain the keyword itself. This might include synonyms but often expands on that because they clarify the knowledge of the term, instead of saying the same thing differently. Search engine spiders scan your content for these related terms to paint a picture about the nature of your page. This way, it can correctly index the page, ie. file under [planet Mars], not [Mars the candy bar].
Optimize for phrase-based indexing
Over the years, Google was awarded several patents that suggested the development of a phrase-based indexing system and systems using word co-occurrence to improve the clustering of topics. This information retrieval system uses phrases to index, retrieve, organize and describe content. By analyzing the context surrounding an entity – meaning all the phrases that are commonly connected to an entity – Google can truly understand what a piece of content is about.
That might sound complex, but it is something you can optimize for. And you are probably already doing that – to a certain extent. First, do keyword research to uncover the terms people generally search for and keep search intent in your mind at all times. After that, provide context in your articles.
When writing about an entity in your content, it makes a lot of sense to give search engines – and readers for that matter – as much context as possible. Use every meaningful sentence you can think of. This way, you can take away any doubt about the meaning of your content.
If your subject is the planet Mars, you need to take a look at the Knowledge Graph in Google. Scour Wikipedia. Find out what kind of common terms and phrases co-occur in search results and incorporate them into your content so you can give your term the right context. Also, run a search and open the sites of competitors that rank high for your search terms. What are they writing about and how do they describe the entity? What terms and phrases can you use in your content? By doing this, you’ll find out that there will be much overlap with what you had in mind, but there will be many new – and maybe better – nuggets for you to use.
Feed the Topic Layer
Topics are groups of terms that share the same concept. Google’s obsession with entities and knowledge graphs comes to a head in something called the Topic Layer. This Topic Layer is built on top of the knowledge graph and works as the glue that connects entities to topics making it easier for them to surface the correct content once needed. Because the Topic Layer knows a topic inside out — or it should —, it can adapt whatever it shows based on knowledge and need.
Google uses the Topic Layer to power Discover, the mobile app with an endless stream of cool stuff you are bound to like. It is meant as a tool to give you content you weren’t even looking for, so to say. To make your content stand out in this new world, you need to connect your topic to all entities and make sure that this matches what people are looking for as well.
Helpful tools to find topics, entities and concepts
Knowing your topic inside out is key in producing a piece of content that incorporates all essential terms naturally. This is why you should do research. Not just keyword research, but research your topic in general. Leave no stone unturned.
Luckily, there are a lot of tools that can help you fill in those topics, phrases and entities. Try the following to get a good idea of what you are looking for:
After you’ve found concepts related to your topic and entities, you can use Yoast SEO to write awesome content. The various analyses help you keep on topic and guide you to producing quality content that not only fits what users want but search engines as well. Yoast SEO Premium lets you do even more.
One of the things you can do with Yoast SEO Premium, is analyze and improve your text for synonyms and related keyphrases. Filling these in, makes sure that your content fully utilizes the power of relatedness.
In short, here’s how to do that:
Research your subject
Structure the topic (mind mapping rules!)
Pick your main focus keyphrase for this post
Find related keyphrases or concepts
Find synonyms for these terms
Enter your focus keyphrase in Yoast SEO
Enter the synonyms of the focus keyphrase
Fill in the first related keyphrase
Include all the synonyms for that term
And another related keyphrase, if necessary
Write an epic post!
Check the feedback you get from Yoast SEO and adjust accordingly (remember, not everything has to be green)
With enough research you know your topic inside out so you should be able to write a post that naturally encompasses all important concepts, entities and phrases. Yoast SEO Premium will now help you describe your topic as well as possible.
One more thing: no LSI keywords
Over the years, the term “LSI keywords” started to pop up again and again as a magical way to play into one of Google’s ranking factors. They are not. Yes, you have to provide search engines context. No, latent semantic indexing has nothing to do with it. There’s no evidence whatsoever that search engines have ever used latent semantic indexing to determine rankings. Latent semantic indexing was a document analysis patent from the 90’s that only seemed to work on a limited set of documents, and it has no place in SEO.
Writing a readable text can be daunting. Especially if the topic of your blog is difficult or extremely technical. Is it really necessary to focus on readability if your audience is used to your jargon? Well, although your audience might be up to the task of reading your lingo, the entire purpose of SEO is to attract traffic beyond the audience you already reach. If you aim for the top positions in the search engines, you should have texts that are readable and understandable for a large audience. This doesn’t mean you’re dumbing down your copy. Here, I explain why, and how you should make sure your text is readable.
Writing a readable text is hard
We do feel your pain. We understand you chase those green readability bullets and that can be hard if you’re writing for an advanced audience. Sometimes, people ventilate their frustrations on twitter. One of our users tweeted: ‘My blog posts are written for grownups and I write at the college level. Sorry, but I don’t know how to dumb myself down.’
We get that it might feel like you need to dumb yourself down in order to get the readability bullets green. However, you could also try to think of it as opening your content up to an audience you’ve not yet reached. And that’s the goal of any SEO-strategy: getting that traffic to your website!
Why should I care about readability?
Readability is important for your user. Reading from a screen is hard and people get distracted quickly. But, most importantly, you want people to understand what you’re writing. You want to get your message across. Nobody likes to read something that’s incomprehensible, boring or stuffed with keywords. If you write a text that people don’t understand, you won’t help people find what they need.
Moreover, readability is also important for Google. Of course, if your text is better for the user, it will rank better, as Google optimizes for that same user. And, it is very important to realize here that Google’s algorithm is trying to mimic humans. It tries to read texts the way humans read texts. As Google becomes more capable of understanding and scanning texts in a human-like way, the demands on the readability of text also rise. Google will have a hard time reading sentences that are very long or that have complicated grammatical structures. For these texts, it will be harder for Google to figure out what they’re about. And this will result in lower rankings as well.
Some niches require lingo. For technical blogs, you’ll probably use difficult, technical terms. You cannot avoid that. Nevertheless, that does not mean that such a text can’t comply with our readability analysis. In a previous life, I wrote a PhD-thesis called ‘The intergenerational transmission of criminal convictions over the life course.’ This was a hard topic. It involved many technical terms, cryptical hypotheses and boring analyses. However, the introduction of my PhD-thesis complies with the Yoast readability analysis (I did not enter the entire thesis as it contains a lot of tables and references). I needed to add subheadings and white spaces between paragraphs, because that is not particularly common in the field of research I did my PhD in.
Without wanting to brag: I have a green bullet for readability on all the blog posts I write. However, I often fail to comply with at least one of the checks. For this blog post, I had a hard time complying with passive voice (but still got a green bullet in the end). In other cases, I got orange bullets for transition words.
It’s important to realize that one red bullet is not really a problem, yet. You should focus on getting your overall bullet green. If your sentences are a little bit too long, but you compensate that with short paragraphs, your text will be a good read overall. The following tips will help you improve the readability of texts with complex topics.
Tips on opening up your writing style
What to do if you’re failing our readability analysis and writing about a complicated topic? First of all, I would recommend you shorten your sentences. You should probably not avoid the technical lingo you’re using, but you can try writing about complicated matters in short sentences. Usually, when a sentence is rather lengthy, you’ve created a combined sentence. Such sentences can be easily split into two (or three even). Our readability analysis lets you highlight your lengthy sentences. That makes it pretty easy to find and shorten them.
The second thing you can do if you’re writing about something complicated is to pay attention to your paragraphs. Start a paragraph with the most important sentence, then explain or elaborate on that sentence. This helps a reader to grasp the concept of your article, just by reading the first sentence of each paragraph. Make sure your paragraphs aren’t too long either (7 or 8 sentences is quite long enough). And, add a subheading that tells the reader what to expect in that paragraph. That will help your reader to grasp the meaning of your text much more easily.
A final tip on how to quickly improve readability is to use transition words. You can make your writing much more readable by using proper transition words like ‘most important’ and ‘because’. The Yoast readability analysis allows you to check your use of transition words. If you use too few, you can add extra transition words in pieces of your text where you have very few. Using transition words is a bit like putting cement between your sentences. The relationship between two sentences becomes apparent through the use of transition words. Readers will understand your content much better if you use these kinds of words properly.
Conclusion: open up to a large audience!
The goal of SEO is to attract new visitors to your website. You want to rank high in Google in order to get people to click on your results. And you want those visitors to stay and read your post. No matter how difficult the topic you’re writing about, if you care about SEO, you should try to make your text readable. Your users and Google will reward you for it!
Things are always on the move in the SEO world. Google regularly updates its algorithm and the competition is never far behind. And the current situation is only making things harder, with the shift to online for businesses that might not be prepared. So if you’re not sure what to do, wouldn’t it be nice to have a list of timeless SEO improvements to focus on? We thought it might be! Arm yourself with these timeless SEO tactics and you’ll never go wrong.
1. Stay on the light side
If you’re desperate for quick results, you may be tempted to use blackhat SEO tactics. Well, don’t! Never, ever buy links, try to trick search engines or visitors with redirects or spam links on other sites. It may work for a short while, but search engines actively discourage this kind of thing, so it always backfires in the end and harms your rankings. You don’t want those tricks or bought links coming back to haunt you, do you?
Here at Yoast, we advocate Holistic SEO, which means you need to be the best result! Give your visitors high-quality content, a great user experience and a secure, technically superior website. It may take more time and effort, but it’s much more sustainable in the long run. Let’s take link building as an example: approached holistically, you produce quality content that people actually want to share. You can then reach out to relevant websites to see if they’ll consider linking to you. The links you’ll get this way will be much more valuable than any link you can buy. So go the extra mile and stay on the light side of SEO. Your website will benefit in the long run.
2. Optimize your site speed
In SEO, faster is better. We’re pretty confident that this will always be the case, as people expect to get content served to them quickly. Nobody likes waiting, even for a split second, so it always pays to invest time in improving your site’s speed.
There are several ways to speed up your WordPress site. We can’t cover them all in this article, but a good start is to install a caching plugin. This keeps static parts of your site saved on your server, and serves users these lighter HTML pages instead of processing the relatively resource-intensive WordPress PHP scripts. There are both free and paid caching plugins available and they can significantly speed up your site.
Images are another factor that’s often overlooked as people build their website. Big, high definition images will take a long time to load, while most of the time, a lower resolution image will do just fine. Always take the time to resize your images using an image optimization plugin.
And a final speed optimization tip: if your visitors come from all over the world, it may be worthwhile to use a CDN (or Content Delivery Network). It’ll direct visitors to the servers closest to their location, thereby greatly improving loading times.
3. Work on excellent content
Another timeless SEO tip: don’t compromise on the quality of your content. Create the best quality content that you can, and consistently review and improve on it wherever possible. SEO isn’t just about improving your website, it’s also about beating the competition. In many cases, this means content that’s only ‘good enough’ simply won’t do. You have to demonstrate your expertise and stand out from the crowd. That means a big investment of time and effort; research into your topic, your audience and what they’re looking for.
You may not always be able to do this right away, which is why you need to keep improving your articles, so they become valuable resources for your audience. How? Well, that all depends on your topic and what you’re trying to achieve. It’s always a good idea to ask yourself whether your questions would be answered by visiting your pages, and whether it aligns with what you’re seeing in the search results. These next tips will also help you improve the overall quality of your content.
4. Keep your audience in mind
Whether the aim of your website is to help you sell your product, or to attract followers for your blog posts, you will only succeed if you focus on what your audience wants and needs. That’s something that isn’t going to change, as search engines always aim to give users what they’re looking for. This is evident from the growing importance of search intent, so doing keyword research without first considering search intent is no longer an option. Are you really offering searchers what they’re looking for when they type in their search term -your keyword? Are they looking for information or to take action, and what do they need from you? Take a good look at the search results for your keywords to answer those questions.
There’s another reason to really focus on what your audience needs: the competition for people’s attention is fierce. So users can be picky, and they want to know whether you can solve their problem, or what they will get out of reading your blog post. They don’t much care about your product-related jargon, or why you want them to read your blog post. So, don’t overlook your visitor’s perspective in your SEO copy. That also includes not writing too much ‘I’ in your content. Make it about your user, not yourself!
It’s always a good idea to make it easy for search engines to crawl your site to work out which articles are most important and to help your users find what they’re looking for. That’s why you can’t go wrong by improving your internal linking structure. Make sure that your most important articles also have the most internal links pointing to them. And don’t forget to add links to your most recent posts, to avoid orphaned content. It’s key to make sure that links are relevant to the context of a post or they won’t make sense to either the search engine or the user.
6. Keep your content well-maintained
A final timeless SEO tip: staying on top of your content maintenance always pays off. Not only will you save yourself the effort of cleaning up a load of posts in one go, but your content also stays fresh and relevant. Both search engines and users like that! What’s more, keeping track of your content and the topics it covers helps you avoid keyword cannibalization. And, you don’t want to impair your own chances of ranking by offering too much similar, competing content.
Of course, cleaning up is not generally people’s favorite task, so this is easier said than done. It helps to approach things systematically. Do a site search for one of your most important keywords and see what comes up. Do articles overlap, and do you still need to keep everything? How are pages performing? You’ll probably see some articles that can be deleted or merged. Doing this regularly helps to keep on top of things.
Timeless SEO: Be the best result!
In the end, these timeless SEO tips boil down to the same thing: if you want to rank, you need to put effort into being the best result. Search engines may change their algorithms, but they ultimately want to offer their users what they’re looking for: high quality content that’s up to date and served on a fast loading website with no dirty tricks. It may seem like a lot of work, but at least it’s a clear objective to work on, right? So, let’s get on with it!
Our green bullets are addictive. We get that. While these green bullets help people to optimize their texts for the search engines, we don’t want people chasing only our bullets and losing track of their texts. We do want to nudge them and help them get that text as SEO-friendly as possible. In this blog post, I’ll tell you about the most pressing frustration that our customers experience and the solution we developed for that problem.
“Yoast SEO does not recognize my focus keyphrase”
Imagine this: You’re trying to optimize your post for the term [guinea pig]. In your text, you’ll probably use guinea pig (singular) and guinea pigs (plural). However, if your focus keyword is the singular [guinea pig], the keyword density check does not recognize your plurals and will punish you with a red bullet! That’s so annoying and unfair!
Yoast SEO Premium analysis
In the premium analysis, plurals and past tense are recognized as the same keyword and treated as such in our analysis. Also, when you use your keywords in a different order, like ballet shoes and shoes for ballet, our analysis still recognizes them as well. In the premium analysis, both guinea pigs and guinea pigs are highlighted:
What does the premium analysis do?
Our SEO analysis -in the premium version – automatically detects whether or not you use different word forms of your focus keyphrase. It’ll recognize singular and plurals, but also different tenses of verbs, and adjusts your keyword optimization scores accordingly. What’s more, it’ll find your keywords, even if a few function words separate them.
Let’s look at yet another example. If your focus keyphrase is [playing with your cats], it will recognize that keyphrase in the sentence ‘You canuse toy mice to play with your cat‘. Or, if you want to optimize for [games for cats] it will recognize it the sentence, ‘Another game your cat will love …’as well.
At Yoast, we have a team of linguists working on this functionality. As you can imagine, recognizing past tenses and plurals works very differently in different languages. The word form functionality is currently available in English and German. But we are working on Dutch and Spanish, too.
What about synonyms and related keywords?
Focusing on exact matching keyword feels a bit outdated. Google is able to recognize different word forms and synonyms too. We know that Google even understands related concepts. If you add synonyms and related keywords to your focus keyphrases, the Yoast premium analysis will take these into account as well. Read more about this in our post about how to use synonyms and related keywords.
The whole idea behind our premium analysis is that you can write naturally and still optimize for the search engines. Our plugin will give you little nudges to optimize your text a bit more, without tempting you to chase the green bullets with exact keyword matching. This means: no more awkwardly rewriting your sentences, so the SEO analysis picks up on your keyword. No more wondering if you really didn’t use your keyword often enough, or if the plugin simply doesn’t recognize every instance.
Recognizing plurals and past tense isn’t easy. And it’s different for all languages. It is a lot of work. That’s why we have an entire team of linguists working on it, making sure we’re adding more and more languages.
This does not mean that the free version is ‘wrong’ in any way. It’ll help you to focus on the correct focus keyphrases. However, it is not able to recognize the different word forms. Luckily, you are. So, if you’re using the free version, feel free to ignore the keyword density check if you’re mixing plurals and singulars of your keyword.
There is a subtle line between a crappy post and a perfect one. If you want to, you can endlessly tweak and improve upon your writing. So, how do you decide if your blog post is ready? When is a post good to go? In this blog post, I’ll share a checklist you can use to help you decide when to hit the ‘publish’ button!
1. Is your blog post long enough?
A post should contain at least 300 words. If you write posts that are shorter, you’ll have a hard time ranking with it in the search engines. In general, long posts will rank a bit more easily than short posts. However, long posts also require strong writing skills. Your article will need to have a kick-ass structure if you write something really lengthy. If you’re wondering how long a blog post should be, please read our article on text length.
Is your post longer than 300 words? You are good to go!
2. Is your post free of grammar and spelling mistakes?
Before hitting publish, always check for grammar and spelling mistakes. Use a tool like Grammarly to make sure you’re writing in proper English (or in proper Dutch, German or Portuguese). Let someone else check your writing if grammar isn’t your strongest suit. Of course, you can alter mistakes after publishing an article and you will be forgiven for a small error. But, an article filled with typos and errors just isn’t a good read.
Is your spell checker satisfied? Go ahead!
3. Is your blog post readable?
Reading from a screen can be difficult, so if you want people to read and understand your blog post it must be easy to read. This will get you more returning visitors and a higher conversion rate. Easy to read means that you use rather short sentences, clear paragraphs, and transition words. In Yoast SEO we offer a readability analysis. If the overall check in the readability analysis is green, your blog post is readable enough to hit publish!
Is the bullet in the Yoast SEO readability analysis green? You have the green light!
4. Is your blog post SEO-friendly?
Before you publish your blog post, you should always make sure it is SEO-friendly. A green bullet in our SEO analysis is good enough. Before optimizing your post, make sure to put some effort into choosing the right focus keyword. Optimizing your blog post for a keyword nobody is searching for will not result in much traffic.
Is the bullet in the Yoast SEO analysis green! Publish that post!
5. Is your message clear?
Why did you write this blog post? What do you want your readers to know or do after they’ve read your text? The purpose of your blog post needs to be clear. The message of your blog post, the thing you want to tell your readers needs to be clear. Think about the purpose, think about your message and read your blog post once again. Is your message clear? Will readers understand that message? If your not sure, let someone else read your blog post. Ask them!
Is your message clear? You’re good to go!
6. Did you add internal links?
If people like your post, they should have enough opportunity to navigate to similar awesome posts. Make sure to link to posts that are of interest. Perhaps you’re selling some fantastic products on your website. Make sure to add links to those product pages!
Did you add some amazing internal links? You’re all set!
So, when is your blog post ready?
If you’re a perfectionist, your blog post will never be ready. You can always improve and tweak to make it a little bit better. And, even after publication, you can make corrections and small (or bigger) tweaks. The question ‘ when is it good enough’ can be a hard one to answer. Check the 6 things I talked about in this blog post. Did you do all these things? Can you answer all these questions? If so, go ahead and hit publish! Good luck!
Sometimes, content on your website becomes irrelevant or out of date, and you need to decide whether to update it or delete it. It’s part of your regular content maintenance activities. There are several ways to go about this and this article helps you decide what’s the best solution for your old content!
Update old content that is still valid
Let’s start with an example: On our blog, we have an article on meta descriptions that needs constant updating to keep it relevant. We just have to make sure it stays up to date with all the changes Google keeps making to the way it handles meta descriptions. Sometimes it seems they can be a bit longer and sometimes they seem to go back to the old length again.
Our post helps writers and editors to write meta descriptions, even though the advice changes over time. Although the article itself might be what we call cornerstone content, its content must be updated to keep up with the latest standards – constantly.
You can easily create new, valuable content from your old posts if you update it and make it current again: old wine in new bottles, as the saying goes. You could, for example, replace older parts of that content with updates, or you could merge three old blog posts about the same subject into one new post. If you do this, please remember to redirect the old post URLs to the new post, using a 301 Redirect. More on that later.
It’s likely that you have old posts or pages on your site that you don’t need anymore. Think along the lines of a blog post about a product you stopped selling a while ago and have no intention of ever selling again, an announcement of an event that took place a long time ago or old pages with little or no content – so-called thin content pages.
These are just some examples, but I’m sure you know which posts and/or pages I’m talking about. This old content adds no value anymore, now or for the foreseeable future. In that case, you need to either tell Google to forget about these old posts or pages or give the URL another purpose.
When I talk about deleting old content, I don’t mean just pressing “delete” and then forgetting about it. If you do that, the content might show up in Google for weeks after deletion. The URL might actually have some link value as well, which would be a shame to waste.
So, what should you do? Here are two options:
“301 Redirect” the old post to a related one
When a URL still holds value because, say, you have a number of quality links pointing to that page, you want to leverage that value by redirecting the URL to a related one. With a 301 Redirect you’ll tell search engines and visitors there’s a better or newer version of this content elsewhere on your site. The 301 redirect automatically sends people and Google to this page.
Say you have an old post on a specific dog breed. You need to delete it, so the logical next step would be to redirect that post to a newer post about this dog breed. If you don’t have that post, choose a post about the closest breed possible. If that post isn’t available, you could redirect it to the category page for these posts (e.g. “dog breeds”) and if that is also not an option, redirect to the homepage. That last one might be about “pets”, for example. It’s a bit of a last resort though, there probably are better options on your site.
Tell search engines the content is intentionally gone
If there isn’t a relevant page on your site you can redirect to, it’s wise to tell Google to forget about your old post entirely by serving a “410 Deleted” status to Google. This status code will tell Google and visitors the content didn’t just disappear; you’ve deleted it with a reason.
When Google can’t find a post, the server will usually return a “404 Not Found” status to the search engine’s bot. You’ll also find a 404 crawl error in your Google Search Console for that page. Eventually, Google will work it out and the URL will gradually vanish from the search result pages. But this takes time.
The 410 is more powerful in the sense that it tells Google that the page is gone forever, never to return. You deleted it on purpose, period. Google will act on that faster than with a 404. Read up about the server status codes if this is all gibberish to you.
Cleaning up old content should be part of your content maintenance routine. If you don’t go through your old posts regularly, you’re bound to run into issues sooner or later. You might show incorrect information to visitors or hurt your own rankings by having too many pages about the same topic, increasing chances of keyword cannibalization, which is a lot of work to fix later on. Therefore, go through your old posts, and decide what to do: update, merge or delete!