Joost de Valk founded Yoast. For a long time, Joost was the only developer working on Yoast SEO. He came up with all the features and implemented all the code; he did everything. As the company grew, we created a large development team. Joost always remained part of the development team and came up with most of the new features, but he did not write much code himself anymore. Until this release. Joost de Valk wrote most of the code of the Yoast SEO 7.0 release himself. So why is that? And what makes this release so very special? Time to ask Joost de Valk some questions about Yoast SEO 7.0.

Why did you do the coding for this release yourself?

“I had promised myself to get more involved with the product again. The growth of the company had me preoccupied with other things, and I wanted to get back to the core business of Yoast SEO again. I enjoy writing code. It makes me happy.”

And, as you started out, you just decided to make it the biggest release in years?

“Well, as I was diving into the code we were also updating our online course on the plugin. So I was making all kinds of videos and screencasts explaining the plugin. I noticed so many things that were outdated or just not user-friendly. So many things were tough to explain. That process of making our online course gave me many ideas for improvements. And once I started improving, I came up with even more ideas. One thing led to the next… and the next…” 

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What did you like best about your coding adventure?

“I was in awe of the progress our development team has made. Working with them was great fun. Back in the days, it was just me and my computer. Now, somebody gets to review my code, and someone else does the acceptance test. That’s a great system. That process has made me a better developer. I learned so much in just these last few weeks. The team has become so much better.”

What thing in this release are you most proud of?

“We made solid progress in UX here. We had so many options and toggles in Yoast SEO. Most of the questions were asked in such a difficult way. They were so very technical, aimed at SEOs like I was myself when I first built the plugin. I think this release takes us a step closer to our mission: SEO for everyone. Our plugin isn’t just for SEOs and developers. Everyone should be able to use it. I feel we made it a lot more user-friendly with the new changes. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

What will the reactions of our users be? Were you nervous?

“No, I wasn’t nervous at all. We tested with users and the first responses were really positive. Everybody is enthusiastic. I do understand that some people will miss some old features and toggles. Some people might need to re-do some screenshots, I know we certainly have to. But overall, I don’t expect people to be upset by this release. It’ll make Yoast SEO so much easier to set up.”

Read more: ‘Yoast SEO 7.0: Making SEO easier for everyone’ »

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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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You might have heard the term before: mobile parity. With, as a subset of that, content parity. Perhaps “One Web” triggers some kind of recognition? It all comes down to one thing: is your mobile site equal to your desktop site? In this article, I’ll give you some pointers on why you should check that and a number of things that influence the presence or absence of mobile parity.

What is mobile parity?

We talk about mobile parity when we compare a desktop site to a mobile site. Are both similar, or even better, basically the same? Does your mobile site resemble the desktop site, or are there differences? Think about the goal of your website and why it matters so much to have this parity. Let’s go over a number of things that relate to this mobile parity.

Content is king

Yes, content is king. And it doesn’t matter if someone is visiting your mobile site or desktop site. They are looking for specific information or a specific product, so you better make sure content is the same on both. It’s common use to hide some larger images on a mobile device or put some more content behind tabs (which is OK for Google, don’t get me wrong). It speeds up rendering of the mobile content, which will only help both users and Google. But the end result of that mobile optimization should not interfere with the end goal of your desktop site. It’s the same. So in regards to content, mobile parity matters. 

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Consistent branding on all devices

Looking at the design of your website, you need to make sure if it sends the same “message” on every device. We’ve seen fantastic desktop sites that have a mobile version that has been very toned down. As with AMP, I don’t mind removing clutter and focusing on what needs focus (top tasks), but both websites need to share the same “look and feel”.

The same goes for, for instance, your page titles. If you have different page titles on your mobile site and your desktop site, make sure they align. If your site is responsive, this will be no problem, but there are still a lot of websites that maintain a separate mobile site (why!?). The same will go for Progressive Web Apps and similar developments. If the content structure aligns with your desktop website, make sure other things align as well. There’s more.

Mobile-first!

If you have no clue what mobile-first means, read up first. If Google starts to rank your website based on your mobile website in the first place, there might be work to do. A lot of website owners, web designers, web agencies etcetera have been creating and selling mobile sites as an extra to a desktop site. “See how this website looks on your computer screen and how it gradually slims down to your mobile device”, will be a sentence of the past.

Mobile parity is important, especially with the mobile-first index just around the corner.

We need to set up a mobile site that folds out to a desktop site instead. Quality matters, contents matters, design, and branding matter. In Dutch, we have a saying “the soup isn’t always eaten as hot as it is served“, meaning that measures might be less severe than announced. Perhaps Google’s mobile first “threat” isn’t as strict as it may seem, but you’d better be prepared, right. So make sure your mobile website covers all bases your desktop site covers, with the same quality look and feel. Ask yourself: If you wouldn’t have a desktop site, would you still be able to get the same conversion/traffic/engagement results on your website as you currently do?

Internal links

In everything that relates to mobile parity, internal links seem to surface in my mind as a point of attention. We hide things, remove things, change things when making our website responsible. We kill a sidebar, reduce the number of footer links, might even change our menu. All these actions have an effect on the number of internal links a page has.

Internal links influence SEO, just like external links to your website do. They play an important part in setting up cornerstone content and most other content strategies. It’s your site structure that you change with every one of those changes. When Google flips the switch and your mobile site becomes most important, you might ruin that entire structure just because of the fact that your site lacks mobile parity.

It’s not just the visual stuff

Especially when your website isn’t responsive, other issues may arise. How about a 301 redirect on your desktop that is forgotten on your mobile site? I can’t stress enough that I’d still prefer a responsive website over other solutions. It simply makes sure things like this are handled properly. Think canonical links, robots meta tags, etc. You don’t want to go wrong here.

I hope I have given you some food for thought for your own website. Mobile parity is something you need to check every now and then, but definitely now as well, to make sure your mobile visitors and Google aren’t missing out on anything. Prevent that your focus on desktop doesn’t ruin your rankings.

Mobile parity audit

Moz has written a nice article that guides you through the process of a mobile parity audit. Read that article as well and see how similar your mobile and desktop websites really are!

Read more: ‘Mobile SEO: the ultimate guide’ »

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You might have heard us say it before: the UX of your site is essential for SEO. But what is UX? And why is it important for SEO? In this article, we’ll explain what it is and why you shouldn’t forget working on it if you want to rank high in Google. On top of that, we’ll shortly give you some pointers what to do to keep the users of your website satisfied.

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What is UX?

UX stands for User eXperience. As you might have figured, it’s all about how users experience a product. This can be a website, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be an app, a mobile phone or any other physical product that you can use, even a milk carton. It’s all about how someone feels when using a particular product. Does the product make you feel excited or happy, is it a joy to use it, does it help you effortlessly achieve what you’ve been aiming for? Or does it make you feel angry and frustrated because it doesn’t work or look the way you expected it to?

UX or usability?

UX and usability are sometimes used interchangeably. They’re both used to describe the ease with which a visitor uses your site. However, UX is often considered to be broader than usability. If a website is very usable – or user-friendly – visitors will be able to find or do what they want to do easily. A great user experience involves more, for example, esthetics. A website can be straightforward to use, but boring at the same time. This means the usability is excellent, but the user experience could be improved.

For instance, the illustrations of our blog posts are not necessary to improve usability. However, they do contribute to the experience users have on our site. I’m quite a fan of the drawings our illustrators Erwin and Tim make, and I hope they make you think or smile too. These images contribute to the UX of our site. Without them, you would experience our site differently. This way, UX can be part of a branding strategy, even more than usability.

Why is it important for SEO to improve UX?

So why should improving the usability and UX of your site be part of your SEO strategy? Google, or other search engines, want to provide people with the best result for their query. The best result does not only mean the best answer, but it also means the best experience. For instance, if you’re looking for the answer to “What is keyword research?” Google wants to give you the best answer in a swift, pleasant and secure way. So even if you’ve written an excellent answer in a post, but your site is slow, a mess or unsafe, Google won’t consider your post the best answer.

How does Google know?

Google uses different methods to make an educated guess about how users experience your site. They look at elements like site speed – there’s almost nothing more annoying than a page that takes ages to load -, mobile friendliness, the way you’ve structured your content and the internal and external linking of your pages. Lots of high-quality links to your web page probably indicate people had a pleasant experience with it, right?

In addition to that, Google uses user signals to find out how visitors experience your website. User signals are behavioral patterns that Google sees on your site. If a lot of people leave your website very quickly, they might not have found what they’re looking for. Of course, there are some exceptions to this, read Annelieke’s post on bounce rate to find out which. Some other user signals are the time spent on a page and how often people return to your website. If these are high, visitors most likely enjoy your site or find it useful. You can check these kinds of statistics for your site with Google Analytics and other website analysis tools.

It’s no coincidence that the factors mentioned above are important both for UX and SEO. Google tries to grasp how humans experience a website. That’s why a positive experience on your site can contribute to your rankings. If you want to learn more about this, you should read Michiel’s post on the relation between SEO and UX.

Holistic SEO

So should you work on usability and UX just for search engines? I think you can guess our answer to that… At Yoast, we advocate holistically looking at your website. This means you’re striving to make your website excellent in many ways: great content, easy to use – also on mobile – and secure. You’re making these changes for your visitors. In the end, it’s the user who’s going to buy your products, come to your event or subscribe to your newsletter.

Where to start?

As always, start by thinking about the goal of your website and specific pages. What do you want visitors to do on your site? Buy stuff? Read your articles? Donate money to your charity? The purpose of your website or a specific page on your site should be on the top of your mind when you’re making improvements. Your design and content should support this goal. Having a clear goal in mind will also help you prioritize the improvements for your site.

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If you want to improve the UX on your site also try to look at it from a user’s perspective. Ask yourself some questions – and be honest:

Most people develop blind spots if they work a lot on their site. You should, therefore, take the opportunity to ask people to evaluate your site, whenever you can! Try to get people from your target group to test your site and ask them if it worked as they expected it to. You can also use questionnaires on your site, or, if you don’t want to bother them too much, use an exit intent question and ask them why they’re leaving your site. Another option is to do some A/B testing to find out which design of your page gives the best results.

So, no excuses anymore. Start working on the UX of your site, and you might boost your rankings too!

Read more: ‘How to perform an SEO audit. Part 1: Content SEO & UX’ »

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We’re all ready for a new year of increasing sales, lifting engagement and giving our website the best effort possible. It only seems right to give you a three-step rocket of SEO quick wins, to kick-start your website for 2018. In this post, I will show you three things you can do right now to improve your website for your visitors, and for Google in the process. Let’s dive right in with number one.

#1 Optimize speed

No matter if you want to improve your mobile website or your desktop website, speed is something you want to monitor and improve all the time. These are fast times, and speed is definitely what you want to optimize for.

In a simple breakdown of speed optimization, we have images, browser caching, and script optimization. Google PageSpeed will tell you that, Pingdom will tell you that. Gzip Compression is the fourth one, but that should be enabled by default in my book. More on compression here. Let’s look at the other three.

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File size optimization

Optimizing your file size is an important part of image SEO, so let’s start there. There are a few ways to approach this:

  • Optimize the image file size in Photoshop (or any other image edit program you use). Usually, just exporting the image in a lower quality will already do the trick. I usually check whether reducing the quality to around 80% of the original still gives me a crisp image.
  • Download an application like ImageOptim or any of these applications and further optimize your file size before uploading.
  • Last but not least, make sure that the image dimensions of the image you use, fit the image ‘space’ that you reserved for it on the webpage. Don’t display a 1200×400 pixels photo as a 300×100 pixels image by adding CSS or whatever.

Browser caching

Browser caching is the way your browser stores files of a website, for instance the logo you see at the top of our website, so it doesn’t have to load them from the internet every time you visit another page of our website. This obviously saves time. There are many ways to go about this, but the easiest is probably (if you are using a WordPress site) using a plugin. Most speed optimization plugins support this browser caching and most set them right time for you. Among some of my favorite speed plugins are WP SuperCache, which is free, and WP Rocket, which is a premium plugin. For more on browser caching, visit this page.

Optimize script handling

You can load a gazillion JavaScript (JS) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) files to enhance your website, but in the end all these extra files just slow your website down. Please focus on these steps to optimize your script handling:

  1. Are you sure you need that enhancement? JS and CSS usually target design and user experience. In some cases, you just don’t need that enhancement. Like JS and CSS loaded for sliders, for instance. There are alternatives to sliders that work better and don’t require extra files.
  2. Is there a way to reduce the file size of these scripts / styles? We call this process ‘minifying’. We have an Ask Yoast about it. Google has some great pointers on how to approach this. Simple scripts and handy websites can help you minify your files, for instance by stripping comments. Most platforms have plugins or extensions that help with this. For instance, Magento has the Fooman Speedster (free and paid) for that.
  3. Is it possible to combine a number of these scripts into one file? That way, there only has to be one call to the server to retrieve all the scripts. Again, there are plugins for that, but if you have small pieces of JS, you might as well combine these yourself. Of course, the advent of HTTP/2 changes some of these optimization practices. Test this!

#2 Mobile optimization

It’s tempting to copy our ultimate guide to mobile SEO here, but let’s focus on the quick wins. You need to focus on mobile SEO these days, to be ready for Google’s mobile-first index. Google will start to determine rankings based on the quality of the mobile version of a site, only taking your desktop site into account after that. So, let’s get that mobile version up and running, right?

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Task-based design

Open your mobile website. Imagine you are a fresh, new user of your website. What would that person want to do here and is your site ready for that? Focus on a task-based design. If we are on a mobile website, we might need opening hours or an address. Just the other day, I purchased tickets for the Nederlands Openluchtmuseum on my mobile phone. Saved a buck and didn’t have to get in line for tickets. I did this, walking from my car to the entrance. One needs to be able to do these basic tasks without any problem. Ask yourself what the four, perhaps five main goals of a visitor on your website are and make sure these can be done on your mobile website.

Performance-based design

Are you loading any huge images on your site? Do people have to scroll for ages to read the good stuff you offer them? On a mobile website, we want to get in and get out as fast as possible – unless it’s, for instance, a news website. Loading time is a factor on a mobile site, especially with mobile connections usually being slower than most desktop connections. Make sure your design and content don’t depend on large images too much. And yes, there are exceptions to that rule. If I visit a photographer’s website, I know beforehand that I am in for longer loading times. I want crisp images and that is the price I pay. Optimize to an acceptable level for your target audience.

Write great content

This goes for mobile and desktop versions of your site: they need great content. A quick win for mobile content is to add a to-the-point first paragraph. If you tell your visitor what’s on your page, they can decide for themselves if they want to scroll down or not. It helps user experience to do this.

And of course, you’ll need to write awesome content after that paragraph as well. You still need to do keyword research, set up a great site structure and decide on cornerstone content. But you can imagine that to be a slightly lengthier process, and we’re talking quick wins here :)

#3 Serve your content in the right format

There are so many ways to serve your content to Google, Facebook and your visitors. Your task for 2018 is definitely to investigate which formats you should invest in. Some take a bit more time to implement; others can be added to your website by the push of a button, like with a plugin. Let’s go over a few important ones.

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Better social sharing: Open Graph

Forget about Twitter Cards for now, as Twitter has a fallback to Open Graph. So add Open Graph to your website if you haven’t done this already. It’s like a social summary of your website. For our homepage, it reads among other things:

<meta property="og:title" content="SEO for everyone • Yoast" />
<meta property="og:description" content="Yoast helps you with your website optimization, whether it be through our widely used SEO software or our online SEO courses: we're here to help." />
<meta property="og:url" content="https://yoast.com/" />
<meta property="og:site_name" content="Yoast" />

There’s a page / site title and summary plus link, which tells Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter all they need to know to create a great post on your visitor’s timeline. You can add an og:image to create a richer experience. Be sure to add this. Again, use a plugin like Yoast SEO for TYPO3 to automate the process (and add these Twitter Cards along with Open Graph in no time).

Quick reads on other platforms: AMP

Facebook links to your AMP article if possible. Ever found yourself reading an article in Google? Might be AMP as well. Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP, aim to strip your website to the bare necessities to deliver your reader the best mobile experience they can get. If they want to read your article, AMP will give ’em just your article in a basic design. If you want to check a certain product, AMP will strip the store to deliver a focused design. A bad thing? I think not. Every way you can help your visitor get a better experience, increases the chance of them coming back to your content / site. It might increase sales, because it’s so focused. Go read up on AMP and get your site ready. Again: plugins.

Tell Google what your page is about: Schema.org

I will end this list of quick SEO wins with something we have been telling you about quite often in the past year: add schema.org to your website. Structured data, like Open Graph and schema, create a convenient summary of your website for every other site that wants to use your content. Schema.org data is one of the main types of structured data. JSON-LD gives us a convenient way of adding it to our website. Our Local SEO plugin adds the right schema.org so that Google can add your company to Google Maps as well, for instance. Add schema.org data to your website and see your company in the knowledge graph as well.

Serving your content in the right format is essential to deliver it to other ‘places’ on the website. Be sure to use it. And if you are not sure what structured data you should use to optimize your pages, be sure to enroll in our Structured Data Training. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution? Good luck optimizing!

Read more: ‘Search and SEO in 2018’ »

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A couple of years ago, we did about 40 to 60 SEO audits a month. Although consultancy has not been in our product range for some time now, we do occasionally perform these audits, for instance when a friend asks us to have a quick look. An SEO audit like that is not as elaborate as the ones we used to present our clients, but do give a nice overall view of how your SEO is doing. In the coming three articles, I’ll give you a condensed overview of how to go about this yourself.

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Steps in the SEO audit

In this SEO audit, we’ll use our holistic SEO approach. That means we will address some content SEO issues, technical SEO issues and more. The entire website needs to be right for your SEO to be right. In the coming posts, we’ll go over these steps:

Part 1:

Part 2:

  • General SEO –> Tomorrow

Part 3:

  • Site speed –> Thursday
  • Engagement –> Thursday

User experience

The first things I do when reviewing a website is simply looking for low-hanging fruit. What are the obvious improvements? How can we make things easier for our readers?

Colors

Are the colors on the website appealing and do they match the brand? I like my websites to use a certain color scheme that keeps the focus on the content. So, headings should stand out as such, and it needs to be clear what links are. Contrast is an issue I’d check at this point as well.

Use of images and videos

Images and videos are great to present a product, direct visitors to the right spots on your pages or set a mood. In all cases, these should support the written message you have for the visitor. In your SEO audit, you should check if there is a nice balance between textual and visual information. I also have an opinion on sliders and video backgrounds, by the way. Note that a video background isn’t the same as adding a video to your text: the latter can be beneficial.

There is a fold

Yes, there is a fold and I would like to see your primary call-to-action and your central message (what is your added value for the visitor?) above it. If your primary call-to-action is much lower on the page, or just not there, I would fix this asap. Especially on your homepage, where your main goal is to direct people to the different sections of your website, it should be clear immediately where you want them to go.

Reassurance

Social proof, security signs and testimonials all contribute to a pleasant user experience. They will reassure the visitor of how well your products are, and how good your company is. They will tell the potential buyer that your website is safe and they can purchase without having to worry about security, for instance. Of course, this depends mainly on the type of website.

Content SEO

The basis of any SEO strategy is writing good content. You need a killer content SEO strategy. In the end, your content needs to answer any question a user ‘asks’ Google. Good content starts with keyword research, so the content part of your SEO audit starts there as well.

Keyword research

As you are doing this SEO audit yourself, there is a trap you might fall into. If you are renting holiday homes, but tend to call these cottages yourself, please consider what your visitor would be looking for first and check if your site is optimized for that. That’s a quick check that is very valuable. When you have determined the main keyword for your website, check if you have one main page to rank for that keyword. If so, check if you used any related keywords to optimize other pages as well. If you want to deep dive into keyword research, please check our ultimate guide to keyword research.

Site structure

The next thing I would check is site structure. Does it make sense, to begin with? Does the menu include the main pages of the website, and are these perhaps accessible from a footer menu and the homepage? Is there a sitemap that tells me more about the site structure, in XML or HTML?

We like to think of that site structure as a pyramid, in which the main articles are supported by other, pages that target, for instance, long tail keywords. This process, and more, is explained in our guide to site structure. Be sure to read that. After reading this article, it’ll be so much easier to understand and check your own site structure, and find things to improve.

Introductory content

Another quick and valuable check is a check for introductory content. Regardless of the type of site you have, there will be pages that have large collections of other content. Think along the lines of product categories, blog archives, landing pages of some kind. The important thing is to make clear to both your visitor and Google, what it is that this collection has in common. Usually, approximately 200 words will do as an introduction, if you want a guideline for your SEO audit.

Duplicate content

I’m not going to explain here why you don’t want duplicate content. Go read about that here. Bottom line is that you want to prevent it. A fast way to get at least some insight into your duplicate content is CopyScape. It will tell you were (snippets of) your content is found anywhere else on the web. I also like their SiteLiner product, which checks for internal duplicate content. Go try for yourselves.

Internal search

The one thing that annoys me the most on a website, especially on large ones, isn’t when Google directs me to the wrong page (fix that using cornerstone content, for instance), but when a website that’s over, say, 20 pages has no decent internal search option. People add that option, and forget to optimize the internal search result pages. It’s a common thing with WordPress sites, really. It’s improving, but you might need to give it some TLC on your own site. Just do an internal search on your site and see for yourself.

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Related posts and products

On your pages, for instance for blog articles, or product pages, is there an ‘escape’ to the next page available at the end of your main content? Do you direct people to the next page, if they decide not to buy yet, for instance? Just check if it’s there, if for instance your WooCommerce install provides this, or if your theme builder has an option for that. It provides a better user experience, will keep people on your page and creates valuable internal links in the process.

Coming up in part 2: General SEO

This concludes the UX and content SEO part of the SEO audit. Since combining all the parts of an audit in a single post would lead to a behemoth, we’ve split it in three parts. Tomorrow, we’ll publish part two of the SEO audit series in which we’ll dive deeper into the general SEO checks you should perform to determine the SEO quality of a website. See you tomorrow!

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

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“I just love those video backgrounds and we need them on our new website.” No, you don’t. “They are so engaging and set a friendly mood.” No, they don’t. “It’s an amazing new feature and it helps conversion.” No, it doesn’t. Besides that, the conversation is annoying me. Video backgrounds suck big time. Our good friend Karl Gilis of AGConsult said it perfectly: “Video backgrounds are the new sliders. They’re a distraction.” And just like sliders suck and should be banned from your website, so do video backgrounds.

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Why do you need that video background?

I dare to state that video backgrounds were invented by web agencies trying to convince customers of a particular design:

  • Hey, this will make you stand out!
  • Now this really sets a mood on your website, don’t you think?
  • Of course we can create that video for you at a mere x dollars extra
  • Video backgrounds will keep your visitors’ attention, so time on page goes up and that’s good for Google.

What!? You’re not maintaining that site for Google, but for your users. The second reason for video backgrounds is that we all have said at one point in time: well, that looks nice. We should have thought about it before saying that. Our customers have seen that video background as well and now they want it.

Video Backgrounds: you don't want one

This GIF file probably got your attention already, but background videos are worse, IMHO. I honestly can’t think of any additional benefit of that background video for your visitor.

Why video backgrounds suck

Think about it:

  • Video backgrounds increase loading time for a page (source: common sense).
  • They distract from the primary message/call-to-action on a page. Even if that button or whatever is bright orange and your design is monochrome, a video is distracting!
  • Video backgrounds usually use videos not hosted by you. But if it doesn’t load, you’ll get the blame anyway and your design will look like crap.
  • ‘Cover the entire screen with video and set white text on top of it as the homepage’ probably is a trend. Let’s all put an end to this trend.
  • Autoplay sucks, and how on earth would it be logical to have a start button for a background video!? A call-to-action for your background? C’mon!
  • Video backgrounds only might perhaps work on very specific landing pages in very specific niches, most of the times you’ll just hurt conversion #alwaysbetesting
  • The things that go for informative products videos do not apply to video backgrounds. It’s a different thing! Really! Sigh.
  • Why do you think successful sites on the web don’t use video backgrounds? Right!

Video backgrounds suck and should be banned from your website. Even with all the nice looking examples in this article: Dos and Don’ts for Using Background Videos on Your Website, I still think the don’ts outweigh the dos. And that post is two years old. How come we haven’t put an end to that trend yet?

And what about mobile data plans and such?

Yes! Now that we have established that you just don’t need that video background for any reason, think about how much data you will have left at the end of this month! You’ll be able to watch another episode of The Ranch while commuting.

No, seriously. On your mobile website, that video background simply makes even less sense. We talked about mobile UX in this post, and video backgrounds don’t fit in with recommendations like ‘tone it down’ and ‘optimize for speed’. It’s a bad idea. Period.

The world doesn’t need video backgrounds

We have to start somewhere to eliminate the evil that is video backgrounds. Heal the world, start at your own home. Convince your customer that there are little upsides to video backgrounds. Show them a dozen websites that either support your claims or that fail to convince the visitor to use a video background. And please, please stop recommending them. On behalf of the entire internet, I thank you.

Read more: ‘Sliders suck and should be banned from your website’ »

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Would you buy a product or service from a website that doesn’t look trustworthy? Probably not. So you understand how important it is to gain the trust of your visitors if you own a business. Adding testimonials to your site can help you with this. They give potential customers some idea of the experiences of others, and why whatever it is you’re offering them is so awesome. If you have some nice testimonials on your site, of course, you want to make sure people can find them. So, what’s the best way to do that?

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Ariette emailed us a question on this subject:

I have 30+ testimonials on my site and all of them are in separate posts. These testimonials don’t have content other than a few kind words from clients. Can I just add keywords like ‘realtor testimonial’ or ‘realtor review’ to every post?

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for my answer!

The best way to use testimonials on your site

“These testimonials are testimonials for something you’re selling, so you should add those testimonials to the pages that you’re selling those products on. Don’t have them on separate pages, but show them on the pages where you’re selling that individual product and then show a couple. Make them show a picture, make sure that they look genuine and real, but add them next to the product that you’re selling.

Having separate pages for reviews is hardly ever a good idea, unless they are reviews of books or something like that, where the review itself is a read-worthy piece. But don’t add reviews as a single post type on your site. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from our readers. Have an SEO-related question? Let us help you out! Send an email to ask@yoast.com.
(note: please check our blog and knowledge base first, the answer to your question may already be out there! For urgent questions, for example about our plugin not working properly, we’d like to refer you to our support page.)

Read more: ‘Testimonials: increase your visitor’s trust’ »

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At Yoast, we think SEO only works when you use a holistic approach. Just optimizing your page titles isn’t enough. It’s also about site speed and user experience (UX), and great content is obviously a huge part of it. In a holistic approach, SEO has a lot of “teammates” that have to work together. In this post, we’ll go into a number of areas where SEO and UX meet. Come to think of it, in a lot of ways, SEO simply targets the search engines and UX targets the visitor, both with a shared goal: to provide the best experience possible.

Learn how to write engaging copy and how to organize it well on your site: Combine our SEO copywriting and Site structure training. »

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Common page elements that influence both SEO and UX

If you just look at the basic elements on a page that influence your SEO, you’ll find a close relation between SEO and UX. I’ll list a few elements that are important for both SEO and UX below.

Page titles and (sub)headings

An optimized page title and related, visible <h1> element will tell Google what your page is about. That page title also informs the visitor what that page is about, already on Google’s result page. So does that <h1> element, obviously. Subheadings like <h2> help both Google and your visitors to scan a page and grasp the general idea of that page.

Read more: ‘How to use headings on your site’ »

External links

An external link in your content tells Google that you respect your sources. It can also increase the odds that your sources will link back to you in their content. For your users, external links will provide a way to access background information, for instance.

Great content

If you provide quality content, people want to link to you, and visitors want to read you. And stay on your pages to finish reading. These incoming links and the time-on-page is something Google will notice. Google could start to consider your content as the main source of information on a certain topic. Just like we are for WordPress SEO. Images and videos create rich content, which both Google and your users enjoy. All in all, it’s clear that there are many areas where SEO and UX meet, right there on your pages.

Keep reading: ‘The importance of quality content for SEO’ »

Site structure

When a visitor ends up on any one of your pages, you want to make sure they know where they are on your website. It should be clear to them that there’s more to explore on your site. If you initially fail to answer the user’s question in Google, at least be so polite as to direct them to it. You want to prevent that click back to the search result pages. That click back to the search result pages is called a bounce. And a high bounce rate can have a negative influence on your SEO. It indicates to Google that you may not be answering your visitors’ search query.

One way to prevent a bounce is to make sure your site structure is clearly reflected on your page. That has to do with an optimized menu, but I think even more with just making sure your website has a good structure. Do keyword research, and set up that site structure the right way. Take our site structure course for more in-depth information on that. Setting up the right site structure, means, for starters, that you make sure that your structure is clear from your breadcrumbs and, at least, reflected your menu. You can also think along the lines of related posts and products, for instance.

By building a nice, hierarchical site structure, you make sure that Google can efficiently crawl your pages and visitors can easily find what they are looking for. SEO and UX are naturally influenced by this.

Site speed

Yes, we also have to address site speed, again and again. It’s one of the things that heavily influences both SEO and UX. Google wants to spend only a certain amount of time each time it’s on your site to crawl it. Visitors don’t like waiting for your content to load. When an SEO recommends lazy loading of images, this improves the experience of both users and Google. If you defer parsing of JS and CSS files where possible, you make sure there is something to see on your page as soon as possible. Again, for both Google and the visitor. It’s not rocket science, right?

Read on: ‘Site speed: tools and suggestions’ »

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Mobile experience

What goes for site speed, goes for your mobile website as a whole. Yes, it should be fast, but it should also be well-designed and have a killer navigation, so users and Google can find what they are looking for in a heartbeat. That doesn’t involve cramming everything you have into your website menu. But it could mean that you have to think hard about your mobile homepage. Does it cover the main areas of your website, for your user? Does it set a mood and lure or invite your visitors, and any search engine, into the rest of the website as well?

Even button sizes on your mobile website could be of influence here. I’ve written a post a while back on mobile UX you should read. Every one of those recommendations influences mobile SEO as well, directly or indirectly. And feel free to ask Google’s opinion on your mobile website via their Mobile-friendliness test, for instance.

Conclusion: SEO and UX go hand in hand

As you can see, there are many areas where SEO and UX meet. When you keep in mind that Google is becoming more and more human, or at least mimics human behavior more accurately, it’s only logical to see all the overlap SEO and UX have, right?
I think it’s fair to say that almost all optimization you do for your users (UX) has a positive effect on your SEO. This applies the other way around as well: if you deliver a poor user experience, you might see this reflected in the search result pages! Obviously, the impact of that effect may differ from optimization to optimization. But SEO and UX are clearly a great match in our larger concept of holistic SEO!

Read more: ‘What is on-page SEO’ »

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In an ideal world, every single page of your website would be accessible from that one, site-wide website menu. But as you, as a web developer or website owner, undoubtedly know, the real world of websites is far from ideal. We struggle with multiple devices, fixed-width websites, themes that can hardly be changed without creating new problems, and so on and so forth. Nevertheless, the website menu is the most common aid for navigation on your website and you want to make the best possible use of it. Here, I’ll address a number of useful best practices that allow you to optimize your website menu for both your users and SEO.

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Website menus

First of all, I think we should forget the assumption that a website can only have one menu. I think we have become used to the small links in the upper bar on a website.

Website menu: greenday.com

Like so many other websites, Greenday.com has a first menu in the black bar, whereas the red bar also contains a number of links to internal or external pages. Social profiles, Apple Music and Spotify links, but also a newsletter subscription.

Website menu: Manhattan College

Manhattan College has a clear second menu leading to internal pages, aimed at specific audiences. It just goes to show that these extra menus are everywhere.

My point here? Don’t put everything in one menu. Doing that clutters your website and makes your main menu a poor reflection of your site structure. Focus on the most important content. For instance: I do like a ‘Contact’ link in a menu. But only add one if your main goal is that your visitors contact you. Otherwise, that link can be placed in a second website menu without a problem.

The downsides of too many links in your website menu

Too many links, anywhere on your page, isn’t recommended. Yes, Google may allow up to 250 links and perhaps even more on a page without any problems. But your website’s goal’s probably not to make sure your visitors can’t see the wood for the trees. We recommend against:

  • Tag clouds (what’s the use, really?)
  • Long lists of monthly links to your blog archive (don’t use date archives!)
  • Infinitely scrollable archive pages with links to articles (at least add excerpts and load more articles on scroll)
  • A hundred categories in a list (why so many!)
  • Menus with submenus and sub-submenus and so on

Why do we recommend against this? Having too many links on a page messes up your link value, for one. With so many links on a page, every link from that page is just a little less valuable for the page it links to. Besides that, it messes up the focus of your visitor. With every link, you add a diversion from the main goal of your website.

In my opinion, you do need to have a solid reason to add more than one submenu. And if you feel you need that extra level in your menu, monitor the number of clicks that menu gets and adjust if needed. I think you are much better off creating good landing pages for your submenu items, in many cases.

Read on: ‘How to clean up your site structure’ »

The perfect menu

Of course, there is no template for ‘the perfect menu’. Much of it depends on your site and on what your goals are. In any case, there are two important questions you should ask yourself when optimizing your menu:

  • What is the best menu structure for my site?
  • What menu items should at least be in my menu?

Two more tips we can give you is to use a drop-down menu for important sub items. And don’t add too many links to your menu, or they will lose their value. Do you have other tips for a good site menu? Let us know in the comments!

Read more: ‘The Ultimate guide to site structure’ »

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