How to keep your page out of the search results

If you want to keep your page out of the search results, there are a number of things you can do. Most of ’em are not hard and you can implement these without a ton of technical knowledge. If you can check a box, your content management system will probably have an option for that. Or allows nifty plugins like our own Yoast SEO to help you prevent the page from showing up in search results. In this post, I won’t give you difficult options to go about this. I will simply tell you what steps to take and things to consider.

Why do you want to keep your page out of the search results?

It sounds like a simple question, but it’s not, really. Why do you want to keep your page out of the search results in the first place? If you don’t want that page indexed, perhaps you shouldn’t publish it? There are obvious reasons to keep for instance your internal search result pages out of Google’s search result pages or a “Thank you”-page after an order or newsletter subscription that is of no use for other visitors. But when it comes to your actual, informative pages, there really should be a good reason to block these. Feel free to drop yours in the comments below this post.

If you don’t have a good reason, simply don’t write that page.

Private pages

If your website contains a section that is targeted at, for instance, an internal audience or a, so-called, extranet, you should consider offering that information password-protected. A section of your site that can only be reached after filling out login details won’t be indexed. Search engines simply have no way to log in and visit these pages.

How to keep your page out of the search results

If you are using WordPress, and are planning a section like this on your site, please read Chris Lema’s article about the membership plugins he compared.

Noindex your page

Like that aforementioned “Thank you”-page, there might be more pages like that which you want to block. And you might even have pages left after looking critically if some pages should be on your site anyway. The right way to keep a page out of the search results is to add a robots meta tag. We have written a lengthy article about that robots meta tag before, be sure to read that.

Adding it to your page is simple: you need to add that tag to the <head> section of your page, in the source code. You’ll find examples from the major search engines linked in the robots meta article as well.

Are you using WordPress, TYPO3 or Magento? Things are even easier. Please read on.

Noindex your page with Yoast SEO

The above mentioned content management systems have the option to install our Yoast SEO plugin/extension. In that plugin or extension, you have the option to noindex a page right from your editor.

In this example, I’ll use screenshots from the meta box in Yoast SEO for WordPress. You’ll find it in the post or page editor, below the copy you’ve written. In Magento and TYPO3 you can find it in similar locations.

How to keep your site out of the search results using Yoast SEO

Advanced tab Yoast SEO meta box

Click the Advanced tab in our Yoast SEO meta box. It’s the cog symbol on the left.
Use the selector at “Allow search engines to show this post/page in search results”, simply set that to “No” and you are done.

The second option in the screenshot is about following the links on that page. That allows you to keep your page out of the search results, but follow links on that page as these (internal) links matter for the other pages (again, read the robots meta article for more information). The third option: leave that as is, this is what you have set for the site-wide robots meta settings.

It’s really that simple: select the right value and your page will tell search engines to either keep the page in or out of the search results.

The last thing I want to mention here is: use with care. This robots meta setting will truly prevent a page from being indexed, unlike robots.txt suggestion to leave a page out of the search result pages. Google might ignore the latter, triggered by a lot of inbound links to the page. 

If you want to read up on how to keep your site from being indexed, please read Preventing your site from being indexed, the right way. Good luck optimizing!

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How to check site speed

Learning how to check your site speed doesn’t need to be daunting. This short guide will give you the basics, and point you in the right direction.

There’s no single metric

The first thing to understand is that there is no single metric or measurement for ‘speed’. There’s no simple number which you can use to measure how quickly your pages load.

Think about what happens when you load a website. There are lots of different stages and many different parts which can be measured. If the network connection is slow, but the images load quickly, how ‘fast’ is the site? What about the other way around?

Even if you try to simplify all of this to something like “the time it takes until it’s completely loaded“, it’s still tricky to give that a useful number.

For example, a page which takes longer to ‘finish loading’ may provide a functional ‘lightweight’ version while the full page is still downloading in the background. Is that ‘faster’ or ‘slower’ than a website which loads faster, but which I can’t use until it’s finished loading?

The answer is, “it depends”, and there are many different ways in which we can think about or measure ‘site speed’.

Understanding the loading process

From the moment when you click on a link (or hit ‘enter’ in your URL bar), a process begins to load the page you requested.

That process contains many steps, but they can be grouped into broad stages which looks something like this:

The “one second timeline” from Google’s site speed documentation

While Google’s documentation might be a bit ambitious about the timings of these stages, the model is helpful. Essentially, the process can be described as three stages of loading.

1. Network stuff

First up, the physical hardware of your device needs to connect to the Internet. Usually, that involves moving data through transatlantic fibre cables. That means that you’re limited by the speed of light, and how quickly your device can process information.

It’s hard to measure or impact this part of the process!

2. Server stuff

Here, your device asks your server for a page, and the server prepares and returns the response.

This section can get a bit technical, as it’s focused on the performance of server hardware, databases and scripts. You may need to ask for help from your hosting provider or tech team.

We can measure the performance of the server with tools like NewRelic or DataDog, which monitors how your site behaves and responds from the ‘inside’.

They’ll provide charts and metrics around things like slow database queries and slow scripts. Armed with this information, you can get a better understanding if your hosting is up to scratch and if you need to make code changes to your theme/plugins/scripts.

The Query Monitor plugin for WordPress

WordPress has some great plugins for doing this kind of analysis, too – I’m a big fan of Query Monitor. This provides some great insight into which bits of WordPress might be slowing you down – whether it’s your themes, plugins, or environments.

3. Browser stuff

This stage is where the page needs to be constructed, laid out, colored in, and displayed. The way in which images load, in which JavaScript and CSS are processed, and every individual HTML tag on your page affects how quickly things load.

We can monitor some of this from the ‘outside-in’ with tools which scan the website and measure how it loads. We recommend using multiple tools, as they measure things differently, and are useful for different assessments. For example:

  • WebPageTest is great for providing a ‘waterfall’ view of the website, and how all of the assets load.
  • Google PageSpeed Insights is a bit simplistic, but it provides ‘real user metrics’ of your website, straight from Google.
  • Lighthouse for Chrome provides an incredibly sophisticated analysis of the performance and behaviour of the site, but it can be hard to digest!
  • Chrome Developer Console shows you exactly what’s happening as your site loads, on your computer, in your browser.

WebPageTest results for yoast.com

These kinds of tools are great for spotting things like images which need to be optimized, where your CSS or JavaScript is slow, or where you’re waiting for assets to load from other domains.

Universal metrics

Despite all of these moving parts, there are a few universal metrics which make sense for all sites to measure, and optimize for. These are:

  • Time until first byte, which is how long it takes until the server responds with some information. Even if your front-end is blazing fast, this will hold you up. Measure with Query Monitor or NewRelic.
  • Time until first contentful (and meaningful) paint, which is how long it takes for key visual content (e.g., a hero image or a page heading) to appear on the screen. Measure with Lighthouse for Chrome.
  • Time until interactive, which is how long it takes for the experience to be visible, and react to my input. Measure with Lighthouse for Chrome.

These are much more sophisticated metrics than “how long did it take to load”, and, perhaps more importantly, have a user-centric focus. Improving these metrics should correlate directly with user satisfaction, which is super-important for SEO.

A Lighthouse report for yoast.com showing key metrics

You can read more about these metrics in Google’s documentation.

Wrapping this into a process

  1. Use an ‘outside-in’ tool, like WebPageTest to generate a waterfall diagram of how the website loads.
  2. Identify bottlenecks with servers and the back end. Look for slow connection times, slow SSL handshakes, and slow DNS lookups. Use a plugin like Query Monitor, or a service like NewRelic to diagnose what’s holding things up. Make server, hardware, software and script changes.
  3. Identify bottlenecks with the front end. Look for slow loading and processing times on images, scripts and stylesheets. Use a tool like Google PageSpeed Insights or Lighthouse for Chrome for suggestions on how to streamline how the page loads.
  4. Use Lighthouse for Chrome to measure your key metrics, like time until first meaningful paint and time until interactive.

Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments!

Read more: Improving site speed: Tools and suggestions »

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SEO Anti-patterns: 301 redirect all your 404s to your homepage

Sometimes I encounter new “SEO hacks” that people apply, that are actually anti-patterns. One of these new anti-patterns I noticed is the pattern of 301 redirecting all your 404 pages to your homepage. Let me explain why this is a lot like cleaning up your room by throwing everything into a drawer and what the better solution would be.

The premise of this SEO hack

The premise of this hack is that 404 errors are counted by Google, and that through some magic the number of errors on your site affects your site’s overall ability to rank. The solution, that really isn’t a solution, that people come up with is then to start 301 redirecting all error pages to their homepage. Let me quote some of the reasons people give for doing this:

to siphon Google Page Rank (TM) from missing pages to the homepage

If you care about your website, you should take steps to avoid 404 errors as it affects your SEO badly.

I have a website, every time I login to Google webmaster tools, I found many new discovered 404 error links, the problem is not in 404 errors itself, but when Google see them and count them for you!

Let’s be clear: we’ll be the first to tell you that you should keep an eye on your 404 errors and try to fix them where possible. Google indeed shows a graph of your 404 errors in Google Search Console and lowering the number of 404s on your site is often a good idea. That doesn’t mean that your site shouldn’t have any 404s.

Let me go back to my analogy of throwing everything into your drawer when your dad or mom told you to clean up your room. Everything, in this case, means not just the dirty clothes, or your toys, but also that half emptied milk carton, that half-finished sandwich, etc. You know what that makes your drawer when you clean up your room like that? A mess. And soon your whole room will start to stink because you cleaned up like that. This situation is no different.

I verified this with Google before I wrote this article, see John Mueller’s response:

As John explains: when you do this blanket redirect, all those URLs are treated as 404s. So none of them spread value. So the premises listed above are all wrong. On top of that, by 301 redirecting all your 404 pages, you throw away the opportunity to find real errors on your site and fix them.

Better solution to 404s

The better solution for this problem of having too many 404s is much more granular. You see, 404 redirects can exist for lots of reasons, and each of those reasons has their own “solution”. For instance:

  • Someone linked to an article and made a mistake in their URL. If you can redirect that wrong URL to the right article: do so.
  • You’ve deleted a page, you should think about that and act properly, we have an article on that.
  • Someone is trying whether your site can be hacked through a certain URL, that 404 is 100% the right thing to serve.
  • You have a lot of 404s on your site because you had a broken link in your template somewhere (all too common): fix that broken link. Then redirect all those 404s to the right page.
  • Someone is typing in random URLs on your site just to see if something exist: a 404 is right. Of course, then your 404 page could be helpful in guiding them to the right spot.

How common is this hack?

Unfortunately, all too common. I encountered at least 3 plugins with major user bases on WordPress.org that do this, and only this:

Together they account for 240,000+ sites that show this behavior and there are probably a lot more.

Stop 301 redirecting all your 404 pages

Now, don’t take this as though we’re telling you not to 301 redirect 404 errors. We’re telling you to do it granularly. There’s nothing wrong with having a few 404 errors on your site, and you should definitely keep an eye on them. The redirect manager in Yoast SEO Premium can make this really easy to do.

The post SEO Anti-patterns: 301 redirect all your 404s to your homepage appeared first on Yoast.

Ranking your local business at Google: part 2 of 8

This is the second post in an 8-part series on how to rank your business for local searches at Google. Google My Business (GMB) is a free product that allows business owners to verify and submit basic details about their business to Google. Owners can also engage with existing and potential customers across Google’s properties.

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After starting its life as a rudimentary web form called the Local Business Center, Google My Business has matured into a highly sophisticated product over the last decade. In the last couple of years, GMB received many improvements. GMB is an essential part of a well-thought-out local SEO strategy.

GMB offers highly-rated companion apps on both the App Store and Google Play. It also provides metrics about the visibility and engagement with your business that no other product does (including Google Analytics).

Eligibility for Google My Business

Any business with a bonafide brick-and-mortar location is eligible for a Google My Business listing at that location. For businesses with two or more locations, each location would be eligible for a distinct GMB listing.

A common question I get from business owners at conferences is:

“I operate my business out of my house and I don’t want people to know my address–what do I do?”

Well, if you don’t operate a walk-up brick-and-mortar location, but visit your customers in a particular geographic area, you’re what’s called a “Service Area Business.” Examples of Service Area Businesses are plumbers, carpet cleaners, and courier services. In this case, you’re still eligible for a listing. However, you’ll want to choose “Yes” when Google asks if you deliver goods and services to customers at their location.

Google My Business

Just because you serve customers in a given market does not mean you’re eligible for a Google My Business listing in that market. For example, an eCommerce company based in Chicago would not be eligible for a GMB listing in Dallas just because they had customers in Dallas.

Verifying your location

Google tries to make sure that only legitimate businesses are represented in GMB. It requires anyone who attempts to claim a Listing verify their association with the business in some way.

The easiest way to start the process is to perform a desktop search at Google for your business name (for example, “Pacific Seafood Portland”). In the panel on the right-hand side of the page, you’ll see a link that poses the question “Own this business?” Importantly–before you click that link to begin the verification process–make sure you are either not signed in to Google (you can create an account in the next step), or are signed into a Google account for your business as opposed to your personal Gmail.

GMB own this business

It’s not a GMB requirement, though; however, it’ll be much easier to share access to your listing with employees or other agents of your company from a business account.

Once you fill out the most basic information (see below for what these details are), if it can corroborate your address and phone number, Google will call and ask you to enter a PIN number on screen. If it hasn’t previously seen a business with the phone number and address you submitted, you’ll be mailed a postcard within a week with instructions for how to PIN verify.

Primary Business Information

Name, Address and Phone

This sounds simple, but it’s surprising how many business owners overthink these core attributes or try to “optimize” them.

Your Name, Address, and Phone (NAP) are your basic thumbprint online. If they don’t reflect your business accurately at Google My Business, Google (and your customers) lose trust that you are who you say you are. They will stop sending business your way.

  • Do NOT stuff keywords in your business name. Represent yourself as you would answer the phone or welcome a customer into your store. You probably see spammers doing this and succeeding all the time, but at some point, it’ll come back to bite them. Google is monitoring for these kinds of abuses all the time and getting better at blacklisting the abusers.
  • Submit the same address you use on your website. (If you’re a Yoast user, this should be the address you enter in the Yoast Local SEO plugin.) Even if you’re a service-area business, you’ll have to submit a physical address and not a PO box or other mailing-only address.
  • You’ll see a map displayed just alongside your address. Zoom in and double-check that the pin is in the correct place on your business. Google’s pin precision for U.S. addresses is typically pretty good, but it can be spotty in other countries.
  • Don’t use a tracking phone number to segment customers coming from Google vs. other sources. There are ways to do this, but they’re pretty advanced. Implementing tracking numbers incorrectly can do tremendous damage to your local search rankings.

Category

From a rankings standpoint, the category field is the most important attribute you can optimize at Google My Business. In my experience, it’s best not to listen to Google’s advice on categories on this one, particularly since that advice has changed so frequently over the years.

GMB category selection

Google maintains a taxonomy of several thousand categories to describe local businesses. By typing in a few characters of a keyword that describes your business, you’ll probably find a match pretty closely.

Google suggests “using as few categories as possible,” as well as categories that are “as specific as possible.”  And while it’s true that Google can and does “detect category information from your website and from mentions about your business throughout the web,” my advice is to explicitly specify as many relevant categories as you can on your Google My Business listing.

If you operate a small restaurant that’s open from 7 am – 3 pm, select “Breakfast Restaurant,” “Brunch Restaurant,” “Lunch Restaurant,” “Restaurant,” “Cafe,” “Coffee Shop,” and any other relevant category. Take the time to enter multiple keywords that describe your business and see which categories match. Use all of them that are relevant.

Google’s automated review system may remove one or two from your listing, but this is not spam–provided you select relevant categories–. It helps you show up for as broad a range of searches as possible.

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Website

Google calls this field “website,” but it doesn’t have to be your “website” per se. In particular, if you operate more than one location, you may want to enter the page on your website that corresponds to the location you’re submitting to Google (rather than your homepage). Opinions are mixed as to whether listing your homepage or a location page will help you rank better, so do what’s best for prospective customers. If you think your homepage will give them the best initial sense of your business, then submit that as your “website.” If a location page (or even some other page) will give them a better sense, submit that instead.

Secondary Business Information

After entering the attributes above, you’re asked to verify your listing. But don’t stop there. There are a few other attributes that are well worth your time to add.

Photos and Images

Photos may be the most neglected attribute in all of local search. The success of Instagram, Pinterest, and any number of lesser-known apps indicates just how visual our internet culture has become. Consumers often select (or reject) a business because of its photos. Not only on the content of the photos but their quality and professionalism.

Photos are especially important in the mobile ecosystem that Google My Business powers (including Google Maps), where they are the dominant representation of a business in Google’s card-focused user interface.

As with all local media or social media sites, Google My Business has its own image format requirements. Take some time to review them and make sure you have high-quality assets for each format.

Optimizing your photos also offers a great opportunity to engage your customers. At the very least place the ones you’re considering at your point of sale and ask them to choose which one they like better.  Or get even more creative and start a contest among your customers to show your business in its best light, with the winner–as voted on by other customers–receiving a cash prize or gift card.

Hours

Selecting your opening hours is pretty straightforward. Google has dramatically improved its interface for telling customers when you’re open over the past several years. Hours will be front-and-center wherever customers interact with your business on Google so they should definitely be accurate.

You can now even daypart multiple times during the day, and add specific hours for holidays and special events.

GMB popular times

While you can’t control it, you may be interested to know that Google now displays the busy-ness of your business in real-time. This is based on aggregate location-tracking of visitors with Android phones and iOS Google Maps users with location services enabled.

Menu URLs

Certain categories of businesses will have the option to add a link to a menu.  If you’re lucky enough to be in one of these categories, I highly recommend adding this link, as it gives Google an additional set of keywords that your business for which should be considered relevant.

Advanced Information

These are low priority fields. All three are geared primarily towards large multi-location businesses and franchises.

GMB advanced information

Ranking factors beyond your control

Two significant ranking factors over which you have little control have to do with the physical location of your business.

The first is the proximity of your business to the location where your prospective customer is performing her search. All other things being equal, Google will choose to display a business closer to the searcher than one farther away from her.

In the early years of Google, its algorithm favored businesses which were close to the center of a given city or its “centroid.” Google simply wasn’t as good at detecting the location of the searcher. It defaulted to showing businesses in the areas of highest population density.

This factor has declined in importance, especially for mobile searches where Google has a precise idea of where you are. Google has also gotten better and better at detecting the location information of desktop searchers, partially through surreptitious means of collection.

The second factor is having an address in the city in which your customer is searching.  If your customer is searching in Seattle, your Tacoma or Bellevue-based coffee shop won’t appear, simply because it’s not relevant for that search.

Short of opening additional locations to target areas where high concentrations of your customers are searching, there’s not much you can do to optimize for these ranking factors, but you should be aware of their importance.

Google My Business Insights

Google provides a free, lightweight analytics package as part of GMB. This gives you a basic sense of how customers and potential customers are viewing and interacting with your listing.

Insights shows how many times your listing appears in plain old search vs. Google Maps. It also shows the number of clicks to your website, requests for driving directions, and phone calls.

There’s also a simple breakdown of how many customers see your listing for direct searches (for your business specifically) vs. discovery searches (for businesses in your category). While no one outside of Google is entirely sure how they calculate the discovery number, it’s probably as good a barometer for the overall strength of your local SEO as any, particularly if you track it over time.

Unfortunately, this is harder than it should be, as GMB Insights are only visible as snapshots-in-time. Unless you remember to check them regularly and transfer them to a spreadsheet along with the date, it can be difficult to track your growth. Strangely, there’s no default longitudinal view built into the product.

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Troubleshooting GMB Listing Issues

The most common GMB troubleshooting issue continues to be the existence of duplicate listings for the same business. While it’s gotten harder to detect duplicate listings, it’s much easier to close them. I’ll cover why duplicate listings are bad for your business in future installments of this series.

The first step to identifying duplicates is to search for your business name on maps.google.com. You’ll see a little more comprehensive list of potentially-matching results than Google is willing to present on Google.com.

GM duplicate closure

If it looks like multiple listings refer to your business, select the one you’d like to report as a duplicate and click “Suggest an Edit.” On the following screen, slide the “Place is permanently closed or never existed” bar to “Yes,” and select the radio button next to duplicate.

Google support staff are generally responsive to these kinds of reports within a week.  If you continue to have trouble, ask multiple people–co-workers, friends, family members, or relatives–to report the same problem, and it’s more likely Google will look at it.

If your issue seems particularly thorny, you’re most likely to get a response by tweeting @googlemybiz, the official Twitter support channel for GMB. And if Google support just isn’t cutting it, Joy Hawkins, who just started her own company last year after years as the GMB expert at a large agency, is an invaluable resource for troubleshooting additional issues.

The future of Google My Business

At various times in its past, Google My Business has seemed like the hot potato no one wanted to wind up holding at Google Headquarters.

That no longer seems to be the case. GMB has become Google’s front-line defense against Facebook’s overwhelming mindshare among small business owners. The main product has become much more robust. Google has released two major sub-products within GMB–Messaging and Posts–just within the last couple of months.

The goal of both products seems to be to get small business owners to engage with their customers via GMB on a regular basis, as opposed to a “set it and forget it” basis.

We’re also starting to see a handful of third-party integrations that allow customers to book appointments or order products directly from the Google search result for select businesses.

While it’s too early to tell whether usage of any of these new features might benefit your rankings, it’s something that experts in the local search community will be following closely in the coming months.

Summary

  • Represent your Name, Address, and Phone exactly as they appear to customers in the real world. These are not attributes to optimize.
  • Pay special attention to categories and select as many categories as are relevant for your business.
  • Upload great photos of your business, and if you don’t have any, consider hiring a professional photographer to do so.
  • Take advantage of the relatively new option to add a menu URL if you’re in a relevant business category.
  • Consider using the Discovery metric from GMB Insights as a barometer for the overall strength of your local SEO.
  • Pay attention to new engagement features from Google as they’re released.

Read more: ‘Ranking your local business at Google: Introduction’ »

Ranking your local business at Google: part 1 of 8

Previously, we published an interview with local SEO expert David Mihm on our SEO blog. As a lot of you liked this interview, David and Yoast decided to join forces and publish a series of posts about Local SEO. In this series, David will go over the various aspects that contribute to your local rankings. Take it away, David!

For the last nine years, I curated and published the annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey. Experts from around the world ranked the tactics to SEO success for their – and their clients’ – businesses in this survey. The survey results have become a starting point for many small businesses and marketers, as they learn about how to get their business more exposure on Google. This year, Darren Shaw of Whitespark took over data collection and analysis and published the results on the Moz blog.

The evolution of local search results

Since I conducted the first survey, the local search landscape has changed a lot. To give you a sense, back in June 2008, the first Android mobile phone hadn’t even been released yet.

evolution of local search results

In that time, we’ve gone from a world where local search primarily meant “ten blue links” for desktop searches and shifted to local pack results on mobile phones. Now we’re increasingly going into a world of single answers from voice-controlled assistants.

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An important distinction: organic vs. place

You might say:

“It’s all Google – how different could those results be?”

And it’s true, at its core, Google has always tried to provide searchers with the ‘best’ result for a given query. (Though that’s modulated slightly in the last couple of years as ads have become more prevalent.) But the ‘best result’ depends on the context of the query. The type of search and the location of the person searching provide Google with two vital pieces of context.

Webpage-related results

Consider a search like [get more followers on Instagram]. No matter where I’m performing that search – mobile or desktop, home or on the go – I’m looking for an answer to that pain point, anywhere in the world. I’ll largely find the answers on webpages – through the ten blue links – featuring products, case studies, or articles about how to do so.  

Place-related results

With a search like [coffee shop], though, Google can have pretty high confidence that I’m looking for a place to grab a latte right that moment. I probably want a place pretty close to me, no matter where I’m performing the search or on what device. Sure, I could browse a magazine article about the best coffee shops in my city or look at a full list of coffee shops on a directory page. But it’s much more useful for Google to simply return a list of places, rather than other websites about places.

comparing search results

Differences

Google’s webpage-related results [Instagram followers] and its place-related results [coffee shops] are generated by two different algorithms. Searches with specific questions like [How do I make chimichurri?] are likely to trigger a third kind of result called a Featured Snippet. But that’s a topic for another day!

As a local business, you’re going to face fierce competition in the webpage-related results. If you offer services to help get more Instagram followers, you’ll have to compete with every other provider of this service on the planet to get your website ranked.

But in the second instance, when Google detects a search that has local intent you’re only competing with other coffee shops near you. Note above; I didn’t even specify my city, Google just inferred it. And even though Starbucks has coffee shops in just about every town and city in the world, it’s harder for them to stand out against local brands in these place-based results. And these results are also featured in Google Maps, in-car navigation devices, Google Home/Assistant searches, and many other media.

More place-based results

Over the last few years, Google has gradually shown more and more of these place-based results for local queries and fewer webpage results. I mentioned this trend earlier and will discuss it in more detail in the last installment of this series. Even the webpage results that show up beneath these place results on a local intent search have been infused with local business websites since early 2012.

Regardless of medium (desktop, mobile, or voice), and regardless of the type of result (webpage or place-related), Google remains a significant source of customers for many local businesses. So it’s critical to put your best foot forward to attract those customers in both algorithms.

A deep dive into local rankings

Inspired by the response from this community to my last interview with the Yoast team, I thought I might expand on my answers. I’ll, therefore, provide a more detailed look at each of the major building blocks of a successful local search strategy. Below, you’ll find a list of the building blocks I’ll deal with in the following installments of this series.

The major algorithmic components

What are those components? Google likes to say “relevance, prominence, and distance.” And while that’s not misleading, it is an oversimplification.

Both the organic and place-related algorithms have become staggeringly complex, and I don’t pretend to know all of the signals that Google uses to inform these rankings. But I’ve closely watched the algorithm mature over the last decade. I’ve found it helpful to break Google’s triplet above into slightly more granular components – most of which inform both relevance and prominence. (Darren Shaw continued this categorization in this year’s survey.)

Source: Moz/Whitespark

Over the next seven weeks, I’ll be giving my take on the most impactful tactics and techniques to help your business succeed across each of these major algorithmic areas:

Google My Business

Hopefully, most of you know by now, Google My Business is an online tool where you can tell Google about your business – the kind of business you are, where you’re located, the hours you’re open, and more. I’ll look at the most important fields to fill out and explain why they’re important. 

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On-Page best practices

It’s important to structure your website in a way that reinforces what you’ve told Google in your My Business listing. (The Yoast Local SEO Plugin helps with a big one.) I’ll take you through the key components of your website to focus on.

Inbound links

The foundation of Google’s organic algorithm is not going away anytime soon. I’ll give you some ideas for how and where to get people to link to your website.

Citations

Citations refer to online mentions of your business that may or may not include a link. I’ll explain why they’re important and highlight the ones you should care about.

Reviews

Customer reviews are one of the easiest and most sustainable practices you can implement to improve your SEO. I’ll show you how to find the review sites that matter for ranking in Google and give you some ideas for how to implement a consistent and impactful customer review program.

Social signals

While not a major piece of the algorithm, I’ll highlight some of the evidence that suggests that social media can improve your local search visibility.

Behavioral signals/personalization

An emerging area of interest for a lot of professional SEOs, and the piece of the ranking pie that I see growing the most over the next few years.

Along the way, I’ll be eager for your questions in the comments of each post and on social media, and will do my best to address them in subsequent columns!

Read more: ‘5 questions: talking local SEO with David Mihm ’ »

Mobile SEO: the ultimate guide

We are addicted to our smartphones. For many people, the smartphone is the first thing they check when they get out of bed in the morning. It is also the last thing they check before they go to sleep. People use it for everything. It’s huge. Mobile has changed our lives. It has also changed SEO. Mobile SEO helps you to reach customers and satisfy their needs in an enjoyable way. This guide to mobile SEO will show you everything you need to deliver a perfect mobile experience.

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Why is mobile SEO important?

Mobile SEO is so important because it helps you get in the right place at the right time and makes sure the experience you offer consumers is stellar. Mobile traffic has eclipsed desktop traffic. Every day, more and more people are discovering the enormous advantages of the smartphone. Our whole lives are in those machines – it’s almost scary to see how attached we’ve become to our smartphone. Many people call it an extension of themselves and something they couldn’t live without. To reach these people you need mobile SEO.

Mobile does not necessarily mean on the go. Studies find that people often grab the nearest device to look something up and in most cases that’s their smartphone. They use it to inform themselves about products before making the decision to buy something. Anywhere any place. According to research by Google, smartphone users have a higher buyer intent than desktop users. They’re focused and ready to buy. It’s your job to be there when they are looking for your products.

Mobile SEO vs. desktop SEO

There’s a difference between desktop SEO and mobile SEO, but the goals are often comparable. You want to reach your audience and turn them into customers. In some ways, desktop SEO tactics also work for mobile SEO, but in a slightly different form. Three big themes still apply: focus on performance, user experience, and content. In desktop SEO you’ll often focus more on the general public, while mobile SEO is somewhat more local oriented.

Google’s mobile-first index

The importance of mobile SEO is made even clearer by Google’s recent announcement. Sometime in 2018, Google will switch to a mobile-first index. What does this mean? For the first time, Google will determine rankings based on the quality of the mobile version of the site instead of the desktop version. A new Googlebot will crawl your mobile site and determine if its performance, content and user experience are up to scratch. If so, you can get a good ranking. If it fails somehow, other sites will be higher rated and will pass you by. Even if you’re not focusing on mobile you will still be judged by your mobile site, so now is the time to take action.

Things will change

Right now, nobody knows exactly how this process will differ from the current one. We do know, however, that you must keep your mobile site crawlable by taking down all possible barriers like poorly loading scripts. Don’t block stuff in your robots.txt. It also has to offer the highest possible performance if you want to be indexed well.

You can no longer present less information on your mobile site than on your desktop site. Your content has to be the same on both, because, in the future, you can only rank on the information that is on your mobile page. Or, like Google’s Maile Ohye told us in an interview:

“To “optimize” for a mobile-first index, make sure that what you serve to mobile users is the version of the content you’d want Google to index, not a paired down version, or a version that gets updated later than desktop, or version that redirects to the mobile homepage.”

Don’t forget to tell Google your site is mobile-proof. You can add a viewport declaration – if you’re using responsive design – or a Vary header when using dynamic serving. More on later on in this article or in Google’s developer documentation.

Know what to do

Mobile SEO is – just like regular SEO – all about making sure your site is crawlable and findable. Also, you need stellar performance, great content and a flawless UX. To get it right, you need to know how your site is currently performing and what your visitors are doing right now. For instance, do people use the same keywords on mobile to find you? People often change how they search while using a mobile device. And what do you want people to do? Offering to navigate to the nearest Whole Foods is less than ideal when you’re on a desktop machine. It makes total sense on your smartphone, though.

Mobile SEO tools

You need to become best friends with Google Search Console. Its search tools are legendary and a big help if you want to find out how your site is doing in the search results. For instance, by using the Search Analytics feature, you can see how mobile and desktop users use words to find what they need. Are you targeting the right words? Should you focus on something else?

One of the other Google Search Console tools that make your life a bit easier is the Mobile Usability tool. This tool checks your site and presents an overview of posts and pages that don’t follow Google’s mobile-friendly rules. This is an excellent way to start improving your mobile SEO.

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Another Google tool is PageSpeed Insights. This tool shows you exactly how fast your site loads on mobile and desktop. It also suggests performance improving enhancements. Use this alongside the Developer Tools in browsers to see how your site is rendering its contents. Some other great tools to up your mobile SEO game are Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, Analytics, SEMrush, OnPage.org, ScreamingFrog, and SimilarWeb.

Read more: Google Search Console: Search appearance
Read more: DIY: Test your mobile site

Design for performance

It’s the number one thing you’ll be working on when you’re trying to improve mobile SEO: performance. In this case, performance almost entirely boils down to site speed. It’s a given: the faster your site is, the happier your users will be. We all know that a site has to load within a couple of seconds or else your visitors will be gone. If you combine this with the knowledge that sites are only increasing in size, you know you have your work cut out for you.

Optimizing performance, however, is a continuous process. Your site will never be fast enough because there’s always more to improve. And that’s ok. By keeping a close watch on how your mobile site is performing, you can immediately jump onto every opportunity to improve it. Google loves fast sites, and so do your customers.

Read more: How to improve your mobile site
Read more: Page speed as a ranking factor, what you need to know

Responsive design vs. dynamic serving vs. separate domain

While developing your mobile site, you’ll have three options: responsive design, dynamic serving and a separate site on a subdomain. Google prefers responsive design. This way, you have one site that adapts to the device it’s used on. There’s only one code base, so maintenance is easy. According to Google, using responsive design will make your site eligible for addition in the new mobile-first index. Always let Google know that your site is mobile-proof by adding the meta name=“viewport” declaration in the head of your documents.

&lt;meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0"&gt;

Dynamic serving takes a different approach. It uses server-side technology to serve a different version of your site to mobile users, depending on the way they access your site. The URL stays the same, but the files sent differ completely. You need to add the Vary header to get Google to crawl your site. This way, Google immediately knows that it will receive mobile-optimized files from somewhere else. A Vary header appears like this when a browser makes a request:

Vary: User-Agent

The third option is a separate mobile site on a different URL – usually an m. domain – and with different content. Google supports this method, but only if you make correct connections between your regular desktop domain and the mobile domain. Use rel=”alternate” and rel=”canonical” to tell Google how these pages are connected. More on these different types and how Google uses them on this Developers page.

PageSpeed Insights

PageSpeed Insights is a powerful tool to analyze the performance of your mobile site. It’s easy to use and gives you loads of insights into the loading speed of your site. Put in your URL and Insights will give you two scores: one for mobile and one for the desktop. These will differ. If your score is red, you have work to do. Orange means an average performance and green is good. You’ll receive suggestions to enhance the performance of your site. Follow these suggestions, and you’ll be on your way.

I hear you thinking:

“Nobody has a score of 0/100, right?”

Well, think again. It’s a combination of things that can do your mobile site a lot of harm. Find a bad hosting provider, install WordPress on a crappy shared hosting program, activate thirty plugins and upload a hundred non-optimized images to your blog and you are well on your way to a bad score. But these things can easily be undone. Run PageSpeed Insights and other speed analyses tools and follow their advice.

What can you do to improve your site speed?

When improving your page speed, you should always ask yourself if you need all these assets, libraries, images, plugins, theme features and so on. The famous saying “less is more” is still as valuable as ever.

Read more: Site speed tools and suggestions »

Think about implementing AMP

The Google-led open source project AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages, has one goal: loading your pages as fast as possible. It’s been in development for some time now. It has reached new heights with the release of amp-bind, a JavaScript library that adds interactivity to AMP pages. Now, one of the biggest drawbacks of using AMP is fixed.

In the beginning, AMP was used on static posts, like blogs or news articles, that didn’t need interaction from the user. For e-commerce purposes, AMP fell short. Until now, that is. Look into what AMP could do for your site and how you might implement it. Not every site needs it, but the ones that do could gain a lot from it.

Read more about implementing AMP with WordPress »

New kid on the block: Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

PWAs offers another way of targeting that mobile user. A progressive web app is an all-in-one solution that works on all devices, for all users. It’s the perfect crossover between the app world and the web world. The web app works like an app, without the need to publishing it in an app store. PWAs combine the loading speeds of mobile sites with the best functionality of a native app. If done correctly, a good PWA might fool users into thinking they are using a native app.

Thanks to technologies like service workers, the browser can do a lot more in the background, while keeping the front end updated in real-time. This makes it a viable option if you need an app, but can’t justify the cost. There will be a lot happening with progressive web apps in the next couple of years. Google has a must-read blog post if you want to know how to create indexable PWAs.

Focus on user experience

Besides being findable and lightning fast, your mobile site should offer an enjoyable user experience. Try to take away any obstacles and make sure users can reach their goals quickly. There’s a lot you need to consider when optimizing your user experience. I’ve listed a couple of things you can think of below:

  • Fix your font size: your typography needs to be top notch.
  • Keep enough room between the clickable elements.
  • Make your sub-menu clickable, so users don’t automatically go back to home instead of the submenu.
  • Put your phone number on the homepage and make it clickable. This way, people can call you if they want to do business.
  • Don’t make users pinch and zoom to see – and use – your interface.
  • Make your buttons large enough for fingers.
  • Fix your forms: bad forms are unusable on mobile.
  • Cut the clutter.
  • Test, adjust and test again!

Read more: 10 ways to improve mobile UX »

Optimize for local

While we use our smartphones a lot in our house, these devices become extra useful when we’re out and about. Google found out that 76% of the people who search for something nearby visit a related business within a day. 28% of those visits lead to a sale. To cope with that local demand, you need to work on your local SEO. Local search results can look very different from regular desktop searches, so you have to know what to target and how to target that. Here are some things you can to do to improve your local SEO for mobile:

Read more: Ultimate guide to small business SEO
Read more: Local ranking factors that help your business’ SEO

Finetune your mobile content

The screen of a smartphone is small, that’s a given. On that screen, text gets truncated or wrapped in a seemingly never-ending stream of paragraphs. A user has to scroll endlessly. Text on a mobile screen has the potential to give every web designer a headache. But the design – and use – of text is of crucial importance to the success of your site. If your site is unreadable or plain ugly, people will not read your 1,000-word article. Hell, not even your 100-word summary. Fix your typography.

People read a lot on their smartphones, but you have to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. Also, you have to make sure that your content is up to scratch as well.

Read more: Optimize your mobile content

Write for the small screen

Always keep the restrictions of the small screen in mind when creating or editing content. Don’t use too many long sentences, keep your paragraphs around four sentences and use many stops like lists and headings to break up your text. Nothing is more daunting to your visitor than a massive block of unformatted text. Check your content on a smartphone to see how it works and if it’s possible to improve it.

Read more: Copywriting for mobile (coming soon!)

Write better meta descriptions and titles

Google will show less information in the search results on mobile than on a desktop. Your meta descriptions and your titles will be truncated if you made them too long. Thinks about that when you optimize your posts and pages. You lose several characters when optimizing your meta descriptions and titles for mobile. In Yoast SEO’s snippet editor, you can switch between a mobile and desktop preview. This way, you can see how the differences between the two and pick a perfect middle ground.

Read more: The snippet preview in Yoast SEO

When working on your content, you should take the next biggest thing into account: voice search. Yes, it’s been around for a while. But with the advent of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s nameless Home assistant, things are moving fast right now. More and more people are using their voice to perform actions on the web, and your content has to provide answers. If done correctly, you might kill two birds with one stone: you’ll not only respond to questions mobile users have, but it might also lead to so-called featured snippets or answer boxes on desktop searches.

To prepare for voice search, you need to take a good look at your current content. Ask yourself, does it answer any question a user might have? If not, change it. Find out which questions people use to find your content and optimize for that. Use Google’s autofill or tools like Answer the Public to find alternative questions to answer.

Read more: How to prepare for voice search

Add structured data to a mobile site

Structured data is hot. By adding structured data in the form of Schema.org to your site, you can open a line of communication with search engines. Structured data makes it clear for search engines what all the different elements on your site mean. If done correctly, search engines can use this data to give you highlighted search results, known as rich results or rich snippets. This way, your site immediately stands out from the crowd, and that might lead to a higher click-through rate.

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Structured data forms the basis for many new ways of presenting search results. The rich results we used to know as rich cards, for instance, use data you can add to your mobile site. The result is a snippet that is mobile-optimized and very enticing to click. Structured data is one of the most important topics you have to read up on. Follow our structured data course if you need an easy way to add structured data to your mobile site.

Read more: Structured data with Schema.org: the ultimate guide

A mobile SEO guide

This ultimate guide to mobile SEO gives a lot of pointers to improve the performance of your mobile site.  Mobile SEO should always be a work in progress because there are always new things to improve. Also, technologies arrive or get discarded. The world is always changing, and you have to keep up. If you do, the rewards can be great. So, what are you waiting for? Get your smartphone, check your site in a mobile browser and find and fix those issues. Use this mobile SEO guide well, because 2018 is going to be an important year! This is the time to take action because if you don’t, you might miss out in the new year.

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

Ask Yoast Case study: SEO for architects

In our Ask Yoast case studies we give SEO advice for websites in a specific market or industry. This time: the website of Slemish Design Studio Architects, the business site of an architect duo. The architects told us that they get great responses from their clients, but is their website optimized for search engines as well? We’ll dive into this architectural website to see what improvements can be made to enhance their site’s SEO.

First impression

The first page we land on is the homepage. We see lots of full screen images of the great work these architects deliver on top of the homepage. Though impressive, the images are shown in a slider. Loyal readers of our blog know that we’re not a big fan of sliders. Many experiments show why you shouldn’t use a slider on your website. Only 1% of your visitors will actually click on a slider, they slow down your website and lots of visitors ignore sliders because of banner blindness. Just to name a few.

Looking at this specific website, the slider images are very big as well. The textual content of the homepage is pushed down. We recommend showing some smaller images on top of the site, instead of the slider, and adding some clear introductory content just below these images. Try adding your USPs to the introductory content: Why should visitors choose you as their architect?

Lastly, by adding a clear call-to-action just below the introductory content you’ll make sure visitors can easily navigate to your most important pages. For example, you could think of a button which says ‘Get inspired by our projects’ or ‘Our services’: decide what the main goal of your homepage is. Just to show you the difference, we’ve created a mock-up of how the homepage could look like after following our advice:

Homepage example of Slemish Design Studio Architects

Beautiful images, too little text

On the ‘The Studio’ page, we notice a tab ‘What we do’. This tabbed content tells visitors what kind of work you do and what type of services you offer. Because of the relevancy of this content, we think these services deserve their own menu item. Visitors who want to know more about your team and your company may click on ‘The Studio’. However, they might not expect to find the services you offer there.

In addition to that, your services are great subjects to write about. Writing nice informational copy about your services will increase your chance of ranking for keywords related to these services. When you add sufficient relevant content, Google will understand that your website has content for people looking for services like yours. This means those people will easily find you. The more your content seems to fit to the needs of people who search for these keywords, the higher you’ll rank in the future.

Make sure you optimize one specific page or post for one subject/keyword. When you optimize one page for more keywords that are too different, it’s unclear for Google what the main subject of the page is. Pages that contain a lot of information about the keywords you really want to rank for, should become your cornerstone content pages. This blog post about cornerstone content explains in detail what cornerstone content means and this blogpost shows you how to incorporate cornerstone content into your website.

Lastly, we think you can improve your content as well by adding more copy to your project pages. Consider writing a nice text about the planning stage of the project, the building stage and the delivery stage of the project, for instance. In this copy you can add relevant keywords for your business. In addition to that, this allows you to internally link to your cornerstone content pages from your project pages. 

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Structure your text

When you decide to write more copy for your website in the future, make sure the pages and posts have a great heading structure. On your current pages and posts, we noticed that your logo is an H1 heading. However, the H1 heading should describe the main subject of a particular page on your site to help Google understand what the subject of that specific page or post is.

For example, checking ‘The studio’ page, we see the following headings on top of the page:

Headings Slemish Design Studio Architects

Your company name/logo has an H1 tag now, which means that your company name would be the main subject of this page. While in fact, ‘The studio’ is the main subject of the page. So you should change the H2 heading of ‘The studio’ into an H1 heading. Just remove the H1 heading from the logo on every page of the website. We’d advise to check all of your pages and posts and only add one H1 heading, that describes what can be found on there, on each page.

Read more: ‘SEO basics: how to use headings on your site’ »

The right metadata

You’ll need to add relevant keywords to your page titles to help Google understand what your pages are about. Since page titles are still one of the most important ranking factors it’s important to optimize those to the fullest.

Looking at the page title of your homepage, we think you’ve added too many different keywords to show what your website is about:

Adding all different locations to your page title makes it unclear what your website is about. Moreover, the snippet doesn’t look very enticing to click on in the search results. This might cause a low CTR, or click-through rate. If you want to rank for all the different locations, adding separate pages with unique page titles and content for every location would be a better idea.

We’d advise to create appealing page titles and make sure they describe what can be found on that specific URL. For the homepage, use your USP and add a call-to-action such as ‘See our projects here’ to make people click on your page in the search results. Don’t you think a snippet like this will be more appealing to potential visitors?

On top of that, it’s important to be consistent in your branding. Add your company name to every page title. If you do that, people will recognize your page in the search results more easily, because of the brand name in every page title.

Add more relevant content to your blog

Having a blog can be very beneficial for SEO. Adding posts regularly makes it easy to add content about relevant keywords to your website. It helps you to start ranking for new keywords and to keep ranking for the keywords you already rank for.

Slemish Design Studio Architects have a blog and they add new posts regularly, which is great. However, it seems that lots of posts have little textual content. For example, this post only has two sentences:

Blog post of Slemish Design Studio Architects

Google could consider this post as a thin content page, which could hurt your website’s rankings. Since pages like these don’t add much value to your website, you’d better add more content or remove them from your website.

Keep reading: ‘Blogging: the ultimate guide’ »

Create strong cornerstone content

Besides the benefits of adding more content about relevant keywords to a blog, a blog also gives you an opportunity to add more internal links to your most important pages and posts. For example, when you’ve created a separate page for the service ‘Sun Rooms’ you could write a blog post about new innovations for sun rooms. From that post you can add an internal link to the page about the ‘Sun Rooms’ service. Doing this consistently, that service page – which could be a great cornerstone content page if you add sufficient content – will become a better search result, according to Google.

In addition to internal links within a text, you can add a popular, recent or related posts section to the blog. The sidebar is often used to add sections like these. These links in the sidebar will give the posts they link to some extra link value.

Lastly, adding your blog’s categories to the sidebar will give your category pages some more link value too. Consider doing this if you want to rank with your category pages.

A fast loading website

The longer visitors have to wait for your website to load completely, the more likely it gets that some of them will ‘bounce’ back to the search results. A long loading time frustrates visitors, so they might leave your website before seeing any relevant content. Google uses bounce rate, among other things, to determine if a website provides visitors with a good result. When lots of visitors bounce back to Google’s search results quickly, that isn’t a good sign. You might understand that this can harm your rankings.

On top of that, page speed is an actual ranking factor. Google understands that a website with bad loading times probably isn’t the best result. Similar websites that load faster are likely to end up higher in the search results.

We’ve tested the website of Slemish Design Studio Architects and we found a score of 24/100. The score is in red and this means that there’s work to do! Just follow the advice Google gives in the page speed tool as this leads to both a better user experience, as well as better rankings. 

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To sum it up

It was a pleasure analyzing the website of this architect duo. You show some amazing work in the images on the website! Adding a cleaner homepage with a clear call-to-action could result in more conversions, so more actual clients. Also, specific pages for all your services could be valuable for both Google and visitors.

Basically, our most important SEO advice is: make sure Google understands what your website is about. This means you’ll need to write relevant content about keywords you’d like to rank for. Furthermore, optimizing your site’s metadata – like titles and meta descriptions – and headings would be beneficial. With internal links you can connect your content and give your most important pages extra value.

And last, but definitely not least, making your website load faster will really improve your site’s SEO and user experience!

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

Moving your website to HTTPS / SSL: tips & tricks

In 2014, we decided to switch over to the (now) commonly-used HTTPS to encrypt sensitive data that’s being sent across our website. This post describes some useful tips based on our own experiences that might come in handy if you’re considering switching. 

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A little backstory

Back in 2014 HTTPS became a hot-topic after the Heartbleed bug became public. This bug allowed people with ill intent to listen in on traffic being transferred over SSL/TLS. It also gave them the ability to hijack and/or read the data. Luckily, this bug got patched quickly after its discovery. This incident was a wake-up call that properly encrypting user information over the internet is a necessity and shouldn’t be an optional thing.

To emphasize the importance of encrypting sensitive data, Google Chrome (since January, 2017) displays a clear warning next to the address bar whenever you visit a website that doesn’t encrypt – potential – sensitive data, such as forms.

How do I switch?

Because it’s important that your data is safe, we took steps in 2014 to ensure that we have SSL-certificates across our own websites. If you decide to switch (you really should!), there are a few things that you need to take into account to ensure your website fully works as intended once you’re done.

  • You need to change all your internal links. This also means updating links to assets (where necessary). Make sure to go through your theme and alter references to CSS, images and JavaScript files. Additionally, you can change all your links to start with // instead of https:// which will result in protocol-relative URLs.
  • Ensure your CDN supports SSL as well. We make use of MaxCDN, which allows you to easily set up SSL on your CDN subdomain.
  • There are various levels of SSL that you can choose from, each with their own pros and cons. You will find more information about that later on.
  • Ensure you have a canonical link present in the <head> section of your website to properly redirect all traffic coming in from http:// to https://.

Google also published a handy guide on how to move to HTTPS without massively impacting your ranking, which can be found here.

How does this influence my rankings?

Like stated in the previous section, moving from HTTP to HTTPS can influence your rankings slightly if you don’t plan accordingly. However, after you switch over to HTTPS, your rankings will actually improve over time. Google announced in 2014 that having an SSL certificate will be considered a positive ranking factor, so it’s worth the investment.

To make sure Googlebot can re-index your website more rapidly after the move, make sure you migrate to https:// during low-traffic hours. This way Googlebot can use more of your server’s resources. Just take into account that a medium-sized website might take a while to regain rankings. Have a sitemap? Then Googlebot might be able to recalculate and re-index your website even faster.

Setting up HTTPS & SSL on your server

Generally speaking, hosting providers have a service to allow you to enable HTTPS/order a certificate. There are a few types of certificates you can choose from, which differ in a few ways. Every variant also has their own price tag, so before purchasing one, make sure that you go with a certificate that fits your needs and budget!

If you’re a bit strapped for cash and tech-savvy, go take a look at Let’s Encrypt to acquire a free(!) certificate.

If you run and manage your own web server, there are a few things that you’ll have to enable in your server configuration before being able to use SSL certificates. This tutorial explains what steps to take to get a certificate running on your server.

OCSP stapling

Having to check the validity of an SSL certificate can result in a small hit in loading speed. To overcome this, you can make use of OCSP stapling. OCSP stapling is a feature that enables the server to download a copy of the certificate vendor’s response when checking the SSL certificate. This means that once a browser connects to the server, it checks the validity of the certificate based on the copy on the server instead of having to query the certificate vendor itself, resulting in a significant performance improvement.

Apache

Before enabling OCSP stapling on your Apache server, please check that you’re running version 2.3.3+ of Apache by running the command apache2 -v (or httpd -v) on your server. Lower versions of Apache do not support this feature.

If you went through the process of setting up HTTPS on your server as described in the ‘Setting up HTTPS & SSL on your server’ section, then you should have come into contact with a VirtualHost configuration specifically made for usage with HTTPS/SSL.

In that file, take the following steps:

  1. Inside the <VirtualHost></VirtualHost> section, you should add SSLUseStapling on.
  2. Just above the <VirtualHost></VirtualHost> section, add SSLStaplingCache shmcb:/tmp/stapling_cache(128000)
  3. Check that the configuration is still valid by running apachectl -t. If so, reload Apache by running service apache2 reload.

Nginx

Nginx also supports OCSP stapling. Before editing the server configuration, please check that you’re running version 1.3.7+ of Nginx by running the command nginx -v on your server. Lower versions of Nginx do not support this feature.

If you went through the process of setting up HTTPS on your server as described in the ‘Setting up HTTPS & SSL on your server’ section, then you should have come into contact with an Nginx configuration specifically made for usage with HTTPS/SSL.

In that file, add the following lines in the server {} section:

ssl_stapling on;
ssl_stapling_verify on;
ssl_trusted_certificate /etc/ssl/private/ca-certs.pem;

The last line references a file that contains a list of trusted CA certificates. This file is used to verify client certificates when using OCSP.

After adding these lines to the file, check that the configuration is still valid by running service nginx configtest. If so, reload Nginx by running service nginx reload

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Strict Transport Security header

The Strict Transport Security Header (HSTS) is another handy feature that basically enforces browsers to use the HTTPS request instead of the HTTP equivalent. Enabling this feature is relatively painless.

Apache

If you’re running Apache, first enable the Apache Headers module by running a2enmod headers. After this, it’s only a matter of adding the following line to your VirtualHost configuration (in the <VirtualHost></VirtualHost> section) that you set up earlier for HTTPS:

Header always set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000; includeSubDomains"

Reload the Apache service and you’re good to go!

Nginx

Nginx requires you to add the following line in the server{} section of your server configuration file:

add_header Strict-Transport-Security max-age=31536000;

Testing

To see if your SSL certificate is working properly, head over to SSL Labs, fill in your domain name and see what kind of score you get.

Redirecting URLs

To ensure requests are properly redirected to the HTTPS URL, you need to add an extra line to you configuration. This way, traffic that tries to visit your website over HTTP, will automatically be redirected to HTTPS.

Apache

In your default VirtualHost configuration (so the one that’s used for HTTP requests), add the following to ensure URLs get properly redirected:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off
RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [R=301,L]

As with the other changes we made before, don’t forget to reload Apache!

Nginx

In Nginx, change the default configuration file that was used for HTTP requests and alter it as such:

server {
    listen 80;
    server_name your-site.com www.your-site.com;
    return 301 https://your-site.com$request_uri;
}

Don’t forget to reload Nginx before testing these changes.

Conclusion

“Should I switch over to HTTPS?” Short answer: Yes. Using HTTPS ensures that private (user) information is being sent across the web in a more secure manner. Especially if you’re dealing with monetary transactions, HTTPS is a must.

What type of certificate you end up going with, depends on your specific use case and budget. Make sure to properly research your options beforehand.

Read more: ‘WordPress security in a few easy steps’ »

SEO for a new website: the very first things to do

How does a new website start ranking? Does it just magically appear in Google after you’ve launched it? What things do you have to do to start ranking in Google and get traffic from the search engines? Here, I explain the first steps you’ll need to take right after the launch of your new website. Learn how to start working on the SEO for a new website!

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First: you’ll need to have an external link

One of my closest friends launched a birthday party packages online store last week. It’s all in Dutch and it’s not WordPress (wrong choice of course, but I love her all the same :-)). After my friend launched her website, she celebrated and asked her friends, including me, what they thought of her new site. I love her site, but couldn’t find her in Google, not even if I googled the exact domain name. My first question to my friend was: do you have another site linking to your site? And her answer was ‘no’. I linked to her site from my personal site and after half a day, her website popped up in the search results. The very first step when working on SEO for a new website: getting at least one external link.

Why do you need an external link?

Google is a search engine that follows links. For Google to know about your site, it has to find it by following a link from another site. Google found my friend’s site because I put a link to that site on my personal site. When Google came around to crawl my site after I put the link there, it discovered the existence of my friend’s site. And indexed it. After indexing the site, it started to show the site in the search results.

Read more: ‘What does Google do?’ »

Next step: tweak your settings…

After that first link, your site probably will turn up in the search results. If it doesn’t turn up, it could be that the settings of your site are on noindex or is still blocked by robots.txt. If that’s the case, you’re telling Google not to index your site. Sometimes developers forget to turn either of these off after they finished working on your site.

Some pages are just not the best landing pages. You don’t want people landing on your check out page, for instance. And you don’t want this page to compete with other – useful – content or product pages to show up in the search results. Pages you don’t want to pop up in the search results ever (but there aren’t many of these) should have a noindex.

Yoast SEO can help you to set these pages to noindex. That means Google will not save this page in the index and it’ll not turn op in the search results.

Keep reading: ‘The ultimate guide to the robots meta tag’ »

Important third step: keyword research

My friend’s site now ranks on her domain name. That’s about it. She’s got some work to do to start ranking on other terms as well. When you want to improve the SEO for a new website you have carry out some proper keyword research. So go find out what your audience is searching for! What words do they use?

If you execute your keyword research properly, you’ll end up with a long list of search terms you want to be found for. Make sure to search for those terms in Google yourself. What results are there already? Who will be your online competitors for these search terms? What can you do to stand out from these results?

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

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And then: write, write, write

Then you start writing. Write about all those topics that are important to your audience. Use the words you came up with in your keyword research. You need to have content about the topics you want to rank for to start ranking in the search results.

Read more: ‘How to write a high quality and seo-friendly blog post’ »

But also: improve those snippets

Take a look at your results in the search engines once you start ranking (the so called snippets). Are those meta descriptions and the titles of the search results inviting? Are they tempting enough for your audience to click on them? Or should you write better ones?

Yoast SEO helps you to write great titles and meta descriptions. Use our snippet preview to create awesome snippets. That’ll really help in attracting traffic to your site.

Keep reading: ‘The snippet preview: what it means and how to use it?’ »

Think about site structure

Which pages and posts are most important? These should have other pages and posts linking to them. Make sure to link to the most important content. Google will follow your links, the post and pages that have the most internal links will be most likely to rank high in the search engines. Setting up such a structure, is basically telling Google which articles are important and which aren’t. Our brand new text link counter can be a great help to see if you’re linking often enough to your most important content.

Read on: ‘Internal linking for SEO: why and how’ »

Finally: do some link building

Google follows links. Links are important. So get the word out. Reach out to other site owners – preferably of topically related websites – and ask them to write about your new site. If Google follows multiple links to your website, it’ll crawl it more often. This is crucial when you do the SEO for a new website, and will eventually help in your rankings. Don’t go overboard in link building for SEO though, buying links is still a no-go:

Read more: ‘Link building: what not to do?’ »

Adding JSON-LD structured data with Google Tag Manager

You’ve probably heard us talk a lot about structured data, Schema.org and JSON-LD. Schema structured data on your site can result in highlighted search results. In this article, we’ll show you how to implement structured data using the JSON-LD Schema.org markup on the pages of your site. Here, we’ll take a closer look at how to implement structured data with Google Tag Manager.

We’ve just launched a brand new training on structured data and SEO. This training has an introductory price of $119. On July 2, this will jump to the regular price of $149.

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Structured data with Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager is a tool that can take your marketing to the next level without the need of a developer. It’s a tool that can easily add scripts or pieces of code to a page. There are several advantages to using Tag Manager to implement structured data.

For one, you can generate tags, triggers, and variables, which means that you can apply the same code again and again on different pages. For instance, if you have loads of recipes, you can create a tag with the variable “preparation time”, so the preparation time of every recipe will be taken from a recipe page. This means you won’t have to add the preparation time manually to the code of every single page. In the end, this will save you a lot of work.

In addition, Tag Manager features a preview mode, which allows you to check whether you successfully implemented your data immediately. Read the post Google Tag Manager: An Introduction to get started.

How Google Tag Manager works

First, you need to know about three important elements: Variables, Triggers and Tags. You can find these elements on the left-hand side of your workspace. A workspace is a place where you work on creating and adding pieces of code to your pages.

google tag manager structured data workspace

Tags

A tag is a piece of code that can be fired on a page of your website. You can put many things in a tag. For instance, you can add the Google Analytics tracking code in a tag. This tag will enable Google Analytics to track your website. Similarly, you can put your structured data code in a tag. In other words: a tag contains information as to what you want to add to a page.

Triggers

Tags only work when there’s a trigger attached. You need a way of telling Google Tag Manager under which condition a tag must be used, or fired, as we call it. If you have a structured data tag, the trigger tells Tag Manager on which pages to fire that tag. This is because it’s possible that not all your pages need a recipe structured data markup, for instance. Simply put, a trigger tells Tag Manager: “Please fire this tag on these pages, but not on these pages”.

Variables

Variables serve two functions. Firstly, triggers need variables to know whether or not to fire. Suppose Tag Manager runs on your page. If the value of the variable meets the conditions you set, the trigger will fire. This, in turn, allows the tag to work. Secondly, the variable provides Google Tag Manager with variable information. This means that the information can be different in different contexts. A Date Published, for example, will be different for every eBook you publish. If the trigger fires, Google Tag Manager will then fetch the specific value from the specific page it visits.

An example of a variable is the URL of a page, but you can use any element of a page as a variable. It could be an ‘Add to cart’ button, or the H1 of a page, for example. The most commonly used variables are predefined in Google Tag Manager. But things like buttons or the H1 are variables you have to define yourself. With variables, you can edit your code in such a way that it will take elements from the current page to use in a tag.

Adding JSON-LD to your site step by step

We’re going to guide you through implementing structured data on your pages. We’ll take the Schema.org type Course as an example. As stated, we’ll use JSON-LD markup. There are five steps to take:

  1. Make structured data
  2. Create tags and triggers
  3. Create variables
  4. Trigger your code
  5. Validate and publish

Step 1: Creating the structured data code

Produce structured data JSON-LD code, either by hand or by using Google’s Markup Helper. In this example, we’re using Course markup, which looks like this:

<script type="application/ld+json">
{
  "@context": "http://schema.org",
  "@type": "Course",
  "name": "Site structure training",
  "description": "Learn how to create site structure for your site that makes Google understand your site and makes visitors go where they need to be",
  "provider": {
    "@type": "Organization",
    "name": "Yoast",
    "sameAs": "https://yoast.com/"
  },
      "offers": {
        "@type": "Offer",
        "price": "99",
        "priceCurrency": "USD"
  }
}
</script>

After you’ve created your markup, you have to get it ready for Google Tag Manager with Yoast’s JSON-LD Script Helper tool. Paste your code and hit Submit. The tool will create a piece of code you can use in Google Tag Manager. Copy it. You’ll need it for your new tag.

Step 2: Creating tags in Tag Manager

You’re ready to make your tags and triggers. Follow the steps below:

  • Make a new tag and give it a name (Site structure training, for instance)
  • Click Tag Configuration and choose tag type: Custom HTML
  • Paste code from the script helper tool
  • Check Support document.write
  • Hit Save

google tag manager structured data tag configuration

Step 3: Creating triggers

You need to add a trigger, so it knows when to fire the tag. You can do this on the same screen you see in the screenshot above, or directly from the Triggers screen in the Workspace. Click on the Triggering space in your new tag and choose the correct Page View. Hit Save. Your snippet is now implemented as is (see below for working with variables).

If there are no triggers yet, you can add them on the same screen. If you want a trigger to a specific page, you can copy the relevant piece of the URL and add it to a new trigger. So if you only want to trigger a tag on this page: https://yoast.com/academy/course/site-structure-training/, you need to copy the part /academy/course/site-structure-training/.

Hit the New or + button to add a new trigger. Give it a name and click on Trigger Configuration. Choose Page View from the list of trigger types and click on Some Page Views. You can now choose when the tag should trigger and which conditions should be met before it’s possible. In our case, we want to trigger the tag on https://yoast.com/academy/course/site-structure-training/. That’s why we’ll choose Page Path and Equals from the dropdown, and paste the URL into the empty box.

google tag manager structured data trigger configuration

Step 4: Creating variables

Variables make it much easier to implement the same structured data on many different sites. The variables can be found on the left-hand side of the workspace as well. You’ll see all predefined variables. There’s also an option for user-defined variables. To create a variable, click on New. After that, take the following steps:

  • Name the variable
  • Click on Variable Configuration
  • Choose Variable type
  • In this example: DOM Element

The fourth step depends on the type of tag or trigger you want to create. In this example, we’ll use a DOM Element. A DOM Element is a piece of your page, like a DIV, HTML and BODY. In this example, the DOM Element is the H1, which is the most important heading of the page.

Once you’ve clicked on the DOM Element, you need to choose which method you want to use to select a page element with. In this case, we’ll use a CSS Selector. By simply entering h1 into the Element Selector, you’ve created a variable that takes the H1 of a page.

If you want to use the meta description of a page, enter meta[name=”description”] and that variable will add the meta description of your pages.

google tag manager structured data variable configuration

Once you’ve created these variables, you can use them in your tags.

google tag manager structured data meta description

As you can see, you can use the H1 variable for the “name” and Meta description variable for the “description”. Now, the Course Schema.org markup sends the right name and description to Google.

Variables make this method of implementing structured data flexible and scalable. This way, you produce code that can be used in many places, without having to add it manually or change it for every instance. You only have to set up the tags once.

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Step 5: Test, saving and publishing

You’re ready to test your code. Tag Manager has a Preview mode that lets you test code before you publish it on a live site. Go to your Workspace to activate that mode.

In your browser, go to the page you’re implementing structured data on and refresh. You’ll see the Preview tab appear and this should show you the tags that fired. If you want to know more, you can go to the Window Loaded screen to see if your variables were executed properly. If all is well, your H1 variable should now show the same value that’s visible on the site (the title). Always test your code before publishing!

google tag manager structured data preview

If all the information displayed on this screen is correct, you can publish your tag. If there are still some flaws, go through the steps again.

To publish your tag, hit the Submit button you see at the top right. Give your version a descriptive name and press Publish. Once you’ve published your structured data tag, go to the Structured Data Testing Tool and enter the URL of the page that should now contain structured data. With this tool you can check if the structured data is implemented correctly:

google tag manager structured data end result

See no errors and warnings? Well done! If you do see errors, dive in more deeply and read what Google has to say about it.

Want to learn more about structured data? Try our brand new Structured data course!

Read more: ‘Structured data with Schema.org and JSON-LD: the ultimate guide’ »