Nowadays, the majority of teens use YouTube and Instagram, instead of Facebook. And, websites are now attracting more traffic from Google – organic search – than from Facebook. Statistics aren’t looking that good for Facebook. Is Facebook getting less important for companies, blogs, and websites? And what should you do about it? In this post,  I’ll bring you up to speed on all the latest Facebook trends and help you to figure out how to act on it.

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What do the stats say?

Facebook and teenagers

According to the statistics of Pew Research, teenagers use YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, while only half of the U.S. teens have a Facebook account. And only 10 percent of the teenagers say that Facebook is the social medium that they use most often. This in contrast to three years ago, when Facebook was the dominant social media for U.S. teenagers. Social media use of teenagers has changed rapidly, and not in favor of Facebook.

Facebook as a referral

According to Chartbeat, direct mobile traffic and traffic from Google search are now more important than referrals from Facebook on mobile devices. For some time, Facebook was the most important source of traffic. For publishers, bloggers and website owners, it was critical to be active on Facebook.

However, nowadays, Google search, a.k.a. organic traffic seems to become even more significant (on mobile devices). Focussing on SEO is (now more than ever) a critical part of your strategy!

How should you deal with these changes?

Facebook is still essential, and nobody knows how these trends will evolve. In a previous post, I wrote about Facebook’s algorithm; I already suggested a few ways to increase your traffic from Facebook. I think there are a lot of ways that’ll allow you to keep getting traffic from Facebook. That said, you cannot focus solely on Facebook to get that traffic to your website. That’s why I will suggest some other alternative strategies you should check out.

Invest in Instagram and Snapchat

Do you already have Instagram and Snapchat accounts? Instagram is rather straightforward: lots of pictures, short movies, and photos. Snapchat is a bit harder and the opportunities for companies are less obvious.

Perhaps you think that Instagram and Snapchat just don’t fit your business. And maybe you’re right. However, an entire generation is growing up using these tools. So, I think you should at least claim an account and get started. You can always ask your 14-year-old nephew to help you out.

YouTube

My twelve-year-old is almost physically attached to YouTube. He uses it as often as I use Google. He doesn’t understand why you would ever read texts when you can also watch videos. To appeal to a younger audience, creating video’s will probably be a really wise move. If your content allows for it, making video’s and optimizing these for YouTube could be a great way to attract an audience to your site.

Investing in video is hard. It may even be harder than writing content. It can also be slightly awkward to stand in front of a camera at first. Once you get the hang of it, it can also be good fun!

Stories

Last week, Techcrunch reported that stories are about to surpass feed sharing. A lot of social media platforms have incorporated stories in their features. It all began with Snapchat, but now you can share stories in WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram too. Even the AMP project now has stories for the web. People are sharing their stories and watching the stories of others, even those of media companies.

Stories require a different approach than standard post for social. And the engagement with posts (for instance comments) is entirely different. But stories also give an excellent opportunity to create new innovative content. I think, focussing on stories and trying to use stories for your business could be a fantastic strategy.

Ads on Facebook

Facebook seems to generate less traffic, but it appears that ads on Facebook are still doing well. According to the latest internet trends report by Mary Meeker, the click-through rate of ads on Facebook has almost tripled since 2016.

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Advertising on Facebook isn’t all that expensive, and you can target your audience reasonably well. If you haven’t already, this is a strategy you should try out.

Keep your focus on SEO

Social media should always play an important role in your online strategy. But, focussing on your website: making sure that it has original and well-written content, that it’s fast and provides the best user experience, should be your priority. If your website has all these features, then you’ll attract traffic, from Google and other sources!

Read more: ‘Social media for small business owners’ »

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A little over a month ago I started looking at my Pinterest profile more seriously in regards to my blog. I didn’t use Pinterest for my blog yet and never even thought of pinning my blog posts to Pinterest. I used the website to keep my wishlist up to date and had tons of hidden boards full of inspiration for future projects that I would probably never do.

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Facebook is my biggest source of traffic currently, but with Facebook’s announcement on the new algorithm, I want to rely less on Facebook. Or spread my traffic source at least. At the end of March, I received a newsletter from a blogger I follow. She claimed she receives over 15,000 visitors from Pinterest every month. She started blogging last year and hasn’t written a new blog post since January. Yet her blog is ever growing, and so is her bank account. 15k for a website that’s not regularly updated raised one main question with me: HOW?

We emailed for a while and she explained she started to treat Pinterest as a search engine instead of a social medium. People are not on Pinterest to see what their friends like, they are looking for a solution for a problem they have. The difference with Google? You have a personal feed when you open Pinterest. And it is visual.

Skepticism

I was skeptical. I don’t like promoting my website, due to my inner critic who thinks it’s necessary to tell me no one wants to read my blog posts and I should not be bothering them on Facebook or anywhere else. Also, I dislike scheduling my social media to promote my blog and I definitely do not like to make the graphics for my blog. I am a writer, but as a blogger you have to be all-round, unless you’re as lucky as me and you can blog for Yoast where there’s an entire team who will create graphics and do the promotion for you. Unfortunately, they won’t do promotion for my personal blog. I should’ve negotiated that at the beginning of my contract.

Still skeptical about Pinterest, I walked into Joost’s office last month and asked him what he knew about Pinterest. He explained to me that there are mom blogs, especially in the US, that get ten thousands of visitors through Pinterest. The statistics can get bizarre. He told me I was definitely in the right niche to grow through Pinterest and should give it a go.

That night I sat down and started creating graphics for my blog. Pinterest suggests vertical pins instead of the horizontal scaled images for Facebook.

What Pinterest did to my statistics

I would love to say that I woke up the next morning, opened Pinterest and saw that my pins went viral. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Your exposure will slowly climb and the more active you are on Pinterest, the faster you will get rewarded.

If you have a business account with Pinterest, you can look at your statistics. I saw that one of my pins had been shown over 400 times in just a few days. So I squealed and told everyone how amazing Pinterest was. I then showed my statistics to everyone who wanted to see, and even those who didn’t know they wanted to see.

But out of those 400 impressions on Pinterest, not one person had repinned my pin. And no one had clicked the link. Facebook advertising sounded a lot more appealing right now. And less work. And easier to understand.

It took me a week to understand and find the mix that started getting me visitors. I can now say that after one month, 10% of my traffic to my blog is Pinterest. 10% in just one month! My stats are surprising me each and every day and I actually love looking at Google Analytics and my Pinterest statistics. I’ve created a board for my blog and created boards that are close to my niche. I’ve repinned pins from others and pinned my own blog posts.

How you can start to grow

To start growing, the first important step is that your image should be appealing and of high quality. Pins with the message in bold letters across the image, work wonders. People want to know what your post is about in one glance. Writing compelling titles is already important for SEO, so dust up those skills and get them to use for Pinterest!

Another important factor of getting seen is collaborating with others in group boards. By pinning your content to group boards, your content will be seen by the others who contribute to the board.

But balance is key: don’t just pin from your own website. Repin as well. Don’t be afraid to repin a blog post from a competitor if it fits one of your boards. For example: one of my best performing boards is about self-care. I have only written two blog posts on this subject yet, but funny enough, these two blog posts generate the most traffic to my blog.

There’s no easy fix to gain visitors fast. It’s much like Google, Facebook or your other sources of traffic: you need to solve a problem for you visitor by creating content your visitors are looking for.

Read more: ‘Blogging: the ultimate guide’ »

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Optimizing how your content looks when it’s shared on third-party platforms like Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp can drive improved visibility, clickthrough, and conversions. But it’s not as simple as just picking a great image…

When you share a URL on Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms, they’ll typically show a preview of the page, with a title, description, and image. These elements are typically taken from Open Graph tags defined in the source code of the page you’re sharing.

How does this work?

The way in which this works is defined by the Open Graph Protocol. This is an open source standard (like WordPress, and even the Yoast SEO plugin), which allows webmasters to tell third-party systems (like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or even WhatsApp, Skype or Hotmail) about their pages.

Star Wars

It defines a set of meta tags which allow you to provide information about the type of content on a page (e.g., “this is a page about a movie”), metadata about that thing (e.g., “it’s called Star Wars – The Last Jedi”), and how it should be presented when shared.

They look like something this:

<meta property="og:title" content="Star Wars - The Last Jedi" />
<meta property="og:type" content="video.movie" />
<meta property="og:url" content="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2527336/" />
<meta property="og:image" content="https://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMjQ1MzcxNjg4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgwMjY4MzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_.jpg" />
<meta property="og:image:width" content="675" />
<meta property="og:image:height" content="1000" />

Most websites (and those running the Yoast SEO plugin) will automatically output elements like these for all pages, posts and archives.

The og:image tags are particularly important because Open Graph tags most commonly play a role in social sharing dialogues. This tag defines the picture which shows up when users share your content across social networks, apps, and other systems. Optimizing the composition, dimensions, and even the file size of the image you use can influence whether somebody clicks and the quality of their experience.

Using images which are too large, too small, or the wrong dimensions can result in errors, or in platforms omitting your images entirely. But optimizing your Open Graph markup isn’t as simple as just picking a good image. There are some complexities around how different platforms use these tags, treat your images, and support different rules.

TL;DR

  • It’s impossible to specify different images/formats/files for different networks, other than for Facebook and Twitter. The Facebook image is used, by default, for all other networks/systems). This is a limitation of how these platforms work. The same goes for titles and descriptions.
  • The Yoast SEO plugin will automatically try and specify the best image for each platform where you share your content, based on the constraints of these platforms.
  • The image size and cropping won’t always be perfect across different platforms, as the way in which they work is inconsistent.
  • Specifically, your images should look great on ‘broadcast’ platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but might sometimes crop awkwardly on platforms designed for 1:1 or small group conversations, like WhatsApp or Telegram.
  • For best results, you should manually specify og:image tags for each post, through the plugin. You should ensure that your primary og:image is between 1200x800px and 2000x1600px, and is less than 2mb in size.
  • We’ll be adding developer support for more advanced customization via theme functions and filters. 

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It’s not as simple as just picking a good image

Even though Open Graph tags use an open standard, each platform (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc) treats Open Graph tags slightly differently. Some even have their own proprietary ‘versions’ of Open Graph tagging, too. Twitter’s ‘twitter card’ markup, for example, bears a strong resemblance to, and overlaps with, Open Graph tagging.

As an open project, the Open Graph is constantly changing and improving, too. Features and support come and go, the documentation isn’t always up to date, and individual platforms make (and change) their own decisions on how they interpret it, and which bits they’ll implement.

And as the web itself continues to evolve, there are more and more ‘platforms’ where people can share content, and where the Open Graph is used. From Slack, to WeChat, to tomorrow’s productivity and social media apps, they’ll all rely on the Open Graph, but use it in subtly different ways.

So when we’re trying to define a ‘best practice’ approach to support as part of the Yoast SEO plugin, it’s not as simple as just picking the ‘best image’ – we need to make sure that we provide the right tags and image formats for each platform and network.

To make things more complex, these tags and approaches sometimes conflict with or override each other. Twitter’s twitter:image property, for example, overrides an og:image value for images shared via Twitter, when both sets of tags are on the same page.

Lastly, the open graph specification allows us to provide multiple og:image values. This, in theory, allows the platform to make the best decision about which size to use and allows people who are sharing some choice over which image they pick. How different platforms interpret these values, however, varies considerably.

This logic behind which platforms use which images, in which scenarios, gets complex pretty quickly! So more often than not, we’re stuck relying on the og:image value(s) as a general default for all platforms, and adding specific support where we can, whilst trying to minimize conflict. This doesn’t always produce perfect results, so we’re always on the lookout for better ways to ‘get it right’ without requiring end users to spend hours specifying multiple image formats for each post they write.

The challenge of og:image as a default

In a perfect world, there are two different approaches to how platforms handle Open Graph tagging. They look like this:

  1. All platforms only use og:image tags. When multiple images are set, they automatically select (and crop) the best version for their context.
  2. All platforms have specific Open Graph tags (or their own versions). They allow fine-grain control over every scenario, by enabling us to specify the exact image which should be used in each case.

Unfortunately, we’re stuck somewhere in-between. Some platforms allow a degree of control, but the og:image tag functions as a general fallback for all other scenarios.

FB plugin Yoast SEO

This is particularly problematic, as the og:image is also Facebook’s primary image. This is a huge challenge for the Yoast SEO plugin team, and for anybody else trying to define a ‘best practice’ approach to tagging. The image we specify as the main image for Facebook sharing (usually a large, high-res picture) also has to be suitable as a general default for all platforms which don’t have their own specific tags.

For many of these platforms, a large file size optimized for sharing in a Facebook newsfeed won’t be appropriate for their context. For example, Pinterest expects a relatively small, square cropped thumbnail image when sharing from a page – and whilst it has its own tagging mechanisms, the presence of an og:image tag on the page overrides those.

There’s more complexity, too. Different platforms have varying restrictions on image dimensions, ratios, and file size. A high-res og:image optimized for Facebook (with a large file size) will, more often than not, not display at all when someone shares it on Slack, for example.

Frequently, Yoast SEO has to share the same default og:image between multiple platforms – even though they have different expectations and apply different rules and treatments. Trying to work out what the ‘default’ image tag(s) should be, when it has to be the main image for Facebook and a universal default, is tricky. But it’s a problem we need to solve if we’re to provide a best practice ‘default’ setting for WordPress users.

There are lots of unknowns

Because each platform maintains its own rules and documentation on how they treat og:image tags, there are often gaps in our knowledge. Specific restrictions, edge cases, and in particular, information on which rules override other rules, are rarely well-documented. The documentation which does exist is often ambiguous at best. Google+ “snippet” documentation, for example, states that they won’t use images which are “not square enough”. It’s unclear what this means in specific, technical terms. HTML overview

In order to determine the best universal approach to image sharing markup, we had to do some digging and some experimentation.

We were particularly interested in understanding how different platforms react to the presence of multiple og:image tags. If we can specify more than one image, and different platforms handle that differently, perhaps there’s a way in which we can get them to pick the most suitable image for their needs.

What we found

The way in which different platforms handle og:image tags (and in particular, multiple og:image tags) is often inconsistent, and frequently complex. Thankfully, most small platforms and apps simply crop and use the og:image tag (or the first og:image tag, if there are multiple in the set), and apply some reasonable constraints around dimensions, ratio, and file size. Some of the larger and more popular platforms, however, exhibit some particularly challenging behaviors, which complicate matters.

Here are some examples of the undocumented behaviors we’ve discovered (note that we’ve not talked about platforms which simply pick the first og:image tag, and which don’t exhibit any other ‘odd’ behavior). If you find any other undocumented features or behaviors which we haven’t covered or supported (or if we’ve made any mistakes in our research), we’d love to hear from you!

Facebook

When multiple og:image tags are specified, Facebook uses the first tag in the set. This is in line with their documentation, but contrary to popular opinion (which assumes that the largest valid image is chosen). It’s also interesting to note that it uses the first image even if it’s invalid/brokenSelection FB

Additional images are available for selection by the user at the point of sharing (on desktop only). Images are hard-cropped and sized to fit the sharing dialogue window, based on the size of the window.

Instagram

Instagram behaves similarly to Facebook, except that it will only show an image preview for ‘small’ images (if the image file size is smaller than 300KB, and the dimensions are ~256×256 – though we’ve seen up to 400×400 work), and only supports JPG and PNG formats.

Twitter

Twitter uses the last image in an og:image set, unless a twitter:image tag exists. Using the twitter:image tag allows us to control Twitter images independently of all other types, though unfortunately doesn’t allow us to specify multiple values (to accommodate for different tweet contexts/layouts).

National Geographic

To add some complexity, Twitter supports multiple card layouts, which can be defined in a twitter:card tag. The default value is ‘summary’ (1:1 ratio), but it’s also possible to specify ‘summary_large_image’ for a larger, full-width image (2:1) ratio.

Unhelpfully, Twitter’s documentation shows the same layout for both card versions (summary, summary with large image).

Interestingly, Twitter used to support a ‘gallery’ type of card which held multiple images – however, they deprecated this into the ‘summary with large image’ card some time ago.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp also uses the last image in the og:image set, which it hard crops to a small square. Note that, this appears to accept enormous images, both in terms of file size and dimensions; this red square is cropped from a 10000×10000, 1.49mb image. Test page Jono

Skype

Takes the first og:image, but caches it seemingly permanently (both locally and in the cloud), making it impossible to change/update an image thumbnail for a URL (without, e.g., manipulating the og:url value to include cache-busting elements).

Telegram

Takes values from Facebook’s cache (typically the first og:image in a set). Cached images can be updated by messaging https://telegram.me/webpagebot (as a Telegram user) with up to 10 URLs. Note, caches only be updated if a page’s <html> tag contains a prefix=”og: http://ogp.me/ns#” attribute.

Pinterest

Pinterest’s documentation mentions that they “support” up to six og:image tags. However, sharing the page only ever utilizes the first* image the in the set.

They also support marking up inline images through Schema.org markup – however, when an og:image tag is present on the page (which will almost always be the case), it uses this instead.

Article Forbes

There’s also some ambiguity around the difference between how they handle Open Graph data with ‘article pins’ vs ‘rich pins’. The latter is an ‘upgraded’ version which displays more information on the card, but using these requires the site owner to validate their domain.

*There’s an edge-case where, if there are more than six images in the array, the sharing dialogue periodically seems to choose the seventh value (and there’s some other weirdness depending on the total numbers of images in the array).

Google+

Google’s Web Fundamentals documentation implies that Google+ may prefer (and will prioritize) schema markup over Open Graph markup. Theoretically, that might allow us to enable allow users to set a specific image for Google+. They also do some of the smartest intelligent cropping and ratio management (or, at least, the documentation on their approach is more complete and transparent than others).

As an interesting aside, Google+ ignores robots.txt directives, and so may unwittingly expose private/hidden assets.

What we’ve considered, and our decisions

That’s a lot of moving parts. We need to compare all of these rules and decide which og:image tags we output for any given post or page, on any given WordPress site running the Yoast SEO plugin. That means optimizing for the most common and general use-cases, without breaking too many edge-cases. It also means providing tools, hooks, and filters in WordPress to allow users with special requirements to alter the behavior to meet their particular needs.

That’s why we’re choosing to optimize the first image in the og:set for large, high-resolution sharing – the kind which Facebook supports and requires, but which cause issues with networks which expect a smaller image (like Instagram, or Telegram) sharing.

Whilst you could argue that Facebook might not necessarily wield the influence and domination that it used to, it’s undoubtedly still a significant platform in terms of audience size, and a place where page/post sharing is prolific – and where the quality/treatment of the image is critical to click through.

Given that both Facebook, and most platforms’ default is the first og:image tag in a set, we must ensure that this image is a large, high-quality image (with a suitable aspect ratio for Facebook). Unfortunately, this approach has some side-effects. There’ll be many cases where the image used is too large for Instagram (and other platforms which expect small thumbnails) to feature in shared post links.

We’re not completely happy with this as a solution, but it’s the best compromise we can come up with. As an aside, we also believe that, in its current state, Open Graph markup is a bit broken. We think that it feels intuitively right that the first and default og:image in a set should be a high quality, high-resolution image – and that it’s the responsibility of the platform to crop this down appropriately, or to use secondary/smaller og:images, or to provide their own markup/solutions.

Ideally, Open Graph tags would inherit some of the kinds of thinking behind CSS media queries, where you can specify the different screen widths at which different sets of logic apply. We’ll be seeking to lobby and work with the various platforms to improve their support and collaboration in the coming months and years.

User context is an important factor

We also think that this compromise makes more sense than optimizing for smaller images, because the context in which smaller thumbnails are used is different.

Example share link

We believe that individuals sharing URLs in one-to-one chat, or in small groups (e.g., in WhatsApp), are less likely to be negatively affected by a missing (or awkwardly sized/cropped) image. They’re usually chatting, engaged, and know the sender.

In the context of a newsfeed, like on Facebook or Twitter, the quality of the image is much more important – you’re scrolling through lots of noise, you’re less engaged, and a better image is an increased chance of a click/share/like. Structured data FB

In the case of Pinterest, and other systems where your interest is the image itself, we believe that most interaction occurs directly on the image, rather than from the page it’s on or a browser bookmarklet. Given this, we’re less concerned about Pinterest using the first og:image tag (which is a large image, optimized for Facebook) as a small, square thumbnail.

There’s an upper size limit, too

The biggest image you can have (both in terms of file size and dimensions) varies by platform, too. Some platforms support huge images (Facebook allows images to be up to 8mb) – but they chop these down into smaller thumbnails depending on the context. Some have relatively small max sizes, like LinkedIn and Telegram’s 2mb limit.

This makes it even more challenging to determine what the ‘best’ image should be, and which images should feature in the og:image set. We want to show a large, high-resolution image, but not too large.

It’s particularly tricky to pick the best size with WordPress, where we’re not always sure what image sizes we’ll be working with. That’s because, when a user uploads an image to WordPress, their site creates multiple versions of that image with different sizes and cropping. Typically, these are the original ‘full’ size, and ‘large’ (1024x1024px), ‘medium_large’ (768px, cropped), ‘medium’ (300x300px) and ‘thumbnail’ (150x150px) versions. But these default sizes are often altered by WordPress theme or plugin code, and by server configuration – and frequently, some might be too large for general use.

Because we need to make sure that the first og:image is suitable as a general default for as many platforms as possible, the Yoast SEO plugin evaluates post content, spots all of the images, and tries to pick the best size for each post. To get this right, we’ve evaluated the maximum file sizes and dimensions of a number of platforms, and we’ve set some automatic restrictions in the plugin.

Specifically:

  • When the ‘full’ size image is over 2mb file size, and/or over 2000 pixels on either axis, and/or the ratio exceeds 3:1, we’ll try and fall back to a smaller standard WordPress image size.
  • If we can’t find a suitable smaller image, we’ll continue to use the ‘full’ size. Note that this may result in the image not appearing in some sharing contexts.

In conclusion…

We don’t want our users to have to micromanage the details of how all of this works. Of course, when you’re producing great content for your audience, you should consider how that content appears on third party and social platforms. But it should be as simple a matter of picking an appropriate image, and letting the system do the rest – from sizing and file management, to ensuring that the best version shows up when it’s shared in other locations. Because every platform follows its own rules, however, we’ve had to make some decisions which won’t please every user and won’t solve for every scenario.

For most normal use-cases, we’d suggest that you manually set og:image values on your posts via the Yoast SEO plugin, and ensure that their dimensions are between 1200x800px and 2000x1600px (and that they’re less than 2mb in size).

If you disagree with the decisions we’ve made, or want to help us improve our solution; we’d love for you to get in touch. WordPress and Yoast SEO are both open source products – you can help by explaining your use-cases, reporting your bugs, and thinking about how a better solution might work.

We’d love to hear your thoughts; the Open Graph is a mess at the moment, and it’s up to all of us to fix it.

Some additional technical details

We’ve taken some liberty in the og:image markup, and we’re aware that we’re adding quite a lot of weight and markup with this approach. Specifically, we’ll output HTML which looks something like this:

<meta property="og:image" content="https://www.example.com/main-image.jpg" />
<meta property="og:image:secure_url" content="https://www.example.com/main-image.jpg" />
<meta property="og:image:height" content="2000" />
<meta property="og:image:width" content="2000" />
<meta property="og:image:alt" content="A description of the image" />
<meta property="og:image:type" content="image/jpg" />
<meta property="og:image" content="https://www.example.com/second-image.jpg" />
<meta property="og:image:secure_url" content="https://www.example.com/second-image.jpg" />
<meta property="og:image:height" content="800" />
<meta property="og:image:width" content="800" />
<meta property="og:image:alt" content="A description of the image" />
<meta property="og:image:type" content="image/jpg" />
<meta property="og:image" content="https://www.example.com/third-image.jpg" />
<meta property="og:image:secure_url" content="https://www.example.com/third-image.jpg" />
<meta property="og:image:height" content="600" />
<meta property="og:image:width" content="400" />
<meta property="og:image:alt" content="A description of the image" />
<meta property="og:image:type" content="image/jpg" />
<meta property="og:image" content="https://www.example.com/fourth-image.jpg" />
<meta property="og:image:secure_url" content="https://www.example.com/fourth-image.jpg" />
<meta property="og:image:height" content="256" />
<meta property="og:image:width" content="256" />
<meta property="og:image:alt" content="A description of the image" />
<meta property="og:image:type" content="image/jpg" />

Note the progression ‘down’ from ‘large, high-quality image’, through different media sizes (depending on the site/theme setup), ending at a universal ‘small’ size.

We’ll also output a twitter:image tag, alongside the other twitter:card requirements (unless you’ve chosen to disable it in the Yoast SEO plugin config).

We’ll likely continue to iterate and improve on the approach, but here’s our rationale behind some of our assumptions:

  • The og:image:type may not be strictly necessary in all cases, but there are many websites and server configurations where the images don’t have clean and recognizable ‘.jpg’ (or similar) file extensions. By making sure that we signpost the type of file, rather than making networks work it out, we reduce the risk of errors.
  • Facebook’s documentation around how it uses secure_url tags is unclear, especially for sites which are fully HTTPS. However, in the case of video tags, it mentions explicitly that both tags are required, even if both feature the same HTTPS URL. As such, we’ll retain the secure_url tags even when your site and image are served over HTTPS.
  • It’s generally considered best practice to label images with descriptive alt attributes, in order to support users who rely on screen readers and assistive technologies. We believe that Open Graph image tags shouldn’t be any different. This tag is only output when your images are labeled, so we’d encourage you to write some descriptive text during your image upload workflow.
  • Our 2mb file size limit aligns, incidentally, to the default upload size set in most WordPress implementations which run on ‘off the shelf’ hosting.
  • Our 2000×2000 pixel size flag should be a suitable maximum for almost all websites and screen sizes. Most browsers on desktop monitors have a width of fewer than 2,000 pixels (4k monitors and upwards often use image scaling to prevent everything from looking tiny). It’s also rare for any sharing ‘thumbnail’ activity (e.g., a Facebook message preview box) to take up the full width of the screen.
  • As Google+ isn’t widely used, we’ve chosen not to add additional complexity to the Yoast SEO plugin by offering the ability to specify dedicated, schema-based image markup for Google+ images. In most cases, we believe that the default og:image should be a suitable option for Google+ sharing – though we’re keen to hear from you if you find that this is not the case.
  • Unlike most other networks, WhatsApp supports SVG file formats. That means that, in theory, you could achieve optimal sharing for both WhatsApp and Facebook by setting your first og:image to be an SVG, and setting your second og:image as your full-res, large image. However. many other networks only read the first image, and won’t use the SVG file. SVG formats also come with a myriad of security risks, and so we’re not comfortable recommending their general use in this context.

Some undocumented Facebook ‘features’

If you’re feeling particularly geeky, you might also enjoy the following discoveries!

  • In addition to specifying the URL of an image, you can specify its height and width. This has some benefits, including encouraging Facebook to pre-cache the image on the first time it’s shared. However, when you specify multiple og:image tags, invalid/malformed height/width in any of those tags may cause problems with all of your images. E.g., an invalid og:image:height or og:image:width value on an image which isn’t chosen, prevents pre-rendering.
  • Specifying an image triggers the pre-caching process, regardless of whether it’s correct or not.
  • Facebook has different ‘share layout’ sizes, depending on the image size. Small images don’t scale up to a large preview very well, so they provide a condensed layout. However, the share layout size sometimes defaults to accommodating the smallest image from a set (e.g., if you have 10 huge og:image tags, and 1 small one, you sometimes get the small share layout).
  • Facebook also sometimes falls back to the ‘small’ layout if you have too many broken images in your set (as Facebook’s broken image file is only 540×300).
    Test page Jono
  • Setting incorrect image sizes lets you upscale small images in the Facebook debugger, but it doesn’t look like this is respected in the share dialogue. You cannot ‘downscale’ images so far as I can tell. There’s a “upscale=1” parameter in the version of the image which Facebook creates, which I suspect controls this.
  • Large images break! The maximum square image size appears to be in the region of 9200×9200. However, some images with unequal dimensions larger than this, but a lower total area (e.g., 10000×3000) work, as long as a 3:1 ratio or higher. Image test page JonoThis suggests that the boundaries might be based, in part, on a maximum square area of ~95,000,000 pixels.
  • As a minor additional note, when sharing a too-large image directly (i.e., linking directly to the file itself), Facebook just shows a blank image – there’s no fallback file/function used in their ‘safe image’ cleaner in this context.
  • Facebook supports a really interesting feature which lets you build relationships between pages featuring partial/linked Open Graph information. This, theoretically, allows you to ‘inherit’ and/or place centralized og markup elsewhere, reducing page weight. This might be useful for mobile/responsive subdomains, and some internationalization/versioning scenarios, perhaps, if other platforms supported it.
  • Additionally, where cloaking is often a risky tactic in SEO (and frowned upon by Google), Facebook actively suggest (see “You can target one of these user agents to serve the crawler a nonpublic version of your page”) cloaking mechanisms as a method of managing scenarios with paywalls, struggling servers, and other scenarios.
  • Despite claiming otherwise on their documentation, like Google+, Facebook’s crawler appears to ignore or disregard robots.txt directives – it’ll happily fetch Open Graph values from pages which are blocked by robots.txt files.

Some potential “hacks”?

Being stuck having to ‘share’ the first og:image tag between multiple networks is, as we’re discovering, limiting, and not ideal. Sticking to the Open Graph standards, as they’re written, lumps us with all sorts of unfortunate compromises and dead-ends.

So what if we think outside the rules a bit?

If we’re creative, there may be some clever tricks or undocumented approaches which we can use to bypass, confuse, or force certain behaviors from some of the trickier platforms.

Here are a few approaches we’ve considered, but ultimately discarded.

Can we use platform detection to create a dynamic solution?

Imagine for a moment, that every time a page is shared, the platform visits that page, reads the og:image tag(s), and grabs the image.

Theoretically, the Yoast SEO plugin could detect which platform is requesting the page or image, and execute some clever code to serve it the perfect image for its requirements.

That’d enable us to ensure that, regardless of what’s being shared, and where, we could intelligently make sure that the first og:image is the best option for the scenario.

However, the platforms don’t visit every time – they visit once, and save a copy of the tags (and the images) they found for a little while. That length of time, and the scenarios which cause them to revisit and/or update their cached version vary wildly by platform.

Still, theoretically, the Yoast SEO plugin could try and serve the right tags to the platform when they do visit, at the moment when they create their cache. But this approach relies heavily on the platforms identifying themselves when they visit (and on us recognizing their identities), on the website in question having a certain type of server configuration, and on our software doing some tricksy logic around deciding which tag(s) to show.

It might also open things up to forms of abuse by users and platforms who falsify their identities, and it won’t work for any website running any form of advanced caching (where the static pages are served to most visitors).

It all gets pretty complicated, and it’s not a robust enough approach to rely on.

Hidden image techniques

Some platforms, like Pinterest, do more than just grab the og:image tag(s) – they scan the page and look for other images too. That means that we can place sharing-optimized images outside of the Open Graph tags, as part of the page content, and hope that users select these when sharing.

In most scenarios, those images don’t necessarily need to be visible, in order to be discovered. We can place hidden images in the source code of a page.

Unfortunately, this technique doesn’t help in most cases, other than increasing the chance of an image showing up in a selection process. e.g., where Facebook allows you to select a thumbnail from an og:image set, or where Pinterest allows you to choose an image to share from a page when using their browser bookmarklet).

In most scenarios, in-page images are ignored when og:image tags are specified. Hiding images can also cause unexpected side-effects, such as accessibility issues, or slower page loads – especially when sharing the kinds of large images which platforms like Pinterest or Facebook look for in cases like this.

Publish-and-switch techniques

For some platforms, like Facebook, we can ‘push’ a specific image to them, by setting the first og:image and sending a request to their cache-busting URL.

We could adapt the Yoast SEO plugin to set a specific image as the first in the set, then ping the relevant platform’s cache-busting system to update the image. Then we could change the og:image ordering and repeat the process, setting the best image for each platform which allows for remote cache updating

Unfortunately, this only allows us to set the initial image. When their caches expire, we’re back to square one – they’ll use the logic we’ve outlined to pick their preferred images.

To repeat the cache-setting process, we’d need to constantly juggle the order of the tags, in line with the specific cache-expiry times of each platform. This adds a wealth of complexity, and simply isn’t feasible in most site setups (especially those running their own caching solutions), and only a few platforms support this kind of cache-busting.

More importantly, we want to avoid tactical hacks

As we’ve explored, we’re not keen on going to these kinds of lengths to try and fix a problem which could be fixed so much more effectively, and comprehensively, by the platforms themselves, and improvements to the Open Graph protocol.

We’re not adverse to implementing clever, technical solutions to help get the image selection process right, but we’d rather work with the platforms to address the problems at the source, rather than tackling the symptoms across the 8 million+ websites running the Yoast SEO plugin.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on how you think WordPress, Yoast SEO, the Open Graph Protocol and big platforms like Facebook and Twitter might be able to work together better!

Read on: ‘Social media optimization with Yoast SEO’ »

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Last week was all about Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing. There’s no point in denying that Facebook gathers lots and lots of data about individual users. That being said, all kinds of companies and governmental organizations are more than willing to use that data to have successful Facebook campaigns. So, is Facebook evil for gathering that data? And if so, aren’t websites willing to give that information to Facebook not equally evil? 

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Regulation always lags behind

When radio first emerged, companies sponsored most of the programs. Programs were one big advertisement. We call it a soap opera because a large soap factory sponsored it! Gradually, broadcasters sold advertisements in blocks, during commercial breaks. While some countries have laws concerning advertisement and commercials, most countries have councils that provide guidelines on what is allowed in commercials and what not. Advertisers, media people, and audiences talk with each other and figure out what is allowed and what not. And I think that’s what we need to do with Facebook advertising as well. We need to think, talk and set up new rules for this advertising game. Together. 

What is a tracking pixel?
A tracking pixel is an invisible 1×1 pixel on a website that records the activities of visitors. This pixel collects data about the visitor and shares it with, for instance, Facebook or Google. Often, visitors aren’t aware that the pixel is collecting their information and therefore there is quite a bit of criticism on this way of retrieving data.

The responsibility of companies

Facebook does not force a tracking pixel on websites. Nor does Google. And yet, lots of websites have one of each. That’s a choice. I am not saying it’s a wrong choice per se; I’m just saying it is a choice. And I do think that companies should take some time to think about the consequences of that choice. Do you want to use data gathered from people that visit your website to retarget these people on Facebook? You can’t be sure what Facebook does with that data, but you are handing it over to them.

At Yoast, we did have a Facebook tracking pixel on our website for some time. We did little with it. It did not feel right. It felt as like we were following our audience — stalking them. We discussed the use of the tracking pixel in our company and decided to remove it. This was long before the Facebook hearing.

Ignorance is no excuse

I am afraid lots of companies do not even know whether or not they have a tracking pixel. Marketing departments or agencies may have taken care of it without explaining how such a retargeting campaign works. I do think companies have a responsibility to know and to care. We are talking about collecting data on individuals; it’s valuable data of and about your visitors.

We should educate ourselves and our children. We all witness retargeting, so we should explain how it works. This is not rocket science. My 11-year old figured it out himself. He noticed advertising for the Fortnite computer game wasn’t on my Instagram timeline, while it appeared so very frequently on his. He wondered why. We should make a real effort to explain this stuff to children, to companies and governments. If people understand, we can have a meaningful conversation and raise the questions that matter.

Have the conversation

We have to raise ethical questions. What data are we allowed to collect from our audience? And with what purpose? Do we need to tell our audience about the tracking pixel on our website?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. Different people will come up with different answers. That’s the beauty of ethical questions. I am no expert, but you should read Morton Rand-Hendriksen’s’ article on using ethics in web design if you’re interested in this kind of stuff.

The bottom line is, we all need to think about it. We all need to talk about it. And in the end, we need to come to some consensus together. We need to make — and abide by — rules or laws to deal with these kinds of things.

So.. let’s talk!

Read more: ‘Social media for small business owners’ »

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Facebook can be a vital source of traffic for your website. Recently, however, Facebook announced that pages of business, brands, and news outlets would become less important in the news feeds of Facebook users. This could lead to a decrease in your views on Facebook and, therefore, in the traffic from Facebook to your website. What should you do if the traffic from your Facebook page is decreasing? Last week, I already mentioned the importance of SEO. But what else could you do? Here, I’ll share another five strategies to deal with decreasing traffic from your Facebook page.

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Why would the traffic decrease?

Facebook argues that users want to see the content of their friends and families, rather than news and the content of brands in their news feeds. That’s why Facebook is rolling out a big update in which the posts of friends, family and groups become more important and the content of businesses, brands and media will become less important.

Read more: ‘Changes in Facebook make SEO more important’ »

5 strategies to deal with decreasing Facebook traffic

If you notice a sudden drop in reach of traffic from Facebook to your website, don’t panic. Your competitors will probably notice a similar drop. I really think search will become more important, if Facebook will send less traffic to website. People still want to find that present for their mom, or that skirt to wear to a party. If Facebook does not show those in their timelines, they’ll start to search for it in Google. So reinforcing your SEO strategy will be very important. But what else should you do?

Engaging content

Facebook wants to show users content they care about. Content their friends care about. If your content gets a lot of engagement, it’ll probably do better in the news feeds. You should try and get people to share or comment on your Facebook post. But you shouldn’t go overboard; Facebook does not like it when people are pushed to share or comment. Writing high-quality content, content that people want to share with their friends is a good strategy.

Personal accounts

Brands and businesses are not always the most inspiring channels to follow. Lots of people do not want to follow a corporate account. They want to follow real people. Instead of focusing on your corporate Facebook page, you could also focus on spreading the word on the personal Facebook pages of colleagues and employees. Of course, they’ll have to be up for that. And, you should make sure that these personal Facebook pages keep their character.

At Yoast, we have lots of colleagues who are enthusiastic about WordPress and SEO. They often share the SEO posts Yoast publishes on the Yoast Facebook page. That’s a great way to increase both engagement and a  bigger audience.

Influencers

Another way of keeping up the traffic on Facebook is through influencers. Influencers are people who have a lot of followers. They usually post about a specific topic (fashion, celebrities, food). You can reach out to them and ask them to post something about your business on Facebook. For some influencers, you’ll need a budget. For others, offering them your product or service could be enough. Reaching out to (influential) people can be a good way of increasing your reach and traffic on Facebook.

Advertising

The changes Facebook is making will affect the organic (that is the non-paid) reach.  Advertising on Facebook is of course also a possibility. Advertising isn’t that expensive, and you can choose which audience you want to reach (people who like your page, people who do not know your business). I think advertising is a great way to stay visible on Facebook. For a few dollars, you can increase your reach. Make sure you spend your budget on well written, high-quality posts.

Other platforms

If Facebook is giving you a hard time, you could also focus your energy on alternative platforms. Instagram is a good alternative, especially if you’re focusing on a young(er) audience. Don’t forget to check out snapchat either.

Twitter and Pinterest also remain popular. And what about Reddit? It’s hard to say which social media will be most suitable for your business. That depends largely on your business and the preferences of your audience.

Facebook traffic decreasing

Businesses and brands will probably all notice differences in organic reach on Facebook. How significant these differences will be is hard to say. To make it even more complicated, Facebook also changed the way they measure organic engagement. It’s a good idea to keep looking for alternatives for your Facebook-marketing. Investing in SEO seems like an excellent idea! But advertising, writing engaging posts, influencer marketing or other platforms could be great options as well.

Keep reading: ‘Social media for small business owners’ »

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If you promote your website on Facebook, perhaps you’ve noticed some changes in the last few weeks. Or maybe you read about it online. Facebook changed its algorithm; messages of businesses and news outlets will become less important. In this post, I want to explain the consequences of the changes in Facebook’s algorithm. On top of that, I want to propose some strategies to cope with these changes and perhaps a sudden drop in traffic. My favorite strategy? Invest heavily in SEO.

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The Facebook algorithm changed? Why?

Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the changes on January 11th of this year. He writes:

“Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

Zuckerberg states that Facebook users want to see the content of their friends and families in their news feeds, rather than that of news outlets and the content of brands.

It’s one of the reasons why Facebook is rolling out a big update in which the posts of friends, family and groups become more important and the content of businesses, brands and media will become less important. That would imply that brands, businesses and media will have a harder time reaching their followers. Their posts will have fewer views and less reach.

What do we notice so far?

It’s hard to say precisely to what extent a drop in organic reach for brands and businesses already took place. It seems like a drop in referrals to media-sites did happen. Media sites seem to get more traffic from Google now than from Facebook.

Blog posts from social media experts (e.g., AgoraPulse; Hootsuite) give the impression that a drop in organic Facebook reach is or will also be happening for brands and businesses. That could well be the case. Reading the announcement of Zuckerberg would imply that especially those brands and companies that have little interaction with their audience will be shown less in the news feeds of their followers.

To make matters more complicated, Facebook also changed the way they measure and report organic reach in the newsfeed. That makes it extra hard to assess whether or not the organic reach of your page has changed.

Read on: ‘How to optimize your Facebook reach’ »

What’s next?

For some websites, this could be a big deal. If you get a lot of traffic from Facebook, this algorithm change could decrease the amount of traffic you’ll be able to attract to your website.

But, to reassure you all: don’t panic. Your business is not the only one that’ll encounter this change. We all have to deal with it.

Some coping strategies

Investing in high-quality and engaging content on Facebook is a good strategy. If your followers reply to your posts and tag their friends, Facebook will probably show your post to many more people. And of course, you can always advertise on Facebook. Advertising on Facebook isn’t that expensive and will allow you to reach your audience, even if your content is not that engaging.

Invest heavily in SEO

In my opinion, the best response to a possible change in the Facebook algorithm is to invest in the SEO of your website. If Facebook is no longer the most important source of traffic to your website, other sources will become (relatively) more important. If people do not see the posts of your business or brand in their news feed, they’ll probably start searching for your products somewhere else. And Google (or another search engine) is the number one candidate for where people will search.

Let me explain how this works by introducing Jane:

Jane is a child psychologist. Her clients come from her local community. She has an active Facebook page. She posts little stories about her clients every day. This Facebook page brought her new clients. People started following Jane; they liked her posts, her tips, and her stories.  When their children needed counseling, Jane was the first one to pop into their heads. Her Facebook posts made sure that Jane’s practice was top of mind. 

The change in Facebook’s algorithm changes a lot in the way Jane got her clientele. Perhaps her Facebook posts will be shown less to her audience. People are still in need of a child psychologist, though. But if they do not find one in their news feed, what will they do? 

When in need of a child psychologist, people start to search for one elsewhere. They could turn to Google and search for ‘Child Psychologist.’  Jane, therefore, needs a kick-ass website with a proper SEO strategy to outrank her competitors. 

If businesses and brands get less attention in the news feeds of their users, traffic from Facebook to their websites will decrease, just as it did with the news. Google could become (relatively) more important.

Conclusion

I think it’s a bit too early to understand the changes in the Facebook algorithm fully. We’ll need some time to do some proper testing and research. I do think businesses and brands will get less attention in the news feeds. I just don’t know how significant the changes will be. It’s frustrating too. The only thing you CAN do is to make sure your website is awesome. Invest time in writing excellent content and create things people want to come to your website for. While doing that, don’t forget to make sure people can find you in the search engines. Time to set up that impressive new SEO strategy!

Read more: ‘Social media for small business owners’ »

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In our Ask Yoast case studies, we generally give SEO advise to clients who sign up for this series. This time, however, we’ve had a look at the website of Ryan Hoffman: leverageny.com. He didn’t sign up for the case study, but commented on our Ultimate guide to Content SEO. He told us nobody in his target audience reads content. So we became curious if we could give Ryan tips to optimize his website without focusing on the text only. Our main conclusion is: Ryan’s website would benefit from a more holistic SEO strategy. Read on to find out how!

What keywords does your target audience use?

First of all, setting up an SEO strategy and creating content should always start with keyword research. Writing about keywords nobody is searching for doesn’t make sense, as you probably understand. Ryan already mentioned that people searching for a keyword such as ‘How to sell a house’ probably aren’t looking for great content. Those people end up calling an agent, sell their house and that’s it.

So what type of content could attract people interested in real estate? Where would you be interested in if you were looking for a new house? List everything that pops up your mind, and you’ll probably get great new content ideas. For example, think of ‘Tips for buying a house’, ‘Should I buy or rent a house?’, ‘What additional costs can I expect when buying a house?’. 

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Make your keywords specific

You might notice that the key phrases I’ve added to the paragraph before are quite long. Such specific key phrases are also called long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific than main keywords, but they can be of equal value to your website. Of course, fewer people will search for such specific keywords, but if they do, they’re more likely to convert. People searching for long tail keywords usually know better what they’re looking for on the internet. This means it’s easier to meet their needs by writing specific content about long tail keywords.

We recommend checking the content of existing articles to see if you can determine a specific long tail keyword you want to rank for with that article. If you find one, try optimizing that article for it to increase the value of the traffic to that article.

Make use of tools

In addition to listing the subjects that pop up in your mind, you can use tools to find new keywords. There are lots of tools that can be helpful by finding relevant keywords for your business. This article about keyword research tools will give you some examples of tools we use at Yoast. Our Yoast Suggest tool shows popular, relevant keywords as well as keyword ideas for every letter of the alphabet. Just take a look at these images:

Help visitors reach the main goal of your site

When visitors click on your website in the search engines, most of them will probably land on a specific article. It’s important to keep those visitors on your website and to easily reach the main goal of your website.

When we look at your site, however, it’s not completely clear to us what the main goal of leverageny.com is. Do you just want visitors to read your content or do you want them to search for an actual house on your website? Looking at the website, we think the option to search for a house is quite hard to find. If this isn’t your main goal, this is no problem. Think about what you want your visitors to do on your website and make sure you help them navigate to that goal with the right links on the right spots.

Positive user signals

In the introduction of this post, we already mentioned that we recommend following a holistic SEO strategy. This means you should strive to make every single aspect of your website great. For example, adding new content regularly is something search engines like. Keeping visitors on your website though, is probably just as important.

Google uses so-called user signals to determine if the website is a result that matches the search intent or search query of the visitor. The time visitors stay on your website can be an indicator of that match. Visitors staying for a long time on your website send a positive user signal, improving your site’s SEO indirectly and possibly leading to higher rankings.

How to keep visitors on your website

To increase your visitors’ time on site, it’s important to give them the opportunity to easily navigate to relevant, other posts on your website. Make sure you link to relevant content at the bottom of each post but also from within the texts of posts by using internal links. By adding more internal links, you can make your most important posts stronger and you’ll give your visitors the opportunity to easily navigate to other relevant posts. 

Looking at your posts, we think there might be too much distraction because of all the different elements in the sidebar and below the posts. Try to add more focus to the part you want your visitors to click on after reading a post.

In addition to that, you can  create more specific categories. Checking the XML Sitemap, we noticed that you’ve only added very generic categories:
Categorizing posts, you can make a strong ‘bulk’ of content about the same or nearly the same subject. Adding more relevant posts to a category will make it  stronger. Google will see that the content within that category is all related and therefore, valuable for potential visitors. For example, for the category ‘Home buying’ you could add subcategories such as ‘Home buying: apartments’ and ‘Home buying: cities’. Another option is adding tags such as ‘Apartments’ and ‘Beach houses’ to create specific overviews of related posts on your site. 

Categories and tags are beneficial for your site structure and for Google – to understand what content you have on your site. Moreover it helps to keep visitors on your site. When users see a link to related categories or tags they’ll likely navigate to those sections to read more relevant content. But now, the posts within the category ‘Home buying’ are probably too different to find specific posts a visitor would be interested in.  

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Optimizing for local SEO

Since the business of Ryan Hoffman is focused on particular areas of New York, it’s important to optimize for local SEO as well. There are probably lots of people in the neighborhood looking for a house in one of those areas. When you optimize for local SEO your website will be more visible in the search results of people nearby.

We noticed that you’ve already added separate pages for different areas which is great! Doing this, the search engines understand what areas your business focuses on. To give those location pages even more value, we recommend adding introductory content with information about the specific area to increase your rankings in the local search results even more.

In addition to that, we think that you didn’t create a Google My Business account yet. Adding your business details to Google My Business can also be very valuable for local SEO. We definitely recommend setting this up!

The power of social media

Lastly, we would like to mention that you shouldn’t underestimate the power of social media nowadays. The amount of people having social media accounts is still increasing, so your target audience probably uses social media every day.

We think social media should definitely be part of a holistic SEO strategy. Google and other search engines can’t ignore the importance of social media anymore and this means that you can boost your site’s SEO by the right use of social media. Since you write lots of great posts, we think it would be great to promote them on social media. Give your posts attractive titles and perhaps promote them – this isn’t too expensive on for example Facebook –  you’ll lead people from social media to your website. And when they are in, you should keep them in and make them convert!

To sum it up

In short, it’s important to do proper keyword research to really know what your target audience would like to read online. Adding more long tail keywords will probably make it a bit easier to rank. Besides using the right keywords, it’s important to make sure visitors can easily navigate to relevant content on the website. Make use of internal links and remove all the clutter. The main goal of your website should be clear and with internal links you can lead your visitors to that goal. Lastly, optimize for local SEO and make sure you benefit from the power of social media to improve your SEO and to get more traffic to your site.

Ryan’s response

When we showed the draft of this post to Ryan, we got a very nice and detailed response. Thanks and good luck Ryan!

“Great points on long tail research. With a lot of local competition, I think I could benefit from targeting more in depth keywords in an effort to drive specific traffic.

I have been a bit frustrated about how to keep my bounce rate down and keep visitors on the page. I want them to search homes for sale, but with most of my traffic coming from mobile, I have had a hard time presenting the home search ability to visitors. I want them to read articles to learn about the market, but also search. I need to make this clearer when they land.

I do have a lack of links inside articles. Maybe assuming that visitors will read to the end and navigate elsewhere is naive of me, but I also wanted them to see that I have houses for sale on the site they can click on. So far through, it hasn’t been working.

Niche specific categories and tags has definitely been something I have on my list. I need to drill down into these broad categories to get more specific for my visitors and for Google.

Another great point by Yoast here is that I need to add content to the different geographic pages of my home search. Right now these pages just offer a list of active homes for sale. But creating video or other relevant content before the list of homes in presented is something I should definitely do.

I have been working on social media, and of course my Google my business page. Sharing posts on Facebook has seen an increase of traffic, but also, my content is not specific enough to target an audience. Right now my content is for “everyone” and every area in my surrounding location. I think I would benefit from a more niches based approach.

I thank Yoast for this great case study regarding my site. Truth be told, I have studied SEO, mostly via Yoast content for quite some time, and have seen improvements in my SEO when following their best practices. I have been enlightened with this case study and learned a lot on new things to work on, but also feel like I am on the right path since Yoast mentioned a few ideas that I already had on my list, mainly because I learned them from Yoast! Thanks again for the great piece.”

Read more: ‘How to optimize your real estate site’ »

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

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Perform an SEO audit: Site speed

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

Combine and minify CSS and JS files

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

SEO Audit: PageSpeed Insights

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

Browser caching

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

Enable compression

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

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

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

Engagement

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

Social media

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

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

Newsletter

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

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

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You’ve just done your (first) SEO audit

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

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

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

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

The post How to perform an SEO audit. Part 3: Site speed & Engagement appeared first on Yoast.

This is the seventh post in an 8-part series on how to rank your business for local searches at Google. Previously, I’ve listed the most important aspects that influence your local ranking, discussed how to get the most out of Google My Business, covered best practices for on-site optimization. I’ve also given you some ideas for building inbound links and how to build citations and explained the importance of reviews. Here, I’ll focus on what impact social signals have on local results (if any). 

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Those of you who have been following along with this series since we started probably feel like you’ve drunk from a firehose. There are a lot of angles from which to attack Local SEO!

Generally speaking, though, social media is not one of them, so this will be the shortest post of the series. Marcus Miller of Bowler Hat Marketing, a long-time participant in the Local Search Ranking Factors survey, sums up the place of social media brilliantly: “Do the basics, don’t overthink it, and move swiftly along.”

Primarily, “the basics” have to do with optimizing your social media profiles, as opposed to your social media activity.

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Social-Local Basics

At a minimum, every local business should claim a business profile on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram, even if you don’t plan to use some or all of those profiles.

Customers may look for you on those sites, and you don’t want them to come up empty, or worse: discover another business with a similar name and think it’s you. And you never know when you might decide to engage with customers on those social platforms – in which case it’ll be nice to have an existing profile as a jumping-off point.

Social profiles offer some of the easiest inbound links and citations you can acquire, and it makes sense to utilize all relevant fields that major social media platforms offer you.

At a minimum, use a high-quality logo (or if more appropriate, personal photo). Pick a high-resolution photo or graphic representation of your business that you can use as a “cover” image. Hubspot produced this handy guide of the sizes you’ll need for each social platform. For more advanced readers, Facebook now offers the ability to use video for your cover.

social-local profiles

social local profiles linkedin

Fundera has compiled a great list of compelling local business Facebook pages here, for more inspiration.

Because each of these social profiles can (and should) act as a citation, you’ll want to maintain a consistent business name across all platforms. This helps Google (and customers) associate these profiles with you.

Where possible, add your location information to your profile, even if it’s just a city and state. This helps Google make that connection even more strongly.

local social location information local social profile location information

social local profile location information twitter

If you don’t plan to use one or more of these profiles actively, pin a post to the top of that profile. That way, you can let customers know where they can find you. It doesn’t matter if that’s your website, your email newsletter, or a different social channel that you do manage actively.

local social profile facebook

Social-Local Longer-Tail

With the exception of Twitter, with whom it has a direct contractual relationship, Google has a hard time getting visibility into what’s happening on social platforms. So “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. 

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One way, in which it might translate, is if your social profile is frequently linked-to by other websites as a result of your popularity. The link you’ve added from your profile to your own website then passes additional authority to your website. But that’s a fraction of a fractional increase in authority. Not one that’s worth getting hung up on.

There’s some evidence to suggest that viral social media posts (and even social media ads) that drive traffic to your website may increase your rankings, but it’s rare that a local business achieves virality. And if you do, what’ll really increase your rankings are the citations and links from news articles mentioning that your business has gone viral.

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.

The Outlier: Google+

I mentioned five of the most popular channels above, and intentionally excluded Google+. Millions of pixels and gallons of ink have been expended on chronicling the failure of Google+ as a social network. Those chronicles are largely accurate.

chart impact google+ on rankings

But in a recent Steady Demand case study, featuring Buffalo jeweler Barbara Oliver, Mike Blumenthal found that creating shareable content on Google+ appeared to have a direct positive impact on Barbara’s local rankings. There’s a lot of work involved in building the kind of Google+ community that Barbara has built. Let alone in coming up with content that this community will find interesting. But if you’re primarily interested in using social media to increase your local search rankings, Google+ is (surprisingly) the social platform on which you should focus.

The Real Place of Local-Social Media: Conversations

As this terrific guide from the Perch App suggests, it’s far more productive to treat social media as an engagement channel rather than a means to ranking better.

Making yourself available to your customers and responsive to their questions on the platforms above — as well as the locally-focused NextDoor — helps create the positive association for your brand that social media is best-designed for.

To the extent that words become the new links, Google may begin to weigh social media activity more heavily in its algorithm in the future. But for now, utilize your social media channels for brand awareness, customer engagement and loyalty, not rankings.

Summary

  • Overall, social signals have limited impact on local search rankings.
  • Nonetheless, every business should create a well-branded Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn Business page.
  • Include links and citations for your business on these profiles.
  • Google+ is the social platform on which activity seems to increase rankings the most.
  • Your primary goal in using social media should be for customer engagement and loyalty, not rankings.

Read on

Other parts in the Ranking your local business series:

  1. An introduction to ranking your local business
  2. The importance of Google My Business
  3. How to optimize your website for local search
  4. Why inbound links are so important and how to get them
  5. Citations for local search
  6. The impact of reviews for local ranking

The post Ranking your local business part 7: Social Signals appeared first on Yoast.

You are a small business owner with a local target audience. Of course, your local audience needs to find your shop or office, and you want to use social media for that. But, in the plethora of platforms, you just have no clue where to start. So you post something on Facebook, try a tweet now and then, but nothing happens. To small business owners, social media can feel like a struggle every time. And perhaps that last word sums it all up: you are probably just putting your extra time into social media. Whereas investing actual, accountable time in social media will probably pay off way more.

Investing that time deliberately means you need to figure out some things first. Let us help you with that.

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What platforms should I use?

You need to find the social platforms your target audience uses. Otherwise, you won’t be able to reach the right people. There are (at least) two ways to find out what these platforms are:

  • Ask your customers what social media they use. That might be Twitter or Snapchat, but can also be Yelp or Meetup.com, depending on your type of business. Simply ask your customers and see what response you get. If you have hundreds of customers a week, this is probably not the best course of action.
  • Simply start using a certain social platform. And see what happens. I prefer this option over the alternatives. Try everything, keep track of the results, and stop doing the things that don’t work for your business after a couple of months. Don’t give up the next day, but set a goal for yourself and see if you can achieve that.

Read more: ‘Social media strategy: where to begin?’ »

Factors that influence social media for small business

There are many things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about social media plans as a small business owner. Your results will depend on the platform you’ve chosen, but the three factors below also definitely play a part.

Give it time

Keep your expectations in check: your social following won’t grow overnight. Don’t expect people to follow you right after creating a profile. You need to invest that time we talked about. And creating a profile isn’t investing time, that should be done in a few minutes. The actual time investment starts right after that.

Create relevant content

You need to make sure your messages/mentions/promotions/articles are worth sharing. In other words, your content, in general, must be relevant and worthwhile. At Yoast, we try to publish five articles a week, but only if we have something that deserves publishing. We’d rather skip a day than publish something that could backfire on (for instance) social media, due to lack of relevance.

The need for relevance can hold back certain businesses from using social media. People often say:

“But I have nothing worth sharing.”

That’s nonsense. If you are good at what you do, you’ll have projects, testimonials, pictures, and quotes worth sharing. No need to write new blog posts every day, simply find something you’re proud of and share it. And if you do want to start a blog, Marieke has some tips to get inspiration for you. For those who want to dive into blogging, there is always our ultimate guide to blogging.

Don’t give up

The third factor that influences social media for small business is determination. To work properly, social media for small businesses has to be a continuous process of publishing and engaging. Saying “I have tried social media and it’s just not my thing” doesn’t show determination. You may have tried Snapchat, and it’s not your cup of tea. That’s fine. But perhaps Facebook is. And maybe posting on Facebook isn’t for you, but engaging in Facebook Groups might be. I call bullsh*t on the statement that “social media isn’t your thing.” You probably just haven’t found the right medium or platform.

Social media usage for small businesses

Let me go over some social platforms and give you some ideas on how to use them. This isn’t a blueprint for your own social media strategy: the actual use will depend on your type of business and the time you are willing to invest in social media. Here are some ideas:

Twitter

Twitter is an excellent way to send messages and interact with your local community. Two things come in handy here:

  • Hashtags. Hashtags allow you to connect your tweet to an individual subject, without having to add an extensive introduction. It’s being used to tweet about television shows like #GoT or cities like #Seattle. Especially adding your town’s name to a tweet will get you local attention. We can confirm this works even for #Wijchen, the small town where we’re located.
  • Advanced Search. If you are looking for a way to get involved in relevant, local conversations, you should try the advanced search option on Twitter. It allows you to search for any subject you like, in the area you want. See screenshot below.

Social media for small business: Twitter Advanced Search

Facebook

First things first: is your company already on Facebook? I recommend adding it as a local business or place. Facebook has 1.94 billion monthly active users and 1.28 billion daily active users on average (Source: Facebook). Facebook is huge. That alone should be reason enough to add your business to Facebook. And adding your company to Facebook isn’t that hard. It’s a relatively small effort when it comes to social media for small business owners.

Promote your page to your personal friends, get likes, and share updates and photos. Note that for sales posts (“Buy our product!”), you have a better chance of success if you ‘boost‘ your post just a little bit. Boosting can be done for a specified audience, with the location being one of the filters.

Another reason Facebook is an attractive choice for your social media efforts is Facebook Groups. Facebook Groups can be about just about everything. A quick search for Facebook groups about Milwaukee shows how much variety there is:

Social media for small business: Facebook Groups Milwaukee

Pokemon Go, Refugee supporters, Saab, ukulele, auto modelers, running – you name the subject, and Facebook has a group for you. Usually, there are also networking groups for local business people. Just search and find the group that fits your need. Introduce yourself and your business, and engage in discussions. That’s an easy, time efficient way to promote yourself and your company to a local audience.

Instagram

Do you have product images or photos worth sharing? In that case, Instagram might be the social platform for you. Instagram works with hashtags, much like Twitter. I use hashtag apps like Hashme or Tag o’Matic to find the right ones matching my content. Hashtags on Instagram work like a charm when adding local content. An example:

#seattle #seattlelife #seattleart #seattleartist #seattlelove #downtownseattle #spaceneedle #spaceneedleview #spaceneedles #washington #spaceneedleseattle #washingtonstate #seattlewa #seattleskyline #seattlecenter

It took me 30 seconds to find 15 relevant local hashtags using that last app. Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags a post, by the way. Use these to your advantage!

Of course, there are many more social media platforms for small businesses. But I don’t want to overwhelm you with options right now. One thing I would like to mention is that review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are also social sites. They shouldn’t be forgotten if your business is mentioned on these sites. Be sure to monitor your mentions there and act on them if needed. That’s also being social!

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Measure your social media efforts

We have written some articles on the various analytics tools for social media networks, and I’d like to point you to these as well. Keeping track of followers and reach gives you an indication of how well your strategy is working. Focus on the numbers that tell you something about engagement, to see what social networks do indeed help you build your community. Here we go:

  • Facebook Insights: Get 30 likes, and Insights will be available. After 100 likes on your page, you can even compare your numbers to the competition.
  • Twitter Analytics: See who your influencers are: the people that like your tweets and have a nice following of their own. Find local influencers and get acquainted with them: ask them to tweet about you now and then.
  • Iconosquare for Instagram: As there still is no proper analytics for Instagram from Instagram, I rely on Iconosquare for that. Use it to find the best time to post, and see what kind of content works best for your business.

Please check out these tools yourself. Keep a keen eye on trends and engagement, as that is the most important thing in my opinion.

The obvious social media strategy works best

I want to leave you with two final thoughts here:

  • Post engaging content, because that is the best way to build an audience. Sounds simple, but it is pretty hard. Don’t be afraid to experiment here. Usually, personal stories lead to the most and best engagement. Having said that, Yoast office life pictures on social media often lead to questions about the awesome features of Yoast SEO Premium (for instance). Keep an open mind and help any customer with whatever question they have, related or not. The engagement counts, not the subject of your post.
  • Your employees are your brand ambassadors on social media. They love your company, enjoy working there and are most likely to share a lot of your social content if not all. Your employees create that local snowball effect. After all, most of their connections on Facebook are probably/usually living in the same geographical area as you. Acknowledge this, and stay aware of the value of these ‘in-house’ shares.

That’s it for now! I’m sure I’ve convinced you that even as a small business, investing some time and effort into your social media strategy will pay off. So go for it! And feel free to drop any questions or thoughts about social media for small business in the comments!

Keep reading: ‘Ultimate guide to small business SEO’ »