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The Complete SEO Guide for 2020

Understanding the importance of a title tag is critical for your SEO strategy. Optimizing your page title tags for SEO is simple: Just make sure to throw your keyword in the page title tag and you’re good to go, right? Yes and no. You could stop after step 1 and probably do pretty well in […]

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Understanding the importance of a title tag is critical for your SEO strategy.

Optimizing your page title tags for SEO is simple:

Just make sure to throw your keyword in the page title tag and you’re good to go, right?

Yes and no.

You could stop after step 1 and probably do pretty well in search results(if you’ve done everything else right).

But the truth is:

There’s so much more you need to know about search engine algorithms to optimize your page title tags.

That’s what this title tag guide is all about.

Make sure you read until the end because I’ll be sharing some title tag optimization tactics that will skyrocket your organic search engine results CTR.

Let’s jump in.

FREE Download: See 21 examples of perfect SEO content that you can start modeling today.


What is a Title Tag?

As the name suggests, an HTML title tag is an element of your web page’s HTML code that indicates its title. It is often used to let both search engine algorithms and people know what the page’s content is all about.

You can only have one title tag per page. It will appear in your source code as:

<head>
<title>Example of a Title Tag</title>
</head>

Most people will encounter your title tag in four places:

1. Web Browser Tabs

The title tag can be seen on your web browser when you open your page in a new tab.

This is especially helpful when a user has many tabs open and would like to go back to your content. Because of this, it’s important that your title tags are unique, easily recognizable, and can be immediately differentiated from other open search listings.

2. Browser Bookmarks

Browser bookmarks on Chrome browser window show the website’s title tags by default. As you’ll notice below, the page title tags are usually truncated when it’s on the “Bookmarks Bar”.

However, you can see most of a page’s title tag if you’re using folders. This is a good reason why you should use short, but descriptive title tags. More on this soon.

3. Shared Media on Social Media Platforms

You know those little previews on Facebook and Twitter when someone shares content on those platforms? Your title tag will show up in the head section, accurately describe and letting people know what the page is about and what they can expect to find when they click on that link.

Some social networks will allow you to customize your title tag just for their platform user experience. An enticing title tag helps draw in more visitors to your product or home page.

If you’re on WordPress, you can customize your OG data using Yoast and All-in-One SEO Pack. You can also download this OG plugin. It doesn’t require any setup and it will ensure that your “Featured Image” shows up and you get an image credit when people share your content on social.

If you’re having issues with your Featured Image not showing, use the following SEO tools:

4. Title Tag In the SERPs 

One of the most important places where your title tag will show is in Search Engine Results Pages (that includes Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, etc).

The title tag shows up as a big, blue clickable link above a short meta description or summary.

This means that if someone found your web page by a search query that is related to your business, this is your first chance to make a lasting impression and convince them to click on your website.

It’s very easy to add a title tag to your website, but writing an effective one takes time, research, and a little skill (that’s easily developed).

But first, you need to know:

Why are Title Tags Important for Search Engine Optimization?

Some blogs will tell you that optimizing title tags are obsolete in 2020. This is misleading. While title tags may not play the same role in SEO as they did a decade ago, there are still many reasons not to neglect this low-effort, important part of search engine optimization.

Here are the benefits of optimizing your title tags for your SEO strategy (the right way):

1. Title Tags & Keyword Rankings

Do you need to place your target keyword in the title tag to rank well in Google search results?

The short answer is “Yes”.

The longer answer is that meta tags may not be as important part as they once were for search engine results.

Brian’s research found that having the keyword in the title tag does impact rankings, but it’s a small factor in comparison to other factors:

Image Source: Backlinko.com

Ahrefs also found that “there’s a slight correlation between the usage of keywords in the title tag and search engines rankings.”

Image Source: Ahrefs.com

And finally, one last case study from Matthew Barby also indicated that “The presence of keywords in the page title” tags does correlate to higher search engine rankings.

Image Source: MatthewBarby.com

Truth be told:

I’ve never attempted to rank pages without using the main keyword phrase in the title tag.

That’s because it wouldn’t make sense for me to stop doing what’s working.

My recommendation will continue to be that you should place your primary keyword in the title tag. Just keep in mind that a title tag is a small factor in the larger ranking equation.

2. CTR (Click-Through-Rate)

Although there’s some debate about CTR being a ranking factor, there’s no denying that increasing your CTR will increase your organic search engine results page traffic.

And just to be clear:

The goal of search engine optimization is to get more organic search traffic. When you change your mindset from “rankings” to “traffic” it changes the way you operate.

Optimizing your title tag for maximum CTR is an intelligent action to take.

I’ll explain some best practices you can use to optimize your page title tags to achieve that goal in a second.

Side note: I lean towards CTR being a direct or least an indirect ranking factor. The way I look at is there’s no benefit of NOT optimizing for CTR. Even if it isn’t a ranking factor.

Ross Hudgens from Siege Media has an excellent video on this topic, worth a watch:

TL; DW: Click-through rate may not be a direct search engine ranking factor, but it looks like it impacts search results rankings indirectly.

3. Social Sharing & Title Tags

Your page’s title tag is a focal point when it’s shared on social media. Does that mean you need to use clickbait titles like this?:

No, but you should think about why clickbait works.

The truth is clickbait is only annoying when the actual content doesn’t add real search result value.

4. Headlines Matter

What you place in your title tag is nothing more than a headline. You’ve probably heard the idea that only 8 out of 10 Internet users will read past the headline.

Or that:

“Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” – Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963) by David Oglivy

The truth is:

If you’re reading this, then you’re in the minority.

In fact:

Most people only make it through around 17-20% of my content before returning back to watching cat videos.

But regardless, the good title copy you use within your title tag is the first touchpoint for readers.

You have to do it well or your engagement will be low.

Those are four important reasons why you need to optimize your title tag, but now I need to cover a few important questions:

Does Google Rewrite Titles?

If Google doesn’t think that your title tag is relevant to the target audience, readable, or provides value to your site’s user experience, the search engine can and will completely rewrite the title tags – and often in ways that a site owner won’t like.

In fact, here’s what Gary Illyes said:

“We will never quit rewriting titles. We’ve seen so many sites whose title really suck. A lot of sites have no title; a lot of sites have a title saying “Top Page”. In fact, Google almost always rewrites titles. We couldn’t provide useful results to our users if we quit rewriting titles. Experiments showed us users preferred written titles. So, we’ll continue to write titles.” – Gary Illyes (Source)

It’s pretty clear based on Gary’s words that Google’s search engine algorithms will rewrite your title tags (and isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon).

But what can you do to prevent it (and a high bounce rate)?

The #1 thing you can do is make sure that your title matches your product page’s content/intent. If your product page title is “Buy Shoes”, but your page is all about “buying blue Nikes”, then Google will likely rewrite your title.

Your title tag should be a 100% match of the page content.

One other factor you need to consider is the title tag length.

How Long Should Your Title be?

There are technically no character limits to your title tag, but search engines can only display 60 characters so much of your title before cutting it off.

If your SEO title tags are too long, Google may cut the end of the title off with an ellipsis (…), which could potentially prevent site visitors from seeing important information about the page.

According to Moz’s research, Google usually displays the first 50-60 characters (including spaces) of a title tag, but the more accurate limit would be 600px. This is because some characters (like M, W, etc.) take up more space than others.

Staying under 60 characters is a good rule of thumb, but you can also use many title tag preview SEO tools like this one just to be sure.

If you’re on WordPress, Yoast and All-in-One SEO pack will do the job.

If you want to find title tags that are too long at scale, then I recommend using Screaming Frog.

Open up Screaming Frog, enter your target domain, click on the “Page Titles” tab, and select “Over 65 Characters” from the filter:

You can click on each individual URL and preview what the title tag looks in the SERPs. Just click “SERP Snippet” at the bottom:

Can Your Title Tag and H1 be the Same?

The short answer is, yes. You should try to keep your H1 tag consistent with your title tag, but that doesn’t mean it has to be an exact match. For example, this page has a different title tag and H1 tag:

One method you can use is to vary your H1 from your title tag to rank for more long-tail keyword variations. I prefer keeping my H1 nearly identical to the title, but it’s elements to test for sure.

You can use Screaming Frog to find all titles that are the same as your H1 tags.

Open up Screaming Frog, enter your target domain, click on the “Page Titles” tab, and select “Same as H1” from the filter:

With some of those important title tag questions out of way, let me show you:

22 Easy Ways to Optimize Your Title Tags for SEO

Since we’ve already established that a good title tag is a low-effort way to optimize both your SERP ranking and your CTR, how exactly do you go about writing one?

Here are 22 ways to optimize your title tags for better rankings, CTR, and social sharing:

1. Focus on the Content First

That’s right. The first action you need to take is to make sure your SEO content is of the highest quality possible. It doesn’t matter how well you optimize your title tag if the page itself is low-value.

Getting the click is important, but getting visitors to dwell longer, visit more than one page, or complete a goal is what the objective should be. That’s only possible if you’re crafting effective SEO content.

Don’t take this step lightly!

2. Identify the Page Type

How you craft your titles will depend on the page type. For example, optimizing a title tag for a product page will be much different than a blog post.

There are a few different types of SEO-driven pages that a website will have:

Homepages

If you decide to optimize your homepage for a keyword phrase, there’s a good chance it will have the middle or bottom of the funnel search intent. For example, Hubspot targets “inbound marketing software” with their homepage.

This keyword has transactional intent so their homepage is structured to drive leads for their product name (not educate).

Notice the effective use of a curiosity gap at the end of their title tag as well.

Category Pages

E-commerce websites are the most likely candidate to try to rank category pages. However, there are some information-driven websites where it makes sense.

For example, RTINGS has a beautifully-structured category page for the keyword phrase “tv reviews”.

Although the keyword phrase “tv reviews” may lead to a sale in the future, I still consider it to be top of the funnel intent. Or, informational in nature.

Notice that RTINGS front-loads their primary keyword phrase and use not one, but two modifiers (“Best” and “2018).

Product Pages

Many product pages will target a combination of Navigational/Transactional keyword phrases. For example, take a look at the keyword phrase “Nike trout 4 cleats”.

Someone searching this keyword is primed to buy, so the title tag needs to reflect that intent.

Local Pages

Keyword stuffing title tags seems to be a common practice on the local level. After digging around, I was able to find an interesting example of the keyword phrase “Los Angeles personal injury lawyer”.

Although I don’t love the idea of jamming “car accident lawyers” in the title, I do like a few things about this title. First, they’ve front-loaded their primary keyword. Second, they’re using numbers within their title, which makes it much more eye-grabbing.

Blog Posts

Crafting title tags for blog posts is the easiest to understand.

Your goal should be to make your title as accurate and interesting as possible. The following tips can drastically improve your blog post title performance.

Most blog posts are going to keyword phrases with Informational intent, so you need to satisfy that.

3. Satisfy Searcher Intent

This applies to both your title and the page itself. The best way to satisfy searcher intent is to think about it from a funnel or buyer journey perspective.

There are four primary categories of searcher intent:

  • Informational – These are top of the funnel search queries such as “what is SEO”.
  • Comparison – These are middle of the funnel search queries such as “Ahrefs vs Moz”.
  • Transactional – These are bottom of the funnel search queries such as “Moz free trial”.
  • Navigational – These types of search queries are branded like “Gotch SEO”. This means the searcher already knows your brand or may already be a customer.

Most keyword phrases will fall under one or more of these categories.

Your title must satisfy the search intent behind the keyword phrase you’re targeting. You do not want ambiguity. Make it as clear as possible for the searcher.

4. Front-Load Your Primary Keyword

If you approach crafting your title tags from a searcher intent perspective, it would make sense to have the keyword phrase front-and-center. If someone’s searching for “best baseball cleats”, they’re likely to click on a result that showcases that keyword right away.

Keep in mind that “front-loading” doesn’t mean that your keyword phrase needs to be first in the title tag. It just needs to be towards the beginning.

5. Make Sure You Write for Searchers, Not Search Engines

Yes, place your keyword in your title tag, but don’t do this:

“SEO Company | SEO Agency | Chicago SEO Company”

You wouldn’t believe how often we find this type of title tags stuffing in our SEO audits (check out our SEO audit service if you need help).

There a few reasons why you shouldn’t stuff keywords in your title tag:

It’s Not Necessary

Google’s algorithms are much more sophisticated than before. More specifically, Google’s Hummingbird algorithm is designed to understand the content better.

That means it can identify synonyms and variations of your keywords. You don’t need to jam keyword variations into your title tag. Instead, you can place keyword variations or synonyms naturally throughout your copy and you’ll still perform well for them (given you did everything else right).

You Should Only Target One Primary Keyword Phrase Per Page

Although there are some exceptions to the rule (super authoritative websites), you should aim to target one primary keyword per page.

You’re Losing Precious Real Estate

Most keyword phrases aren’t persuasive in any way. When you stuff your title tag full of keywords, you’re losing the ability to add elements of effective copywriting and persuasion. I’ll be explaining some of these tactics in a second.

6. Use Shorter Titles

Matthew Barby’s research found that shorter titles tend to perform better in Google:

Image Source: MatthewBarby.com

Try to stay below 60 characters (including spaces).

If you’re struggling to keep it below 60 characters then you should try:

  • Avoid using all-caps in your title tag. Capital letters take up more space than lowercase letters.
  • Avoid using punctuation when necessary
  • Remove redundant or repetitive words
  • Use short phrases instead of long, complicated ones

7. Avoid Duplicating Page Titles

No two pages (that you want to be indexed in Google) should have the same title. The best way to find duplicate page titles is to use Screaming Frog SEO Spider.

Open up Screaming Frog SEO Spider, enter the target domain, and click on the “Page Titles” tab:

Then click the “Filter” dropdown and select “Duplicate”:

Sort the list by “Title 1”:

You only need to be concerned about duplicate title tags if your page is indexed. The new version of Screaming Frog makes this super easy with their new “Indexability” column.

8. Write Unique Titles for EVERY Page

Every page on your website should have a unique title. In fact, according to Google:

“Titles are critical to giving users a quick insight into the content of a result and why it’s relevant to their query. It’s often the primary piece of information used to decide which result to click on, so it’s important to use high-quality titles on your web pages.” – Google

The best way to find pages with missing titles is to once again, use Screaming Frog SEO Spider.

The steps are identical as above except you’ll select “Missing”:

9. Use Title Modifiers

If you dig through my content on Gotch SEO, you’ll discover that I love using title modifiers. I believe using title modifiers is one of the best ways to drive more long-tail traffic (without much effort).

I actually call this The Phantom Technique because many of these keyword variations are largely untapped.

Some simple title modifiers you can use are “top”, “best”, or the year.

Important note: If it’s relevant to use a year in your title tag, make sure that your URL doesn’t include it. For example, I update my anchor text guide every year and change the year in the title tag, but the URL never changes.

That means I can continue to build the authority of that page because my URL isn’t changing every year.

10. Build a Keyword Variation List

I also build a keyword variation list every time I find a new primary keyword phrase to target. For example, my primary keyword phrase for my backlinks guide is “backlinks”.

But obviously, my title couldn’t just be “Backlinks | Gotch SEO” because that’s A) boring and B) I would lose out on long-tail traffic.

Instead, I searched for relevant keyword variations I could naturally add to the title.

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer is perfect for this task.

Enter your primary keyword phrase, start the analysis, and then click on “Phrase Match”:

This section is a goldmine for finding keyword variations for your title.

You can also use UberSuggest and Keywords Everywhere to build your keyword variation list (both are free).

Although you won’t use 99.9% of these variations in your title tag, a large percentage of these keywords can dispersed throughout your page.

11. Emphasize Freshness

Do you know anyone that prefers old content? I don’t and that’s why emphasizing “freshness” in your title works really well.

One persuasion principle that I picked up from Frank Kern is that people love “new” things. In fact, something simply being “new” can be a big driving force.

Hence the reason why you’re more likely to buy a newer model car than a car from the 80s.

Another example is when you see a training course use “2.0” or “Revamped” in their headline. They’re emphasizing freshness.

Some ways to incorporate freshness into your title tags are to use the word “new”, “updated for YEAR”, “new data”, etc.

12. Use the H & W Strategy

The H & W strategy simple: Just use one of the following words in your title tag:  “How,” “What,” “Why,” “When,” “Where,” or “Who.”

How to {Create|Learn|Build|Use|Leverage|Increase|Get|Do}…

Example: How to Tie a Windsor Knot

  • Total Organic Keywords: 5,079
  • Total Linking Root Domains: 161
  • Total Social Shares: 819 (Buzzsumo)

What {are|is}?

Example: What Are Second Cousins vs. Cousins Once Removed

  • Total Organic Keywords: 2,600
  • Total Linking Root Domains: 59
  • Total Social Shares: 1.9 Million (Buzzsumo)

Why

Example: Why the Myers-Briggs Test is Meaningless

  • Total Organic Keywords: 2,500
  • Total Linking Root Domains: 77
  • Total Social Shares: 19,000 (Buzzsumo)

When

Example: 21 High-Protein Snacks To Eat When You’re Trying To Be Healthy

  • Total Organic Keywords: 1,800
  • Total Linking Root Domains: 32
  • Total Social Shares: 28,000 (Ahrefs)

Where

Example: The Complete Guide to Where to Put Your Eye Makeup

  • Total Organic Keywords: 5,200
  • Total Linking Root Domains: 33
  • Total Social Shares: 26,000 (Ahrefs)

13. Use Numbers

We’ve all been victims of consuming numbered listicles at one point or another. That’s because they’re super effective.

According to a study by Conductor, they found that 36% of respondents preferred headlines that included numbers:

Image Source: Moz.com

An example of an effective listicle post is “18 Unforgettable Countries Where You Can Roll Big on $50 a Day“. This example ranks for “cheapest countries to visit” (~3,600 searches/mo), has 45 linking root domains, and over 81,000 social shares.

Outside of the traditional listicle, you can also use monetary values such as: “Silicon Valley’s $400 Juicer May Be Feeling the Squeeze

Or, you can use percentages in title tags like this: “Nike’s online sales jumped 31% after company unveiled Kaepernick campaign“.

14. The Secret Title Tag Hack (Copywriters Hate It)

Ahh… yes, the classic clickbait headline.

I know I’ve fallen for many, but that’s because they work well! Mainly because they leave open loops in your mind and engage our natural human curiosity.

The trick here is to give readers a sneak peek into what they can find out by clicking on your link without giving too much away.

Employ as much tantalizing language as necessary; remember: you need to evoke surprise, amazement, or speak to a deeply-rooted fear. You can combine this technique with the other techniques above to create a truly click-worthy headline.

Example: 7 Unbelievable Exercises That Will Help Keep Your Nose In Shape

  • Total Organic Keywords: 3,500
  • Total Linking Root Domains: 17
  • Total Social Shares: 12,000 (Ahrefs)

Note: Use clickbait tactics few and far between because they can be annoying or unauthentic. Overuse could hurt your brand’s perceived value.

15. Be the Most Comprehensive

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) applies in many different scenarios, but especially with knowledge gaps. People want assurance that they aren’t missing out on any important information.

That’s why {Complete|Ultimate|Definitive} guides work well.

Example: The Ultimate Guide To Brunching In NYC

  • Total Organic Keywords: 3,300
  • Total Linking Root Domains: 62
  • Total Social Shares: 48,000 (Ahrefs)

16. Emphasize Speed (Time Savings)

One of the most powerful benefits to emphasize is saving time. Although this usually applies to products, it can be emphasized in title tags as well.

Use words like “fast”, “quick”, “simple”, etc.

Example: How to Get Rid of Stretch Marks Fast

  • Total Organic Keywords: 4,200
  • Total Linking Root Domains: 113
  • Total Social Shares: 160,000 (Ahrefs)

17. Break the Pattern

Pattern interrupts are common in video content, but there are ways to break the pattern in the SERPs as well. Some the best methods are used [brackets], {curly brackets}, (parentheses), equal signs (=), plus (+) or minus (-) signs, or pretty much any unordinary symbol.

You can also test using Emojis in title tags as well. Google doesn’t always show them though.

18. Use Title Tags to Find Keyword Cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization occurs when two or more pages on your website are optimized for the same keyword phrase. Auditing your title tags using Screaming Frog SEO Spider is actually one of the fastest ways to identify keyword cannibalization.

Open up SFSS, enter your target domain, click on the “Page Titles” tab, and keep the filter set to “All”:

You can then use SFSS’s built-in search function to find pages that are similar. In this example below, I searched “backlinks” and identified two pages using that primary keyword phrase.

In this case, it doesn’t make sense to consolidate these assets because the intent behind “how to build backlinks” vs “buy backlinks” are much different.

Identifying keyword cannibalization issues requires manual analysis, but it’s time well spent.

19. Test Your Titles

How do you know if your title tags will be effective? Well, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. I recommend using AM Institute’s tool to test and refine your titles before going live:

You can also use CoSchedule’s free headline analyzer tool as well.

20. Incorporate All the Methods

The good news is that you don’t need to be exclusive with what techniques you use. Mix and match the title tag optimization methods to get the best results possible.

21. Measure Performance with Google Search Console

Google Search Console shows you CTR data for your organic keywords. Just click on the “Performance” tab and you’ll access to all kinds of useful data:

Although your CTR is determined by more than just your title tag, it’s one of the most important factors. If you are ranking well, but your CTR is subpar, then you should test changing your title.

Here’s a simple title tag testing framework I use:

  • Create 10-20 title tags variations
  • Qualify the idea using AM Institutes tool
  • Execute the change
  • Annotate the change in Google Analytics
  • Wait (at least 3-4 weeks) – You need to give Google time to recrawl the page and see whether there’s a positive or negative impact.

The goal of these page title tests is to increase CTR.

Keep in mind: Navigational search queries (that aren’t your brand name) like “Blogspot” (I’ve been floating between the #2 – #5 spot) will have low CTR:

Changing your title tag won’t do much in this scenario because it’s based on intent.

On the other hand:

Navigational search queries that ARE for your brand (branded search) should have exceptionally CTR:

22. Be Realistic

All of these methods will help you optimize your title tags for peak SEO performance.

But don’t forget:

Placing your keyword in your title tag is a micro ranking factor.

Think of it as the bare minimum for ranking well.

That’s All for Title Tags!

I hope this guide helped you learn a thing (or two) about title tags.

If you got a lot of value out of this post please share it and drop a comment below because I respond to every single one 🙂

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SEO

How to use XPath expressions to enhance your SEO and content strategy

30-second summary: As Google increasingly favors sites with content that exudes expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T), it is imperative that SEOs and marketers produce content that is not just well written, but that also demonstrates expertise. How do you understand what topics and concerns matter most to your customer base? Can you use Q&As to […]

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30-second summary:

  • As Google increasingly favors sites with content that exudes expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T), it is imperative that SEOs and marketers produce content that is not just well written, but that also demonstrates expertise.
  • How do you understand what topics and concerns matter most to your customer base?
  • Can you use Q&As to inform content strategies?
  •  XPath notations can be your treasure trove.
  • Catalyst’s Organic Search Manager, Brad McCourt shares a detailed guide on using XPath notations and your favorite crawler to quickly obtain the Q&As in a straightforward and digestible format.

As Google increasingly favors sites with content that exudes expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T), it is imperative that SEOs and marketers produce content that is not just well written, but that also demonstrates expertise. One way to demonstrate expertise on a subject or product is to answer common customer questions directly in your content.

But, how do you identify what those questions are? How do you understand what topics and concerns matter most?   

The good news is that they are hiding in plain sight. Chances are, your consumers have been shouting at the top of their keyboards in the Q&A sections of sites like Amazon.

XPath and how to find customer questions and preferences

These sections are a treasure trove of (mostly) serious questions that real customers have about the products you are selling.

How do you use these Q&As to inform content strategies? XPath notation is your answer.

You can use XPath notations and your favorite crawler to quickly obtain the Q&As in a straightforward and digestible format. XPath spares you from clicking through endless screens of questions by automating the collection of important insights for your content strategy.

What is XPath?

XML Path (XPath) is a query language developed by W3 to navigate XML documents and select specified nodes of data.

The notation XPath uses is called “expressions”. Using these expressions, you can effectively pull any data that you need from a website as long as there is a consistent structure between webpages.

This means you can use this language to pull any publicly available data in the source code, including questions from a selection of Amazon Q&A pages.

This article is not meant to be a comprehensive tutorial on XPath. For that, there are plenty of resources from W3. However, XPath is easy enough to learn with only knowing the structure of XML and HTML documents. This is what makes it such a powerful tool for SEOs regardless of coding prowess.

Let’s walk through an example to show you how…

Using XPath to pull customer questions from Amazon

Pre-req: Pick your web crawler

While most of the big names in web crawling – Botify, DeepCrawl, OnCrawl – all offer the ability to extract data from the source code, I will be using ScreamingFrog in the example below.

ScreamingFrog is by far the most cost-effective option, allowing you to crawl up to 500 URLs without buying a license. For larger projects you can buy a license. This will allow you to crawl as many URLs as your RAM can handle.

Step one: Collect the URLs to crawl

For our example, let’s pretend we’re doing research on the topics we should include in our product pages and listings for microspikes. For those unaware, microspikes are an accessory for your boots or shoes. They give you extra grip in wintry conditions, so they are particularly popular among cold-weather hikers and runners.

Example for finding details using Amazon

Source: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=microspikes

Here we have a list of 13 questions and answer pages for the top microspike pages on Amazon.com. Unfortunately, there is some manual work required to create the list.

List of questions - XPath and creating content

The easiest way is to search for the topic (that is, microspikes) and pull links to the top products listed. If you have the product’s ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) handy, you can also generate the URLs using the above format, but switching out the ASIN.

Step two: Determine the XPath

From here, we need to determine the XPath.

In order to figure out the proper XPath notation to use to pull in the desired text, we have two main options:

  1.       View the Source-CodeDetermine the XPath
  2.       View the rendered source code and copy the XPath directly from Chrome’s Inspect Element tool

Copy XPath

You’ll find that the expression needed to locate all questions in an Amazon Q&A page is:

//span[@class=”a-declarative”]

Here is XPath notation broken down:

  •       // is used to locate all instances of the following expression.
  • Span is the specific tag we’re trying to locate. //span will locate every single <span> tag in the source code. There are over 300 of these, so we’ll need to be more specific.
  • @class specifies that //span[@class] will ensure all <span> tags with an assigned class attribute will be located.
  • @class=”a-declarative” dictates that //span[@class=”a-declarative”] only locates <span> tags where the class attribute is set to “a-declarative” – that is, <span class=”a-declarative”>

There is an extra step in order to return the inner text of the specified tag that is located, but ScreamingFrog does the heavy lifting for us.

It’s important to note that this will only work for Amazon Question and Answer pages. If you wanted to pull questions from, say, Quora, TripAdvisor, or any other site, the expression would have to be adjusted to locate the specific entity you desire to collect on a crawl.

Step three: Configure your crawler

Once you have this all set, you can then go into ScreamingFrog.

Configuration -> Custom -> Extraction

Configure your crawler

This will then take you to the Custom Extraction screen.

Custom extraction screen

This is where you can:

  • Give the extraction a name to make it easier to find after the crawl, especially if you’re extracting more than one entity. ScreamingFrog allows you to extract multiple entities during a single crawl.
  • You can then choose the extraction method. In this article, it is all about XPath, but you also have the option of extracting data via CSSPath and REGEX notation as well.
  • Place the desired XPath expression in the “Enter XPath” field. ScreamingFrog will even check your syntax for you, providing a green checkmark if everything checks out.
  • You then have the option to select what you want extracted, be it the full HTML element or the HTML found within the located tag. For our example, we want to extract the text in between any <span> tags with a class attribute set to “a-declarative” so we select “extract text.”

We can then click OK.

Step four: Crawl the desired URLs

Now it’s time to crawl our list of Amazon Q&A pages for microspikes.

First, we’ll need to switch the Mode in ScreamingFrog from “Spider” to “List.”

Then, we can either add our set of URLs manually or upload them from an Excel or other supported format.

After we confirm the list, ScreamingFrog will crawl each URL we provided, extracting the text between all <span> tags containing the class attribute set to “a-declarative.”

In order to see the data collected, you just need to select “Custom Extraction” in ScreamingFrog.

Run the desired URLs

At first glance, the output might not look that exciting.

However, this is only because a lot of unneeded space is included with the data, so you might see some columns that appear blank if they are not expanded to fully display the contents.

Once you copy and paste the data into Excel or your spreadsheet program of choice, you can finally see the data that has been extracted. After some clean-up, you get the final result:

Final list of questions created using XPath

The result is 118 questions that real customers have asked about microspikes in an easily accessible format. With this data at your fingertips, you’re now ready to incorporate this research into your content strategy.

Content strategies

Before diving into content strategies, a quick word to the wise: you can’t just crawl, scrape and publish content from another site, even if it is publicly accessible.

First, that would be plagiarism and expect to be hit with an DMCA notice. Second, you’re not fooling Google. Google knows the original source of the content, and it is extremely unlikely your content is going to rank well – defeating the purpose of this entire strategy.

Instead, this data can be used to inform your strategy and help you produce high quality, unique content that users are searching for.

Now, how do you get started with your analysis?

I recommend first categorizing the questions. For our example there were many questions about:

  • Sizing: What size microspikes are needed for specific shoe/boot sizes?
  • Proper Use – Whether or not microspikes could be used in stores, on slippery roofs, while fishing, mowing lawns, or for walking on plaster?
  • Features: Are they adjustable, type of material, do they come with a carrying case?
  • Concerns: Are they comfortable, do they damage your footwear, do they damage the type of flooring/ground you’re on, durability?

This is an amazing insight into the potential concerns customers might have before purchasing microspikes.

From here, you can use this information to:

1. Enhance existing content on your product and category pages

Incorporate the topics into the product or category descriptions, answering questions shoppers might have pre-emptively.

For our example, we might want to make it abundantly clear how sizing works – including a sizing chart and specifically mentioning types of footwear the product may or may not be compatible with.

2. Build out a short on-page FAQ section featuring original content, answering commonly asked questions

Make sure to implement FAQPage Schema.org markup for a better chance to appear for listings like People Also Ask sections, which are increasingly taking up real estate in the search results.

For our example, we can answer commonly asked questions about comfort, damage to footwear, durability, and adjustability. We could also address if the product comes with a carrying case and how to best store the product for travel.

3. Produce a product guide, incorporating answers to popular questions surrounding a product or category

Another strategy is to produce an extensive one-stop product guide showcasing specific use cases, sizing, limitations, and features. For our example, we could create specific content for each use case like hiking, running in icy conditions, and more.

Even better, incorporate videos, images, charts, and featured products with a clear path to purchase.

Using this approach your end product will be content that shows expertise, the authority on a subject, and most importantly, addresses customer concerns and questions before they even think to ask. This will help prevent your customers from having to do additional research or contact customer service. Thanks to your informative and helpful content, they will be more ready to make a purchase.

Furthermore, this approach also has the potential to lower product return rates. Informed customers are less likely to purchase the wrong product based upon assumed or incomplete knowledge.

Conclusion

Amazon is just the tip of the iceberg here. You can realistically apply this strategy to any site that has publicly accessible data to extract, be that questions from Quora about a product category, Trip Advisor reviews about hotels, music venues, and attractions, or even discussions on Reddit.

The more informed you are about what your customers are expecting when visiting your site, the better you can serve those expectations, motivate purchases, decrease bounces, and improve organic search performance.

Brad McCourt is an Organic Search Manager at Catalyst’s Boston office. 



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Five must knows for advertisers and marketers

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30-second summary:

  • 2020 set the stage for one of the most disruptive and fluid years search has ever seen.
  • Local search and Google My Business (GMB) set to be key focal areas for search advertisers and marketers amid shifts in COVID era search activity.
  • Google continues to make moves at further integrating ecommerce into search.
  • Manual Text Ads look to be on shaky ground as we move into 2021.
  • Ashley Fletcher, VP of Marketing at Adthena, shares five must-knows for search in 2021.

From algorithm changes to shifts in search activity as a result of COVID-19, 2020 was one of the most disruptive years that the search industry has ever seen. And although positive movements have been made in helping to rein in the COVID-19, a “return to normal” still seems a long way off. However, with the COVID-19 vaccine raising the possibility that “non-COVID era” search habits may return, search professionals are hard at work trying to determine which industry changes are here to stay, and which may fade away, as the world begins to get long overdue COVID relief. This means the landscape of search in 2021 is likely to see just as unpredictable of evolution as it did in 2020.

With that in mind, here are three key areas search advertisers and marketers should pay close attention to as we move into, and through, 2021.

Doubling down on GMB and local search

Remember when Google My Business (GMB) was just a helpful little tool for search advertising and marketing? Those days are now behind us.

Accounting for 33% of how local businesses are ranked, GMB is now a huge factor when it comes to SEO. Moreover, as local continues to become a bigger part of the search environment as more users are opting to stay close to home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, advertisers and marketers need to optimize their search strategies appropriately and stay abreast of any enhancements to GMB.

Greater consideration for voice search

With 157 million Amazon Echos in homes around the US at the start of 2020, voice search is poised to continue being a massive player in search moving forward. And given how easy it is, the fact that more smart speakers are set to be purchased in the years to come, voice search is likely to go from a secondary voice channel to a primary one in short order. Therefore, with this new avenue opening up and PPC having to be rethought as a result, advertisers should begin thinking about how to optimize their searches from traditional keyword search logic to spoken word-centric phrases.

Direct buy on Google? Amazon beware

E-commerce is set to be one of the most intriguing areas of search in 2021 as Google continues to indicate that shopping will be a key goal for its platform moving forward. For years, Google has been signaling that shopping and e-commerce are key focal areas for its platform. And through the rollout of features such as Smart Shopping — among other things — Google has never been in a better position to drive sales directly from its SERPs. This means that not only should Amazon be on high-alert, but traditional retail search advertisers need to seriously consider their search strategies in the year ahead.

The end of the text ad?

Could 2021 be the end of the road for text ads? This has been the question on search pros minds particularly since Google briefly scrapped the ability to create text ads in October — not to mention when the ability to create ETAs disappeared from Google Ads dropdown menus on a smaller scale in August. Plus, given the added emphasis being placed on Smart Bidding, it seems that manual text ads could have a limited lifespan at best, and 2021 could be the year where we see this search staple wound down entirely.

Being OK with uncertainty

Search advertisers are used to adapting to continuously evolving circumstances. But 2021 could push the term “evolution” to an extreme. From better understanding search patterns during the COVID era to figuring out which trends are here to stay and which are just passing fads, 2021 is going to be a very hard year for search professionals to get their heads around — let alone always get it right. With that in mind, it has never been more important for search professionals to lean into both technology and teamwork to make sense of what lies ahead. Moreover, search professionals need to move into 2021 with a whole new perspective on flexibility. Simply put, search advertising is set to chart completely foreign waters in 2021, and by embracing the fact that uncertainty is the new normal search professionals will likely have a much easier time adapting to these new circumstances.

Closing note

While 2020 presented the search industry with an unprecedented amount of uncertainty, 2021 could represent a period of even greater unpredictability as several foundational changes seem to be set to take place within the space. However, by keeping an eye on these emerging areas and game planning now, search advertisers and marketers will not only be able to avoid potential headaches and growing pains but be able to put themselves in a position to drive success as soon as possible.

Ashley Fletcher is VP of Marketing at Adthena.



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28 Ways to supercharge your site

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30-second summary:

  • Google plans to roll out the new Core Web Vitals update in early 2021.
  • The overall size, dimensions, load order, and format of your images will drastically affect your PageSpeed score.
  • Loading critical CSS and JS inline can improve the perceived load time of your site.
  • Above-the-fold videos and large background images can be particularly damaging to your Largest Contentful Paint time.
  • A server upgrade and a CDN can improve your server response time and your contentful paint score.
  • Founder of Content Powered, James Parsons, shares an exhaustive list of 28 elements that will supercharge your site for Google’s Core Web Vitals update and Google PageSpeed Insights.

Announced in early 2020, the Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics Google is developing and plans to roll into their overall search algorithm in May of 2021.  Given that it’s almost 2021 now, anyone who wants to get ahead on optimizing their site for this new algorithm update can get to work now.  Thankfully, Google has been very good about publicly disclosing what these new metrics are and how they work.

Armed with that information, it’s possible to build a checklist of action items to check and optimize on your site to ready yourself for the inevitable rollout of these new ranking factors.  Here are 28 such items for that checklist.

A. Image optimization

Images are one of the largest influencing factors in the core web vitals.  All of the web vitals measure the time until some initial rendering, and loading images is the largest source of delay before a page is initially fully loaded.  Thus, optimizing images tends to be the most powerful tool for improving core web vitals.

1. Reduce the Dimensions of Background Images

Background images are rarely fully necessary to a site design and can be a large source of delay in loading a page for the first time.

If you use a background image, reduce how large that image is and optimize it so it loads as close to instantaneously as possible.

2. Minimize or Replace Background Images with Patterns

If you’re not tied to a specific background image, either replace the image with flat colors, a gradient, or even a simple tiled pattern.  Again, the goal is to minimize how many assets need to load before the initial load of the website is complete.  Since background images don’t make a huge impact (and are even less necessary on mobile), minimize or remove them as much as possible.

3. Remove Images on Mobile Above the Fold

Speaking of mobile, the mobile browsing experience is often slower than desktop browsing due to the quality of cell and wireless signals.  Mobile devices are especially susceptible to delays in the first input and on the content shift.

Core Web Vitals report elements - Above and Below the Fold

To help avoid that, strive to make as much of your above-the-fold content as possible based on text and other simple elements.  Large images and slideshows above the fold are particularly rough on your score, so remove or move them as much as possible.

4. Implement Lazy Loading

Lazy loading is a common technique for speeding up the initial load of any given page.  With Google’s new metrics on the horizon, it’s no surprise that support for it is quickly becoming a default feature.  WordPress, for example, added native default lazy loading in version 5.5 earlier this year.  Make use of lazy loading for any content, particularly images, that doesn’t need to load above the fold initially.

5. Use WebP Images

Another Google initiative, WebP is a new image format developed back in 2010.  It’s a smaller image format with better compression algorithms than your traditional image formats like PNG.

While it hasn’t really picked up widespread traction until recently, it’s becoming more and more valuable as both users and search engines are increasingly concerned with speed and load times.  Support is widespread, even if usage isn’t, so you can more-or-less safely use WebP images as your primary image files.

6. Optimize Image File Sizes

Using a tool to crunch or smush image files to be smaller in file size should be a default part of optimizing images for the web by this point.

Core Web Vitals report elements - WebP Image Optimization

If you don’t do it already, make sure you implement a way to process images as part of your blogging workflow moving forward. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve defined the height and width of images to prevent layout shift.

B. CSS optimization

CSS has become an increasingly critical part of many site designs, so much so that blocking it makes the web almost unrecognizable.  With so much of a site reliant on CSS for everything from colors to positioning, making sure your code is optimized is more important than ever.

7. Inline Critical CSS

You don’t need to inline every bit of your CSS, though that works as well.  In particular, you want to inline CSS that is critical to the overall design and layout of your theme.

Core Web Vitals report elements - Inlining CSS

This minimizes the number of individual files a browser needs to call from your server just to load the initial layout and paint the initial content on your site.

8. Minify CSS

CSS is by default a very minimalist language and can operate perfectly well without spaces, indentation, comments, and other text that makes it more user-friendly and easier to develop.  Before uploading new code to your site, run it through a tool to minify it and remove all of that excess cruft that has a microscopic-yet-tangible effect on page loading.

9. Consolidate CSS Files and Code

It can be tempting to store CSS in a variety of files and scattered throughout your code, placing it where it seems like it should be rather than where it makes sense to put it.  Remember; what is easiest as a developer is not necessarily the fastest for a user.  Consolidate your CSS, whether it’s inline or in separate files, and only execute specific elements as necessary.

10. Optimize CSS Delivery

CSS is often a late-loading element of site code.  Traditional site design loads the framework for the site, then the content, then the CSS to format it all.  Particularly when CSS is stored in an external file, this delays loading significantly.  Preloading your CSS is a strategy recommended by Google to force the browser to load the CSS and have it ready when it’s needed.

C. JavaScript optimization

JavaScript is one of the biggest sources of code bloat and delay in loading websites. Optimizing your site’s JS can help speed it up tremendously, even when it doesn’t seem like it would have much of an effect based on what you’re doing to it.

11. Minify JS Scripts

Like CSS, JavaScript doesn’t need extraneous spaces and breaks to function.  It also doesn’t need verbose variable names, which are useful for development but can increase the size of scripts by a significant amount.

Run your scripts through a minifier before adding them to your site.

Core Web Vitals report elements - Minify your Javascript

12. Consolidate Scripts and Minimize Usage

Many of the purposes web designers use JavaScript for have been available as features in HTML5 and CSS3 for years now.  Particularly in older websites, a revamp or review of scripts can find alternative, faster ways to do the same things.  Review and optimize, minimize, consolidate, and strip as much JavaScript as you can from your site.

13. Defer or Async Scripts Whenever Possible

Scripts are roadblocks in rendering a website.  When a browser has to render a JS script, it has to process through that script before it can continue loading the page.  Since many developers put scripts in their headers, this delays page loading significantly.  Using Defer allows the browser to continue loading the page before executing the script, while Async allows them to load simultaneously.  Using these two features allows you to offset the delay inherent in using scripts and speed up your initial page loads.

14. Remove jQuery Migrate

A recent update to jQuery has led to a lot of old plugins and scripts no longer working.  To buy time and allow webmasters to update their sites, the Migrate module was introduced.  This is essentially a translation module that allows old jQuery to function on sites that utilize a newer version of jQuery.

Core Web Vitals report elements - Remove jQuery Migrate

Perform an audit of your site to see if anything you’re using – particularly old plugins and apps – uses jQuery Migrate.  If so, consider updating or replace those plugins.  Your goal is to remove usage of the Migrate module entirely because it’s rather bulky and can slow down websites dramatically.

15. Use Google Hosted JS Whenever Possible

Google offers a range of standard libraries hosted on their servers for use on your website.  Rather than relying on a third party for those libraries or hosting them yourself, use Google’s versions for the fastest possible load times.

D. Video optimization

Videos are increasingly popular as part of the average website, from core elements of content to video-based advertising and everything in between.  They’re also extremely large files, even with partial loading and modern video buffering.  Optimize your use of video as much as possible.

16. Use Image Placeholders for Video Thumbnails

There are plenty of users who browse the web with no desire to watch videos, so forcing videos to load in the background for them is completely unnecessary.  A good workaround is to use an image placeholder where the video would normally load.

Core Web Vitals report elements - Lazy load your videos

The image loads faster and looks like the video player with a loaded thumbnail.  When a user clicks it to start the video, it begins the video load but doesn’t require loading any of the video file or player until that point.

17. Minimize Videos Above the Fold

As with images, video files are extremely heavy, so loading them above the fold is a guaranteed delay on your first content paint.  Push them below the fold; most people want to read a title and introduction before they get to the video anyway.

E. Font and icon optimization

Fonts and icon usage can be a lot heavier on a site’s load times than you might expect. Optimizing them might seem like minuscule detail work, but when you see the impact it can have, you’ll wonder why you never made these minor-yet-impactful optimizations before.

18. Preload Fonts

Similar to scripts, when your website calls for a font that it needs to load, loading that font takes precedence and stops the rest of the code from rendering.

Using a preload command to load the font earlier than necessary helps speed up page loading, as well as preventing the “flash of unstyled text” effect that happens for a brief instant between the text loading and the font styling appearing.

Core Web Vitals report elements - Pre-load your fonts

19. Only Use Fonts You Need

Many web fonts and font families load their entire character sets and stylesheets when called, even if your page doesn’t utilize 90% of that content.  Often, you can limit how much you load, though you may need to pay for premium font access.  It can be quite worthwhile if you’re using limited amounts of a given font, or a font that has a particularly large character set included.

20. Use SVG Whenever Possible

SVGs are Scalable Vector Graphics and are a way to create extremely small elements of a page that can nevertheless scale indefinitely, as well as be manipulated individually, to a much greater degree than traditional fonts and icons.  If possible, switch to using SVGs instead of your usual icons.

F. Server optimization

No matter how many optimizations you make to the code of your website, to your images, or to other elements of your site, none of it matters if your server is slow.  The proliferation of web hosting companies, the ongoing development of faster and stronger tech, all means that web hosting shows its age very quickly.  Every few years, it can be worthwhile to change or upgrade hosting to faster infrastructure.

21. Upgrade to a Faster Server

You don’t necessarily need to upgrade from a shared host to a dedicated host, though this can help with some of the speed issues inherent in shared hosting.  Even simply upgrading from a slower package to a faster one can be a good use of a budget.

22. Use a CDN

Modern content delivery networks can handle most of the elements of your site faster than your typical web host can in almost every circumstance.  At a minimum, consider using a CDN for your images, videos, and other multimedia.  You can also consider offloading stand-alone script files as well.

23. Preload DNS Queries

Preloading or prefetching DNS queries helps minimize the delay between an asset being requested by the visitor and the display of that asset.

This couples with using a CDN to store assets by loading and resolving the CDN’s domain before it’s called for the first time, further speeding up page load times.

Preload DNS queries - DNS lookups

24. Preload Your Cache

Often, a cache plugin or script used on a website triggers when the first visitor arrives to view the page.  That first visitor has a slower experience, but their loads cache the page for future visitors until the cache expires.  Unfortunately, the first visit is often a Google bot crawling your page from your XML sitemap or an internal link, and that means that Google is the first one to experience the slow version of your site.  You can get around this by preloading the cache on your website so Google’s next visit is a guaranteed fast-loading web page.

25. Consider a Server-Side Cache

Software such as Varnish Cache acts as a server-side cache to further speed up the generation and serving of a cached version of your page, making it as fast as possible with as few server calls as possible.

G. Additional optimization

Anything that didn’t fit in another category has been added here.  These additional optimizations might not apply to your site design, but if they do, taking care of them can be a great boon.

26. Minimize Third-Party Scripts

Webmasters in 2021 will need to strike a balance between site speed optimizations and user engagement tools.

Many plugins, such as social sharing buttons, third-party comment systems, and media embeds all need to execute third-party scripts in order to work, but those scripts slow down the site.  Minimize them as much as possible, and try to find the fastest versions of each.

Minimize third-party scripts

27. Avoid Pre-Load Filler

A common technique for sites with slower load times is to add a spinner, a loading icon, an animation, or another form of content that loads and displays to indicate to a user that the site is, in fact, loading.  While this can help minimize bounces, it’s a huge hit to the initial loads measured by the core web vitals.  Remove these and work to speed up your site such that you don’t need them.

28. Consider a Site Redesign

When all is said and done, sometimes you need to make so many changes to so many foundational elements of your site that it’s easier to simply scrap your current design and engineer a new one with speed in mind.  Consider it a possibility, and analyze the benefits you’ll get from optimized core web vitals.  No one knows yet how influential those metrics will be on the overall algorithm, but it certainly can’t hurt to optimize for them.

James Parsons is the founder of Content Powered, a blog management & content marketing company. He’s worked as a senior-level content marketer for over a decade and writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, and Business Insider.





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