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Content and Ranking Factors for Google AI Search

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I’ve been considering ranking factors this year and asked several leading SEOs for a reality check (Real World Ranking Factors). The feedback I received confirmed the direction of my thoughts about ranking factors. Google’s algorithm has changed dramatically. While ranking factors still matter, content factors may be playing a larger role.

SEO Ranking Factors Evolve

Search engines evolve faster than the SEO industry. The SEO industry is in a constant state of catching up. A good example is the 2005 announcement of the role statistical analysis played in ranking (quality websites) and demoting (spam) websites.

Statistical Analysis – 2005

Statistical analysis was a major evolution in search engine algorithms. The ranking factors associated with SEO evolved along with it. Link ranking factors now focused on statistically relevant quantities of anchor text and so on. Quantity of links remained an important ranking factor.

Penguin Algorithm – 2012

The Penguin algorithm, which is arguably about Link Ranking, also took the SEO community by surprise. Nobody saw it coming. There were lots of guesses as to what it was.

It took several years before a plausible explanation backed by citations was published What is the Penguin Algorithm?

Link ranking algorithms was a milestone that changed how the SEO industry thought about ranking factors related to links. SEO was no longer about obtaining loads of links and loads of anchor text.  Ranking factors evolve in response to how search engines rank websites.

Ranking Factors for AI

Now we’re in an era where AI answers 30% of search queries. Search Engine Journal published the first article that discussed Neural Matching that named a specific research paper.  Google has been using AI in search for almost the entire year of 2018. It was only recently announced, months and months later.

So how does AI ranking affect ranking factors?

Reviewing these AI type algorithms, it’s clear that they tend to come into play after the ranking algorithm has already done it’s thing. So we’re safe in assuming that traditional type ranking factors like links and headings still play a role for weeding out spam and less relevant search results candidates.

The search engines rank websites for a search query in what’s called a Ranking Engine. After that the results are passed over to the Neural Matching algorithm to then choose a search result with factors other than traditional ranking factors. Links don’t play a role in this part of search ranking.

That’s a simplification of the process, of course. There are other algorithms in the ranking engine that introduce synonyms and stemming in order to broaden the amount of pages and not limit the results to pages that contain all the keywords.

What I think is key to keep in mind is that these AI based algorithms tend to work after the ranking algorithms have done their thing. And it’s at this point that traditional ranking factors like headings, title tags, alt attributes and links take on less importance.

AI Search Aspires to Answer Like a Human

When you look at a web page for an answer to a question, do you examine the title tag and the headings? Of course not. You look for your answer.

Google’s AI can be said to do the same thing.

In simple terms, AI can be said to have two functions:

  1. To precisely understand what a person really means when they type a search query
  2. To find a web page that precisely answers the real question hidden within any given search query

Just like a real person would, AI is not counting how many times a keyword appears on the page anymore. Nor is it looking for synonyms. It’s looking to answer a question, to solve a problem.

So, rather than focus exclusively on traditional ranking factors, it kind of makes sense to also think in terms of answers (even for eCommerce).

In eCommerce someone is looking to buy. So does it make sense to have informational content on that page? As always, check what Google is ranking for confirmation.

Content Factors for Ranking

Content Factors is where I’m headed to in this article. I am not advocating a move away from ranking factors. I am suggesting that it may be useful to add a deeper consideration of Content Factors to the mix of considerations for SEO.

Content Factors

  • Images are content.
  • Topic is content.
  • Search query meanings are the focus of content.

Images as Content

Carefully chosen images can influence the ranking of a web page and help it pop into featured snippets, in additon to ranking in Google image search.

Topic as Content

Outlining your topic is content in itself. It provides the focus for your web page. Lack of a focused topic is, in my opinion, a leading cause of an inability to rank. I conduct many site audits and this is something quite common to today’s search algorithm.

Inability to rank is not always about “page quality” and “being spammy.” Increasingly, what causes a site to rank less well, particularly for informational sites, is an issue with the page topic.

Search Query Meanings

We’re no longer in the Keyword Era. Keyword research is just the beginning. Understanding what users mean is the next evolution of SEO, which follows how search engines rank sites.

Ranking Factors can Support Content Factors

Ranking factor type elements tend to support the Content Type Factors. For example, a savvy publisher will select images that are directly relevant to the content. That’s a content factor consideration.

Here are examples of ranking related considerations:

  1. Content around the image is directly relevant to the image.
  2. Captions associated with the content informs Google about what the image is about.
  3. The URL of the image should ideally describe the image.

The first two aren’t generally considered ranking factors, but they do play a role. Although a descriptive URL can be considered a ranking factor, I tend to consider all three of those as content factors, along with the choice of the image itself. They all work together to tell what the image is about and the image itself works to influence what the meaning of the page is about.

The old way for SEO was like this:

Keyword Research > Add Keywords to Ranking Elements (anchor, headings, titles), leads to > Rankings

Let’s Examine Alt Attribute

The alt attribute is related to accessibility. The correct manner to use an alt attribute is to describe what the image is.

Here is what Google’s developers page recommends:

Images are an important component of most web pages, and are of course a particular sticking point for low-vision users. We must consider the role an image plays in a page to work out what type of text alternative it should have.

In the page we have a picture of a cat, illustrating an article on cats’ well-known judgmental behavior.

…You can use the alt attribute to provide a useful text alternative to this image — for example, “A cat staring menacingly off into space.”

Google does not recommend using your keywords in the alt attribute. Google recommends accurately describing what the image is.

For example, in a previous article about WordPress 5.0’s release date being in limbo, I used an image of children playing the game of limbo.

In the alt attribute I accurately described the image as:

Image of child symbolizing WordPress who is doing a limbo, a metaphor for the state of limbo.”

And it’s ranking in Google images, not necessarily just because of (or in spite of) the alt attribute:

A screenshot of an image search result, altered to show the keyword phrase used to produce the search resultThis is an example of how ranking factors and content factors work together to help Google understand what an image is for purpose of improving image search results.

This is why it’s so important to get your Content Factors right. The best case scenario is to use an image that is directly or indirectly related to what the page is about, even if it is a metaphorical connection.  Everything, the content factors and the ranking factors must work and support each other. In my opinion it’s best to avoid random choices! 

If the image is a building that symbolizes something, then the alt tag should describe it exactly in that manner. Doing so will help Google understand the image is and help it to rank the image in Google Image Search.

Google’s John Mueller affirmed on Twitter that the Alt attribute is helpful for Google:

Screenshot of a Google's John Mueller's tweet recommending the use of alt attribute to help an image rank in Google ImagesGoogle’s John Mueller advised that the Alt attribute was helpful for helping Google Image search rank an image. He did not recommend using the alt attribute for stuffing it with keywords. He merely said it was useful. Google’s recommendation is to use the alt attribute to accurately describe the content of the image.

Google has image algorithms that are precise enough to not only identify that there’s a dog in a photo but it can identify the breed of the dog.

Using the alt attribute in the manner it is recommended by Google will help that image rank better in Google Images and work together with the rest of the content to rank the web page.

This is what I mean about how traditional Ranking Factor type elements are not necessarily the cause of good rankings in themselves. That’s how it used to work in the past and in less competitive niches the old approach can still work.

But today, in my opinion, we have to consider content factors. Chief among those is identifying what Google believes a user means when they type a search query (content factors). Then work from there to outline the content and use the traditional ranking factors (headings, title, alt attributes) to support the content.

Content and Ranking Factors

When doing SEO for a search engine that uses AI for 30% of search queries, it takes more planning in order to rank. The simplistic idea that ranking elements are expressly for adding keywords seems anachronistic nowadays, especially considering that AI doesn’t care about keywords.

That’s why I feel it’s shortchanging someone to simply answer yes when someone asks if the alt attribute is a ranking factor. The best advice, in my opinion, is to say it’s more nuanced than adding keywords to a ranking element. It doesn’t take a scientist to realize this, just look at the search results (SERPs).

Images by Shutterstock, Modified by Author
Screenshots by Author, Modified by Author

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WordPress’ Parent Company Acquires Tumblr for Shockingly Low Sum

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WordPress’ Parent Company Acquires Tumblr for Shockingly Low Sum


Automattic Inc., owner of WordPress.com, has acquired Tumblr for what is reported to be very low sum.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Tumblr was acquired for an “undisclosed sum,” however, it was soon revealed the sum was “well below” $10 million.

Dan Primack, business editor at Axios, broke the news about the acquisition price. He tweeted an update after publishing the story, saying the sum is actually below $3 million.

To put this in perspective, Yahoo acquired Tumblr for $1.1 billion in 2013. Yahoo later wrote down Tumblr’s value by $230 million in 2016 after it failed to generate significant revenue.

In 2017, Verizon gained ownership of Tumblr through its acquisition of Yahoo. Now, Verizon is reportedly selling Tumblr for a fraction of what it was valued at 5 years ago.

Despite what is considered to be a low sum, the acquisition of Tumblr is largest ever for Automattic in terms of price and head count.

As part of the acquisition, Automattic will take on Tumblr’s 200 staffers, so no one will be losing their job.

Another thing that will stay in place is Tumblr’s controversial porn ban. Matt Mullenweg, chief executive of Automattic, tells WSJ: “We’re not going to change any of that.”

Going forward, Mullenweg says that executives will look for ways to share services and functionality between WordPress.com and Tumblr.

In the meantime it sounds as though there will be no immediate changes to either service.



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101 Easy (& Cheap) Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Website

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101 Easy (& Cheap) Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Website


In the modern-day landscape of saturated online content, it’s no longer enough to just build your site and wait for people to visit it.

You must be proactive at promoting your site and your brand online.

Admittedly, this is much easier said than done, especially because not everyone has the financial capability to throw into paid ad campaigns and corporate sponsorships.

The good news?

There are several things you can do to promote and drive traffic to your website, all without having to spend hundreds of dollars.

To help you do just that, here’s a list of 101 tactics you can try, grouped by strategy.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Link Building

1. Find the core keywords that match your website’s goals, your industry, and offering.

2. Optimize your website and all of your on-page content for search engines.

3. Focus on Google, but add peripheral search engines like Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo, to your list.

4. Claim your Google My Business listing.

Google My Business

5. Submit your site to online directories like Yelp, Annie’s List, and TripAdvisor, among others

6. Scour Q&A sites like Quora and look for relevant questions you can create content about.

7. Optimize content with relevant keywords, particularly long-tail keywords signaling intent

8. Get news websites to cover your business and link to your site.

9. Invest time in blogger outreach to see which influencers and industry thought leaders you can reach out and link to your site.

10. Join relevant online discussions on sites like Quora and Reddit.

11. Monitor Google Trends for keyword ideas and trending topics you can write about.

12. Write killer headlines that grab people’s attention and encourage them to click on your article links.

13. Link internally so other pages in your site get attention and a bump in traffic.

14. Make sure your website is optimized for mobile to increase your mobile search rankings.

15. Optimize your site for local search, that means including your city or state in your target keywords.

16. Consider using remarketing on Google Ads for brief periods to drive traffic and sales on your site.

17. Use HARO to look for opportunities to appear on roundups, similar to the one below.

Roundup Link Building

18. Optimize images on your website with alt tags to improve their discoverability on Google Images.

19. Optimize your meta descriptions and title tags so they’re easy to read and aren’t truncated in the search engine results pages.

20. Add your local address to the footer of every page on your site to make sure local searchers find you.

21. Improve your website’s page speeds by following Google’s guidelines and recommendations.

22. Use rich snippets to make your entry on the search engine results pages more clickable.

Content Marketing

23. Start a blog if you haven’t already.

24. Create content that’s useful, valuable, and shareable.

25. Create free and paid resources such as case studies, reports, survey findings, etc.

26. Look for guest posting opportunities to get high-authority blogs to link to your site.

27. Create infographics that feature a roundup of industry statistics to increase their likelihood of going viral.

28. Start a regular content series, such as “Did You Know?” or a “Tip of the Day” that your audience can look forward to.

29. Update your blog regularly to get a boost in rankings and traffic.

30. Interview industry leaders and feature the conversation on your blog or YouTube channel.

31. Host a webinar or podcast about topics you’re passionate about and align with your business.

32. Create e-brochures that your audience can share, with links to your site and blog.

33. Invest in video content and upload your videos to YouTube.

The State of Video Marketing in 2019 [New Data]

34. Write an online/offline column for your local paper, magazine, or community website.

35. Create a press kit you can share with influencers, bloggers, and even other businesses.

36. Comment on other blogs relevant to your industry.

37. Launch a free ebook to generate interest in your brand. Offer it as a free download for users who sign up for your newsletter.

38. Start a blog on Tumblr. This is a great content platform, especially if you have a young audience.

39. Have a healthy mix of evergreen content and trending content to increase your website’s discoverability, particularly on search engines.

Social Media

40. Promote your content on social media channels.

41. Obviously, you want to go big on Facebook. Create a page there if you haven’t already.

42. Join discussions on Facebook Groups to generate visibility.

43. Leverage social media contests on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to drive traffic to your website.

44. If it’s relevant to your audience, create an online presence on Snapchat and Pinterest.

45. Use Pinterest to upload high-quality images of your products.

46. Use relevant trending hashtags on Twitter to drive users to your site.

47. Try promoted tweets to fast-track traffic to your site.

48. Start an Instagram account and make sure your bio is filled features your website URL.

49. Use Facebook and Instagram Stories to engage your audience and raise brand awareness.

50. Let your employees control your Stories for a day. This will encourage them to share your social media account (and website) with their personal network.

51. Start an official YouTube channel. Use it to share videos of your brand, your products, and services.

52. Use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram ads at short bursts to boost traffic to your site.

53. Leave comments on other social media pages.

54. Link your official social media channels with one another. Make sure all pages/profiles have a URL to your website.

55. Take advantage of Facebook and Instagram’s live streaming platforms. This will give you a chance to show your brand’s personality and encourage website visits.

56. If you serve a B2B market, double down on LinkedIn. According to a report, 63% of marketers rated LinkedIn as the most effective B2B social media platform.

Top B2B Social Media Platforms

57. Use SlideShare to create your own high-quality slideshows. Optimize your slideshow for keywords and add your website URL to the final or beginning slide.

Offline Marketing

58. Participate in events and talk about the event experience in your blog.

59. Collaborate with local academic institutions to get your brand’s name out in the world of academia.

60. Look for public speaking engagements in your industry.

61. Add QR codes to your print collateral (e.g., posters, post cards, flyers) to drive people to your site.

62. Design beautiful business cards and add a QR code directing people to your site, lead form, or social platforms.

63. Support local organizations to ensure your community knows your brand and site.

64. Place stickers and/or decals on your personal or company cars to promote your website.

65. If you have the budget, pay for local ad placements in your newspaper, benches, sporting events.

66. Organize events such as concerts, poetry nights, garage sales, flea markets, and workshops.

67. Make sure your website URL is visible on company merchandise.

68. Send direct mail and place your URL on letters.

69. Include your website URL on company uniforms

70. Look for free press release opportunities on magazines and newspapers

71. Add your website URL to office signs.

72. Join networking events in your city or out of state.

73. Take advantage of classified ads in your local paper.

74. Support a local charity by sponsoring a fun run or donating part of your proceeds to a cause.

75. Contact your local news station to submit yourself as an expert in your field or industry resource.

76. Join your local Chamber of Commerce or other business groups.

77. Appear on a local radio program as a resource guest, which will let you promote your site as well.

Sales Promotions

78. Entice customers with an exclusive deal that can be redeemed on your store. According to one study, 57% of shoppers are motivated by coupons to make first-time purchases.

79. Offer free gifts to in-store customers and add material to promote your site.

80. Start a loyalty program requiring users to fill out a form on your website.

81. Offer freebies that can be redeemed on your site after shoppers make in-store purchases.

82. Start a referral network and encourage users to refer your website to their friends in exchange for discounts/deals.

83. Send thank you cards or emails to your in-store customers, placing a URL to your site.

84. Take advantage of seasonal offers (e.g., Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween) to increase your likelihood of being found during these occasions.

General Marketing

85. Remember to market your website across all online channels you own — social media, newsletter, blog.

86. Create an official email signature with your website in it (and most recent blog post if applicable).

87. Don’t neglect email marketing. Start a newsletter and incentivize signups with offers and discounts.

88. Encourage customers to leave reviews on your social media pages and website.

89. Take advantage of user-generated content through contests or competitions. Have users submit entries to your website.

90. If your website has been around for a while, consider a redesign to drum up interest when relaunching it.

91. Add social buttons to your blog content and landing pages to make sharing easy.

92. When looking for influencers, look for those who are relevant to your brand and have an engaged audience. The number of followers isn’t a reliable metric for an influencer’s influence.

93. Educate your audience instead of selling to them.

94. Talk and listen to your customers about what they want from your brand. Use this information to improve products and/or create content.

95. Sell yourself and your site wherever you go. You are your greatest ambassador.

96. Use strong calls-to-action in your social media posts and blog content to drive audiences to your website.

97. Look for opportunities to appear on other people’s podcasts or webinars.

98. Make sure your website looks great on all devices to maximize its discoverability.

99. Make sure your internal stakeholders are encouraged to spread the word about your brand and website.

100. Pay attention to what your competitors are doing on their website and do something they aren’t so you stand out.

101. Want visits? Ask for them online and offline from the people you meet every day.

Over to You

This list of tactics only scratches the surface of what you can do to promote your website.

Nevertheless, these tricks should get you off to a good start.

More Resources:


Image Credits

Screenshots taken by author, August 2019
In-post Image #1: HubSpot
In-post Image #2: Content Marketing Institute



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10 Best Readability Tools to Check Your SEO Content

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10 Best Readability Tools to Check Your SEO Content


Content strategy is a science and every detail matters.

Those details include:

  • The reading level of the content.
  • Word count (especially in relation to top-ranking content).
  • Format and correct use of subheaders.
  • Keyword distribution.
  • Use of phrases related to the keyword.
  • Grammar.
  • Sentence structure.

In fact, details like these can mean the difference between a No. 1 ranking (or answer box!) vs. content that doesn’t even make it on Page 1 of the search results.

Competitive content writers will use every tool at their disposal as they create content.

That’s why we’ve rounded up the 10 best content writing tools for SEO that specifically help you improve readability.

Add your keyword phrase (and related keywords if you like), and the SEO Writing Assistant will give you an aggregate score based on factors including:

  • Readability
  • Number of hard-to-read sentences
  • Long words
  • Word count and reading time (compared to top-ranking content)
  • Tone of voice

Notably, with the SEO Writing Assistant is the one tool on this list where you can set the preferred readability level you’d like your content to have.

You can customize the tone of voice you’d like your content to have, ranging from casual to formal, and check whether any content in the document is plagiarized.

It will also show related questions you should consider posing/answering within the content.

Personally, my favorite aspect of the SEO Writing Assistant is the recommended keywords – the tool will automatically show about 20 phrases that are present in the top-ranking comment.

Yoast is a free WordPress plugin that many digital marketers use to check the basic SEO of their content, but it can also give you a content readability score.

Within the content readability score, you’ll find a report that breaks down:

  • Flesch reading ease
  • Use of passive voice vs. active voice
  • Subheading distribution
  • Variety of sentence structure
  • Paragraph length
  • Sentence length
  • Use of transition words

Like most of the tools on this list, the Content Experience provides scores pertaining to your content’s word count, sentence structure, keyword coverage, phrase repetition, etc. based on your keyword target.

This is one of the more robust content marketing tools on this list, and provides insights into user intent, keyword selection, and even the best time of year to publish a piece of content.

As the name suggests, the Readability Tool focuses primarily on the readability of your content.

You can input content you’re working on directly into the tool, or you can use a URL for content that already exits (yours or your competitors).

The report will give not one but six readability scores, including:

  • Flesch reading ease.
  • Flesch-Kincaid grade level.
  • Gunning Fog Score.
  • SMOG Index.
  • Coleman-Liau Index score.
  • The Automated Readability Index score.

It will also show you:

  • The number of sentences
  • Number of words
  • Number of complex words
  • Percent of complex words
  • Average words per sentence
  • Average syllables per word

With the Text Optimizer, you can pop in a webpage and this content readability tool will check the health of your content.

If you’re new to SEO or content strategy, this is a good tool to start with, given that no technical knowledge is required to wield this tool and create great content.

In addition to assessing your content’s word count, sentence length and verb use, this tool will give you suggestions of words to add to your content and words to remove from your content to increase your potential to rank.

According to Text Optimizer, 70% of their users achieve better SEO rankings within five weeks after using the tool.

This content readability tool focuses solely on reading level and gives your content a readability score based on

Not only will it give your entire content a score, but it will also score your content’s individual content.

If writing is not your strong suit, Grammarly is a game-changer.

This tool focuses on the mechanics of writing rather than the science of SEO content – nonetheless, it’s incredibly valuable and belongs on this list.

Poorly written content equates to poor user experience (and high-quality content should be written with the search engines and the user in mind).

Grammarly will address issues in grammar and spelling, but also in tone and structure.

It will flag overly complex sentences and keep an eye out for clarity and conciseness.

You can also set a goal for the content your writing so Grammarly can tailor its recommendations to your project.

Goals are aligned by the type of your content.

You can choose from academic, business, technical, creative, and casual. For most web content, you’ll probably want to choose business.

When working on a piece of business content, Grammarly will flag any use of the passive voice and misuse of pronouns, but allow for some use of informality.

Not only can you use Grammarly for blog posts, site content, and articles, but you can also use it for emails, messages, and social media posts.

Similarly, the free Hemingway app helps you improve the mechanics of your writing.

Copy your content into Hemingway’s desktop app and it will show:

  • The readability of your content by grade level
  • Opportunities to use more concise language
  • Overuse of adverbs
  • Use of passive voice
  • Sentences that are hard to read
  • Places where a simpler phrase could be used
  • Word count and character count
  • The average length of time to read the content

Sometimes content readability isn’t an issue of keyword distribution or poor grammar.

Sometimes, you just may have wild, out-of-hand formatting that needs to be dealt with.

As the name suggests, Bulk SEO Tools will help you take care of formatting issues (that impact readability) in bulk.

Let’s say, for example, your entire text or large portions of your text are in all uppercase.

You can input that text into Bulk SEO Tool’s case converter and switch the case to sentence case, capitalized case, lower case, title case, etc.

Bulk SEO Tools also has text tools to quickly remove any duplicate lines, add or remove line breaks, and even add prefixes or suffixes if you’re working with a list.

You know what else can hurt readability (at least from a user perspective)?

Clichés.

No one likes a cliché – they’ll make your writing seem contrived and contrite.

This free tool will highlight any clichés in your text in red so you can swap that out for a sentence that’s more meaningful.

More Resources:



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