This week, @stephsmith hosted a webinar about SEO. Here's a recap with the most important points, including best practices, tips and resources. Slides are available here.
SEO as Inspiration
- SEO is essential to build a long-term strategy. It takes time to learn but once you know how it works it’s efficient.
- The reason why Google is much better than other search engines is that they are amazing at giving you what you’re looking for / they manage to give you exactly what you’re looking for.
- Learning SEO = how to produce things that people want + how to create content that will serve people (come up with better topics, write better articles, etc.)
What Matters for SEO?
(Slide #3) Google doesn’t release its ranking algorithm and it changes all the time. Many ranking factors matter for a good SEO. Basically, Google is checking these 4 core competencies:
- Relevancy (relevant content that shows up for a certain search)
- Quality (quality content means less bounces)
- Credibility (backlinks, domain authority)
- Usability (time on site, page speed, responsiveness)
Search Intent: Classification
(Slide #4) An important point people often miss to understand about Google is search intent. Looking for keywords with high search volumes is not enough. Example: someone searches for ”fish”, are they looking for the definition of a fish, for different types of fish, for fish recipes, or to translate the word fish?
Most of the time, a specific search query will have a specific intent behind it:
- The user is looking for information
- The user is looking to navigate to somewhere in particular
- The user is looking to transact: to do something or to buy something
Which leads to 3 types of search keywords:
- Informational keywords (know keywords)
- Navigational keywords (go keywords)
- Transactional keywords (do keywords)
Whenever you look for a particular query or keyword, before actually using it, type it into Google to understand what people are actually searching for. It’s giving you clues on what Google is ranking there.
Search intent examples
(Slides #5-6) Example 1: People looking for “principled design” are actually looking for the company named Principled Design, it’s a navigational query. People looking for “design principles” are looking for information, it’s an informational query.
(Slides #7-9) Example 2: Search for “remote work”; Google is telling you that most of the time people are not looking for articles or a particular site but they are looking for a job. It’s a transactional query. People searching for “remote work tips” are looking for articles, tips; it’s an informational query. People searching for “remote ok” are looking for the company Remote OK, it’s a navigational query.
Listen to Google
- Identifying keywords is not just looking for high volume keywords, but identifying what search intent is behind them. Ranking results indicate intent.
- Keywords Everywhere is a powerful tool for that purpose.
Niche Keywords > Broader Keywords
- It’s much easier to get intent right with niche keywords.
- There is less competition.
- Exponential diminishing returns for rankings: it’s better to rank on the top 3 for many small keywords than to rank 10+ on many big keywords.
- You need to check the likelihood of being able to rank there = being realistic about where you can rank with the size of your site in its current state.
2) Questions & Answers
Is it a good idea to add links in my footer?
- Header and footer sections have a lot of link equity. You are signaling to Google what's important. That’s also why you often see header and footer sections as the site links under a search result.
- You should only have your most important sections in your header and footer. You should definitely be using a sitemap: telling Google how your site is structured and how you can navigate it.
Is there a checklist of things to consider before publishing a site (that Yoast wouldn't provide already)?
- Yoast is pretty comprehensive for technical SEO for a particular article. It gives you a good checklist. Example: for a particular article, I am making sure the primary keyword is in the h1?
- What Yoast misses is the process for selecting the primary keyword and intent. You can check all the points from Yoast’s checklist and not rank well because you didn’t choose the good primary keyword.
- Yoast also doesn’t provide guidance at a page or site-level. You need a sitemap, speedy site, and decent time on site. Yoast will not tell you these things.
Apart from alt text, what do I need to know about using images on a site?
- Make sure your images are not huge and not slowing down your site. Google uses page speed as a significant ranking factor.
- Make sure they are relevant and responsive. There are tools to mass test your site on desktop/mobile/tablet but also on different kinds of devices and different connection speeds, like Browser Stack, Browser shots, or the Google page inspector.
What are the SEO best practices?
- See introduction.
- Best practices are a mixture of writing decent content that people want, that serves a purpose. Do not write for ranking.
- Check the cheat sheets and ranking factors section at the bottom.
What does really matter for a good rank?
- There is a laundry list of things that Google takes into account. These are called ranking factors. People have tried to calculate which ones matter the most. There’s technical SEO and then non-technical SEO. For technical SEO, you want to just go through and find a checklist like this one. If you use Wordpress, there are tools like Yoast which do the same thing. But realistically Google is doing what? Trying to serve you the best information. It relies much more heavily now on machine learning and the use of on-page engagement metrics.
- Relevancy, credibility, quality of a page or website, usability (See introduction)
- In the beginning, to get your site ranking somewhere, get a couple of dozen backlinks. You can post on Hacker News for example. Buying links is not a recommended strategy, as Google can detect it.
- Google won’t show certain sites until they have enough credibility.
- Google is not seeing your design but your code, the content on your page, your sitemap, your links, etc.
Is loading speed affecting your rank, how to speed it up?
- Site speed matters a lot. You can compare your bounce rate and time on site to other sites of a similar nature. But don’t just take these metrics as only numbers. They’re indicators for how people are actually engaging with your site. If you want, you can use tools like Crazy Egg or Hotjar.
- To test speed directly, use a site like GTmetrix. Things to consider: not just full load time, but first response time.
Do you have some tips for relevant keywords?
- Use Keywords Everywhere or Keyword Planner. Use them to understand intent, search volume, related keywords.
- There are a lot of SEO tools out there, but people often forget that Google is the best place to learn about SEO because Google is telling you what it’s looking to rank and what people are looking for.
What are the basics of SEO for publishing an article on a personal website?
- Optimizing for a particular keyword. Make sure it has the right intent, make sure it’s within the range of search volume you think is appropriate for your site. Anything between 500 and 5k searches a month is good. After 10k you start to lose the intent and it’s more competitive.
- Keep in mind that if you are starting a new site, you won’t start ranking right away until you hit a certain DA (Domain Authority).
- Use Yoast or other tools for a simple checklist.
- Google did a massive change in its algorithm in 2015. Now it uses machine learning a lot to find out what’s the most relevant. It started to look for secondary keywords. That’s why you should look for associated keywords. Check for related queries and try to answer those questions in your article.
I would love to learn about the weight of cross-linking on ranking, especially what not to do (aggregator sites, etc.).
- Ahrefs is the best site to use to understand how links impact ranking. Again, buying links is not recommended. You can do it but it’s not very effective. Adding your site to a bunch of aggregator sites is not a great strategy either because often they are nofollow links. You can post on Hacker News because if you rank a lot of people will add your article/site to theirs.
- Getting a backlink on a site with a high domain authority is great.
- Many aggregator sites put nofollow links because they can’t validate the content. For example, when you publish something on Dribbble it will be a nofollow link. Nofollow links do basically nothing for you. What you want is follow links.
- You should internally link to your site. Careful: only link between pages that are relevant to one another; don’t link every page otherwise Google can’t parse that information effectively and you are diluting across your entire site.
What are some good SEO maintenance practices?
- Scan for dead links (both on your site and outbound links): remove or update these links.
- Regularly update any old content. Google checks for freshness.
- Ensure good site speed. Check this every few weeks.
What are the best resources to learn from that are updated regularly?
- Google itself. People often forget it but it’s the best resource.
- Moz, SEMRush, Ahrefs, Neil Patel
- Google has regular small updates and then core updates every couple of months. That’s why you want to diversify your content so that you’re not wiped out on a particular update.
- RankBrain in 2015 => Completely changed how Google was operating. Now using machine learning. Crushed many sites that were keyword stuffing and Google recognizes that.
After the launch of a site, I wish to know what are the recommendations to monitor and improve the site's performance. What tools should we use, what should we be checking, etc.?
- Google Search Console for sure, to monitor changes.
- GTmetrix to monitor your page speed.
- Ahrefs at a high level, from the outside, to see how your link profile and domain authority are changing over time, where is your traffic coming from, what keywords are you ranking on, etc.
I also would like to understand better the use of "nofollow/noindex" on links. Which is the best policy for internal and external links? How do they exactly affect the site's performance?
- Nofollow links do not pass PageRank. Therefore, using a nofollow link means that link won't pass PageRank (a Google-only measurement of the quantity and quality of links) to another page. This means, on the one hand, that Google cannot penalize you for linking to a site that's known to be a low-quality site.
- If you are curating your own content, I would opt for follow links. Something like Dribbble uses nofollow links because they cannot control all of the content being added to their site.
- Additional resource: Stop! Think twice before using nofollow on your website
- In general, a diversity of links from different DAs. Google can tell easily if you’re just purchasing links from high-domain authority sites, for example.
- You want to internally link relevant pages on your site. But don’t just link pages to link pages. You want to think about where you want your link equity going. You should have a site map so that Google can easily crawl your page.
I'm interested in SEO recommendations for multi-language sites. I've seen different approaches. Like using one language always like the canonical URL and the other languages as alternates. But Apple, for example, defines as canonical each language's site and includes the rest as alternates. I'm currently doing the latest, but it would be great to have some more input regarding the implications of these types of changes.
- Canonical tells Google what the original source of the content is so that Google can rank it above other duplicates.
- With languages, I would actually advise that the content lives on a different URL and you link to the original, but it should have its own URL, it’s own canonical, and it should be targeting a different keyword (a keyword in that language).
- Note: The canonical doesn’t guarantee that the page will rank about duplicates. It’s one input into the algorithm, but that’s why you sometimes see high DA sites like Medium ranking above your original, even if you have the canonical set.
About the user metrics: I’m running Facebook ads and I have a pretty good bounce rate. Does that affect the ranking in Google? Does Google just look whenever they put it in search or does it look at overall user metrics?
- Google is only measuring your bounce rate and user engagement for people going to your site through search.
- What people often do is create a different URL for that, so it’s completely segmented out. But that’s for reporting purposes, to be able to see the bounce rate for search versus Facebook ads.
Does the choice of CMS matter for the SEO? Or is it more about the practices?
- Google will not downgrade you if you use Wordpress, Ghost, or anything else.
- It matters from the perspective of page speed and other user metrics. For example, something like Ghost tends to be faster. So it matters from that perspective. What is important is how your CMS impacts your user experience.
You showed us earlier that Dribbble has nofollow links, but they also add a “noreferrer” tag. Do you know what’s the difference?
- “Noreferrer” is not important SEO wise, you don’t have to worry about it.
- There are many different types of tags.
- “Noreferrer” prevents passing the referrer information to the target website. So if Dribbble links to my blog I wouldn’t be able to see that Dribbble sent that traffic to my site. There are ways to monitor that traffic but it’s much harder.
- Additional resource: Links to cross-origin destinations are unsafe
3) Cheat Sheets and ranking factors
- 10 Crucial SEO Ranking Factors You Need to Know
- Top 10 Google Ranking Factors For 2020
- The 12 Most Prominent Google Ranking Factors
- The Ultimate Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet
- The Ultimate Guide to Google Ranking Factors in 2019
- Google’s Ranking Factors in 2020
Thanks again Steph for hosting this webinar! It was really helpful and valuable. 💙 You can follow her on Twitter and read her blog where she talks about remote work, continuous growth, and technology.
Super useful. Thank you for sharing 🙏