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Top 8 Essential Website Optimization Strategies for 2019

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In the good old days (circa 2009), Google supposedly only used about 200 ranking factors to determine the SERPs.

A lot has changed in the past 10 years.

But one thing that hasn’t?

You don’t need to sweat every ranking factor.

Some variables carry much more weight than others.

If you just focus on the essentials, you can still crush it in 2019. This post will delve into what those factors are and what is involved to optimize for each.

1. Mobile-First

Google officially began rolling out the mobile-first index in March. Smart marketers were taking a mobile-first approach long before the official rollout.

According to Google’s Danny Sullivan:

“Neither mobile-friendliness nor a mobile-responsive layout are requirements for mobile-first indexing. Pages without mobile versions still work on mobile, and are usable for indexing. That said, it’s about time to move from desktop-only and embrace mobile :)”

Here are some basics for making your site mobile-friendly:

  • Make your site adaptive to any device; be it desktop, mobile or tablet.
  • Always scale your images when using a responsive design, especially for mobile users.
  • Use short meta titles. They are easier to read on mobile devices.
  • Avoid pop-ups that cover your content and prevent visitors from getting a glimpse of what your content is all about.
  • Less can be more on mobile. In a mobile-first world, long-form content doesn’t necessarily equate to more traffic and better rankings.
  • Don’t use mobile as an excuse for cloaking. Users and spiders need to see the same content.

Top 8 Essential Website Optimization Strategies for 2019

2. Technical SEO

Some find the idea of performing technical SEO to be intimidating.

Thanks to the many SEO tools available, an SEO audit is no longer a daunting task.

The key, however, is to know how to interpret the data provided and what to do with it.

For starters, you should check the following:

3. Website Speed

Page speed has a direct impact on both traffic and conversions.

According to Google, “the average time it takes to fully load a mobile landing page is 22 seconds… yet 53 percent of mobile site visitors leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.”

Slow page speed creates a poor user experience, which is why Google takes page speed into consideration as a ranking factor.

Best practices for optimizing page speed include:

  • Minimize HTTP requests for the different parts of the page, like scripts, images, and CSS.
  • Reduce file size by compressing them and combine common files to reduce requests.
  • Have both CSS and JavaScript load simultaneously.
  • Make JavaScript load after important files have.
  • Reduce DNS lookup time.
  • Improve server response time.
  • Use an appropriate hosting solution.
  • Leverage browser caching.
  • Minimize image sizes.
  • Use a CDN.
  • Keep plugins to a minimum.
  • Keep redirects to a minimum.

4. User Intent

Writing “great content,” optimizing it, and getting trusted links is now just the start for ranking a keyword.

As machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, each will carry more weight in Google’s core algorithm.

The ultimate goal for Google is to understand context and serve results based on searcher intent.

This makes advanced level keyword research and selection more important than ever.

For starters, you need to recognize there are some keywords and queries that will be impossible to rank for.

A keyword’s contextual relevance must align with a search query.

Before spending time and resources trying to rank for a phrase, you need to look at the current ranking websites and phrases.

Unless your website and landing page are similar to what is ranking, chances are it won’t happen.

Take the query [albany new york personal injury lawyer] for example:

Top 8 Essential Website Optimization Strategies for 2019

At one time, this query resulted in a series of independent lawyers and law firms appearing at the top of the search results.

That’s changed.

Google is now giving preference to law directories:

sample serps

In this instance, because there is still a chance to rank in Google maps, it’s still worth pursuing this phrase. If not for that opportunity it would be a waste of time.

Google appears to have concluded that searcher intent is to find a series of lawyers or firms – not just one.

5. Content Marketing

It is projected that by 2020, 44 zettabytes of data will be produced every day.

To put this in perspective, that’s the equivalent of 8.48 trillion songs or 1,440 years of HD video every day.

The challenge to break through the clutter will become exponentially more difficult as time passes.

In order to do so:

  • Create a content hub in the form of a resource center.
  • Fill your resource hub with a combination of useful, informative, and entertaining content.
  • Write “spoke” pieces related to your resource hub and interlink.
  • Write news articles related to your resource and interlink.
  • Spread the word – promote your news articles on social channels.
  • Hijack trending topics related to your content – promote on social media.
  • Use your smartphone camera. Images and videos typically convert better than text alone.
  • Update stale and low trafficked content.

6. Schema

Schema markup, once added to a webpage, creates a “rich snippet” – an enhanced description which appears in the search results.

All of the leading search engines, including Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Yandex, support the use of microdata.

The real value in schema is that it can provide context to a webpage and improve the search experience.

There is no evidence that adding schema has any influence on SERPs.

What Is Schema Used For?

If you find the thought of adding schema to a page intimidating, you shouldn’t.

Schema is actually quite simple to implement.

If you have a WordPress site, there are a number of plugins that will do this for you.

7. User Experience

User experience (UX) is centered on gaining insight into users, their needs, their values, their abilities, and their limitations.

UX also takes into consideration business goals and objectives.

Best UX practices focus on improving the quality of the user experience.

According to Peter Morville, factors that influence UX include:

  • Useful: Your content needs to be unique and satisfy a need.
  • Usable: Your website needs to be easy to use and navigate.
  • Desirable: Your design elements and brand should evoke emotion and appreciation.
  • Findable: Integrate design and navigation elements to make it easy for users to find what they need.
  • Accessible: Content needs to be accessible to everyone – including the 10 percent of the population with disabilities.
  • Credible: Your site needs to be trustworthy in order for users to believe you.
  • Valuable: Your site needs to provide value to the user in terms of experience and to the company in terms of positive ROI.

8. Link Building

Links have been among the top ranking factors for quite some time now.

In 2019, what I think will change is that Google will become even more adept at identifying and devaluing spammy links.

That being the case, quality will continue to trump quantity.

The Best Link Building Strategies for 2019

Conclusion

The mounds of information and disinformation served up daily in various marketing feeds can be overwhelming.

If you aren’t careful it can lead to analysis paralysis and nothing gets done.

That said, if you just focus on these eight essentials you will set yourself up for success in 2019 and beyond.

More Resources:


Image Credits

In-Post Photo: MichaelGaida / Pixabay
Screenshots taken by author, November 2018

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5 Easy SEO Wins with Powerful Results

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5 Easy SEO Wins with Powerful Results


Search engine optimization, when done correctly, can take a lot of work. This is why so many people are so eager to take shortcuts.

Fortunately, there are some tasks that don’t require as much effort, compared to tasks like link building, yet still yield significant gains.

I’m a big fan of efficiency, so I love tactics that deliver a greater return on my investment of time and/or money.

In this article, I’m going to explain five of these tactics which are easy to execute successfully but can deliver powerful results.

These easy SEO wins will help you get more out of your efforts and sprint past your competitors. They will also help to leverage better results out of your other SEO efforts like link building and content development.

1. Prune Outdated /Low-Quality Content

You probably created all of the content on your website with the best of intentions, but still, it’s almost a certainty that some of it is garbage.

There are a variety of reasons for this, and it happens to the best of us. The solution in many cases is to prune this content. In fact, Danny Goodwin and Loren Baker recently hosted a webinar on exactly this topic.

Some people are hesitant to get rid of any content, no matter the reason. The thinking is generally that it can’t do any harm to leave it there. And Google has reinforced this thinking time and time again.

But the reality is that despite what Google’s representatives say, outdated and/or low-quality content can negatively impact your ranking and traffic.

It probably should impact your credit score too, but apparently, I don’t have the clout necessary to make that happen.

Identifying Content to Prune

Once you’ve worked up the courage to start pruning, the first step is to identify the content that should be deleted.

The easiest and most complete way to do this is to use software like Screaming Frog to crawl your website and generate a list of URLs. This helps to ensure you don’t miss anything.

Next, you’ll need to begin the tedious task of reviewing this list, URL by URL, to determine which content is outdated or low quality. This means you actually need to manually visit each page and review the content.

It may help to prioritize this list. Google Search Console gives you the ability to export a CSV file of the URLs Google has indexed for your website, which you can then sort by traffic.

From here, you’ll want to start evaluating the URLs with no traffic, working your way up.

sorted URLs

It’s important to point out that a lot of this content you’re deleting can and should be redirected to a stronger, high-quality page.

But don’t fall into the misguided approach of redirecting them to your homepage. If there is a legitimately relevant page on your website, redirect it there, otherwise, just let it 404.

But what about the content that’s not a complete dumpster fire, and is still relevant?

2. Improve Quality Content

If you’ve been doing things right, a lot, if not most of your content should survive the executioner’s blade.

This content should be improved based on your visitors’ needs.

The advantage here is that this content already exists, the URL has a history in Google, and it may even have some inbound links. Because of these factors, it makes a lot more sense to improve that content rather than starting over from scratch.

Depending on circumstances, this might include:

  • Editing your content to improve readability, increase engagement, and to make it more comprehensive.
  • Adding relevant and useful media, including images, video, and PDFs.
  • Including original data, research, statistics, and case studies.

We’ll want to prioritize the content to improve based on quick and easy wins. This means we won’t be targeting topics we don’t already rank for, but we also won’t be focused on improving positions we already rank highly for.

So let’s go back to our Google Search Console export and sort the data based on URLs that rank anywhere from Position 5 to 30 in the search results.

sort URLs by position

We’ll then further sort this data by relevance and potential search volume. From here, we will compare these URLs to our competitors who outrank us to identify opportunities to improve.

Some of the things we’re looking for could include:

Word Count

Despite what you may have been told, size does matter.

While not a worthwhile metric on its own, it can help to determine how comprehensive several URLs are in comparison to each other.

Depth

Generally speaking, the top ranking pages across all industries tend to be more comprehensive than those that they outrank. This doesn’t mean that longer content will always win, but it can be a powerful factor.

Does your content effectively and completely answer not only the original query, but also any related questions that may come up as a result?

You need to think about not only the immediate topic, but everything related to the customer journey. This might include:

  • Related definitions
  • Frequently asked questions
  • A summary of relevant laws and regulations
  • Explanation of a process
  • Technical specifications
  • Statistical data
  • Case studies

Readability

How well-written is your content?

This is not something you want to evaluate by gut feel – you need an objective measurement.

  • Yoast gives you a readability score while editing content right in WordPress.
  • SEMrush enables you to test readability both within their platform and with a Chrome add-on that integrates with Google Docs.
  • There are countless other tools as standalone websites, apps, and addons/plugins, available.

Your immediate goal is to make your content easier to read than the content that’s outranking you, but that’s just a starting point.

If your competitors content reads like someone spilled a bowl of alphabet soup, don’t set out to simply be a little better than them. Your goal should be to blow them away.

Media

Are original and useful images included within your content? How about video and/or audio files?

Images can provide additional context that helps search engines understand what your content is about. So can video, provided that schema is properly used.

But both serve another more important role, and that is to improve the user experience.

Look for opportunities to use media to provide additional information that’s not included in the text.

Both images and video are great at making complex topics easier to understand, but video is particularly effective at keeping visitors on your website longer, which is always a good thing.

It’s always a wise idea to include a watermark on your images to prevent competitors from stealing them.

Sure, you could file a DMCA complaint after the fact, but it’s always easier to avoid the problem in the first place.

3. Update Internal Links

Internal links can be a powerful tactic in your SEO toolbox, but it’s important to review them from time.

Your internal links should point to any pages that you want to rank well, and they should be placed on any pages with content relevant to the link destination. Equally important, these links should be direct.

redirects

This is a pretty common problem in websites where content is frequently published, moved, or deleted. The solution is to use a tool like Screaming Frog or SEMrush to crawl your site and identify any redirect chains.

As for managing these internal links, I’m a big fan of automating this task, and this is easy for WordPress websites.

There are several plugins available that enable you to specify certain words/phrases to automatically link to specific URLs.

This allows you to instantly create, edit, and delete links across your entire website, whether you have a few pages or a few million pages.

4. Improve Page Load Speed

The longer a webpage takes to load, the fewer leads and sales you’ll generate. To compound this problem, slower websites also tend not to rank as well compared to faster websites.

This makes page speed monumentality important.

Most websites are painfully slow, but the good news is that it’s relatively easy to improve.

While improving page speed requires a moderate level of technical expertise, I still consider this to be an easy win because the improvements you make will have an immediate and sitewide effect.

I’ll briefly share a few tactics here, but I encourage you to check out another article I wrote, explaining how to improve page speed, in great detail.

Dump the Budget Web Hosting

The cheaper web hosts tend to oversell their services, so your website is crammed onto a server with hundreds or even thousands of other websites.

Because these servers often lack the horsepower necessary, the websites they host often suffer in terms of page speed.

Reduce HTTP Calls

Every part of your website – each HTML, CSS, JavaScript, image, video, and any other type of file — requires a separate HTTP request.

Fewer HTTP requests typically means a faster website.

So how do we get there?

The first step is to remove any unnecessary plugins. Then, you’ll merge multiple CSS and JavaScript files into a single CSS and JavaScript file.

You should also minimize the number of image files by using CSS to create the desired design effect and/or using sprites to merge multiple frequently used images.

Optimize Media Files

Images and videos on many websites tend to be larger than they need to be.

The first step is to to make sure your media files are in the ideal format. For example, JPG is best for photographic images, while GIF or PNG are better for images with large areas of solid color.

Then, you’ll need to ensure your media files are properly sized. Images and video should be no larger than they will be displayed.

For example, if a particular image on your website will be never displayed at more than 800px wide, the image file should be 800px wide.

Finally, you’ll need to compress your media files. There are a number of free tools available online for compressing various file types. There are also WordPress plugins that can compress all of the images already on your website.

These three steps are a good start, but as I mentioned earlier, I highly encourage you to check out my previous article on improving page speed for more tactics and greater detail.

5. Implement Schema Markup

There is no definitive evidence that schema markup has any direct impact on ranking, however, it’s still critical to SEO.

That’s because it has the potential to increase your website’s visibility in the search results, which results in higher click-through rates.

Since most websites today still don’t use schema, this creates a tremendous opportunity for those that do. Take a look at this example and tell me which result caught your eye first?

schema in SERPs

Fortunately, implementing schema is relatively simple. There are three types, and they are used in different scenarios.

  • Standard schema microdata, which is marked up directly in HTML.
  • JSON-LD, which is marked up in JavaScript and is the most recommended format.
  • RDFa, which is used in a variety of different document types including XML, HTML 4, SVG, and many others.

In some cases, you’ll use JSON and add it to your website just like you would any other script. In some cases, you’ll add markup to specific elements on your website, and in others, you might add RDFa to a different document type.

Roger Montti wrote a great, in-depth post on schema, so rather than reinventing the wheel here, I’ll just direct you to his article.

But schema goes a lot deeper than where it is today and I anticipate that it will play a much larger and more direct role in the search algorithm. Especially as voice search begins to gain traction.

Montti explains in another article how Google is currently using speakable markup, which I believe will become a more prominent factor in search in the coming years.

More Resources:


Image Credits

Featured Image: Created by author, April 2019
All screenshots taken by author, April 2019





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7 Expert Tips to Protect Your Online Reputation

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7 Expert Tips to Protect Your Online Reputation


Ready for some detailed advice to help protect your reputation online?

The advice you’ll read in this article works for both proactive reputation management, and for those that already have online negative content/reviews about them.

Be advised, however, that some sites may be impossible or very hard to beat.

Major news sites (e.g., The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, New York Times) require significant work to manage.

If a major news site has posted negative content about you, then you really need to be (or hire) an expert in SEO.

The do-it-yourself option is just not feasible at that scale. That said, these tips will help some DIYers before moving on to an expensive reputation management firm.

Up until recently, popular complaint website RipoffReport was also hard to beat.

Recent changes to Google’s algorithm (which we think occurred in September 2018) have pushed some complaint sites lower in search ranking. Read my prior article for more details about this.

Tip 1: Provide Excellent Service

You want to make sure that you really are providing an excellent service to avoid getting negative reviews in the first place. Consider going above and beyond your current efforts.

For example, if you run a restaurant, maybe provide a free appetizer to surprise new or returning customers.

If you notice even the slightest sign that a customer is unhappy, try your best to resolve the issue ASAP. The next best thing is to offer a free service or refunds to make up for the issue.

You can’t make everyone happy. I have been doing SEO services for over 20 years and there have been many times when I’ve had unhappy clients.

I have always either offered free services or provided refunds to my unhappy clients, and this is how I have kept a near flawless record online.

They say the client is always right. I know that sometimes they are not, but consider whether arguing with your customer is worth your reputation.

The decision may come down to the dollar value of your services.

Maybe a negative review on Yelp or Google Maps would not affect your overall rating because you have many positive reviews.

But what would happen if you got a negative review on a complaint site like RipoffReport?

Often, these kinds of reviews rank high for the brand name and can do more damage in a few months than the amount in dispute with your client.

I have offered full refunds to several clients over the years because the threat of a negative review on the right site can hurt.

My firsthand knowledge of the damage done to businesses has made me overly cautious.

One negative review can cost thousands of dollars in online reputation management (ORM) services to try and repair.

Tip 2: Ask for Reviews

Certain professions are more likely to have more negative reviews than positive.

For example, dentists for some reason usually get a high number of negative reviews.

My guess is that no one goes to a dentist with a happy feeling. One usually goes to a dentist to fix a cavity or do a cleaning, which could result in the discovery of cavities and require more work.

Having to spend money you had not planned on spending is a pretty good reason for most people to get upset. Even the best dental insurance requires some kind of a copay, so dental procedures can be expensive.

Even if you aren’t a dentist, you’re more likely to get positive reviews if you ask for them.

If you avoid asking your best customers for reviews, you may end up with more negative reviews than you would have wanted.

Just make sure that you know your customers are happy before you ask for the review.

If you are seeing your customer in person, you may start by asking how they felt about your service right after you finish the job.

Alternatively, you may want to follow up after a few days.

Another tip is to use a different person to follow up then whoever served the customer. If it is one of your staff that did the work/sale, then either a manager or you should do the follow-up.

This way the customer is more likely to tell you about a negative experience, and you won’t feel as defensive about it since you were not the one involved.

Tip 3: Incentives for Reviews

Consider offering some kind of incentive for reviews, but be warned that this practice is against Yelp. If you do this, make sure to never ask for it in writing, but always verbally.

If someone reports you to Yelp for doing this, you may get a warning or a demotion in Yelp’s search results.

I have seen businesses post messages behind their business cards asking for Yelp reviews, with a discount for positive reviews.

A customer just needs to take a picture of this and send it to Yelp. Yelp will quickly follow up with a Consumer Alert on your account.

Tip 4: Offer Refunds to Unhappy Clients

If you have clients that are unhappy with your services, at first try to resolve or fix the issues, but if this is not possible, then offer a full or partial refund or some other incentive such as discount coupons or even retail gift cards.

Accept that you were wrong. Trying to resolve issues will always sit better with clients than trying to argue.

Refunds can either help avoid the negative review or lessen the damage and turn the negative review into a somewhat positive one.

I’ve had clients where even a partial refund has meant the difference between a 1-star and a 4-star review. Even a 5-star rating may be possible.

Tip 5: Review Generating Platforms

Many companies offer platforms for review generation. The basic concept is to collect your customer’s emails and/or phone numbers.

After their visit, or every so often, you can send a survey email or text message to ask for feedback.

The message will ask how they felt about your services and if the answer comes back positive you can then ask them to give you a review on the review site of your choosing, such as Yelp and Google Maps.

If the answer comes back negative, you will see the message and can reach out to them to try and resolve the issue before they think about posting a negative review in the first place.

These services typically cost as little as $30 per month to run yourself, or up to hundreds of dollars for a full-service provider (ORM company). Some companies that offer this service include:

Tip 6: Consider Revising Your Business Model

I have a client with an ecommerce fashion store that dropships items from China, even though the business is based in the U.S.

The delivery time is usually 2 to 5 weeks, which is slow for most people. In addition, sometimes the Chinese sizes run smaller than US sizes.

So this business often gets many negative reviews and requests for returns/refunds. They also further upset clients by asking the customer to send back the item at their own expense.

As you can see, this kind of business cannot avoid negative reviews unless they change their business model.

The main benefit of their service is that it’s affordable. In fact, they are extremely cost-effective compared to similar fashion items found at major department stores.

So, what can a business like this do?

My advice begins with an adjustment to their sales copy informing customers that items are delivered from China and that shipping may take 2-5 weeks.

This tactic reduces some of their sales, but it avoids so many unhappy customers and unnecessary refunds.

Most people would probably not mind waiting a little if that would save them some money.

The customers that don’t want to wait that long are usually the ones that would complain most because they probably needed the item to be there for an occasion.

Also, they can offer free or reduced shipping costs for returns.

If the item is pretty cheap, another option is to provide a full refund and have the customer simply keep the item. Amazon used this tactic effectively in its growth phase to encourage Prime users.

The good news with this business is that they decided to change business models and keep inventory on hand to ship from the U.S. after I consulted with them.

They have been getting fewer negative reviews since they did this couple of months ago.

So my point here is to take a look at your business model to see what adjustments you can make to avoid situations that lead to negative reviews.

Even if it is going to cost you some business or money, you would be better off in the long run.

Not only will you increase business from new customers (thanks to positive reviews), happy clients will return and refer others to your business.

Tip 7: Be Proactive, Not Reactive

There are a number of things you can do to create a positive online image.

Your goal should be to populate the top 20 of Google with positive content about your business, which in turn may help to keep negative content out.

I plan on writing another article soon to cover more specifics, but in general, here are a few recommendations:

  • Register your social media profiles on the top social media sites, and stay active on those platforms.
  • Active Twitter profiles often get in the top 10 for their brand names, and Google may even show the latest feeds from them taking additional real estate space.
  • YouTube videos will often rank well for brand names. You can create a professional video for less than $1,000, or an even lower budget video using your smartphone. Also, you can hire a freelancer on a site like Fiverr to do a slide show type video about your business.
  • Distribute press releases every few months. Try to use different networks for distribution to get maximum coverage.
  • If you don’t already have a blog, create one and post on a regular basis (once a week is what we recommend to our clients as a minimum).
  • Create mini sites or blogs with subdomain blog platforms, such as wordpress.com or tumblr.com. Make sure your brand name appears as part of the subdomain (i.e., yourbrand.wordpress.com).

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Official AMP Plugin for WordPress Now Supports AMP Stories

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Official AMP Plugin for WordPress Now Supports AMP Stories


A new version of the official AMP plugin for WordPress supports the creation of AMP Stories.

Google recently added a dedicated section to search results for showcasing AMP Stories.

So there’s no time like the present for learning how to create them.

While AMP Stories can be created with or without this plugin, its drag-and-drop functionality certainly makes things easier.

Official AMP Plugin for WordPress Now Supports AMP Stories

The AMP Project team explains how WordPress offers an ideal platform for creating AMP Stories:

“Building on top of WordPress, and specifically the new Gutenberg editor available in WordPress 5.0, allows the AMP Stories creation process to benefit from the rich media management architecture available in WordPress.

In Gutenberg everything is a block. This makes it easy to create rich post layouts, provide enhanced authoring tools (word count, color contrast, document outlines, etc.), and extend with custom blocks.”

Capabilities of the latest AMP plugin update include:

  • Creating and reordering AMP Story pages
  • Dragging and dropping blocks
  • Managing your content overall as part of WordPress
  • Creating new elements, such as text, videos, images
  • Changing the background color and opacity, and adding a gradient
  • Animating the text, rotating it, and selecting a Google font

This feature is currently available in an experimental alpha version of the AMP plugin, which is said to work best with Gutenberg.

With that said, download and install the plugin at your own discretion.





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