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The state of tracking and data privacy in 2020

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January 2020 felt like a turning point. CCPA went into effect, Google Chrome became the latest browser to commit to a cookie-less future and, after months of analytics folks sounding the alarm, digital marketers sobered to a vision of the future that looks quite different than today.

This article is not a complete history of consumer privacy nor a technical thesis on web tracking, although I link to a few good ones in the following paragraphs.

Instead, this is the state of affairs in our industry, an assessment of where search marketers find themselves in the current entanglement of data and privacy and where we can expect it to go from here.

This is also a call to action. It’s far from hyperbole to suggest that the future of digital and search marketing will be greatly defined by the actions and inactions of this current calendar year.

Why is 2020 so important? Let’s assume with some confidence that your company or clients find the following elements valuable, and review how they could be affected as the associated trends unfold this year.

  1. Channel attribution will stumble as tracking limitations break measurability and show artificial performance fluctuations.
  1. Campaign efficiency will lose clarity as retargeting efficacy diminishes and audience alignment blurs.
  1. Customer experience will falter as marketers lose control of frequency capping and creative sequencing.

Despite the setbacks, it is not my intention to imply that improved regulation is a misstep for the consumers or companies we serve. Marketing is at its best when all of its stakeholders benefit and at its worst when an imbalance erodes mutual value and trust. But the inevitable path ahead, regardless of the destination, promises to be long and uncomfortable unless marketers are educated and contribute to the conversation.

That means the first step is understanding the basics.

A brief technical history of web tracking (for the generalist)

Search marketers know more than most about web tracking. We know enough to set people straight at dinner parties — “No, your Wear OS watch is not spying on you” — and follow along at conferences like SMX when a speaker references the potentially morbid future of data management platforms. Yet most of us would not feel confident in front of a whiteboard explaining how cookies store data or advising our board of directors on CCPA compliance.

That’s okay. We’ve got other superpowers, nice shiny ones that have their own merit. Yet the events unfolding in 2020 will define our role as marketers and our value to consumers. We find ourselves in the middle of a privacy debate, and we should feel equipped to participate in it with a grasp of the key concepts.

What is the cookie?

A cookie stores information that is passed between browser and server to provide consistency as users navigate pages and sites. Consistency is an operative word. For example, that consistency can benefit consumers, like the common shopping cart example.

Online shoppers add a product to the cart and, as they navigate the site, the product stays in the shopping cart. They can even jump to a competitor site to price compare and, when they return, the product is still in the shopping cart. That consistency makes it easier for them to shop, navigate an authenticated portion of a site, and exist a modern multi-browser, multi-device digital world.

Consistency can also benefit marketers. Can you imagine what would happen to conversion rates if users had to authenticate several times per visit? The pace of online shopping would grind to a crawl, Amazon would self combust, and Blockbuster video would rise like a phoenix.

But that consistency can violate trust.

Some cookies are removed when you close your browser. Others can accrue data over months or years, aggregating information across many sites, sessions, purchases and content consumption. The differences between cookie types can be subtle while the implications are substantial.

Comparing first- and third-party cookies

It is important for marketers to understand that first- and third-party cookies are written, read and stored in the same way. Simo Ahava does a superb job expanding on this concept in his open-source project that is absolutely recommended reading. Here’s a snippet.

It’s common in the parlance of the web to talk about first-party cookies and third-party cookies. This is a bit of a misnomer. Cookies are pieces of information that are stored on the user’s computer. There is no distinction between first-party and third-party in how these cookies are classified and stored on the computer. What matters is the context of the access.

The difference is the top-level domain that the cookie references. A first-party cookie references and interacts with the one domain and its subdomains.

  • searchengineland.com
  • searchengineland.com/staff
  • events.searchengineland.com

A third-party cookie references and interacts with multiple domains.

  • searchengineland.com
  • events.marketingland.com
  • garberson.org/images

Marketing Land has a helpful explainer, aptly called WTF is a cookie, anyway? If you’re more of a visual learner, here is a super simplistic explanation of cookies from The Guardian. Both are from 2014 so not current but the basics are still the basics.

Other important web tracking concepts

Persistent cookies and session cookies refer to duration. Session cookies expire at the end of the session when the browser closes. Persistent cookies do not. Data duration will prove to be an important concept in the regulation sections.

Cookies are not the only way to track consumers online. Fingerprinting, which uses the dozens of browser and device settings as unique identifiers, has gotten a lot of attention from platform providers, including a foreshadowed assault in Google’s Privacy Sandbox announcement.

Privacy Sandbox is Google’s attempt at setting a new standard for targeted advertising with an emphasis on user privacy. In other words, Google’s ad products and Chrome browser hope to maintain agreeable levels of privacy without the aggressive first-party cookie limitations displayed by other leading browsers like Safari and Firefox.

Storage is a broad concept. Often it applies to cookie storage, and how browsers can restrict the storage of cookies, but there are other ways to store information. LocalStorage uses Javascript to store information in browsers. It appeared that alternate storage approaches offered hope for web analysts and marketers affected by cookie loss until recent browser updates made those tactics instantly antiquated.

Drivers: How we got here

It would be convenient if we could start this story with one event, like a first domino to fall, that changed the course of modern data privacy and contributed to the world we see in 2020. For example, if you ask a historian about WWI, many would point to a day in Sarajevo. One minute Ol’ Archduke Ferdinand was enjoying some sun in his convertible, the next minute his day took a turn for the worse. It is hard to find that with tracking and data privacy.

Facebook’s path to monetization certainly played a part. In the face of market skepticism about the social media business model, Facebook found a path to payday by opening the data floodgates.

While unfair to give Facebook all the credit or blame, the company certainly supported the narrative that data became the new oil. An iconic Economist article drew several parallels to oil, including the consolidated, oligopolistic tendencies of former oil giants.

“The giants’ surveillance systems span the entire economy: Google can see what people search for, Facebook what they share, Amazon what they buy,” the Economist wrote. “They own app stores and operating systems, and rent out computing power…”

That consolidation of data contributed to an increase in the frequency and impact of data leaks and breaches. Like fish in a bucket, nefarious actors knew where to look to reap the biggest rewards on their hacking efforts.

It was a matter of time until corporate entities attempted to walk the blurring line of legality, introducing a new weaponization of data that occurred outside of the deepest, darkest bowels of the internet.

Enter Cambridge Analytica. Two words that changed the way every web analyst introduced themselves to strangers. “I do analytics but, you know, not in, like, a creepy way.”

Cambridge Analytica, the defunct data-mining firm entwined in political scandal, shed a frightening light on the granularity and unchecked accessibility of platform data. Investigative reporting revealed to citizens around the world that their information could not only be used by advertising campaigns to sell widgets, but also by political campaigns to sell elections. For the first time in many homes, the effects of modern data privacy became tangible and personal.

Outcomes: Where we are today

The state of data privacy in 2020 can perhaps best be understood by framing it in terms of drivers and destinations. Consumer drivers, like those mentioned in the previous section, created reactions from stakeholders. Some micro-level outcomes, like actions taken by individual consumers, were predictable.

For example, the #deletefacebook hashtag first trended after the Cambridge Analytica story broke and surveys found that three-quarters of Americans tightened their Facebook privacy settings or deleted the app on their phone.

The largest outcomes are arguably happening at macro levels, where one (re-)action affects millions or hundreds of millions of people. We have seen some of that from consumers with the adoption of ad blockers. For publishers and companies that live and die with the ad impression, losing a quarter of your ad inventory due to ad blockers was, and still is, devastating.

Political Outcomes

Only weeks after Cambridge Analytica found its infamy in the headlines, the European Union adopted GDPR to enhance and defend privacy standards for its citizens, forcing digital privacy discussions into both living rooms and board rooms around the world.

Let’s use the following Google Trends chart for “data privacy” in the United States to dive deeper into five key outcomes.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has handed out more than €114 million in fines to companies doing business in the EU since becoming enforceable in May 2018. It’s been called “Protection + Teeth” in that the law provides a variety of data protection and privacy rights to EU citizens while allowing fine enforcement of up to €20 million or 4 percent of revenue, whichever hurts violators the most.

Months later, the United States welcomed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which went into effect in January 2020 — becoming enforceable in July. Similar to GDPR, a central theme is transparency, in that Californians have the right to understand which data is collected and how that data is shared or sold to third parties.

CCPA is interesting for a few reasons. California is material. The state represents a double-digit share of both the US population and gross domestic product. It is also not the first time that California’s novel digital privacy legislation influenced a nation-wide model. The state introduced the first data breach notification laws in 2003, and other states quickly followed.

California is not alone with CCPA, either. Two dozen US state governments have introduced bills around digital tracking and data privacy, with at least a dozen pending legislation. That includes Nevada’s SB220 which became enacted and enforceable within a matter of months in 2019.

Corporate Outcomes

Corporate responses have come in many forms, from ad blockers I mentioned to platform privacy updates to the dissolution of ad-tech providers. I will address some of these stories and trends in the following section, but, for now, let’s focus on the actions of one technology that promises to trigger exponential effects on search marketing: web browsers.

The Safari browser introduced Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) in 2017 to algorithmically limit cross-site tracking. Let’s pause to dissect the last few words in that sentence.

  • Algorithmically = automated decisions that prioritize scale over discernment
  • Limit = block immediately or after a short duration
  • Cross-site tracking = first- and third-party cookies

ITP 1.0 was only the beginning. From there, the following iterations tightened cookie duration, storage, and the role of first-party cookies for web analytics. Abigail Matchett explains the implications for users of Google Analytics.

“All client-side cookies (including first-party trusted cookies such as Google Analytics) were capped to seven days of storage. This may seem like a brief window as many users do not visit a website each week. However, with ITP 2.2 and ITP 2.3… all client-side cookies are now capped to 24-hours of storage for Safari users… This means that if a user visits your site on Monday, and returns on Wednesday, they will be granted a new _ga cookie by default.”

You are beginning to see why this is a big deal. Whether intended or not, these actions reinforce the use of quantitative metrics rather than quality measures by obstructing attribution. There is far more than can be said on ITP so if you are ready for a weekend read, I recommend this thorough technical assessment of the ITP 2.1 effects on analytics.

If ITP got marketer’s attention, Google reinforced it by announcing that Chrome would stop supporting third-party cookies in two years, codifying for marketers that cookie loss was not a can to be kicked down the road.

“Cookies have always been unreliable,” Simo Ahava told me. “To be blind-sided by the recent changes in web browsers means you haven’t been looking at data critically before. We are entering a post-cookie world of web analytics.”

Where it goes from here

The state of tracking and data privacy can take several paths from here. I outline a few of the most plausible then ask others in the analytics and digital space to offer their insights and recommendations.

2020 Path A: Lack of clarity leads to little change from search marketers

This outcome seemed like a real possibility in the first week of January as California enacted CCPA while enforcement deadlines got delayed. It was not yet clear what enforcement would look like later in the year and it appeared, despite big promises, that tomorrow would look a lot like today.

This path looked less likely after the second week of January. That leads us to the next section.

2020 Path B: Compounding tracking limitations keep marketers on their heels

Already in 2020 we have seen CCPA take effect, Chrome put cookies on notice, stocks for companies that rely on third-party cookies tumble, and the sacrifice of data providers that threatened consumer trust.

And that’s just January.

2020 Path C: Correction as consumer fear eases in response to industry action

The backlash to tracking and privacy is a reaction to imbalance. Consumers are protecting their data, politicians are protecting their constituents, and platforms are protecting their profits. As difficult as it is to see from our vantage point today, it’s most likely that these imbalances will normalize as stakeholders feel safe. The question is how long it will take and how many counter adjustments are required in the wake of over or under correcting.

As digital marketers, who in some ways represent both the consumers with whom we identify and the platforms with whom we depend, are in a unique position to expedite the correction and return to balance.

Finally, I would like to congratulate Simon Poulton on the birth of his first child, Matthew. We started writing this article together then someone wonderful decided to show up early. We all look forward to seeing you again at SMX someday soon. Congrats, Simon.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Andrew Garberson is SVP of Marketing Services at Bounteous, an agency that creates big-picture digital solutions that help leading companies deliver transformational brand experiences. In addition to leading SEO, SEM, CRO, media, marketing automation and email teams at Bounteous, Andrew is an adjunct professor of digital marketing at Chatham University and frequent conference speaker at SMX and other leading industry events.



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SEO

The Top 10 Best Fort Lauderdale SEO Companies

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Are you looking for the best Fort Lauderdale SEO companies?

If you’re looking to boost sales and improve rankings in search engines, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together a handy list of the top 10 SEO agencies in Fort Lauderdale using an unbiased, transparent scoring system to help you choose the right company.

FREE Download: Make sure you work with the best SEO services providers on the planet when you download our free SEO company vetting checklist.

Top 10 SEO companies in Fort Lauderdale, FL

  1. Paperstreet Web Design (27 points)
  2. SEO Smooth (22 points)
  3. Scott Keever SEO (22 points)
  4. Velocity SEO (20 points)
  5. Search Eclipse SEO (20 points)
  6. Ambition Insight (19 points)
  7. Digital Age Internet Marketing (19 points)
  8. Savage Global Marketing (18 points)
  9. BlueRavenStudios (17 points)
  10. Clifton Design Group (16 points)

Paperstreet Web Design

Established in 2001, Paperstreet Web Design specializes in law firm SEO solutions, web design, search engine marketing campaigns, content marketing, brand awareness, and inbound marketing. In the last 20 years, Paperstreet’s web developers have produced more than 1,500 custom-designed websites for law practices in South Florida, including Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Palm Beach, Coral Springs, and beyond.

Paperstreet SEO firm provides marketing and SEO solutions for legal business owners, from practices with a single attorney to firms with over 100 lawyers, providing a raft of digital marketing services including inbound marketing, web design, SEO, content writing, video production, and PPC. In the last 3 years alone, the Paperstreet team has won over 70 awards, and in 2020, the firm scooped 6 of the 10 Lawyerist awards on offer. It’s also worth noting that web design services are available for other businesses, including retail sites, consultants, and universities.

Paperstreet Web Design SEO company deserves the top spot based on high domain ratings, user reviews, and search engines traffic streams. Over 1,500 business owners in Fort Lauderdale have already benefited from working with Paperstreet, and with 5-star ratings, this trend continues to grow. If you are looking to enhance your brand within the legal sector, Paperstreet offers free consultations on how to improve your search engine rankings before you commit to an SEO campaign.

SEO Smooth

SEO Smooth is a recipient of the second-place spot on our list of the top 10 Fort Lauderdale SEO services and advertising agencies for 2020. Serving clients across South Florida, this Fort Lauderdale SEO company offers a comprehensive range of digital marketing services designed to increase sales and garner attention online.

The SEO Smooth service list represents tested online marketing solutions & SEO strategy, including local SEO, link building, market research, pay per click advertising, content creation, social media and influencer marketing, and email marketing.

SEO Smooth prides itself on making digital marketing easy providing tailored bundles and SEO packages to fulfill businesses’ SEO needs. This internet marketing company generates leads that convert into sales to help boost your internet presence. The clients’ results speak for themselves and highlight the benefits of investing in digital marketing services. One example is The Skin Saint, which enjoyed a 33% increase in repeat revenue and an 80% reduction in ad spend.

Free consultations are available for new customers.

Scott Keever SEO

Based in the heart of Fort Lauderdale, Scott Keever SEO offers internet marketing services, website design, branding, and SEO with monthly plans starting at $1,000.

This search engine marketing company in Fort Lauderdale works with clients across several sectors and the company prides itself on offering personalized customer service, and make sure to achieve search engine results. On average, client visibility increases by over 100% and the agency boasts more than 100 pages 1 Google ranked sites. This company also has a 97% client retention rate, suggesting that the vast majority of customers are happy with the service they receive.

Scott’s company in Fort Lauderdale starts drawing up strategies based on data and evaluation of results, providing free website analysis for new customers. The aim is to address issues, identify solutions, and modify the site to increase traffic, engage with customers, and improve ROI. Free quotes and consultations are also available.

This South Florida digital marketing agency was founded by Scott Keever, who wanted to use his online marketing expertise and the insights gained from working at large-scale marketing corporations to provide a personal touch.

Velocity SEO

From the moment clients catch a glimpse of the Velocity SEO homepage, they will notice that this is an award-winning SEO agency with a difference. Velocity is an Internet marketing company, which isn’t afraid to make bold statements or promises. This agency offers business owners page 1 ranking search engine optimization or money back.

Unlike many SEO companies, this company in Fort Lauderdale doesn’t offer contracts, and it prides itself on delivering personalized search marketing services, which are tailored to suit individual business needs and objectives. The goal is to provide affordable marketing techniques that work.

This award-winning SEO company in Fort Lauderdale offers SEO services for businesses in South Florida and beyond, including website design, pay per click, SEO, social media, copywriting, graphic design, and website hosting. Clients can pick and choose which services they want to use to drive their business forward. The team has combined experience of over 40 years and Velocity has completed more than 1,270 projects in Fort Lauderdale, Coral Springs, Boca Raton, and beyond winning multiple awards along the way.

Customers can get a free consultation and an online SEO proposal that is available within 30 minutes via an inquiry form.

Search Eclipse SEO company in South Florida offers premium digital marketing services for all your marketing needs in Fort Lauderdale and Plantation, South Florida. Focusing on web pages SEO, web design, social media marketing, and reputation management, the marketing company has established an excellent reputation based on levels of service and customer ratings.

Search Eclipse SEO founder, Jorge Lafosse, is keen to ensure that clients understand that this agency is different from many others. Unlike some companies, work is undertaken in-house by a team of dedicated experts.

Using innovation combined with experience and data-driven insights, the Search Eclipse SEO consultants strive to ensure businesses get the marketing solutions they deserve. Over several years, a full-service digital marketing agency has worked to create a strong network of reputable news sites and marketing methods to improve the quality and reach of links and enable companies to gain access to sites that have global audiences.

Search Eclipse works with established businesses with a monthly spend of over $4,000 that are looking to boost revenues, rather than startups.

Ambition Insight

Ambition Insight SEO company offers a diverse range of services, providing Fort Lauderdale businesses with access to expert support and advice at every stage from local search results strategy conception to web development, implementation, and management. Unlike some SEO agencies in South Florida, Ambition Insight specializes in WordPress site content creation, graphic design, branding, and Shopify e-commerce, as well as search engine optimization.

Established in 2007 by Brett Napoli, Ambition SEO company builds effective, impactful websites and delivers targeted digital marketing campaigns to increase traffic and sales. In addition to web development and marketing expertise, this company also provides web training, consulting services, and tuition in social media marketing and search engine marketing. This is a one-stop-shop for businesses looking to expand their reach, develop employee skills, and build stronger relationships with customers. Brett also speaks about online marketing and branding at conferences, networking events, and seminars and is known for his charisma and passion for the subject matter.

Clients rate Ambition Insight highly, and the firm has 5-star Google, Yelp, and Facebook ratings. The portfolio showcases the diverse range of services available and the scope of the client base.

New clients can call the digital marketing agency for a free consultation.

Digital Age Internet Marketing

A full-service digital marketing agency with over a decade of experience in SEO, Digital Age Internet Marketing specializes in working with law firms.

Digital Age Internet Marketing service providers have an exclusive customer base, working only with legal businesses to provide targeted full-service digital marketing campaigns that reach customers looking for legal advice and representation in Fort Lauderdale.

This online marketing agency offers a wide range of Internet marketing services, including search engine marketing, local SEO, web design, video creation, press release distribution, social media marketing, and reputation management. The aim is to offer clients in the legal sector access to services that generate traffic online, convert leads, and enhance brand reputation. The team at Digital Age Internet Marketing understands the role law organizations play within society, and its business needs.

Digital Age Internet Marketing company was founded by Peter Charles, who has more than 26 years of experience in sales. The company offers a free website evaluation for new clients.

Savage Global Marketing

Savage Global Marketing prides itself on being a data-driven marketing agency, which uses simple but effective strategies to connect businesses with customers.

Savage Global Marketing is a forward-thinking marketing company with a laid-back vibe. The aim is to make it as easy for companies to progress and engage with customers by using proven digital marketing techniques combined with creativity and flair.

Unlike the majority of SEO agencies, Savage Global Marketing doesn’t promote services. Instead, this SEO company offers experiences. Examples include SEO keyword research, web design, link building, content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, brand awareness, and logo development, consulting, and creative advertising. These top SEO service providers offer a money-back guarantee to ensure they boost your conversion rates and bring your business to the next level.

Autoboutique Collision reported a 23% increase in organic traffic and top keywords moved from #43 to #3 after Savage Global Marketing has done search engine optimization.

BlueRavenStudios

Award-winning web development service providers, BlueRavenStudios is a platinum VR producer, which has been helping businesses in South Florida to enhance their Internet presence for more than 20 years.

Specializing in e-commerce website design and development, VR, video content production, professional photography, interactive tours, mobile apps search engine marketing, BlueRavenStudio enables companies in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and beyond to capitalize on the growing popularity and undeniable impact of visual content.

As well as focusing on delivering optimum search marketing results for clients, the BlueRavenStudios SEO company team is also committed to sustainability and encouraging creativity through opening up opportunities. The team works with students and creative young people who would otherwise struggle to find a way into the industry.

BlueRavenStudios was founded in 1996 as a graphic art studio and has diversified to provide businesses with high-quality content that captures attention and generates search engine results.

Clifton Design Group

A highly-respected Fort Lauderdale web design agency, Clifton Design Group completes our Top 10 Fort Lauderdale SEO Agencies list. Specializing in all things WordPress, Clifton Design Group was launched in 1996 by Susan Clifton. At the time, the Internet was just taking off, and over the last 25 years, the SEO agency is embracing new trends and technologies to provide customers with premier design services.

Clifton Design Group SEO company works with clients spanning several industries. Including WordPress site design and development, content writing, local SEO, web design and hosting, email marketing, and social media marketing. Consulting services are also available, and the team is on hand to offer advice for businesses at every stage of the strategizing and implementation process. From coming up with ideas to tracking progress, this business covers all aspects of digital marketing.

Scoring Criteria

Putting a list of Fort Lauderdale’s top 10 SEO agencies together is not as simple as doing a quick Google search. To create this list, we have taken several key factors into consideration, including:

  • SSL certificates (ratings were higher for companies with an SSL certificate)
  • Mobile-friendly websites (scores were higher for agencies with mobile-friendly sites)
  • Fast-loading (within 3 seconds)
  • Domain rating
  • Referring domain numbers
  • Total traffic to the website
  • Number of Google reviews
  • Average review score

Every marketing agency featured in this guide were all marked according to these scoring criteria, with a mark of 5 available for each category. Based on total scores across the criteria, Paperstreet Web Design claimed the top spot with 27 points, with SEO Smooth and Scott Keever SEO in second and third respectively with a score of 22 points. You can click here to see the scoring criteria.

Start searching for SEO companies in Fort Lauderdale today!

If you’re looking for an SEO company you can trust in Fort Lauderdale, use this guide, which is based on data, rather than opinion, to find the best company for your business. Every marketing company on this list has crossed key boxes, and we believe that they could be an excellent match for businesses in Fort Lauderdale.

The decision will, of course, come down to you, so why not click on the links to view websites, check out portfolios, have a closer look at prices and services, and get some quotes?

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SEO Audit Checklist for 2020 [NOT for Beginners]

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SEO audits are the single best way to figure out why you’re not getting SEO results.

It is the first activity my agency does when bringing on a new client.

Remember two things before you begin:

  1. The time investment for an audit will depend on the size of your website.
  2. A good SEO audit is all about asking the right questions.

Here’s what this checklist will be covering:

Let’s jump in.


Go here to get access to our in-house SEO audit template and process.

What is an Audit?

The purpose of an SEO audit to uncover reasons why an SEO campaign isn’t performing to its fullest potential. At a 30,000-foot view, you’re going to analyze the target website and campaign at every level, then provide actionable suggestions that will increase organic search traffic (if all actions properly executed).

The goal is to give the target website/company direction and guidance so that they can take the right actions and get better results.

What an Audit Isn’t

It’s not a complete SEO strategy

Think of an audit is the base foundation of an effective SEO campaign. It uncovers preexisting issues and gives you an actionable roadmap for what needs to be tackled. But after the foundation is established, there’s still much more strategic work to do.

Here’s how an SEO campaign unfolds from A-Z:

  1. SEO Audit
  2. Fix All Uncovered Issues
  3. Perform Keyword Research
  4. Analyze Competitors (Extract Keywords/Content Ideas and Link Opportunities)
  5. Develop an SEO Content Strategy
  6. Execute SEO Content Strategy
  7. Optimize UX/UI
  8. Acquire Backlinks

It’s not a step-by-step guide

There are many steps within a single action and that’s why we’ve created an entire course (Gotch SEO Academy) to show how to handle these actions. An audit shows you what is wrong and what to focus on, but it’s not a how-to.

For example, the process we use to complete this audit requires 33 pages to execute. An action item like “Get Manual Action Removed” is a process within itself.

It doesn’t take user error into account

Knowing what’s wrong is only the first step. The second step is to take action and that’s where some issues can occur. For example, if you don’t fully understand development and coding, you could break your website.

Or, if you don’t know subtleties such as the fact that you need to 301 redirect any URL change to the new URL. This is when hiring an expert is useful (instead of trying to do it yourself).

It’s also critical that you backup your website before making any serious changes.

Not a Substitute for manual analysis

Many factors can be uncovered through this process, but you still need to analyze the website, experience, content, and backlinks with your own eyes to make judgments.

When Should You Do An Audit?

As I mentioned, we always perform an audit when we bring on a new client.

But, we will also audit a current campaign every quarter.

This is to ensure that we didn’t miss anything and to identify any new problems.

An audit is always a good way to evaluate our performance.

There are two times we perform audits:

1. at the beginning of every new campaign
2. once a quarter

Now that you understand the basics, let’s jump into the first step of the SEO audit.

The Complete 9 Step Audit

Follow these 9 steps and you will leave no stone left unturned. Remember, a successful SEO campaign is the product of hundreds of positive ranking factors. That’s why it’s critical that you examine every detail of your campaign. You don’t have to be 100% perfect, but that should be the goal.

Let’s start:

Step 1: What Are Your Strategic Objectives?

Goal: To determine what your long-term goals are for your SEO campaign and business.

I have said this before and I will say this again:

SEO is a means to an end.

It’s nothing more than a marketing channel to grow your business as a small business owner.

That’s why your Strategic Objectives should be what your business is trying to achieve through SEO.

Clear Strategic Objectives keep your campaign focused and help you achieve your goals.

If you already have a Strategic Objective, then this is the time to review it.

Are your objectives Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely (S.M.A.R.T.)?

You need to refine them if they’re not.

If you do not have Strategic Objectives for your SEO campaign, then now it’s time to create them.

Here are some examples of Strategic Objectives for an SEO campaign using the S.M.A.R.T. principle:

  • “Blue Widget Inc. will easily increase its organic search visibility by 50% within the next 6 months.”
  • “Blue Widget Inc. will easily grow from 20 linking root domains to over 100 link root domains within the next 6 months.”
  • “Blue Widget Inc. will easily grow its lead volume from organic search by 20% within the next 12 months.”

Your Strategic Objective should be a mix of SEO KPIs and business KPIs.

Now let’s go into keyword analysis.

Step 2: Keyword Analysis

Goal: To determine whether the current keyword targeting strategy is worth it. And, to find and fix untapped keywords that could result in “easy” wins.

You need to reexamine your current set of keywords before jumping head first into your audit.

The first thing you want to ask is:

Are you targeting the right keywords?

Often times, the keywords that a small business owner is going after is out of his/her league.

They think they can win on “homerun” keywords… But they will more than likely end up failing.

A good audit will help you determine the quality of your keywords.

More often than not, I will have the client target less competitive long-tail keywords.

My team and I refer to these keywords as “easy wins”.

It is a good practice to review your current set of keywords.

You should do this on a quarterly basis.

It’s always better to focus your resources on keywords that are performing well.

Do not spread your resources across many keywords.

Isolate your winners and go after those.

But, now you are likely wondering:

How do I know if I’m targeting the “right” keywords?

Think of your keywords as goals.

Every keyword that you decide to target is a goal you want to achieve for your audit and campaign.

That means you need to use the S.M.A.R.T. principle.

Specific

You need to choose a specific set of keywords to target.

A list of a thousand keywords is not specific.

Choose 10, 20, or 100 keywords depending on your budget and resources.

Measurable

You must measure the performance of your keywords.

There are some SEOs that say you shouldn’t track keywords anymore.

I agree that tracking keywords without tracking other important KPIs isn’t effective.

But, tracking your core keywords is an excellent way to see how Google is valuing your website.

It’s also a way to measure the impact of your link acquisition.

To measure the performance of your keywords, I use Ahrefs.

Attainable

Are you targeting keywords that are beyond what your website is capable of?

The truth is:

New websites struggle to rank for competitive keywords.

That’s because:

  1. The websites that rank for competitive keywords are aged and trusted.
  2. These same websites will be more authoritative than yours because they have been acquiring backlinks for years.
  3. Since they are ranking for competitive keywords, that means they will also have a much larger budget than you. This will allow them to buy authoritative link placements to maintain their position.

You have to be realistic.

If your site is new, then you should target long-tail keywords.

Don’t let your ego determine what keywords you want to go after.

I’m not saying you are egotistical.

I’m saying that because I have let my ego determine my keyword selection process in the past.

It went something like this:

“Dude, I’m so good at SEO and I can literally rank for anything.”

Yup.

That’s how I used to be.

Moral of the story: don’t let your ego dictate your campaign.

Be realistic and use the data to determine your path.

Relevant

This should be obvious, but your keyword should be relevant to what your business does.

Time-Bound

How long do you think it will take you to rank for your current set of keywords?

You need to put a deadline.

Remember, improving your site’s performance for a keyword is a goal. You should try to achieve that goal as fast as possible.

The S.M.A.R.T. principle is only the first step to validating your current keyword set.

You now need to analyze the competition for those keywords.

Step 3: Competitor Analysis

Goal: To validate your keywords and find missed link opportunities.

There are a few objectives for analyzing your competitors:

  1. To see whether a keyword is too competitive.
  2. To find new keyword opportunities.
  3. To see what types of content are performing well (so you can skyscraper them).
  4. To find link opportunities.

Remember:

You need to analyze your competitors to validate your keyword selections.

You should be asking yourself:

  • “Are my keyword selections too ambitious?”
  • Or, “are my keyword selections too conservative?”

We split our competitor analysis into two segments.

The first is just a quick analysis of PA and DA in the SERPS.

You will need a tool like the Moz toolbar for this.

Let’s say we wanted to get search rankings for the keyword “marketing automation”.

Enter “marketing automation” into Google and scan the results.

We look for websites that have a DA less than 50. In this case, there is one site ranking for the keyword “marketing automation” with a DA less than 50.

DA is a decent gauge for determining whether a keyword is worth going after or not.

At scale, this process is the quickest way to eliminate keywords from your list.

Keep in mind:

Competition is all relative.

For example, it would be foolish to target “marketing automation” if your website is new. But, if you have an established website with authority, then it may be something to consider.

The second analysis is more in-depth because we are trying to find link opportunities.

I won’t go too deep into this, but use Ahrefs or Majestic to analyze the link profiles of your competitors.

Read this guide to learn how to analyze competitors. I also recommend checking First Site Guide’s audit tool. It’s a diamond in the rough.

Are There Any Low Hanging Fruits / “Easy” Wins?

Now let me show you how you can find low hanging fruits.

We will use SEMRush and Google Search Console for this.

  1. Go into Google Search Console and click on “Search Traffic” and “Search Analytics”.
  2. Select “Impressions” and “Position”.
  3. Then sort the results by “Position” will the lowest ranking position at the top.

Like this:

These are low hanging fruits that you can target.

If your website isn’t ranking for any keywords, then you will need to use SEMRush to find low-hanging fruits.

  • Go to SEMRush
  • Enter a competitor URL
  • Go to “Organic Research” and “Positions”
  • Sort the keyword list to show the lowest search volume keywords

I prefer to start with the lower volume search rankings keywords because they are the easiest to rank for. Here are some low hanging fruits I found digging through BodyBuilding.com’s traffic data:

Now let me show you how to perform technical analysis.


Step 4: Technical SEO Analysis

Goal: To identify technical SEO issues that are hurting user experience and hurting your search results performance.

Technical issues can plague your website’s SEO performance.

The good news is that you have audit tools like Screaming Frog SEO Spider at your side.

These tools will help you identify many of the prevalent issues.

Let’s begin:

How Fast Does Your Website Load?

How fast your website loads impacts user experience in either a positive or negative way.

That’s why it is at the top of the Technical Analysis checklist.

Use Pingdom and Google’s website speed tool to get your benchmarks.

Any website that takes longer than 3 seconds to load has room for improvement. It is ideal if you can your site load under 1 second, but this is challenging.

Here are some resources that will speed up your website:

Is the Website Mobile-Friendly?

This is a no brainer, but you need to check whether your site is mobile-friendly or not.

Google considers this to be a strong ranking factor, so do not take it lightly.

Use Google’s mobile-friendly check for the analysis.

The solution is pretty simple here:

If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, then make it mobile-friendly.

Check these guides for further assistance:

Is There a Keyword Cannibalization?

One of the most important factors to look for in an audit is keyword cannibalization.

“Keyword cannibalization” is when two web pages on your site and another site are competing for the same keyword.

This can confuse Google and force it to make a decision on what page SEO is “best” for the search query.

It’s always better to guide Google instead of letting it make decisions.

You must get rid of keyword cannibalization to achieve this goal.

There is one form of keyword cannibalization that is most common:

When you optimize the homepage and a subpage for the same keyword.

This is most common on the local level.

Example:

Let’s say it’s a local personal injury lawyer from Chicago.

The homepage title would look like this:

  • “Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer | Awesome Law Firm”

At the same time the client will also have a subpage optimized like:

  • “Best Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer | Awesome Law Firm”

These need to be avoided.

Choose one page SEO to optimize for “Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer” and unoptimized the competing page.

There is one other cannibalization issue you need to look for and it involves your blog.

There is nothing wrong with writing about the same topics more than once.

But in excess, it can cause some confusion.

Google will struggle to identify what web page is most authoritative for that keyword.

More importantly, Google wants you to write comprehensive, original, and well-thought-out content.

Not short, thin articles that do not fully explain a topic.

There are exceptions to the rule, but thin content should be avoided for most businesses.

Remember that powerful and well-developed SEO content performs better in the search engines and will produce better user engagement.

On the contrary, publishing thin, underdeveloped content will likely lead to keyword cannibalization, content gap, and Google may interpret your activity as long-tail keyword manipulation.

If that happens, the Panda algorithm will kick your website to the curb.

With that said, let me show you how you can quickly identify keyword cannibalization issues:

Open up Screaming Frog SEO Spider.

Enter your website and start the scan:

Go to “Page Titles”:

Enter one of your main keywords into the search bar (this will show you all web pages on your site that are competing for that keyword).

Look through your page titles and identify web pages that might be competing for the same keywords.

Are There Redirect Issues?

There are four types of redirects that can hurt a website’s technical SEO performance:

  1. 302 redirects
  2. redirect chains
  3. a non-preferred version of domain not 301ing to preferred
  4. a non-secured version of domain not 301ing to the secured version
  5. Unnecessary 301s

Let’s start with 302 redirects.

302 Redirects Status Codes

302 redirects are “temporary” redirects and do not pass authority. 302s need to be changed to 301 redirects status codes to pass link authority.

To see if you have any 302s, open up Screaming Frog SEO Spider.

  • Enter your target URL and start the scan
  • Go to the “Response Codes” tab
  • Click on the “Filter” dropdown and select “Redirection 3xx”
  • Click on “Export” to export all 302 redirects

Redirect Chains

Redirect chains are when there are a string of redirects connected together.

Like so:

Breaking the chain will send all authority to the final destination page (instead of partial authority).

Here’s it will look like when you fix a redirect chain:

Here’s how you find redirect chains with technical SEO tool Screaming Frog SEO Spider:

  • Get started with “Configuration” and click on “Spider”
  • Click on the “Advanced”, select “Always Follow Redirects”, and click “Ok”
  • Enter your target URL and start the scan
  • After the scan is complete go to “Reports” and click on “Redirect Chains”

Is the non-preferred version of domain 301 redirecting to the preferring version?

Every website owner must decide what version of their website they want to show to their users.

Some people prefer the “www” while others prefer non-www. domains. Understand that whichever one you pick will not have an effect on your SEO performance.

Google treats them the same way, so it is a matter of preference.

Problems arise if you don’t redirect the non-preferred domain to the preferred.

For example, let’s say you decide to go with “www.awesomewebsite.com”.

By doing so, www. becomes your preferred domain.

And now, the non-www. becomes your non-preferred domain and vice versa.

You must 301 redirect your non-preferred domain to the preferred. Otherwise, you will end up with two duplicate websites AND you will leak authority.

I have found that websites built on custom platforms will suffer from this issue.

The developers underestimate the repercussions of keeping two versions of the site live.

They often won’t 301 redirect the non-preferred version of a domain to the preferred.

In essence, if you do not redirect, you have two duplicate websites.

Use this tool to make sure the redirection is set up correctly:

Is the non-secure version of the website 301 redirecting to the secure version?

Let’s just say that the transition to the SSL certificate hasn’t been pretty.

Many websites have to make sure to secure their sites with a certificate.

But, many are struggling with the implementation of the certificate.

Many clients forget to 301 redirect the non-secure (http) site to the secure (https). This has a similar effect of not redirecting a non-preferred domain to the preferred.

Identifying this issue item is simple:

  • Go to your target URL: https://www.gotchseo.com/.
  • On the address bar in your browser, remove the “s” from http and hit enter.

Make sure it redirects back to the secure version.

If it doesn’t, then you need to get it fixed!

You can also use the audit tool above to check as well.

Is the Site Being Indexed Well?

Your website can only get traffic if your web pages are indexed in Google. That’s why it’s always a good idea to make sure your ENTIRE website is being indexed well.

A good place to start is with your robots.txt file.

robots.txt

Sometimes by accident, website owners will block the search engines from crawling their site.

That’s why you must audit your robots.txt file to ensure that it is being crawled well.

The command you need to look for in your robots.txt file is “disallow”.

If you use this incorrectly, you could stop search engines from crawling your site.

The specific command you want to look for is “Disallow: /” – this instructs search engine spiders not to crawl your website.

Sitemaps

Your website should have a sitemap because it helps with indexation.

If you are on WordPress, Yoast will automatically create one for you.

If you aren’t using Yoast then install the XML Sitemap plugin.

For those on custom-builds or non-WordPress websites, you will have to take the traditional route.

“site:” Search

Go into Google search “site:yourwebsite.com”.

This will show you how well your site is indexed.

If your site isn’t showing as the first result, then you likely have a penalty.

Or, you are blocking the search engine from crawling your website.

Make sure.

Is There Duplicate Content?

Duplicate content can plague your website and could land your website a Panda penalty.

Ecommerce stores are most susceptible to duplicate content issues because they will copy manufacturer product descriptions.

To top it off, they will also use cookie-cutter META information for those pages.

This creates a duplicate content tsunami.

Let me show you the issues with duplicate META data first:

Duplicate META Data

Duplicate META data is most prevalent on Ecommerce websites.

This is because many Ecommerce websites have many web pages with similar products.

As a result, they will get lazy and paste similar META descriptions on pages.

This isn’t a good practice.

If your Ecommerce has many similar web pages, then you should make sure to consider consolidating them. There is no reason to have several pages for different colors or sizes of the same product.

Once you have taken care of this issue, then you need to write unique descriptions for every single page.

Yes, that’s right. Every single page.

You should strive to have unique META data and unique content on every single page on your website.

This will take a ton of effort and resources, but it’s worth it in the end.

Remember: you don’t have to complete it in one day.

If you improve only 10 pages a day, you will have 3,650 optimized web pages within a year.

To find duplicate META data you can use Screaming Frog SEO Spider and Google Search.

Let’s start with Screaming Frog:

Enter your URL and start the scan

Go to “Meta Description”, on “Filter” dropdown select “Duplicate”, and “Export”.

The next place to look for duplicate META descriptions is in Google Search Console.

Go into Google Search Console and go to “Search Appearance” and “HTML Improvements”:

In this section, you’ll find duplicate META descriptions and title tags.

Page-Level Duplicate Content

Now that you have identified all duplicate META data, you now need to find page-level duplicate content.

To perform this task you will need to use SEO tools like Siteliner.

This audit tool will show you what web pages share the same or very similar content.

Go to Siteliner.com and enter your target website. Click on “Duplicate Content” and see what pages are suffering from it.

Keep in mind that this tool isn’t always accurate. For example, it may not know that you have “noindexed” your category pages. So, it will likely classify those web pages as duplicate content. Use your best judgment.

Are There 404 Errors (With Link Equity)?

Not all 404 errors are equal.

First, let me dispel a common myth that “all 404 errors are bad for SEO”.

This isn’t true.

404s are an effective audit tool for telling the search engines that the page no longer exists.

When a search engine like Google finds a 404, it will remove that page from the index.

For intentional 404 errors, this is exactly what you want.

Think about it: would you want someone to find this dead 404 page through a Google search?

Of course not.

That’s why Google removes them because it isn’t helpful for the user and why you must perform a site audit and use the site audit tool.

With that myth dispelled, there ARE 404 errors can actually hurt your site’s performance:

404 pages that have backlinks.

These types of 404s are leaking authority on your site.

What you want to do is reclaim these backlinks by 301 redirecting the 404 pages to a relevant page on your site.

If there isn’t a relevant page, then redirect it to the homepage.

To find 404 errors, I recommend you use Google Search Console:

Go to “Crawl” and “Crawl Errors”. Click on the “Not Found” tab to see your site’s 404 errors:

Is Your Site Architecture Efficient for SEO?

Many audits skip right past site architecture, but these are big SEO mistakes.

Most websites are not designed with SEO in mind.

Weirdly, this isn’t always a bad thing. That’s because many small business owners create their websites based on what they believe the user wants.

You should always be user-centric with your SEO strategy and avoid SEO issues.

But, you still need to guide and please the search engine at the same time.

A strong site architecture makes both the users and the search engines happy.

When examining site architecture ask the following questions:

  • Is the navigation clean or is it cluttered?
  • Are the internal links using effective anchor text?
  • Can you improve the navigation to make it easier for users and the search engines?

Are the URL Structures SEO Optimized?

We always analyze the URL structure during the audit to make sure they are SEO friendly.

But, we are also careful at this stage as well.

You do not want to change URL structures if the client’s site is performing well.

The reason is that you have to 301 redirect the old URL to the new URL.

301 redirects are spotty and won’t always send the trust and authority from the old URL.

This means you could end up losing rankings for an extended period of time.

Changing your URL to a more optimized and clean version will likely help the version of your site in the long run.

You just have to be willing to lose some organic traffic upfront. Or, you can just avoid changing the URL at all.

Now, if the client isn’t ranking for anything, we will always suggest changing the URL structure (if it’s bad).

You have to use your discretion and remember that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Over-Optimized URLs

In an attempt to game the search engine, some clients will keyword stuff their URLs. Keyword stuffing anything on your site is never a good practice. In fact, it will likely hurt your performance more than help it.

Here is an example of a keyword-stuffed URL that we run into a lot:

http://www.coolwidgets.com/cool-widgets/cool-widgets-with-buttons

You will notice that “cool widgets” is in the URL three times. Whether intentional or not, it will hurt a page’s performance.

I recommend removing the subfolder “cool-widgets” so the URL looks like this:

http://www.coolwidgets.com/cool-widgets-with-buttons

Are Internal Links Injected the Right Way?

Ineffective/non-strategic internal linking can confuse the search engines. Internal links are supposed to be clear and are supposed to use exact match anchor text.

If you have a page about “blue widgets”, then “blue widgets” should be your internal anchor text.

In my eyes, this seems like a pretty simple concept.

Unfortunately, I see this problem repeated over-and-over again when we audit sites.

Finding ineffective internal links isn’t easy…

You have to go page-by-page to identify them and fix them.

This is one of the most time consuming on-site SEO changes you will encounter.

To avoid this from happening, just make sure you always use good practices.

The majority of your internal link anchor text should use exact or partial match anchor text.

Step 5: Page Level Analysis

Goal: To ensure that each keyword-targeted landing page is optimized effectively.

Every audit must examine the quality of content and the optimization of each page.

Strong content without effective optimization won’t perform. Weak content with strong optimization also won’t perform.

You need both strong content and effective optimization to drive search engine organic traffic.

The first page-level optimization question you have to ask is:

Does this page satisfy search intent?

Satisfying search intent is critical for your ranking well in Google. It doesn’t matter how long your content is. What matters is how well you satisfy search intent.

Read my SEO content guide to learn more about satisfying search intent in the SEO audit(it’s critical).

The next step is to run the page through Copyscape SEO tool.

Has the content been copied?

I don’t run the target page through Copyscape because I think my client is a liar.

It’s because there are some scums on the Internet that will steal content.

All you need to do is file a DMCA report to Google and they will remove the content from the index.

After we run each target page through Copyscape, we then examine the basics.

Is the keyword in the title?

Your target keyword for the page needs to be in the title. And, the keyword only needs to appear once.

That’s all!

Is the keyword in the META description?

Make sure the target keyword is in the META description. Do not stuff it in there more than once.

Is the target keyword within the first few sentences?

Your main keyword should appear once at the beginning of the content. This is to strengthen the relevancy of the page.

Is the URL SEO-optimized and clean?

The landing page should include the target keyword in the URL and the URL should be short and clean.

Does the ALT tag on the first image of the page containing the target keyword?

All of your ALT tags should be filled out, but your main keyword for the page should appear in the first image ALT tag.

Does the last sentence of the content include the target keyword?

The last sentence or conclusion is your chance to solidify the relevancy of the page. Make sure you include your keyword.

Are there internal links? If so, are they placed the right way?

As I mentioned before, if you have internal links, make sure they are using exact match anchor text.

This is all you need to analyze for page-level optimization. Now let me show you how you need to examine your content.

Step 6: Content Analysis

Goal: To determine whether or not the current content strategy is working. And, what needs to be improved to get more out of the content.

Your content analysis must explore both your keyword-targeted landing pages and any blog content that’s been published.

Analyzing content is the most time-consuming part of this process.

That’s because it is the most important part of the entire audit.

You can get all of the other parts of an SEO campaign right, but if your content is slacking, your results will not last.

You Need an Outside Perspective

It is critical that you bring in a third party to analyze your content strategy.

Why?

Because you need an outside viewpoint. It’s hard to self-examine and critique your own content because you will be biased.

You need an outside party to tell you the truth.

Most businesses do not have effective content strategies.

In fact, most don’t have a “strategy” at all.

Here are the questions you need to ask during the content analysis:

Is Your Content Unique and Original?

This should be a no-brainer, but the content on your site needs to be unique and original.

That means using your creative mind to come with awesome ideas!

No regurgitated garbage. Taking the extra effort to create something original is worth it.

Is Your Content Useful and Informative?

In addition to your content being original, you also need to make sure it’s useful and informative.

That means it should inform, instruct, or solve a problem that your ideal customer has.

You must always consider your ideal customer when creating content.

The content on your site isn’t there to impress your co-workers.

Your content is there to serve and help your prospective customers.

Is Your Content Better Than Your Competitors?

There is no point in creating content unless you believe it will be better than what’s currently ranking in the search engine.

Every single piece of content must have the intention to beat your competitors.

Otherwise, you are wasting your time.

Is Your Content Engaging?

Your users need to feel like you are speaking directly to them. “You” and “your” need to become your favorite words.

Is Your Information Accurate?

Don’t make up facts or statistics or falsify information.

Is Your Content Long Enough?

Longer content performs better in Google and this has been proven here.

You can also do your own research and see this demonstrated in the SERPS.

Are There Grammar and/or Spelling Errors?

I’ve said this many times but dnt rite lik dis. Use the Hemingway Editor if your writing is less than stellar.

Are There Broken Links?

Google hates when there are broken links in your content because it hurts the user experience. Make sure you audit your web pages to make sure your links are working correctly. Use this free broken link checker to find broken links on your site.

Do You Have Excessive Ads?

Excessive use of ads can take away from your content, are distracting, and will make users hate your website.

When users hate your website, Google will hate it as well.

If you use ads, do not let them overwhelm your content or Panda will be paying your website a visit.

Are You Moderating Your Blog Comments?

Spammers love to inject nasty links in blog comments.

That’s why you need to make sure yours are properly moderated.

You don’t want to be guilty by association, so make sure you keep your comment section clean.

These questions are the first step to determining whether your content strategy is working or not.

The ultimate indicator of your content’s performance will come from real user experience data.

Step 7: User Experience Analysis

Goal: To see how well users are interacting with your content and website as a whole.

It is impossible to know what every user thinks about your website.

Fortunately, you can get a general picture of user experience based on the data inside Google Analytics.

There are few data points you want to examine in your user experience analysis:

Bounce Rate

You are likely wondering: “what is a good bounce rate?”

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer.

Bounce rate is all relative and depends on what type of website it is.

For example, a “funny cat pictures” website will likely have a high bounce rate.

That’s because people go to the page, get their laughs in, and leave.

Sites like mine will have lower bounce rates because people will want to read and learn more.

With that all said, a bounce rate between 60% – 80% is solid.

80% – 90% is enough to warrant looking into the issue further.

If it is above 90%, then it needs to hit the top of the priority list.

Average Time Spent on Site

The longer users stay on your site, the more chances you get to convert them.

Like the bounce rate, the average time spent on site is relative.

If the average time spent on site is less than 1 minute, then it’s definitely something you’ll want to look into.

As a general rule of thumb, users will spend more time on your website if there is a lot of content to consume.

For example, my readers spend an average of 2:52 minutes on Gotch SEO.

If this was less than 1 minute, I would have to start questioning my content strategy and my site in general.

There is one thing that will quickly repel users:

A lack of quality content.

Low average time spent on site often plagues local businesses for this exact reason.

That’s because anyone looking for a “plumber in St. Louis” is likely price shopping.

They will jump from business-to-business looking for the best deal.

The best way to combat this problem on the local level is to produce more helpful content.

You should focus on educating your prospective local clients.

Education and transparency lead to trust.

Trust leads to sells.

Focus on giving more value than your competitors.

This will improve bounce rates and force users to stay on your site for longer.

Think about this way: if someone wanted to get to you, could they learn more in 30 seconds or in 3 minutes?

Yes, I’m captain obvious, but it’s necessary.

The longer users stay on your site and digest your content, the more they will feel like they “know you”.

Goal Completions

Tracking goal competitions is the most important metric in Google Analytics.

The only reason a small business owner should even have a website is to get conversions/goal completions.

It doesn’t matter if your bounce rate is low or people are staying on your website for hours… If the visitors aren’t converting into leads, sales, or email subscribers then you are wasting your time.

The goal of improving the other metrics is to make you more money!

Remember, SEO is just a means to an end. SEO by itself doesn’t make money.

YOU make money by selling.

You can have the best SEO on the planet, but if you can’t sell, it won’t matter.

The word “sell” will have a different meaning for everyone.

But there is one thing that every online business has in common:

You must sell through copywriting or through video. If you skip this step, then no one will buy your products or no one will become a lead.

With that said, whenever goal completions are abysmal we immediately look at the client’s on-site sales strategy.

  • Is it easy for leads to contact you?
  • Is there enough information about your service?
  • Are you showing enough social proof?

Exit Pages

Identifying what web pages users leave the most is the first step to fixing the issue. It should be obvious, but you must analyze the most frequently exited page.

You have to ask the simple question “why are they leaving this specific page more than others?”

Believe it or not, it’s not always a bad thing to have a high exit rate on a page.

Sometimes the content does its job for the reader and forces them to go out and take action.

Don’t always think that users are leaving a specific page because they hate it.

If the content solves the user’s problem well and they leave the page, you have done your job.

There is one very important thing to consider when examining Exit Rate inside of Google Analytics.

Do not look at the total number of “Exits”.

The total number of exits will always be higher on web pages that get more organic traffic.

The number you want to look at is the “% Exit”.

Sort your data from the highest percentage to the lowest.

A “high” exit percentage would be anything over 80%. A “normal” exit percentage is around 50-65%.

The #1 issue that will force people to leave a page at a high frequency is that your content did not solve their problem or answer the questions they had.

There are other factors that may force people to leave a page like design, but the content is almost always the culprit.

Go to the page with the highest exit rate and ask:

  • Does this page solve a problem or answer a question to the fullest extent?
  • Are there still some questions left unanswered?
  • How is the readability of the content?
  • Are there too many big blocks of text?
  • Too little images?
  • Broken images?
  • Does the page load slowly?
  • Are there distracting elements such as advertisements that would send a user off your site?
  • Are you setting external links to “open in a new window” (if not, you should)?

These questions should be more than enough to get to the bottom of the issue. Go through this process for every version of your site with a high exit rate.

Return Visitors

The quantity of visitors who return back to your website is a strong positive user signal.

It means that your website or content is worth seeing again.

Return visitors are also good from a conversion standpoint because it gives you more opportunities to convert them into a lead or email subscriber.

If you do not have a high percentage of Return Visitors then this may be a sign that your content is lacking. Or, your website has one or many of the technical or content issues that I described above that are repelling your users.

Branded Searches

Like Return Visitors, branded searches are a strong indicator that people are interested in your website and brand.

If you are producing great content and your website is built with users in mind, then people will want to return. That means they will go into Google and search for your brand.

To see how well you are currently doing, you will need to use Google Search Console.

Go to “Search Traffic” and click on “Search Analytics”. Filter by “Clicks” so that the search query with the most clicks is on top.

Your brand name should be one of the top queries.

Social Signals

Social signals by themselves are not powerful.

BUT, if you combine them with all of the other positive user metrics, then your website will get a whirlwind of positive ranking signals.

Getting REAL social signals should be a priority for your business. The only way to get them is by creating great content and pleasing your users. You can also consider using social locker plugins if you are really struggling.

Now it’s time to take a look at your link profile.

Here we go:

Goal: To identify strengths and weaknesses in your link profile.

As you know, backlinks can make or break an SEO campaign. This is why a large portion of our audit is spent analyzing the client’s link profile. We use Ahrefs, Majestic, Open Site Explorer, and Google Search Console to analyze the links.

Now you are probably wondering: what are we looking for?

We are looking at a few different factors:

Link Relevancy

Link relevancy is king when it comes to link building.

Just ask:

Are the backlinks hitting your site relevant?

100% of your backlinks don’t have to be relevant, but the majority should be.

To quickly identify the relevancy of a client’s link profile, we export their links from Ahrefs and use the bulk check on Majestic.

When you export from Ahrefs, make sure you export the referring domains like so:

Now you are going to take those referring domains and use Majestic’s bulk check to see Topical Trust Flow Topics.

Although the Topical Trust Flow Topic metric isn’t perfect, it is the only scalable relevancy metric there is.

Manually checking the relevancy of each linking site would be a horrible waste of time.

The goal of this exercise is to get a general relevant picture of the DOMAINS that are linking to the client’s site.

Go to “Tools” > “Link Map Tools” > “Bulk Backlinks”.

Place the referring domains into the bulk checker and export the results. Sort your CSV file based on Topical Trust Flow Topics.

Identify what link sources are completely off the wall.

If you are a lawyer and you have a backlink from a domain with a Topical Trust Flow Topics of “Pets”, then you should be concerned.

Mark all backlinks that are irrelevant. This doesn’t mean you are going to get them removed.

It’s just a way for you to know that they exist. That way, you could go back to them if your site was ever hit with a penalty.

Link Authority

After link relevancy, link authority comes in a close second.

In fact, pure authority can sometimes mask a lack of link relevancy.

I prefer relevancy before authority because I believe it keeps your site safer from algorithm updates.

But to each their own!

There are several ways to find how “authoritative” your backlinks are.

You can run a bulk check on both Majestic and Ahrefs.

Ahrefs “Domain Rating” (DR) is an accurate gauge of site authority.

It is much more accurate than PA and DA because it updates on a frequent basis.

The data from Open Site Explorer updates at a snail’s pace and is inaccurate most of the time.

Don’t believe me?

Open Site Explorer gives GotchSEO.com a DA of 25 and claims the site only has 30 linking root domains…

Ahrefs is showing 562 linking root domains and it’s only showing about 80% of the backlinks GotchSEO.com actually has.

With that said, you can use Open Site Explorer to crosscheck, but don’t rely on its metrics alone.

Another metric that is nearly impossible to “game” is the SEMRush traffic score.

That’s because it based on real organic search engine rankings.

SEM Rush uses its own algorithm to determine how much your organic traffic is “worth”.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a metric I rely on a daily basis to determine the quality of link opportunities.

Use all of the metrics available at your disposal to gauge the quality of your current backlinks or opportunities.

Link Diversity

Diversifying your backlinks makes your profile more “natural”.

Different “types” of backlinks include:

  • contextual links
  • site-wide footer/sidebar links
  • directory links
  • resource page links
  • niche profile links
  • forums links
  • relevant blog comment links

In addition to the “type” of backlink, you also want to have diversity with Follow and NoFollow links.

At this part of the analysis, just ask the simple question:

“Is my link profile diversified enough?”

Link Targeting

Another important link factor you need to examine is the ratio of homepage links compared to deep links.

If you are using a content-focused SEO approach, then the majority of your backlinks should be going to deep pages.

Regardless of what approach you are using, it is always a good practice to distribute backlinks across your entire website.

This will build the overall authority of the site and improve your chances of seeing SEO results.

Anchor Text Diversification

Anchor text abuse is rampant and that’s why we always check the ratios.

The first ratio we care about the most is the client’s percentage of exact match anchor text.

After that, we want to see their percentage of branded anchor text.

If the EMA outweigh branded anchors, then there needs to be a change of strategy.

As you may know, the bulk of your anchor text profile should be branded anchors.

EMA’s should be used far and few between because it is a strong spam signal to Google.

If the client is suffering from over-optimized anchor text, there are a few solutions:

  • Build new backlinks with branded anchor text to offset the over-optimization
  • Consider getting some of the EMA changed to branded anchor text

Total Referring Domains

The more unique referring domains a site has linking to it, the better.

The analysis we do here is nothing more than a comparison against their top-ranking competitors.

For example, how many referring domains do they have linking to them compared to their competitors?

The solution is simple here:

Get more relevant, high-quality backlinks from unique domains.

Historical Link Velocity

Has their link velocity stayed steady throughout the life of their website? Or has it been erratic?

Massive dips in link loss are suspect.

Backlinks from real websites rarely fall off.

Backlinks from artificial websites fall off when the link providers stops paying for their hosting or do not renew a domain.

Your goal should be to achieve steady link growth over time like this:

Now that you know how to analyze your link profile, let me show you how to analyze your citations.

Step 9: Citation Analysis

Goal: To see whether or not the client has consistent NAP-W information across all listings. And, to identify business directories that the client is not listed on.

The citation analysis is used for local clients.

However, it can be used for any business that is looking to maintain consistency across all online properties.

I recommend that every business performs a citation audit even if you aren’t engaging in local SEO.

The good news is that citation cleanup is a one-and-done activity.

Let me show you what we look for in a citation analysis:

NAP-W Consistency

Having consistent NAP-W (name, address, phone, website) consistency is one of the most important ranking factors in Google Local.

There are countless audit tools for auditing your citations such as:

Untapped Directories

There are hundreds of business directories to submit your site and that’s why it’s best to use an audit tool. Once again, we use Bright Local’s Citation Tracker, White Spark, Moz Local, and Yext to find these untapped citations.

Conclusion

Wow, that was super long, but I really didn’t want to leave anything out! You are now equipped to perform a comprehensive SEO audit whenever you want.

Go here to get access to our in-house SEO audit template and process.
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Simple guide to creating an expert roundup post that drives website traffic

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30-second summary:

  • Roundup posts are pieces of content in which a list of selected experts give their insights on the same topic, in short descriptions that include their opinions, predictions, or reviews.
  • Creating an expert roundup post for your website or blog can take some preparation and organizing efforts, but it brings undeniable long-term benefits in terms of traffic, authoritativeness, and peer recognition.
  • In the following guide, I will take you through every step of creating an enticing expert roundup post for your website.

Publishing valuable content is a constant challenge when it comes to the formats and topics to cover. As a blogger, digital marketer, or content creator, you already know how much thought goes into offering your audience fresh, engaging content on a regular basis. Readers appreciate formats they are familiar with and can consume easily. A roundup post is an example of a successful approach to topics of interest in your industry.

Roundup posts are pieces of content in which a list of selected experts give their insights on the same topic, in short descriptions that include their opinions, predictions, or reviews.

Creating an expert roundup post for your website or blog can take some preparation and organizing efforts, but it brings undeniable long-term benefits in terms of traffic, authoritativeness, meaningful relationships, and peer recognition. By gathering a group of experts to answer the same question, you will not only generate relevant content for your website but build a strong relationship basis with experts in your industry.

Having a list of selected experts answer a well-placed question gives you a valuable piece of content that is highly shareable, so let’s see what it takes to do it right. In the following guide, I will take you through every step of creating an enticing expert roundup post for your website.

1. Brainstorm potential questions

The first step you need to take after deciding to publish an expert roundup post is to find the perfect question to ask the experts. This will be the key element of your post, and it will dictate whether it will be successful or not.

The perfect question might not be easy to find, but take enough time to find it. Brainstorm as much as you need before you decide who to invite in. All the further efforts of finding influencers and experts could be in vain if the topic you choose does not fit the roundup format, or doesn’t spark interest in your readers’ minds. So I’d recommend you find a question that resonates well with both your readers and experts.

Things to consider when brainstorming

To better understand what kind of questions are fit for a roundup post, you should picture the end result. You want to have your experts give your readers a piece of their own judgment, advice, or insight on a subject that your readers are familiar with. It won’t be a 101, a critical debate, or brain-picking for ultra-specialized information.

Your question needs to be:

  • Easy enough to give your respondents room to elaborate and get ample answers from them without the need for extra-questions.
  • General enough to give you a reasonably long list of influencers, experts, and peers. Go to niche and you might be able to talk to a handful of people about it.
  • Original enough to get your readers curious about the topic, and what experts have to say about it.

What about the topic will you be asking about? Naturally, it has to be specific to your website or niche and what you usually write about. The key is to find a subject that your audience is curious or interested in. Perhaps a trend, or a subject that usually sparks debate or behind-the-scenes type of information that regular posts don’t really get into.

You have the chance to get insights about the latest trends everyone is wondering about, or tips and tricks, good practices that expert peers have discovered through their experience and expertise.

Examples of questions:

  • What’s one piece of advice you’d give to beginner bloggers?
  • What’s one thing you would’ve done differently when starting your blog?
  • What do you think the future of blogging is?

How to get ideas

Easier said than done? If you don’t already have a topic you’ve been pondering about, compile a list of possible questions for your roundup with a little research.

Use tools like the Ahrefs Content Explorer to find trends in your industry, and subjects that seem to attract a lot of readers. You can filter results by their social shares, number, and quality of referring industries so that this tool and similar ones can give you a good idea of what subject should be pursued.

With these things in mind fuel that creative engine and start putting ideas on paper, whether they seem perfect candidates or just potential pursuers. It’s best to have a long list to start from when drafting the winning question for your roundup post.

2. Find talented experts

After finding your question, you should have a good idea about the expertise of your respondents. Assuming that you are active in your industry for a reasonable time, you should already know who the experts in your niche are. You want to compile an extensive list of experts of at least 50+ because not all will reply to your inquiry.

Let’s make a profile for the ideal respondent in your expert roundup post:

  • They are directly related to the industry you are writing about
  • They have a good follower base and an audience that regards them as influencers
  • They have contributed to roundup posts in the past
  • They are continually sharing thought-provoking, original ideas on their social media and on personal or business blogs
  • They have authority in the field: company owners and founders, top positions in companies of the industry, public speakers, success bloggers, and more

A practical, fast way of identifying possible candidates for your roundup post is to check other roundup posts in the industry. Does this approach seem lazy at a first glance? The redundancy of a roundup article doesn’t come from the list of people contributing to it, but from the very topic, you will choose for it.

As long as you are able to provoke your respondents to bring something original to the table, selecting them from other roundup articles is absolutely fine.

Depending on your topic, you might find tens of experts already showing potential for accepting your invitation. But don’t put your eggs in one basket: there are other ways of finding strong, authoritative voices in your niche.

A simple search on social media can give you a good idea of who is interested in the topic you have selected and fits the ideal profile described above. Twitter and Facebook are also great platforms where you can find experts in your industry.

For our roundup post about blogging tips for beginners, we have gathered content from CEOs and founders of content marketing websites, authors, bloggers, and podcasters in digital marketing. They were all able to give us valuable insight into what blogging is like for beginners, and what they should do to thrive.

Web search is another simple solution to putting together your expert list. We were able to find several experts by simply typing in our keyword or phrase onto Google. Find bloggers who have been covering your subject, or similar ones, and dig a bit more in their previous posts, to have an idea of who you’re going to contact.

Ahrefs, BuzzSumo, and Hootsuite are other awesome tools to research hot topics and authoritative blogs, as they display real-time data on their referring industries, traffic value, and the number of shares they get for their posts.

3. Find their contact information

Once you have a list of experts, bloggers, and influencers who can give you valuable insight into the subject you want to cover, it’s time to start gathering their contact information.

It’s best to keep a database of their information, on a simple Google or excel sheet with their names, email addresses, URL to their website, the date when you contacted them, and a column where you check if they submitted content or not. You can get a little more advanced by using a CRM or email outreach tool like Mailshake.

Keeping your contact information organized will speed up the preparation process and will help you avoid awkward situations like sending an invitation twice, or forgetting to do a follow-up with them.

Some of the experts you’re trying to reach won’t have a visible email address but you can use tools like Hunter.io to find them by simply entering their first name, last name, and their domain name. It will give you a list of the results it found. Ideally, you would launch your invitation privately, but if you still can’t find their email address, don’t hesitate to send a tweet that mentions your plan or a simple message via the other social media platforms.

Here are more tips on how to find contact information for people who you want to reach, and what good practices you should follow.

4. Reach out to your experts

If it’s the first time you are contacting someone, it’s a good idea to look into the good practices of a cold email. Roundup posts are great for getting quality backlinks, and the persons you will contact are aware of the positive influence their contribution can have on your traffic and domain. But they can’t endorse a website or a blog that doesn’t prove to be valuable on a constant basis.

We can talk about cold email outreach best practices for days on end but that would take too long. What I highly recommend is that you be genuine, polite, and kind when reaching out to your experts. This goes a long way and they’ll be able to tell when someone is being genuine since they receive hundreds of spam emails every day.

I also recommend you personalize each and every one of your emails. Yes, this will take time but you will have a higher conversion rate than if you were to send the same bulk email to everyone.

I don’t have a template to help you get started, but below I have provided a screenshot of an email I sent out to one of the experts that we included in our roundup. Feel free to use it for some inspiration and to help garner some ideas.

Another fantastic way of reaching out to experts is by joining and engaging with them via their live streams. We used this tactic to reach one of our experts who had not replied via email. It worked out, and he gave us some awesome advice while on his live stream.

5. Put it all together

Getting enough contributions from the experts you have contacted is a great achievement in the process of creating a stellar roundup post. But your job is not finished yet. Putting together the content you have just received from your guests is very important, as it will have to be a high-quality presentation that they will gladly share on their channels, therefore getting you some exposure to new audiences.

Things you want to include

  • A headshot
  • Their reply
  • Short bio
  • Social media and website handles
  • And your own comments

As you can see in our roundup post example, each contributor’s section starts with a professional picture of the contributor, the content that they have submitted, finished with our own thoughts on their commentary. We have added easy-to-follow social media icons that take you to their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn profiles, the titles they hold, and links to their main projects: companies they work for, blogs, YouTube channels, and others.

We wanted to make it easy for our readers to follow and engage with our experts via their blogs, businesses, and social media accounts.

While you want to emphasize the value of each contributor, you must also have your reader’s interest in mind, and clearly answer a need or a question your audience has.

6. Promote your post

Promoting your posts should be done in the interest of all your contributors, yourself, and your audience. The effort you have invested in compiling these pieces of content will ideally be rewarded with significant organic traffic, a good number of quality backlinks, and most importantly the start of new and meaningful relationships.

You should also edit the content carefully so that each contributor gets the same level of attention and appreciation. Take your time to thank each one of them for their contribution and don’t hesitate to personalize your message with your personal impression of their content.

Backlinks are certainly welcome, but asking them explicitly might not be appreciated by all the persons you will contact. The best ways of getting your contributors to share the roundup post are to simply ask them if they could share it with their audience.

Infographics, tweets, quotes included in an image, newsletters, and paid ads are all great ideas for getting your content everywhere and promoting it like crazy.

Conclusion: Creating an expert roundup post is totally worth it

Publishing an expert roundup post might not be everyone’s style of content, but for certain industries and domains, it can be a long-term valuable resource, both for your audience and your peers. And, of course, for you.

Keeping your focus on the value your post should bring to your readers will help you choose an enticing topic, ask the right question, and select the right people to answer it. While no one can ignore the advantages a roundup post has for contributors and creators alike, backlinks and traffic should not be your singular concern.

Ultimately, the success of such a compilation is given by the shares, referrals, and traffic you get from your audience. Create a fantastic expert roundup post by asking a question your readers are interested in, and your contributors can easily answer.

Give this type of content the time and effort it needs and it will prove to be a fruitful initiative, both amongst your peers and as a relevant post for your website.



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