How to Know If You’re at Risk When Google Switches to a Mobile-First Index (Flowchart)

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How to Know If You’re at Risk When Google Switches to a Mobile-First Index (Flowchart) was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

I’d like to put your minds at ease. Or alert you to an upcoming risk. I guess we’ll see which camp you’re in.

Over the course of the year, Google is going to turn up the dial on its mobile-first index. What’s that? Google is moving toward analyzing and ranking the mobile version of websites and not the desktop version, as they do now.

Exactly when the switch will be 100% is a mystery. Gary Illyes suggested it could be in 2018. Yet we know that Google rolls out algorithm and infrastructure changes gradually and with plenty of testing. We are likely witnessing mobile-first SERPs today to some degree.

With the switch to a mobile-first index, you’ll either be in good shape or you’re going to feel the pain of a major loss in organic search traffic.

As an SEO services company we are busy doing risk assessments for clients, identifying exactly how ready a website is for the mobile-first index.

To help you get a sense of how prepared you are for a Google index that’s focused on the mobile website experience, we created a decision tree to assess a website as low risk or high risk. For a refresher on how to satisfy a mobile searcher, take a look at our SEO Tutorial step on Mobile SEO and UX Optimization.

What does your path to mobile-first index readiness look like? Here’s what we look for when we do a mobile-first readiness analysis of a client’s site.

Google Mobile-First Index SEO Risk Assessment Flowchart

Click image to enlarge. Click this text to view as PDF.

Assessing Your Risk in Google’s Mobile-First Index

This agency signed on to the mission of helping businesses succeed online, but when more and more factors are rapidly changing, our ability to institute timely change diminishes. So we want everyone to know what’s at stake if every action isn’t taken to be mobile-friendly.

If a client’s site does not perform well on a mobile browser, this is a problem. The mobile experience is how we serve connected consumers. If there is any issue, then it’s our job as the SEO expert to discuss this risk with our clients.

If a client has a mobile-friendly site, it’s our job to evaluate if the mobile site contains the same content as served on the desktop. If the content is different, then the client is at risk.

If a client is unable to optimize for site speed or for conversions, or if they are not working on a solution to a mobile-friendly site, then this client should acknowledge the risk of losing rankings.

How do we check if a client site is going to suffer a drop in rankings and traffic when the mobile-first index goes live?

Right at this moment we can look in Google Search Console to compare mobile and desktop rankings. You can too.

How to Compare Your Mobile Rankings and Desktop Rankings in Google Search Console

  1. Go to your site in Google Search Console.
  2. Go to Search Traffic > Search Analytics.
  3. Select “Position” and “Devices”.
  4. Select the filter to compare mobile vs. desktop.
  5. Is your average position for mobile higher or lower than for desktop?

If your average mobile rankings are worse than your average desktop rankings, you’re at risk when the mobile-first index switch occurs.

mobile and desktop ranking comparison in gsc

Click to enlarge.

Calculating the Impact on Your Business

If I could stress three things, consider this.

  1. To be mobile-friendly goes beyond having a responsive website. It’s critical to match the content on the desktop site to the mobile user experience. A mobile-friendly website doesn’t merely mimic the desktop. In fact, a responsive site can have lower conversion rates if the mobile UX isn’t optimized. What value does your mobile experience provide to help the consumer want to do business with you?
  2. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, get started on your update now. Some content management systems (CMSes) don’t produce mobile experiences. Do you have a solution in place? What is it? How fast can you implement? You may already be late to the party.
  3. Please understand that “mobile first” relates to the Google index being based upon the mobile displayed content. It does not mean that desktop is dead. There are many reasons that in your business that “desktop first” may apply. For whether or not this applies to you, you may want to consult with an expert mobile SEO agency.

I’m not trying to create fear, but I am hoping to convey a risk.

What else can you do to make sure your business is well positioned when Google flips the switch and turns on its mobile-first index?

People generally understand how much traffic they’re getting from Google in the desktop-focused index environment. Meanwhile, we have no idea how much traffic will be affected after the switch to a mobile-focused index. We want you in the best possible position when the change to a mobile-first index rolls out.

We are convinced that mobile readiness is vital to the future of your business. To help you, we have created a service offering insights into your mobile readiness with our Mobile-First Readiness Report. Ensure your mobile-first SEO strategy is on track with a second pair of expert eyes on your site.

A typical report may include assessment of the following:

  • Mobile friendliness
  • Page speed
  • Content matching
  • Mobile navigation
  • Mobile interstitials
  • Security issues
  • Indexing and robots directives
  • Schema markup

mobile-first readiness report
Order a mobile-first focused audit of your site for just $995 and we’ll have it back to you in about a week.

Or give us a call at 866-517-1900 during business hours Pacific time and our team will be happy to answer any questions you have about the mobile-first index shift and developing your mobile SEO strategy.

May 2nd 2017 SEO

Why Thin Content Still Ranks as a Top SEO Issue to Solve

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Why Thin Content Still Ranks as a Top SEO Issue to Solve was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

It struck me the other day, while I was reviewing a client project with one of our SEO analysts, that the old problem of thin content is still an insidious revenue killer for many websites.

Or put another way, until you have content worth ranking, do not be surprised if you don’t rank well.

By way of example, the client, a B2B lead gen site for industrial parts, is receiving 150% more traffic this year compared to last and getting a record number of inquiries. We’re seeing these stellar results after many months of work that focused heavily on fixing thin content — until content was improved, the traffic suffered!

Fixing thin content improved search traffic 150% YoY

By focusing on improving content quality, our client is seeing 150% more traffic this year compared to last and getting a record number of inquiries. (click to enlarge)

Then looking at some mobile and newer sites reminded me that low-quality or “thin” content remains a serious problem for many websites, whether they know it or not. A majority of sales inquiries are sites with this problem.

“What a powerful weapon we wield as SEOs when we help a site raise content quality.” Bruce Clay
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SEO changes set the right course for a site, but content improvements give it long-term lift.

Why We’re Still Concerned with Thin Content Long After the 2011 Panda Update

Thin content is not a new search engine optimization issue.

It was February 2011 when Google introduced the first Panda update, which targeted low-quality sites and lowered their rankings. In addition to the algorithmic hits from Panda, countless sites have received manual actions penalizing them for having “Thin content with little or no added value.”

Google has only elevated the importance of quality content since then.

An unconfirmed update in early February and the Google Fred Update on March 7 both targeted low-quality content.

Sites that got hit by Fred included content-driven sites with heavy placement of ads, according to reporting by Barry Schwartz. These sites “saw 50% or higher drops in Google organic traffic overnight.”

Besides the algorithms, Google has an army of people reviewing sites manually for signs of quality. Periodically, Google releases its Quality Rater Guidelines, a document used to train these quality raters to spot low- vs. high-quality content. I unconditionally recommend that you read this entire document from Google!

The search engines clearly intend to keep ratcheting down their quality tolerance. The recent updates and penalties further stress the need for websites to fix thin content without delay.

“You cannot afford to ignore thin content on your site and expect to survive.” -Bruce Clay
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Solutions for Thin Content

Identifying thin content on a site is crucial to SEO health, yet it’s only the first step.

Once thin content is diagnosed on your site (whether by a Google manual action notice or through an SEO audit), you need a strategic plan for fixing it. And if you’re uncertain, then your content is probably low quality, too terse, or likely both.

The trick is knowing WHICH strategy is right to fix your unique situation.

The solution has to address your site’s situation uniquely, taking into consideration the scope of the problem AND the resources available to you to do the work.

Remove or Improve?

Site owners often react to the news that their sites have many thin content pages with a surgical approach: Cut it all out!

Removing or no-indexing low-value pages can fix thin content problems some of the time, enabling a site to get back on its feet and start regaining lost rankings with minimal time and effort. For instance, Marie Haynes cites one Panda-penalized site that recovered by removing a forum it had hosted, accounting for several thousand low-quality posts that were separate enough from the main site content to be easily detached.

However, removing content can have a negative SEO effect instead. Cutting off whole sections of a site at once could amputate the legs the website needs to stand on, from an SEO perspective.

Another approach is to simply elevate the quality and depth of the content. It is hard to be a “subject matter expert” in only a few words. And if your content is written poorly, then you gain no love from others — the kiss of death for content.

We prefer this latter approach (as does Google, per Gary Illyes’s tweet below), but we use both at the same time quite often.

If the pages hurting your search engine rankings (for being low quality) are also the ones supporting your keyword relevance (for having keyword-containing bulk content), then you’re stuck. You have little choice but to keep the content, improve its quality, and perhaps add more content readers will appreciate.

Finding a Way to Improve Thin Content — Affordably

For this client’s site, we took the content-improvement approach.

The types of thin content we found on their website included:

  • Product pages with minimal text (just one or two sentences with a few bullets)
  • Pages whose content had been scraped and indexed on many third-party sites
  • Image alt attributes lacking text and/or keywords
  • Autogenerated title and meta description tags that often lacked targeted keywords

Your site may have similar issues, or may contain other types of thin content. Google’s support topic on thin content lists these common forms:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Thin affiliate pages
  • Content from other sources (example: scraped content or low-quality guest blog posts)
  • Doorway pages

Fixing these content problems may involve any or all of the following:

  • Removing pages or no-indexing them
  • Reducing the number of ads
  • Adding at least a few sentences of original text (on filter-category pages, for example)
  • Inserting relevant content from a database (in small doses)
  • Revising title and meta tags to be unique and contain appropriate page keywords
  • Adding original text in image alt attributes and captions
  • Rewriting the page entirely

Our client’s site contained a manageable number of pages (less than 500), so we started chipping away.

The SEO analyst first clarified the silo structure of the site, and then prioritized pages for revision starting with the top-level pages for each silo. In batches of 10 or so at a time, pages were rewritten and reviewed, passing back and forth between the client and the BCI analyst. Important products got brand-new full-page descriptions. Information pages were rewritten with thorough explanations. In all, we fattened up about half of the site’s pages.

The strategy worked. Among the SEO services we provided to this client, by far the higher quality content is yielding the biggest wins. The search engines and site visitors are eating it up, with vastly improved rankings, traffic and leads.

Content improvements give a site lift

Why Your Thin Content Solution Must Be Your Own

If you have an enterprise site with millions of pages, or an ecommerce site with thousands of products, you might be thinking this approach would never work for you.

And you’d be right!

It’s often simply impossible to rewrite each individual page manually on a large website. Yet quality content is a non-negotiable for SEO. Even large sites have to find a way to fatten up or remove their thin content.

Maintaining quality content requires an ongoing investment to maintain rankings — but each site’s specific strategy has to be practical and affordable to implement.

A Prioritized Approach

First, we look for what’s causing the thin content. A template might be producing non-unique meta tags, for instance. The business may be duplicating pages on other domains. A CMS might be building empty or duplicate pages. Whatever the issues are, we try to identify them early and stop the bleeding.

Next, we prioritize which pages to tackle first. It’s worth the effort to hand-edit content on the most important pages of even the largest sites. This priority list should include the home page, the top-level landing page(s) per silo, as well as the most trafficked and highest-ROI product pages. Putting creative energy into making these pages unique and high quality will pay huge SEO dividends.

It’s also crucial to look at competitors’ sites. Even if your content is technically clean and unique, is it as high quality as theirs? Remember that “thin content” can be a relative term, since Google is going to choose the highest quality results to present to a searcher.

More and more often, we include some sort of content development along with our SEO services. As we found with the industrial parts site, fixing thin content can make a long-term difference.

A parting comment: If nobody would share your content, then it is not good enough.

If your site has thin content or other SEO issues, contact us online or give us a call at 1-866-517-1900.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Google quality raters assign manual actions, which is not accurate. Thanks to Barry Schwartz for reporting the error.











April 25th 2017 SEO

Is Keyword Cannibalization Hurting your SEO Performance?

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Is Keyword Cannibalization Hurting your SEO Performance?

Keyword cannibalization is a common issue that applies to all types of websites. To make matters worse, some marketers are not aware that their website might be facing this issue. Instead, marketers often look at a website on a page-by-page basis instead of the whole website when it comes to targeting keywords.

In fact, many websites face a this issue because of historic content or a lack of a clear search strategy. It is important to identify and address a major search engine optimization issue to maximize your search visibility and plan your future content creation.

Before explaining what keyword cannibalization is, it’s important to understand why this issue is relevant in the digital marketing industry. In today’s world, many websites are faced with historic content that still ranks for target terms. What is often forgotten is that that historic content can compete with new content being created, which leads to cannibalizing traffic or the keyword topics.

What is Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization is when your website has multiple pages that are mainly targeting the same core keyword and/or keyword topic. This situation often occurs due to CMS issues related to parameter pages, as well as, when the same keyword is intentionally used on multiple pages.

Unfortunately, this SEO issue is still occurring on multiple websites which can impact your search engine optimization (SEO) results as each page might compete with each other in search engine results pages (SERPs). There are multiple reasons why you would want to fix a cannibalization issue including:

  • Diluting authority between pages: multiple pages with the same primary keyword topic can will make it more difficult for search engines to understand what the authoritative page is.
  • Inefficient crawling and indexing of pages: Having multiple pages that are competing with each other makes search engines crawl pages that are not needed.

One of the biggest issues that it causes is that search engines need to pick what the best page is for that keyword topic. In other words, that means that you are competing with yourself.

Hypothetical Example

To help explain how a website might face a cannibalization issue, let’s walk through a hypothetical example. This example will focus on the lack of a website’s internal structure and overall keyword targeting strategy.  

For example, let’s say you have an eCommerce website that sells lacrosse equipment (selfish plug, as I coach lacrosse and the season just started). Most eCommerce websites use parameters to filter/sort products. For this example, our lacrosse store has a page for “lacrosse heads” that shows all the lacrosse heads that we sell. We might run into a issue if we have multiple parameter pages for each manufacturer of “lacrosse heads.”

In this example, our store might have a “lacrosse heads” page with the URL of Then on the page we options to select the manufacturer, which results in a new parameter page of Essentially, that page would have the same title tag and keyword topic that could compete with the main page. A search engine would have a difficult time understanding what page is the authoritative source for “lacrosse heads.” We also will be missing out on opportunities to rank for individual manufacturer pages related to the product.

How to Avoid Keyword Cannibalization

The first step to avoiding cannibalizing your keyword strategy is to use the map or audit the correct keywords to individual pages. You should have a general idea of what keywords are being targeted on each page of your website either when creating a website or auditing the existing pages. You can use Google Sheets or Excel to document the keyword strategy for each page to avoid targeting the same keyword on multiple pages.

The second step to avoiding cannibalizing your strategy is to use the right tools. You can use tools like Screaming Frog to analyze your website structure and any keyword commonalities in title tags, meta descriptions, heading tags, alt text, and other areas. When analyzing website structure, Screaming Frog can help visualize it with the “Tree” view (shown below). This view can make your life easier when seeing how your website is structured much more efficiently than looking at URLs.

Screaming Frog Tree View

You can also use the inlinks report within Screaming Frog to analyze your internal anchor text to target pages. By analyzing your anchor text to pages, you can make sure that you are using the correct keywords for each link to signal to search engines what the destination page is about.

Another helpful tool for avoiding keyword cannibalization is Siteliner. Siteliner is a fairly affordable option that checks your website for internal duplicate content. Internal duplicate content can be result in search engines not completely understanding what the page is actually about. Instead, focus on having one authoritative page for each keyword topic.

As we covered earlier, duplicate content can also result from content management system (CMS) issues. A CMS might use parameters to change the content for users, but the title tag and heading tags remain the same. When faced with a parameter issue, you have a couple options to resolve the issue.

The first option is to create static pages for parameter pages that have keyword topics with a good amount of search visibility. A static page will be easier to optimize for a specific keyword topic. Other options to resolve a parameter issue is to use Google Search Console to exclude the URL variations or use a canonical tag pointing to the original page.

Time to Improve Your SEO Strategy

It is time to audit your website to make sure you avoid cannibalizing your search traffic. Not only does auditing your website for keyword cannibalization help avoid performance issues, but it can lead to discovering more opportunities for expanding your search footprint.

Let us know if you think your website is facing this issue so we can help you
get the most search traffic as possible. We can help you leverage your analytical data to discover SEO opportunities for your website.

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April 19th 2017 SEO

How to Optimize Your Online Product Catalog for Search

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by Jayson DeMers

Consumers have increasingly turned to online stores to do their shopping, but with so much competition in play, it’s hard for ecommerce business owners to remain competitive. Your online catalog exists to showcase your products to an interested audience, but if that audience never gets their eyes on your offers, it won’t matter how good your deals or products are.

One solution is to optimize your online product catalog for search engines, which will help you rank higher, achieve more brand visibility, and get more traffic to your pages. So how can you do this without spending a fortune?

Strategies for Catalog Optimization

These strategies will help you build a bigger online audience:

1. Use printed and online catalogs together.

If you’re used to operating exclusively online, using a printed catalog may seem foreign to you, but catalog printing is relatively inexpensive through sites like Printing Center USA. It’s a good way to quickly advertise the existence of your online catalog to an audience who may otherwise miss it (demographics who rely on printed advertisements and news), and start directing traffic to your site. This, in turn, creates a synergy between your digital and physical campaigns and jumpstarts your SEO efforts with new traffic, shares, and social media buzz.

2. Use specific product names in your page titles.

Your page titles and descriptions will be the main sources of information that search crawlers use to judge the relevance of your page. Including the specific name of your product will ensure that your page is considered when consumers search for that name; for example, you’ll want to include the brand, the model, the model number, and the variation (if applicable). You’ll also want to briefly describe the product in the meta description.

3. Include at least two paragraphs of descriptive text for each product.

You’ll also want to include lots of descriptive text–at least two paragraphs’ worth–for each of your product pages. According to Spotify’s guide, this not only gives more content for search crawlers to consider and index, it also helps consumers by giving them more information to make a final decision.

4. Optimize your images and videos.

Including images and videos on your product pages is a good way to secure more customer engagement, and you’ll likely earn more backlinks, which are vital if you want to build your authority over time. You can optimize images and video by giving them a descriptive name, including alt text (for images), and including a meta description that describes what’s happening (in the video). You may also consider hosting your videos on YouTube and embedding them on your pages, giving you another outlet of optimization; Backlinko has an excellent guide on YouTube optimization if you’re interested in more information.

5. Include reviews and testimonials.

Reviews and testimonials will make your site seem more authoritative, and as an added bonus, they’ll help push consumers to make a decision. In fact, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so the more reviews you’re able to collect, the better.

6. Answer common consumer questions on-site.

You should also include a brief Q&A section on each of your product pages. Here, you’ll list at least a handful of common consumer questions with common phrasing, alongside detailed answers that address those concerns. Again, the information may help consumers make a decision, but they’ll also optimize your pages for long-tail keyword searches, making you more likely to rank when customers submit those queries.

7. Employ microformatting.

Microformatting, sometimes called “structured markup,” is a way to format your backend code in a way that allows Google to better understand and categorize it. For example, you can point out what portion of your page is a collection of reviews, and feed information like star ratings and review text to search engine crawlers. This makes it more likely that these features will show up as “rich answers” or “rich snippets,” the sampled bits of onsite content that sometimes appear above regular search results in SERPs. is still the best name in microformatting, and they have an excellent guide on how to get started.

Investing in SEO

SEO is a complex strategy, and if you want to get serious with it, you’ll need to hire an expert or start educating yourself in more advanced technical areas. As you can see, however, you don’t need to be an expert to get started. These strategies should be able to help you refine the audience you’re targeting, differentiate yourself from your competitors, and start building the authority you need to outrank them. Remember, this is a long-term strategy, so don’t be frustrated if you don’t see results right away.

Stick with it, and eventually you’ll see your traffic rise.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

April 12th 2017 Search Engine Optimization, SEO

The REAL Impact of RankBrain on Web Traffic

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The REAL Impact of RankBrain on Web Traffic was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

We’re entering a new era of optimizing for search engines.

And no, SEO is not dead.

While many things stay the same in search, we can’t deny the new path we’re on with the introduction of machine-learning systems like Google’s RankBrain.

The concept of RankBrain may seem technical and daunting, but it’s one that CMOs — not just technically savvy SEOs — must understand to be competitive in the months to come.

In this post I cover:

  • What RankBrain is.
  • How search results are changing.
  • How to evolve your digital marketing strategy for machine learning search algorithms.
  • And why you might need PPC advertising even more than ever.

An Intro to RankBrain

RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that came onto the scene in 2015.

Bloomberg was the first among mainstream media to break the news of RankBrain, Google’s newest addition to search rankings.

And while we officially met RankBrain in 2015, Google was talking about it as early as 2013.

RankBrain is designed to better understand the meaning behind a searcher’s words. This 2013 post at Google discusses this concept of understanding word relationships if you want to learn more.

From the Bloomberg article we learned that 15 percent of queries per day have never been seen by Google before. RankBrain helps interpret those novel queries.

At the heart of RankBrain is a goal to better interpret search queries and serve the most relevant search results. This has been a lifelong goal of Google Search.

We discuss this at greater length in our SEM Synergy podcast (July 2016) here.

Mobile: A Primary Driver of RankBrain’s Existence

Mobile drove the need for RankBrain even further. Mobile search behavior has been a game-changer, especially when it comes to voice search, something a lot of mobile users take advantage of.

As you may know, queries tend to be much more conversational using voice search versus typing.

RankBrain deals well with the long-tail queries that are common to voice search today, though there are plenty of long-tail searches typed into a search bar, too.

I believe that RankBrain is preparing for a world where voice search will become more and more the norm.

Remember, voice search is already on the rise. In a presentation by Mary Meeker on the popular 2016 internet trends report, we see that voice search is up 7x since 2010.


And it’s not just voice search coming from mobile devices. Now, we have to consider things like voice assistants such as Google Home, where it remains to be seen how the device’s answers will pull from web results.

Here’s What RankBrain Does

RankBrain was designed to better analyze the language of websites in Google’s index, and then apply that analysis to a search query. By better understanding the search query, it can better match users with websites and pages.

The purpose is to better understand the meaning of content and the intent behind a search query.

Once RankBrain better understands the intent, it can then presumably apply the appropriate Google algorithm signals that deserve the most weight for that query.

Along with being able to understand concepts on a web page better, RankBrain also allows for a better understanding of the association between multiple queries, like:

“Where is the Eiffel Tower?”

Followed by:

“How tall is it?”

How Does RankBrain Learn? Examples of RankBrain in Action

Essentially, RankBrain can take sets of “training” data created by humans to help establish a baseline, and then can apply machine learning to determine the best search results based on a variety of factors over time.

Google confirmed in the Bloomberg article and in this article at Search Engine Land that they periodically update the system by giving it new data to better reason with new concepts.

At SMX West 2016, some presenters shared examples of RankBrain in action.

One study showed how RankBrain better interpreted the relationships between words.

This could include the use of stop words in a search query (“the,” “without,” etc.) — words that were historically ignored by Google but are sometimes of critical importance to understanding the intent behind a query.

For example, take the television series “The Office.” It’s an example of a search that would be taken out of context without the all-important “the.”

Here’s another example query from an interview with Googler Gary Illyes: “Can you get 100% score on Super Mario without walk-through?” Ignoring “without” would potentially return search results on getting a 100 percent score on Super Mario with a walk-through … so the opposite of the results a person was trying to get.

There are other theories on how RankBrain might use data to learn what the best results are for a search query. It’s possible that searchers’ engagement with the search results may be a factor in how RankBrain determines the relevancy of a result, as Rand Fishkin posits in a keynote from July 2016.

For example, if someone clicks a search result and doesn’t go back to the search results to start clicking other web pages, this could indicate the searcher found what they were looking for.

The machine could then learn over time that a low bounce rate signals a relevant result, so that web page could show up more often and higher in search results.

Here’s a visual of that concept from Fishkin’s presentation:


How RankBrain Works with Other Ranking Signals

As I mentioned earlier, RankBrain is essentially built into the query process to better understand language and make an improved match between the search query and the websites in the Google index.

Remember that Google still has hundreds of other signals it can apply to a search query to identify the best results.

In 2016, however, Google confirmed that RankBrain was among its top 3 ranking signals for search. Rounding out the top 3 are content and links.

This is an important concept to understand. Google clearly stated that the signals that we’ve come to know to be important and that we’ve been optimizing for still matter: content and links.

While the content on a website and its links are both essential to determining meaning and relevance, RankBrain works in partnership by assisting the Google search engine to better determine if a website is the most relevant based on signals and algorithms, given the searcher’s intent.

The Impact of RankBrain on Big Brands

With machine learning, RankBrain learns associations over time. That means, if a brand becomes associated with a certain product, the queries about that product may lead to more branded search results.

Because Google tends to favor big brands online for a variety of reasons, with RankBrain things like the site’s engagement rate, mentions of the brand across many social sites and so on could further enhance favoritism here.

This could happen despite the fact that some bigger brands may have a weaker link profile than other websites in their space.

What RankBrain Means for Your SEO and Digital Marketing Strategy

OK, now for some action items …

SEO and Your Content

First, let’s talk content. For many, it’s actually business as usual.

Examine your content to ensure it provides the best, most complete answers to a query, whether you’re an informational page or selling a product.

RankBrain is a machine learning system, but it still needs input from your website.

Yes, it’s working to better make connections about concepts. For example, we can give RankBrain credit for understanding a page is about baseball even if the word is never used and only “Chicago Cubs” and “New York Yankees” are present on a page.

Absolutely one of the goals of SEO is to better help search engines understand what your content is about. It is still vital that you make sure you’re including the keywords that are important to your business on your website page.

This includes keyword “stemming” (like “walked” and “walking” along with “walk” and “walks”) and using synonyms and natural word variations to help make connections between ideas.

One example we use in our SEO training classes is the word “mercury.” You can use “mercury” 10 times on a page, but if you forget to use the word “planet,” then the search engine may be confused about the subject of the page. Is it an element, car, insurance or other?

This is also a time to explore structured data markup, which helps search engines better make connections as to what is on the page.

Remember, the little things matter as they always have in SEO.

You’ll want to continue to pay attention to making your search results listings stand out in the crowd. That means ensuring each web page has custom meta data in addition to exploring other ways you can make it stand out using schema markup and useful, engaging copy.

Another question to ask: Once people land on your website, is it helping them move farther along in their journey by offering up related content that explores a topic/product/service more?

This can be accomplished by siloing your content to create subject themes around the key terms that are important to your business.


Subject organization chart aka siloing

RankBrain and Digital Marketing Strategies

I mentioned earlier that RankBrain will likely favor big brands. So what happens if you’re not a big brand?

Now is the time to start thinking about how to supplement your digital marketing strategy, if you haven’t already.

While it’s a great idea to have a thorough SEO strategy, it’s never a great idea to put all your eggs into one basket.

So in the era of RankBrain, even though the basics of SEO that we know and love are still important, you’ll want to think of creative ways to grab that SERP real estate.

That means if you’re not in the upper echelon of brands online in your space, consider supplementing your search marketing strategy with pay-per-click ads.

RankBrain Is Not the End of SEO

If you’ve been concerned about how RankBrain impacts SEO, there’s possibly more to worry about than you may think.

RankBrain is search results relevance on steroids. Simply put, you must improve your content relevancy to match the query intent. Yes, SEO best practices are critical to traffic, and rankings are more competitive than ever.

But you must also focus on your content from a macro and micro level, and how your website’s content as a whole helps to answer the questions your audience is looking for.

And don’t forget to supplement your digital marketing strategy with things like paid search, social and other channels to keep your brand top of mind.

Do you have insights on the impact of RankBrain on search rankings? I want to know. Leave a comment below.

We can help with your RankBrain optimized SEO strategy. Our services are tailor-made to match your goals and audience. For more revenue through digital marketing, let’s talk.

April 3rd 2017 Google, SEO

Still Struggling with Your SEO Strategy? Focus on These 4 Best Practices for Improved Results

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The pressure of understanding the ins and outs of developing and implementing an integrated digital marketing strategy has many marketers searching for a better way. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is just as integral to a successful marketing strategy as it was in previous years. That’s right, SEO is not dead but it has changed.

If you’re still struggling to develop a successful SEO strategy, you’re not alone. Search engine optimization experts are still faced with the constant struggle to provide the right results, but the all too often, expectations are focused on vanity metrics or outdated tactics.

Google is making hundreds of algorithm updates each year and they continue to alter the layout of the search engine results pages (SERP). There is constant change that marketers need to stay on top of, which then leads to new tactics that are required to continue to increase visibility online. These changes align directly with the SEO industry. In this post, we outline common SEO situations that brands struggle with including:

  • Focusing on the wrong KPIs
  • Not updating historic content
  • Not implementing strategic linking plan
  • Not maximizing potential search reach and visibility

As marketers, we need to adapt and focus on the right tactics to increase the search visibility for each website. Technology has allowed us to reach more people in our targeted audience than before and it is our job to take best advantage of this opportunity. It’s time to dive in.

#1 – Focusing on the Wrong KPIs

One the first blunders that we see brands make is focusing on the wrong KPIs and search metrics. Often times, companies are only focusing on sessions, pageviews, bounce rate, and other vanity metrics. Those metrics are great to monitor each month to track overall website health, but smart marketers should push to analyze more valuable metrics. Valuable metrics are metrics that prove value and show both internal or external clients what return of investment the SEO campaign is bringing back in.

Optimizing a page is a great search tactic but what we need to question what the outcome of that effort is. We need to try to quantify the amount of effort that goes into each tactic for the potential outcome. For example, if we optimize one webpage and drive more traffic to it, but the converting traffic doesn’t increase, was it worth it? In short, probably not. We want to optimize pages that will bring in more converting traffic to the site so we can make money. Showing an internal or external client an increase in traffic is great, but at the end of the campaign the most important metric is how much return on investment the campaign brought back to the company.

TopRank Marketing Pro Tip: Use vanity metrics as a gage of how well the website or SEO campaign is doing, but show key stakeholders how much revenue the campaign brings back.

#2 – Not Updating Historic Content

Another common SEO opportunity is showing some love to high-performing historic content and saying goodbye to the clutter. Years ago, marketers created a mass amount of content for search purposes. That method of content creation worked too, until search engine algorithms got more sostificated. Now, companies need to complete content audits of the historic content to identify what content is worth keeping and/or editing. Most companies that have been writing content for a while have quality content that needs to be refreshed to stay current.

Historic content should be either updated or removed from the search index (deleted or noindexed). By removing the content that is no longer relevant, you can turn focus to the pages that you want to get traffic too. Most websites get the majority of their traffic from only a select amount of pages instead of traffic being evenly spread out. Focus on those pages that bring in  qualified traffic and either refresh the content or implement some new SEO recommendations.

TopRank Marketing Pro Tip: Refresh historic content that contains priority keyword rankings that are on the second or third page of Google. To identify those pages, use tools like SEMrush or Google Search Console to see how individual pages are performing with keyword rankings and impressions. Those pages of content contain a high amount of potential to increase search visibility quickly.

#3 – Not Implementing Strategic Linking Plan

Believe it or not, strategic linking is still incredibly important for SEO. Too often, companies are forgetting to add internal links to other related content within their site. Internal links help search engines crawl and index pages, as well as pass authority throughout your site. Internal links are an essential part of your website ecosystem and there needs to be a strategic plan on how to link to related pages with the correct type of anchor text.

Additionally, make a habit of linking to related sites that can be used as references. External links to sites help provide credibility for your content and can help search engines understand more context of the content.

TopRank Marketing Pro Tip: After conducting a content audit on a website and identifying what historic content needs to be updated, develop a strategic internal linking plan to link to and from historic content to new content.

#4 – Are you missing out on your SEO potential?

Marketers often forget that there are additional optimization opportunities outside of Google. YouTube, Amazon, and other third-party sites are great places to optimize for in addition to Google. SEO team members should conduct a thorough analysis of where the brand’s audience is spending time online. Google stated in a recent report that “how to” searches have increased by 70% year-over-year. That growth is a great opportunity for marketers to create videos for your audience in another location to maximize visibility.

Besides YouTube, Amazon is another great channel to optimize for ecommerce sites. Adding products to Amazon and optimizing each listing helps put your product in front of your audience besides your website. Focus on getting positive reviews for your listings to help with search visibility. Speaking of reviews, don’t forget about your local listings as another mean of search reach. Optimizing your search listings with positive reviews and local citations to increase local search traffic.

TopRank Marketing Pro Tip: Optimize your current YouTube videos by adding a description, transcript, correct tags, optimizing the title of the video. Also, embed videos to your pages with a transcript to the video right under it and add video schema to the page.

Stop Making the Same SEO Mistakes

These tips only scratch the surface as there are even more common SEO mistakes that brands should for a healthy SEO program. However, if you’re ready to get started start by incorporating these four strategies to achieve the best results for your website. If you need help developing or implementing a Search Engine Optimization program, contact us for a free consultation.

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April 3rd 2017 SEO

Surviving SEO in a Voice Search World

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Surviving SEO in a Voice Search World was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

You wouldn’t want your annual profits cut by 20 percent, would you? Just like you wouldn’t overlook one out of five of your customers.

By the latest stats, 20 percent of people searching on mobile are doing it with voice search. And we expect that number to grow significantly as more and more people adapt to voice search and voice assistants.

As a marketing officer, you might be wondering how voice search will impact your future search engine optimization strategy.

And that’s what I’m going to talk about today:

  • Why and how your audience is using voice search.
  • The impact of Google’s machine-learning system, RankBrain, on voice search, where voice assistants come into play, and what voice search means in a mobile-first world.
  • Strategic recommendations on how voice search impacts your SEO strategy.

Why Your Audience Is Using Voice Search

Voice search, in many cases, is about convenience.

It’s no surprise that it’s popular among mobile users on the go. Would it surprise you, though, to find out more and more people are using it at home?

According to the 2016 KPCB Internet Trends report, 43 percent of people use voice search in their home:

reasons people use voice search

The KPCB annual report on global internet trends shows the primary reasons and settings for using voice search. Click to enlarge.

And as the technology improves, so does the adoption of voice search on mobile devices and voice assistants like Google Home:

primary reason for voice assistant use is improved technology

The KPCB annual report on global internet trends show how many smartphone users use voice assistants and why behavior is changing. Click to enlarge.

Google is leading the charge to improve voice recognition technology.

In November 2015, Google announced that the Google app had improved its capability to understand the meaning behind voice searches.

Just before that, RankBrain — Google’s machine learning artificial intelligence system — hit the scene. RankBrain makes interpreting queries (including voice searches) and matching them to the best search results easier for the Google search engine.

Voice Search Beyond the Mobile Device

The fact that over 40 percent of voice searches happen at home, versus around 20 percent happening on the go, presents a new level of complexity when we’re thinking about how our brands can become a part of a person’s daily search habits.

What we don’t know yet is the future of how voice assistants like Google Home will identify and serve up results.

In many cases, devices like Google Home have to make complex decisions for you about which answer or result to serve up. This is unlike the traditional way of personally choosing among a set of blue links on a page, and voice search optimizations must be accounted for.

Voice search adds further complexity to local search results, in particular. For example, someone who has a broken water pipe might simply tell their Google Home device: “My plumbing is broken,” versus a more traditional voice search like “show me plumbers in my local area” or “who are the best plumbers in my area?”

Let’s not forget that search must also evolve to fit the tastes of new generations as well.

What we do know is that third-party integrations are happening that allow brands to integrate with Google virtual assistants more seamlessly. And that’s worth looking into.

As search behavior changes, Google has more work to do to find the best answers, and we as digital marketers have more work to do to understand how to become a part of those results.

sound wave on phone screen

How to Prepare Your SEO Strategy for Voice Search

We do, however, understand some things about voice search to date, and how it can impact your SEO strategy.

Let’s look closer at what you need to know to survive SEO as voice search becomes more and more the norm.

Know Your Audience

As part of your voice search keyword research strategy, your company needs to be aware of how someone would look for your product or service if they were using a voice search.

Remember, voice searches are more conversational and tend to center around questions instead of the two- or three-word queries that many people type.

But they can also be declarative statements, like the one I used in the plumbing example earlier.

As part of your research, create a list of voice searches you believe users would use. Brainstorm with your team. Peruse social media. Look at forums. Do whatever you need to do to come up with a good starting list for research.

Know Your Results

We recommend in our SEO training class that people start querying their brand, products and services using voice search to find out if they show up and how.

Most companies haven’t taken the time to figure out how to do a search for their products or services on a device using voice search. But, with your newfound keyword research, you can start.

Once you perform that real-time voice query research, if you find your website isn’t showing up, your web pages and their content need some work.

It’s likely that your website pages aren’t doing a good job of answering a where, when, why, what or how-type question.

Know Your Competition

As part of your SEO strategy, you want to find out who is, in fact, showing up for those voice search queries if not you — or who is ranking above you.

Performing page-by-page analyses of the top 10 rankings, for example, for a voice search important to your business can help you better understand the logistics of the content on those top-ranking pages.

Apply Voice Search Keyword Strategy and Website Optimization

The approach to optimizing web pages is the same — meaning you want to ensure you’re following SEO best practices.

But you may choose to tweak your content.

You might decide to include the same target keywords in your meta information and heading tags, but tweak the content to be in the form of a question posed by someone using voice search.

For example, “planets in our solar system” might become, “how many planets are in our solar system?”

This keyword modification tactic could be applied page-wide where it makes sense and feels natural. You might also use the data you gleaned from your voice search keyword research plus the competitive research I mentioned to identify content on your site that’s missing.

Where could you better answer many of the questions your target audience has?

While it’s ultimately Google’s job to best match a search query to a web page, it’s also our jobs as website publishers to do as much as we can to help make that match.

So, many of the SEO practices we’re used to still apply to help make your pages relevant.

I mentioned integrations with Google Home, and those are the types of things you’ll want to watch out for, particularly for certain types of businesses.

And it’s worth mentioning again that voice search today is a highly mobile experience. But we can easily imagine a time when voice search is a desktop function.

Still, with Google planning to take a mobile-first index approach, you can’t afford not to be there.

Right now, it’s safe to say we’re in an experimental phase, where we’re learning how voice search works across devices, how search results surface and how to be a part of it all. And there’s still much work to do.

As brands, we need to figure out how to become a seamless part of our audience’s search habits across technology and devices. Imagine the competitive advantage you would have in being a leader in the “new” search.

But we also need to continue to implement the SEO best practices that help search engines understand our website and its content. Only now, we have more contexts than ever to consider.

What do you think? Do you think a brand can be the last to implement a voice search strategy? Can you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Let us help you develop your voice search SEO strategy. Bruce Clay’s tailor-made services drive your competitive advantage.

Let’s talk more about growing revenue through smarter digital marketing.

March 27th 2017 SEO

How Fake News Changed SEO & How to Add More Facts to Your Site

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How Fake News Changed SEO & How to Add More Facts to Your Site was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

The concept of “fake news” exploded into the public zeitgeist at the end of the 2016 presidential election season. It’s been in the spotlight ever since.

fake news in google trends

The popularity of the term “fake news” as indicated by Google search volume over the last two years skyrocketed the week of Nov. 6, 2016, the week of the U.S. presidential election.

Google is among those concerned with fake news, as we learn from this December 2016 interview with Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Pichai says:

At Google, we’ve always cared about bringing the most relevant and accurate results to users … There have been a couple of instances where (fake news has) been pointed out, and we clearly did not get it right … Just in the last two days we announced that we will remove advertising from anything we identify as fake news.

Pichai’s focus here is towards paid advertisements but with all the buzz over fake news in the media, SEOs are asking questions about the affect of fake news on organic search.

The bottom line is that Google needs to provide users with quality answers that accurately fulfill the intent of their users’ queries.

So, why should SEOs care? What can you do? These are questions organic search marketers are wondering.

how to add facts via database

Is fake news beyond Google’s ability to control? You can bet the search engines don’t take that approach. Google and Bing are able to verify the accuracy of content, to some extent. And the search engines are already in a good position to mitigate the spread of fake news in organic search results.

Read on for what we know about:

  • How Google is looking to algorithmically promote factually accurate content in search results
  • How Google is training its computer programs to find and weed out fake news via a fresh update to its human quality rater guidelines.
  • Plus how to integrate trustworthy factual information into your content using database-driven data.

Algorithmic Solution to Factual Accuracy in Search Results: Google’s Database of Facts

Two years ago the SEO community saw the first sign of prominent Googlers arguing for the usage of factual evidence instead of backlinks as the primary way of measuring domain authority.

New Scientist summed up the idea in an article titled “Google wants to rank websites based on facts not links.” The article summarized a lengthy research paper outlining a potential change to the way Google would rank sites organically.

For many SEOs, the paper implied that if a web page appropriately mentioned accurate factual evidence, it could contribute to its trustworthiness and thus boost organic rankings. This makes sense, especially since everyone knows content is king.

Additionally, the paper’s argument is in line with a patent that Google filed a decade prior about how to extract and catalog factual evidence from “unstructured documents and build an oracle for various domains” (emphasis ours).

From these documents we can posit that:

  1. Google has a large repository of factual evidence that they have been building for years and can reference as necessary.
  2. Google is very interested in measuring the factual accuracy of sites so it can be certain users are served the correct answer to any question.

If Google and other search engines place such a high value on accurate facts, it is imperative that SEOs be aware of how publishing fact vs. fiction could affect them.

Furthermore, there’s some evidence that Google is working toward taking action algorithmically to reduce the visibility of sites that publish fake news…

Update of the Search Quality Rater Guidelines

While Google has said nothing officially about penalizing a site for inaccurate facts, we’re seeing signs that factual information is important in their eyes.

Just last week, Google published an update to its Search Rater Quality Guidelines. In summarizing what’s changed, Jennifer Slegg suggested that algorithmic action is the intended goal of the guidelines that help human quality raters identify fake news pages on the web.

“(Google engineer Paul) Haahr said that they needed to make these specific changes to the guidelines in order to have training data from the raters. And the need for training data would mean they are looking for ways to algorithmically detect and downrank sites that fall into the categories of fake news, hate sites or other sites with dubious and unbacked theories or claims.”

Steps You Can Take To Avoid Being Labeled ‘Fake News’

Being perceived as authoritative in the eyes of the search engines is not easy. Here’s what you have to do to pass Google’s factual accuracy check:

  • Use trusted sources whenever possible.
  • Fact check when reviewing content. Look for verification of anything passed off as factual on your pages.
  • Avoid sharing information with your users that could be false.

And here’s another pro tip. Where possible, integrate trustworthy factual information into your content using database-driven data.

Here’s this tip in action. Real estate sites are especially interested in offering users information about a given geographic area. The aim is to help people learn more about the area of a home, which in turn promotes conversions.

For example, here’s a screenshot of a portion of a property listing page on

trulia including local municipal data

Local municipal data provided by third-party sources on a property listing page of

The local data that Trulia publishes on a property listing page are area demographics, nearby businesses, schools and crime statistics. These stats are taken from third-party databases. The inclusion of these publicly available statistics is advantageous because Google sees these facts and weighs them as valuable information that helps a visitor with the intent of learning more about the property in question.

Thus, by adding this information to the rest of the content on the page, Trulia (and other real estate sites that do the same) have better fulfilled the intent of the query by being a one-stop-information-shop for users.

Similarly Public Storage, another well known brand, includes public data on some pages to either improve the user experience or better fulfill the intent of the query.

Below is a screenshot of a storage facility city page that include a “City Information” tab with indexable content about the region:

database-driven city information

City data provided by third-party sources on a storage facility city page on

Again, the inclusion of this information alone does not make Public Storage the best site but it does improve the user experience while simultaneously fulfilling the intent of the query in a more enriched and meaningful way.

In summary, if relevant database options like this are available in your industry or associated verticals,  appropriately integrate them your content in order to:

  1. Better fulfill query intent
  2. Improve UX
  3. Add to the accurate factual information your pages feature
  4. Set your site apart from your competition as a one-stop-shop for searchers
  5. Make your content verifiably accurate

If you are interested in looking for data sources that might work with your site’s content, you might start with Google Public Data, or Qliq. There’s a nice round up of more databases you can mine over here.

In a world of fake news where facts will be verified, set your pages apart by supporting your content with accurate information.

Quick Caveat about Database-Driven Content

Using facts as a method for measuring authority is not the be all, end all of ranking factors.

In 2015, Google’s Gary Illyes and Bing’s Duane Forrester spoke against building a site off of public data alone.

Obviously, the search engines will have seen or know about any public data you are referencing so, trying to out rank an existing authority is not the best strategy.

Also, the search engines will still consider other factors so, offering only data does not automatically make you the best. As we saw above with Trulia and Public Storage, you need more than just data and facts. A web page with 100 facts, should not expect to outrank a competing page with the same facts, original content, and a stellar UX.

Will Google Take Action to Suppress Fake News?

By updating the Search Quality Rater Guidelines to reflect a concern with identifying fake news, Google has shown they are not about to let undeserving pages slip through to Page 1 rankings.

It is not yet 100% clear whether Google will take algorithmic action against fake news or factually inaccurate content, or if their action will remain manual. But from all that we have seen, Google has the means to eventually implement an automated process that suppresses sites with inaccurate factual information in organic results. This makes sense since the search engine already goes to great lengths to feature accurate information and this would merely be a continuation of their existing efforts.

March 21st 2017 SEO

How Accurately Can You Predict the Results of an SEO Campaign?

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by Jayson DeMers

If you’re thinking about launching an SEO campaign, one of your biggest concerns is going to be whether it will yield a positive ROI … and how fast you can make it happen.

If you’re planning a campaign for a client, you’ll also want to be able to estimate your effectiveness as a selling point. But is it possible to estimate or predict SEO results with any accuracy?

Why SEO Results are So Hard to Predict

As you’re well aware, the SEO industry is extremely variable. Not only can Google push activity in an entirely new direction with little more than a simple algorithm update, but trying to figure out what the search engines want often seems like trying to shoot a moving target.

There are plenty of signs that suggest how you might proceed, but you aren’t likely to stumble upon the perfect solution.

Herein lies the problem. As an SEO specialist, you have a fairly advanced grasp of what does and doesn’t work, but many factors remain outside of your control.

You can make all the right moves, but at some point, you have to let events happen on their own and trust that the process will unfold according to your plan. In addition, you have to assume there won’t be any significant changes between the moment you execute and the period when the results start to pour in.

“SEO is highly technical and creative at the same time. You can’t just follow a formula and expect to get the same results every single time,” explains Kyle Sanders of CWR SEO. “As any experienced professional in this industry knows, every campaign deals with a unique set of factors. It would be foolish and irresponsible to make wide, overarching projections when there’s so much variance.”

It’s not just the search engines that shift over time, though. You also have to consider the butterfly effect of content popularity.

One small, uncontrollable alteration in the marketplace can have an outsized impact on the type of content that will be most effective thereafter. Thus, while you might be able to design a stellar SEO campaign around a promising set of keywords and topics, only a small shift could suddenly transform your best predictions into anyone’s guess.

Obviously, there will be factors outside of your control, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make any predictions. Clients have a right to request an estimate and hold you to it. After all, they’re paying for a service and expect value. Your mission is to tap into your experience and don’t make promises you can’t keep.

SEO thought leader Stephan Spencer likens SEO to a fitness routine. It’s possible to create a plan, but everyone’s body responds differently.

You can tell someone that he or she will lose weight by burning more calories than the person consumes, but specific steps will still have to be executed and results may vary depending on such details as metabolism, body type, and age.

Furthermore, in order for the desirable results to be achieved, you have to stick to the routine and take it slow.

Four Tips for Estimating Results as Best You Can

Refusing to offer predictions probably isn’t an option. When a client asks you to project future results, you should be prepared to provide an informed answer. The essential strategy is to proceed with caution and avoid making promises you can’t possibly keep.

Here are a few tips that many in the SEO industry have found helpful over the years:

1. Focus on Achievable Goals

“As with your own personal fitness, often it is best to focus on small, achievable goals that are right in front of you. Doing so allows progress to happen, less inhibited by the constant worry of where you are in comparison to the mountain of work ahead of you,” Spencer says.

“Instead of trying to succeed at SEO with a single herculean effort, you can create something great, measure its performance, and then create another starting point from which to continue improving.” In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew.

When you break the SEO campaign down into digestible bits for your client, you can make more accurate predictions and enjoy plenty of small “wins” along the way.

2. Compare Apples to Apples

If you’re going to go out on a limb to make a prediction for a particular SEO campaign, make sure you compare apples to apples. Just because you achieved a specific result last month with another client, this doesn’t mean you can replicate it utterly today.

Take all of the vital factors into account and only make cross-campaign comparisons when the proper details line up accordingly.

3. Look for Actionable Changes (Not Win-Loss Results)

It’s crucial that you set up clients for positive changes that you can control, especially in the early stages of a campaign. Identify items you are fairly certain you can fix immediately, such as correcting 404 errors, improving site speed, and fixing NAP information on major directories. This will enable you to make concrete projections on the front end and looser estimates on the back end.

4. Project With Past Experiences and Results in Mind

We’ve all had those moments when we read a new article written by a respected expert in the SEO industry, and become excited about applying a new technique or concept. Sometimes these new techniques work and other times they don’t.

The point is you can’t possibly know until you try them out. Avoid making predictions about an SEO concept you’ve never personally employed. It’s best to project with past experiences and results to back you up.

Transparency is the Best Policy

It’s always preferable to under-promise and over-deliver. Clients may try to pressure you into providing quantifiable projections, but do your best to avoid placing yourself in a position you’re liable to regret later.

It’s impossible to predict SEO results to perfection, but you should be able to make fairly accurate projections by leveraging the right resources and sticking to the techniques outlined above.

At the end of the day, transparency is the best policy. Explain to clients why it’s difficult to make accurate predictions, then supply them with the most realistic projections you can.

That’s how to convey value without getting yourself in trouble down the road.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

March 10th 2017 Search Engine Optimization, SEO

Guide to Leveraging Industry Experts to Craft High-Quality SEO Content

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Guide to Leveraging Industry Experts to Craft High-Quality SEO Content was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

girl typing on macbook

There’s good content. And, then there’s high-quality content, the stuff that rises in the search engine results pages, oozing those attractive and useful characteristics both consumers and search engines value.

In my experience as an SEO copywriter (going on 10 years now), I’ve learned that there are several SEO content writing tips that make your content more “valuable and useful” to your readers than your competitors’ sites.

A crucial yet very underused method? Expert information.

If your web copy isn’t performing, it might be because it lacks credible, expert information.

woman writing project

While it takes extra time and research, the voice of an expert has the power to lift good content to high-quality heights.

Think about it like this. Would you trust an essay, a research paper or a white paper without original research and real sources? Moreover, would you trust a paper that was plagiarized? Yet for some reason we expect consumers to simply accept digital content even when it’s copied from material on the web and presented without sources and citations. On top of that, we expect search engines to reward that type of content with rankings. It just doesn’t happen that way.

Regardless of your industry or topic, expert information brings credibility to a site. Credible content not only nourishes consumer appetites, but also meets Google’s bar for the amount of E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) on a web page, boosting your rankings. It happens this way.

So is your website content credible? Does it demonstrate a high level of expertise? If so, that’s great news. You can check out the rest of our SEO Copywriting Checklist for other ways you can improve your content. If not, it’s time to make some friends with experts.

How? I’m going to share with you my step-by-step process for building and maintaining healthy relationships with industry experts, a process I had the chance to perfect as a writer for a big-brand client in the wedding industry while working here at Bruce Clay, Inc. Although the project lasted a year, the friendships I made continue as most experts have shared an interest to stay in touch for future collaborations.

Use these SEO content writing tips to make relationships with real experts who will help you publish high-quality content, whether you’re writing SEO web content, articles or blogs.

I’ll walk you through:

interview on the phone

How to Identify Industry Experts

What makes an industry expert?

Not to be confused with industry influencers, industry experts are people with the expert knowledge, experience, education, data or advice on the specific topics you’re writing about.

According to Google, the level of expertise required for a site varies depending on the topic and industry. In its Search Quality Rating Guidelines, Google gives the example that a medical site should have information with “appropriate medical expertise or accreditation,” yet suggests a site about the proper care of cats could easily be rated high-quality if it features expertise by everyday cat owners as opposed to trained veterinarians.

Ask yourself these basic yet important questions to help you identify the best expert for SEO copywriting:

  • What type of information do you need? (Studies, analyses, facts, testimonials, opinions?)
  • Who has first-hand knowledge of this information?
  • Who does your target audience want to hear from most?

For the purpose of SEO content writing, find an expert who is doing the work today (as opposed to a retiree or someone who just speaks or writes about the topic). These are doers and dream makers, the ones who can provide you with unique, never-before-seen quotes and advice.

It’s also important to talk to someone who has not only been interviewed before, but enjoys talking about what they do or know. It’s not enough to find a professional with the knowledge you need. You want an expert who can appeal to your target audience by simplifying complex concepts without industry jargon.

Next, competitor research will reveal the level of authority you want to go after. At the very least you want an expert at the same level or higher than the ones featured on competitor sites.

For me, this meant talking to wedding planners. On the topic of wedding etiquette, my first thought was to reach out to etiquette experts, such as the team at The Emily Post Institute. Yet, I went with wedding planners because I knew that they could provide me with all things etiquette, plus real-world tips on how to incorporate those rules into modern scenarios facing the couples who are their clients today.


How to Find Industry Experts

You know the title or level of expertise you need, so how do you find the experts?

Here, a few places you can begin your search:

Recent newspaper and magazine articles. If an expert is passionate about what they do and know, chances are they’ve been interviewed before. Begin your search in websites of major newspapers and magazines for the topics you’re writing about to discover notable experts.

If you’re writing about sleep apnea, for example, a recent article in the New York Times on the same subject reveals the name of Dr. Avidan, director of the sleep clinic at the University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine, someone who just might know a thing or two about sleep apnea and can talk about it in a way that’s not so (queue yawn) boring.

For my project, I needed a wedding planner, but not any planner would do. I needed the best of the best, and that meant planners who produce events and weddings for the stars. I picked well known celebrity wedding planners who helped bring celebrity weddings to life within the last year or were recently named one of the top wedding planners by reputable publications such as the Knot, Vogue, or Martha Stewart Weddings.

University faculty and professors. This is a great resource for a wide range of topics required for informational websites. Many universities have professors and staff who regularly speak to journalists for interviews. Look for the institution’s media page to find a list of faculty by expertise. For example, UCLA has this handy Media Guide to UCLA Experts.

Popular bloggers. If you want to feature information or advice by everyday people with experience in the topic you’re writing about, find an active blogger who is immersed in the conversation. If you’re writing about how to potty train your toddler, for example, it might help to have quotes or advice from a mother who is dealing with this issue today, as opposed to a pediatrician who simply gives generic advice. An active and popular lifestyle blogger who writes about motherhood is also going to give you fun, easy-to-digest information that might better appeal to your target audience.

Dos and Dont’s

Do pick more experts than you need. If the project requires interviewing two experts, reach out to five or ten. You never know who will respond and it’s always a good idea to have backups in case someone flakes, gets sick or simply has to cancel last minute. Another reason to reach out to more experts than you will need is because not everyone is going to give you the best information, and you’ll have a few options to choose from.

Do create a spreadsheet. Keep a list of experts you want to interview. Include the proper spelling of their name, company name, and contact information, including email, phone number and website. Add a column for the date you reached out, the date they responded, if they agree to an interview, and if they agree to be interviewed regularly.

Don’t reach out to competitor resources. As tempting as it might be, it’s better to find your own experts and build relationships with people who are not contributing to your competitor websites.

man and woman at laptop

How to Reach Out to Experts

It’s time to say hello. The way you reach out to busy industry experts matters, as does what and how much you say when you have their attention. You can use the telephone, but here’s why I prefer email along with the process that was most successful for me.

Send a brief but enticing email. Why email? When was the last time you picked up your office phone? It’s simply annoying to cold call someone and even more annoying to be the recipient of that call. Also, people don’t check their voicemails throughout the day, but they do check their emails several times a day. This means that an expert can read and reply on their own time, which makes it convenient for them, and you.

With one email, you can introduce yourself (your title and the company you work for), explain the reason for the interview (talk about the project, client, and benefits of being featured in the content), and let them know you’re reaching out to them specifically because they are an expert in their field. Include your deadline, and keep it open for a phone or email interview.

Personalize the email. You have time to personalize your emails and there is an important reason to do so: you’re making a real relationship. You want them to feel as though they are your top choice. A generic email without the recipient’s name is insulting and exhibits lazy behavior on your part, not a good start to a relationship.

Create a template. What can save you time is creating a template, but be careful to highlight the dynamic areas of the email so that you don’t use the wrong name, which is also very insulting.

Here’s an example of the template I used to contact a luxury wedding planner.

Dear [the expert’s name] and the team at [the business name],

[The client’s name] is building its resource library for brides.

We’re looking for wedding and events experts to provide background on wedding invitation wording and etiquette. Are you interested in being a named expert in our series? The name of [the expert’s name and business name] will be featured in the piece in front of researching brides.

If you’re interested, I would like to set up some time to talk. Both phone and email will work for the interview. My deadline is [a date], so please let me know as soon as convenient.


Melanie Saxe

Content Writer

Bruce Clay, Inc.

1-805-517-1900 Ext: 1804

working at table

Tips on Conducting Interviews

These tips will help you conduct thorough interviews that will provide you with the unique, expert-level information you need to write quality content.

Here’s the prep work:

Research competitor content. Before I begin any SEO content optimization project, I want to know what my competitors are already writing about the topic or industry. Above, I mentioned competitor research is an important step to find the type of expert you need, but if you want to beat your competitors you will need to write content that’s more valuable and useful, which means you will have the basics covered and then some. While reading competitor content, you’ll find content gaps and weaknesses, which can be the areas you can focus and expand on to capture your target audience.

Research past interviews or online content featuring your expert. If your experts have been interviewed before, read every single interview as well as the content they’ve contributed to. This is because the expert might give you a similar quote, and you don’t want to run into duplicate content issues or repeat what’s already available online.

Write down your questions. Even if the conversation flows out of order, a written list will keep you on topic and ensure you get all the information you need at one time. It also shows that you did your homework. Ask the who, what, where, when, why, and how, and then dig deeper with questions that will give you the unique information your target audience needs and wants.

hands over table

When it’s time for the interview:

Email questions ahead of time. Whether it’s in person, by phone or via email, the interview will go much smoother if the expert receives your questions ahead of time. In my experience, this extra step gives them time to think about the questions and produce better, more thoughtful answers. If you’re conducting an email interview, then send your questions along with a reminder of the due date. If you’ve scheduled a phone interview, remind them of the date and time of the interview and make sure you confirm time zone differences, and that have the right phone number.

Get personal. I love to open my interviews with a discussion on the expert’s recent contributions to the industry. There are many benefits to this approach, including possibly bonding over a common interest, breaking the ice with someone who’ve just met, and opening the door for the expert to freely chat about their passions and work, a technique that’s provided me with tons of unexpected information I can then incorporate into the content.

Confirm the name and title of the expert. Don’t assume the owner of the company is the CEO, even if the website says she is. Always confirm the expert’s title as well as any qualifiers. Some wedding planners preferred “celebrity wedding planner,” while others requested “luxury wedding planner,” “event designer,” etc.

Thank them for the interview. Whether you conducted a phone or email interview, send a follow-up email thanking them for the interview, with a sentence about how you will inform them once the piece goes live.

professional with tie

Tips on How to Maintain Relationships

So far so good. You’ve interviewed the right people, got some great information, and now it’s time to honor these relationships. Here are few tips to help you foster and keep these relationships.

Stay consistent with tone and formality. Remain formal, even if the expert breaks out into casual communication. I’ve had experts write back in fragments and without punctuation, yet I remain formal because my goal is to be respectful, consistent and earn their trust as a professional. At the end of the day, this relationship is a formal business relationship and you want to earn their trust by being reliable and consistent with your communication style.

Follow up. If you don’t hear back within a few days, go ahead and send out a second email to follow up. With a few experts, I sent out more than one follow up and it proved to be fruitful because my emails went into their spam folders and they were so happy when they found out I was still interested in an interview.

Make notes. Consider this as being a good listener. With every reply and conversation, update your spreadsheet with information that helps your relationship. Identify the experts who’ve agreed to be interviewed and those who would like to be interviewed regularly.

You also want to add any new or specific contact information. For instance, 75 percent of the experts I reach out to refer me to their assistants and request to be CCd by all the correspondence; I record that in my notes.

As time goes by, you will also get to know how reliable and prompt your experts are. Those who continue to miss deadlines can be dropped off the list. Those who respond immediately and seem super eager about helping can be relied upon for last-minute deadlines and special cases. I had one expert who would always fill in the gaps when others flaked.

Follow through. Once the piece is published or live on the web, email the link and thank them a second time. is also a great time to ask them for a second interview, if you need more information from them to clarify the first interview, or for a different project. Let them know if you plan to interview them again in the future and ask if they have any favorite topics or ideas they want to contribute; this makes them feel a part of the project. I kept this process going with 10 experts, and interviewed each expert every other month.

Follow them on social media. Following experts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook shows not only support, but also keeps you up-to-date on future projects that might benefit your content.

SEO Content Solutions and Takeaways

As an SEO copywriter, you never go into a project hoping to produce mediocre content. Yet even the best writers find it challenging to write that high-quality copy that satisfies both search engines and consumers. Why? Because high-quality content has many characteristics, and without a clear SEO content strategy, it’s easy to forget some of the ingredients that set copy apart from the competition.

Consider expert information as the solid research behind a good essay; by featuring original research and citing reliable sources, you can build trust with your readers and prove to be an authority on the subject.

Are you interested in learning more about SEO content optimization to set your copywriting apart? Bruce Clay’s SEOToolSet Training is an in-person workshop that will teach you the SEO best practices to boost your content’s search rankings. Sign up for the course, held each quarter in Los Angeles, and lock in a competitive advantage.

Are you closer to the Bay Area? Bruce presents an Advanced SEO Workshop at Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West in San Jose on March 20. Learn how to help raise your rankings and visibility in search engines. Save 10% with our exclusive discount code: BRUCECLAYSMXW17.

March 7th 2017 SEO